India’s lone marathon runner at the athletics world championships which begins in Doha on Friday, Thonakal Gopi, has become a voracious reader recently. The Kerala athlete, who generally goes to bed at 10 pm sharp, has been training himself since the last two weeks to stay up late by reading his favourite Malayalam novels. The reason being he doesn’t want to feel sleepy during his race, which will be held at midnight in Doha to give the endurance athletes respite from the sweltering heat and humidity.
“I feel sleepy when the clock strikes 10 but since the last fortnight, I have started reading a Vaikom Muhammad Basheer book. I have also changed my training routine a bit. All the intense workout sessions have been shifted to late evenings,” said the 31-year-old, who has been doing his running sessions under the noon sun in Bangalore in anticipation of the Doha heat.
It’s not only Gopi who is perturbed by the heat. Acclimatisation will be tougher for the Indian quarter milers who arrived from ice-cool Poland where they have been training for the past few months under coach Galina Bukharina. From an average of 15 degree centigrade in Europe, they are now getting used to 38 degrees. Several top athletes, mostly from Europe, had apprehensions about the weather in Doha, so the World Championships were moved out of their usual window of July-August to late September and the marathon given a midnight start. The race walk events, which demand a high level of endurance, are being held post 11-pm.
“All of us have been training in such cool temperatures in Poland and the moment we landed here we felt disoriented by the heat. We have stayed put in the hotel room and haven’t even ventured out at all because of the terrible heat. It will take a few days for us to get acclimatised,” Amoj, a member of the men’s relay squad said.
According to an Associated Press report the temperature is bound to hit 38 degrees celsius with humidity close to 70 percent. The Americans and a few other countries have reached Doha armed with ice-cooled vests. Even though the marathon events have been shifted to midnight, it doesn’t mean the runners are guaranteed a pleasant outing.
“Humidity: 80%. Dew point: 83%. Feels like: 112 F (44 C),” American long-distance runner wrote on social media after a training session at 9:32 pm.
The venue for the mega event, the open roof Khalifa International Stadium, has a massive air cooling system which will maintain the temperature at a pleasant 23 to 25 degrees celsius. However, the warm-up area is not air-conditioned and how athletes cope with the sudden change in temperature could make or break their championships.
“We want as many people to finish in as good a shape as possible. The medical team will be very alert. The heat is not the biggest issue. Anyone who has run or competed knows you can deal with heat, but the humidity is a challenge,” Sebastian Coe, the International Association of Athletics Federations president said.
But he insisted the organisers are well-equipped and trying their best to combat it.
“We will watch those metrics. We have extra precautions, extra things out on the course. We have more medical supervision, more water available. But it is going to be tough. It will be tough. We have to be mindful all the time of the welfare of the athletes. We have a medical team who will monitor those conditions all the time. We have monitored it since getting here and we’ve undertaken a lot of work on heat management,” Coe added.
Sprinter Dutee Chand, who trains in Hyderabad for the most part of the year, said the sun in Doha is harshest she has faced. The Odisha sprinter points out that though the main stadium has air conditioning, the warm-up area exposes athletes to the heat and humidity.
“I have run in Doha during the Asian Championships and this is the hottest place I have competed in. It gets really tough at the training track where the sun beats directly on you. I have raced in really harsh weathers in India but Doha is a different world,” Dutee said.
Twenty-seven athletes from India will take part in the Championships beginning September 27 to October 6. For most Indians, the main target would be to reach the finals of the event and clock their personal bests. To get a rough idea of the level of competition, Dutee, India’s fastest female runner, is placed 35th when her timing is compared with the rest of the field. The relay teams are hoping to make the cut for the finals which will earn them a ticket to the Olympics. They all know it’s a tough ask and the weather isn’t going to make matters easier as well.
“We will go all out and try to earn that Olympic quota. The team is in good shape and we are pretty confident,” Jacob added.