It’s time to race again for India’s top long-distance runners


Written by Andrew Amsan
| New Delhi |

November 26, 2020 6:46:02 pm

Avinash Sable (3000m steeplechase national record holder) will take part in the marathon. (File)

It’s been almost a year since any athletics event took place in India, and the country’s elite long-distance runners are nervously excited ahead of Sunday’s Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in New Delhi. The 21-km race, which will be flagged off from the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, will feature the likes of Avinash Sable (3000m steeplechase national record holder), Parul Chaudhary (2020 half marathon winner, Mumbai) among other top runners from the Indian field.

Sable, who has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in the steeplechase event, last ran in a competitive race in October last year at the World Military Games in Wuhan. But the 26-year-old is unfazed by the long pandemic-induced break. The armyman feels it was a blessing in disguise for professional athletes who are constantly on the grind.

“The break actually helped me focus more on my training. Earlier, there was at least one race every three months. I was always fighting against time to recover from one event and prepare for the next,” Sable said. The Madhya Pradesh runner earned a ticked to Tokyo when he finished 13th with a national record-breaking run of 8:21.37s at the Athletics World Championships in Doha last year. It was the fourth time he had improved the national mark since 2018.

Sable’s training partner Parul sees Sunday’s race as the perfect opportunity to test the waters ahead of the various national meets slated for early next year. “No matter how hard you train, only competitions can help you assess your performance. At times, it becomes tough to give your 100 per cent during training as there isn’t any competition to target. There’s a different kind of drive when you have an event lined up and this was a new experience for me. I can’t wait to hit the road on Sunday,” she said.

For most athletes, the lockdown period was the toughest to endure. Outdoor training had come to a grinding halt and the sudden break from the training routine made them feel like a fish out of water. “It was very weird to suddenly stop training. I had put on some weight too during the lockdown and my fitness was lost. It took me another two months to get back to my optimal level after resuming training post lockdown,” says Parul.

Although there is a fear in Parul’s mind over competing in Delhi where COVID-19 cases are amongst the highest in the country, the 25-year-old is trying to put it to the back of her mind. Sable too isn’t perturbed and believes the safety mechanism and bio-bubble will help athletes stay safe.

Being the first major athletics event to be held in the country after the Covid outbreak, organisers are aware that they will be constantly under scrutiny. “We are committed to making the ADHM a reality in this challenging situation. The protocols we are following are absolutely global standard. We are all looking at the Olympics next year and any opportunity to compete in a safe environment is precious,” said Vivek Singh, Jt. MD. Procam International, the event management company behind the race.

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