As far as the Indian women’s contingent at the Mumbai Marathon was concerned, the question was not who, but how quick. Sudha Singh, a veteran with two prior gold medals – including one last year – was the clear favourite. This time, with the World Championships in Qatar in September in mind, it was always the ‘when’ factor that mattered.
World athletics’ biggest event of the 2019 calendar year requires women athletes to clear the 2:37 hour mark, and men to cross 2:16 hour to secure qualification for the marathon event in Doha. So the question in Mumbai was whether any of the Indian runners could reach those standards.
Among the Indian men, Nitendra Singh Rawat secured a place for himself – by a mere eight seconds. But it was Sudha who had the biggest impact on the day.
The course record for Indian women stood at 2:37:29, set by OP Jaisha in 2015. Sudha bettered that by over two minutes, clocking 2:34:56 to secure her spot for Doha, and finishing eighth overall in the race. However, she fell short of breaking Jaisha’s national record by 13 seconds.
“I’d been training for this marathon for over a month,” Sudha said after the race. “I had a target before coming into this race and I’m happy I managed to get it.”
Competing in the long distance event at the upcoming World Championships however, remains her second choice. She maintains that her pet event is the 3000m steeplechase. Nine years ago, at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, Sudha announced herself by winning gold in the 3000m steeplechase. At the quadrennial event last year, she won silver.
“There is a heavier work load on me because I practise both. But practising for the marathon actually helps me get results in the steeplechase,” she says. “The endurance aspect is taken care of. So I need to only work on my speed for the steeplechase.”
Four years ago, though, her participation in future hurdle events seemed unlikely, as she’d started to show improvement in the marathon. She finished third, behind Jaisha and national steeplechase record holder Lalita Babar at the Mumbai Marathon in 2015, and later went on to clock a personal best of 2:35:35 in the marathon event at the World Championships that year in Beijing.
But there was always a longing to compete in the steeplechase; she even qualified for the Rio Olympics in that event.
Under the tutelage of her new coach, Surender Singh Bhandari, the current 10,000m national record holder and coach of Rawat, there’s renewed vigour in her training for the shorter event. And it stemmed from her falling short of a medal at the 2014 Asian Games.
“She missed it by a few microseconds, so there was some pressure on her this time,” explains Bhandari. “There was a strong focus on getting a podium finish. We worked on her speed during the build-up because we knew that the endurance was already there.”
She returned from Jakarta with a silver medal to show for her efforts.
Now that she’s been the fastest Indian woman in a third Mumbai Marathon, her attention has shifted to the steeplechase. In March, she will compete in the Federation Cup in a bid to cross the qualification standard for the Worlds, and the Asian Championships that precedes it in April. The required standard is 9:40, but she wants to break’s Babar’s national record of 9:19.76.
“I have to work on speed and improve my timing,” she says. “The target is to cross the 9:20s, because with that there’s a chance of getting a gold at the Asian Championship.”
Meanwhile, Rawat currently stands as the only Indian man to have qualified for the Worlds, and definitely intends to compete in that event.
The 32-year-old missed out on breaking his own course record of 2:15:48 by clocking a timing of 2:15:52 – four seconds slower. Given the usual weather conditions that hamper strong timings in Mumbai, Rawat did well to be the fastest Indian in the race after spending the last few years struggling with a hamstring injury – first suffered at the Rio Olympics.
He and Sudha were the biggest takeaways from the Indian contingent on Sunday. And while Rawat has booked a spot for himself in Doha, Sudha has given herself a big push to do the same, albeit in a different event – her favourite event.
Kenya’s Lagat misses course record by 40 seconds
Around the 29-km mark, 24-year-old Cosmas Lagat decided to break away from the pack. It was rather early in the race but a chance the Kenyan runner was willing to take.
“It was a good moment to make a break, because I was never sure how close they were to me or whether they were coming back to me (later in the race),” he says.
Eventually he could not be caught, as he charged through the Mumbai course to win with a time of 2:09:15, just 40 seconds short of the course record.
In the overall women’s section, Worknesh Alemu extended Ethiopia’s dominance of the Mumbai Marathon to six years. The 28-year-old recorded the course’s second fastest timing of 2:25:45 to emerge fastest.