RAAM: FIRST INDIAN SOLO FINISH BECOMES A REALITY

Srinivas Gokulnath (This photo was downloaded from the cyclist’s Facebook page / no copyright infringement intended)

Srinivas Gokulnath and Amit Samarth have completed the Race Across America (RAAM).

They are the first Indians to finish within the official cut-off time in the solo category. According to reports, Srinivas completed the race in 11 days and 18 hours while Amit took 11 days and 21 hours. Solo cyclists have to finish the race within 12 days.

The third Indian participant in the solo category, Samim Rizvi, unfortunately ended up Did Not Finish (DNF).

India had its first proper completion of RAAM in 2015, when Hitendra Mahajan and his younger brother, Mahendra Mahajan – both of them doctors from Nashik – registered a successful finish as a two person-team. This year – 2017 – is the first time the country has solo finishers at RAAM. In 2011, Samim had managed to cycle the whole distance of the race but finished just outside the official cut-off limit of 12 days. The 2017 attempt was Samim’s fourth time at RAAM (for more on Samim please try this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/chasing-a-10-day-raam/)

In the team category at the 2017 RAAM, one of the entrants was Sahyadri Cyclists. While the cyclists were four – Rajendra Nehete, Ramakant Patil, Sandeep Shewale and Pankaj Marlesha, the support crew included the Mahajan brothers with Hitendra Mahajan listed as crew chief. At the time of writing this article, they were past 3036.1 miles. Also continuing in the race was Andre Kajlich, the first handcyclist to qualify for the solo category in RAAM. He had covered 3021.9 miles.

RAAM is among the most punishing endurance races out there not just in cycling but across sports. Unlike the more popular Tour De France, RAAM does not feature daily stages. It proceeds at one go with the overall cut-off time, differences in terrain (the total climbing at RAAM aggregates to 170,000 ft), variations in weather and distance – a ride right across the United States – making it terribly challenging. Aside from riders managing their need for rest, there are no assigned rest days in this race. Simply put, RAAM is 30 per cent longer than Tour De France and has to be finished in roughly half the number of days (that said, Tour De France is a more intensely competitive athletic experience despite the lesser number of hours cycled every day. A reader of this blog pointed out, “ the athletic demands of a 3 week-Grand Tour are far greater, and intense, than those of RAAM, which whilst extremely tough is much more of a consistent effort dependent on managing one’s endurance resources.” There is thus, disparity in the physical demands of the two events making comparison difficult and potentially misleading). DNFs are common; even reputed cyclists including those with considerable experience at RAAM, succumb to it. This year one of those who had to DNF was 57 year-old Seana Hogan, among the most successful RAAM champions in history with six wins in the women’s category. She won it in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998 with timings that were at times better than what was registered by many in the men’s category. Her 1995 record of 9 days 4 hours and 2 minutes remains still the fastest solo finish among women. A RAAM legend, 2017 was Seana’s eleventh attempt. This year, the winner in the solo category for women was Sarah Cooper of the US.

Amit Samarth (This photo has been downloaded from the cyclist’s Facebook page / no copyright infringement intended)

The fatigue caused by near non-stop cycling could be felt by those remotely tracking RAAM via Internet. While the 1000 mile-mark was quickly reached by the leading group of cyclists – including Amit and Srinivas, the passage from 1000 miles to 2000 miles and beyond, seemed to take ages. An exception was Christoph Strasser who won the race this year. His progress was almost steady (for the update posted at the time Strasser crossed the finish line, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/raam-christoph-strasser-wins-again-amit-and-srinivas-are-past-the-2250-mile-mark/).

When San Diego based engineer, G. Rajeev met Amit Samarth at the start of the 2017 RAAM as part of contributing a spot report for this blog, Amit had told him that he had previously crewed for Siena Hogan. In tough endurance races like RAAM, the support crew matters as much as athlete. A post on RAAM’s Facebook page said that Amit’s crew for 2017 appeared a family affair. The crew included his mother and wife; his seven year old-son was also along for the trip in the support vehicle, the post said. Besides being a cyclist, Amit is also a triathlete; in December 2016 it was reported that he had completed a full Ironman in Australia.

For Srinivas Gokulnath, 2017 was his second shot at RAAM. According to a 2016 news report ahead of his participation in the 2016 RAAM, Srinivas is a senior medical officer serving at the army’s artillery center in Nashik. A specialist in aerospace medicine, the Lt Colonel had earned a place in the Limca Book of Records by cycling from Leh to Kanyakumari in 15 days and 22 hours in 2014. His hometown is Bengaluru. In 2016, he gave up his attempt at that year’s RAAM at Oxford, Ohio after cycling 2460 miles (3959 km) in 11 days. As per information available on the Internet, his support crew for 2017 was headed by Chris O’Keefe (he completed RAAM, second in his category in 2016). Others in the crew included Srinivas’s wife Prafulla, his coach Alberto Blanco and Venkatesh Shivarama of the Bengaluru based-Wheelsports (for an earlier article featuring among others, Venkatesh, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/cyclings-second-youth/). A video featuring O’Keefe, on RAAM’s Facebook page, mentioned that Srinivas faced problems on day two of the race but had since clawed his way out of it.

Christoph Strasser, who won RAAM this year, is one of the best known cyclists associated with this event. He has won RAAM thrice before and holds the record for the fastest time – 7 days, 15 hours and 56 minutes. Away from RAAM, according to Wikipedia, he also holds the record for the maximum distance cycled on a road bike in 24 hours – 556.856 miles (896.173 km).

UPDATE: Team Sahyadri Cyclists has completed the race. They finished in 8 days, 10 hours and 16 minutes. At the time of writing this update, Andre Kajlich had covered 3106.9 miles.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For the spot report from Oceanside, the starting point of RAAM, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/2017-raam-gets-underway-a-spot-report/)

RAAM: CHRISTOPH STRASSER WINS AGAIN / AMIT AND SRINIVAS ARE PAST THE 2250 MILE-MARK

Christoph Strasser (This image has been downloaded from the cyclist’s Facebook page / no copyright infringement intended)

Austrian cyclist Christoph Strasser has won the 2017 Race Across America (RAAM).

This is his fourth win.

According to RAAM’s Facebook page, he completed the race in 8 days, 9 hours and 34 minutes, which would be the slowest timing in his quartet of wins at the race. The last time he finished on the eighth day was in 2011, when he reached the finish line in 8 days, 8 hours and 6 minutes. His other two wins were in seven days including the fastest solo timing at RAAM to date.

In second place at the time of writing this report, was Mark Pattinson of UK. He had covered 2698.8 miles and was still cycling. Others in the race’s vanguard were Guido Loehr, Marko Baloh, Tom McKenna and Brian Toone. They were at 2694.9 miles, 2615.1 miles, 2597.6 miles and 2582.5 miles respectively.

RAAM’s cut-off limit for the solo category is 12 days.

The Indian cyclists at RAAM have done well so far.

In the solo category, both Amit Samarth and Srinivas Gokulnath have made it past the race section spanning the 1000 mile-mark to 2000 miles of the journey; the middle one third. At the time of writing this report, Amit had covered 2259.2 miles and Srinivas, 2260.2 miles. No Indian cyclist has so far registered a solo finish within cut-off time, at RAAM. In 2011, Samim Rizvi from Bengaluru managed to cycle the entire distance but unfortunately he finished just outside the official cut-off. This year, as per RAAM website, Samim had to DNF (Did Not Finish) after 500.01 miles covered. DNFs have been several this year.

Sarah Cooper of the US was leading in the women’s section of RAAM.

She had covered 2377.3 miles.

Paratriathlete Andre Kajlich, the first handcyclist to qualify for the solo category in RAAM, was past the 2200 mile-mark. At the time of writing this report, he had covered 2224.9 miles.

In the team category, Sahyadri Cyclists, the four person cycling team from India attempting RAAM, had covered 1703.5 miles. They are still in the race.

RAAM proceeds from Oceanside on the US west coast to Annapolis in the east. It is approximately 3000 miles long and done in one go. There are no daily stages; there is only overall cut-off time. It is among the world’s toughest cycle races.

Strasser holds the record for the fastest time at RAAM: 7 days, 15 hours and 56 minutes, set in 2014. Away from RAAM, according to Wikipedia, he holds the record for the maximum distance cycled on a road bike in 24 hours – 556.856 miles (896.173 km). He also has to his credit the fastest crossing of Australia – from Perth to Sydney – in 6 days, 10 hours and 58 minutes.

Strasser’s progress at the 2017 RAAM was markedly different from others’. His momentum was steady. At the time of finishing, his lead over the second placed solo cyclist was over 400 miles.

Given those following Strasser still have several hundred miles to go, anything is possible in this race.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. The distances mentioned in this report are as per the race’s website including its live tracking system. For the spot report from Oceanside, the starting point of RAAM, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/2017-raam-gets-underway-a-spot-report/ For a mid-race report / reflection please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/raam-mid-race-musings-will-it-be-first-indian-solo-finish-this-year/)

RAAM / MID RACE MUSINGS: WILL IT BE FIRST INDIAN SOLO FINISH THIS YEAR?

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

On Monday, as Austrian cyclist Christoph Strasser stormed past the 2200 mile-mark well into his fifth day at the 2017 Race Across America (RAAM), it was turning out to be a memorable race for the Indian cycling community too.

Amit Samarth, a doctor from Nagpur, had by then cycled over 1520 miles. His fellow countryman Srinivas Gokulnath, a senior medical officer and lieutenant colonel with the Indian Army was just 100 miles behind at 1420 miles covered and narrowing the gap. The distances mentioned are approximate and rounded off for ease of narration. If they cover RAAM’s mammoth distance of roughly 3000 miles within the cut-off limit of 12 days, either of them could become the first Indian to complete the race in the solo category. The third Indian participant in the solo category this year, Samim Rizvi, unfortunately ended up Did Not Finish (DNF).

In 2011, Samim had managed to cycle the whole distance of the race but finished just outside the official cut-off limit of 12 days. The 2017 attempt was Samim’s fourth time at RAAM (for more on Samim please try this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/chasing-a-10-day-raam/).

Also in the fray is Sahyadri Cyclists, a four person-team, which has in its support crew Hitendra Mahajan and Mahendra Mahajan who had completed RAAM in 2015 as a two person-team. Particular mention must be made of Andre Kajlich, the first handcyclist to qualify for the solo category at RAAM. By Monday evening he was past the 1550 mile-mark and was ahead of Amit. Andre is a double amputee. According to media reports, he lost his legs during his university days in Prague. On a night out with friends he was hit by a subway train. He survived but paid a steep price. Life in the aftermath of the accident brought him to endurance events. Kajlich is a top notch paratriathlete with several Ironman and Ultraman competitions under his belt.

In 2014, Strasser – he is hugely respected in the world of endurance cycling – had completed RAAM in 7 days, 15 hours and 56 minutes. Besides wins at RAAM he also holds the record for the maximum distance cycled on a road bike in 24 hours – 556.856 miles (896.173 km) and the record for cycling across Australia – 6 days, 10 hours and 58 minutes to pedal from Perth to Sydney.

Usually RAAM solo winners finish in 8-9 days. Given the varied challenges cyclists face in this race, ranging from sheer distance to cycling almost 22 hours every day, anything can happen in the days remaining to race completion.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For the spot report from Oceanside, the starting point of RAAM, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/2017-raam-gets-underway-a-spot-report/)

BORN AGAIN RUNNER

Ravi Kalsi (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

If you like the active lifestyle, then a hill nearby is an asset.

Navi Mumbai has two hill roads that are popular with runners. Both are on the local range called Parsik Hill. The shorter road of the two, near Nerul, goes up a finger of Parsik that got isolated from the main range thanks to a highway slicing through it; at least that’s the story the scars on the hillside indicate. The road then descends the other side to Belapur. The longer one winds up the Khargar end of Parsik; it is five kilometers one way, culminating at a village on top. Walkers, runners and cyclists love these two roads, still intact despite Mumbai’s real estate industry. Sundays are typically favored for long runs.

It was early morning, Sunday. Shorter hill road and passage through Belapur done, two of us pulled into the longer Khargar Hill Road, where the local running group – Navi Mumbai Runners (NMR) – was hosting a hill run. Quite a few runners had assembled; a briefing was on. Knowing our slow pace, we pushed on. I reached the village and had just commenced return, when the relatively fast vanguard of the runners who were being briefed when we passed by, emerged to the flat stretch of road on top. They had started much after us and had made it to the top in probably half the time we took. Leading the pack was a tall middle aged runner of lean build; his feet clad in cheap minimalist shoes sporting very thin soles. That outing was the first time I spoke to Ravi Kalsi. I had only seen him before on Mumbai’s Marine Drive, finishing point for the monthly Bandra-NCPA half marathon organized by Mumbai Road Runners (MRR).

From a run on the Kharghar Hill Road (Photo: courtesy Ravi Kalsi)

“ I was always very fond of sports. But I couldn’t cross that line between aspiration and getting into the school cricket team or anything like that,’’ Ravi said recalling years gone by. He put in 100 per cent into the effort. But in the eyes of others it was be like zero. “ Probably I wasn’t good enough to make it into a team,’’ he said. It was early June, 2017; well into the decades of India at its youngest with over 50 per cent of the country’s population currently below the age of 25 and over 65 per cent below the age of 35. We were at a café in a Navi Mumbai mall. The world around us swarmed with young people reeking of confidence. It was their world; the sheer luck of being born at the right time in demographics and economic growth to have a whole country singing your tune. That also made the new confidence tad synthetic. It smacked of being borne on the shoulders of time. In contrast, Ravi’s early disappointments at not being good enough appeared realistic. He was born October 1971, the son of an army officer from Gurdaspur who commenced a business in Mumbai following his short service commission and a Mumbai born-homemaker who briefly worked as a teacher. Growing up in Mumbai, Ravi attended Hansraj Morarjee Public School in Andheri, all the way to matriculation. Amid his attempts at getting counted in sports, the farthest he reached in this phase was – a third in doubles in badminton. “ My father on the other hand, had played cricket for Punjab University. He was an all-rounder. So it wasn’t lack of encouragement. I wasn’t good enough; it boiled down to that,’’ Ravi said. He was the only child of his parents.

Following school, he joined MMK College in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra, where he did his graduation in commerce. His experience at sports in school weighing him down, he stayed off sports altogether in college. “ It all died there,’’ he said. The state of mind must have taken a toll. Around this time, as a means to acquire confidence, Ravi enrolled for karate classes. He also joined a gym, hoping to fill out his lean frame a bit. Once again, the prevailing pattern in his life got the better of him. When it came to stretching as part of his karate classes, his flexibility wasn’t good enough. He attended martial arts training for about nine months and then drifted away from it. Silver lining was – that stint at karate left in him, an element of discipline. As for the gym sessions; with his body stubbornly refusing to sprout any visible musculature, Ravi lost interest in that too. College and life – both seemed a case of serving time with nothing to show for personal identity or flair. Uniquely and quite unlike the Indian trait of blazing through education in one determined haul, there was a gap of one to two years in studies after MMK. Ravi then did his MBA (Marketing) from Mumbai Educational Trust Institute of Management Studies. His first job thereafter was with Camlin, a much loved name in India for art and writing materials. In 1999, he got married. It didn’t work out well; the couple slowly drifted apart. In the café, reflecting on his life, Ravi would refer to these years of first job and marriage as directionless. The universe was simply not connecting.

Photo: courtesy Ravi Kalsi

In 2004, Mumbai saw the first of the annual marathons sponsored by Standard Chartered; the since well-known Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). Thanks to SCMM, in 2010, Ravi’s life in the Mumbai suburb of Andheri began to change. That year, his neighbor signed up for SCMM’s shortest sub-event – a seven kilometer run, which over the years has slowed to a crawl thanks to a large number of participants. “ At that time seven kilometers seemed a lot for me. I was in a different league and admired my neighbor for what he had got into,’’ Ravi said. His neighbor’s participation in SCMM prompted one change – on October 4, 2010 Ravi decided to rejoin the gym. “ I needed to vent my frustration with life,’’ he said. The trainer set him up with a routine; warm up with a ten minute-walk on the treadmill, lift weights thereafter. This went on for two to three weeks. One day, Ravi inquired if he could run on the treadmill instead of walking. Permission secured, he ran. “ I felt different doing that, I felt good,’’ he said. He also realized it was the first time he was feeling so after physical exercise.

As the ten minute-running grew to fifteen minutes and then half an hour, he began looking forward more to the treadmill session than the rendezvous with weights. “ The more I ran, the more I liked it,’’ Ravi said. He formally requested the trainer to be spared weights and focus on just cardio work out. The next stage was – he put in 100 minutes non-stop on the treadmill one day and started thinking of shifting to running on the road. He kicked it off with small doses – running five to seven kilometers, from where he stayed in Andheri to Juhu. Then he ran from his home to his former college in Bandra, a distance of 10 km. “ It was a big psychological boost. It showed me I can get out of my comfort zone. Once I got to running on the road, I never went back to the treadmill,’’ Ravi said. In July 2011, he enrolled for the Thane Varsha Half Marathon. Given it was a formal event he bought a pair of good running shoes. Although training hadn’t been proper or systematic, his confidence was high – after all he had bought running shoes! He completed the race in 2:46. “ I felt like a champ,’’ he said. Then the learning started. When he told his friends that he had run a half marathon, they mentioned cut-off time. It was the first of many words and phrases from running that would guide Ravi in his self-managed progression through the sport.

From the 2015 MRR anniversary run (Photo: courtesy Ravi Kalsi)

Stretching on Marine Drive after the monthly Bandra-NCPA half marathon (Photo: courtesy Ravi Kalsi)

Cut off understood and burnt into mind as a parameter to watch out for, Ravi registered next for the half marathon in Hyderabad. On the train to Hyderabad he had the company of other runners. From their conversation, he gleaned another crucial word: strategy. Hyderabad’s was a tough run. However he completed it in 2:27, which was a faster time than what he had clocked in Thane. By now he was becoming more and more aware of the running ecosystem, including the sport’s ecosystem in Mumbai. One of the names he heard of was MRR. He also saw photos of their runs and was in awe of the group. “ I was reluctant to run with them. They were like Aamir Khan or Shah Rukh Khan for me. They were my heroes although they didn’t know of it. I wanted to be in but I was worried I might embarrass myself joining them for the monthly Bandra-NCPA half marathon. So I told myself, let me get better, then I will go for it,’’ he said. Next event in Ravi’s growing romance with running was a half marathon in Delhi. Gearing up for it, his learning was the term `sub.’ Specific to the half marathon, he heard of sub-two. On race day, the weather in Delhi was awesome. “ I finished the race in 1:57,’’ Ravi said. Sub-two in the bag gave him adequate confidence to try what he had long wanted – run Bandra-NCPA with MRR. From the first Sunday of January 2012, he started to run with MRR. “ That first Bandra-NCPA felt really good,’’ he said.

In the paperback version of Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, page 157 begins with Barefoot Ted’s Eureka moment inspired by the observations of Barefoot Ken Bob who led a community of barefoot runners:

Shoes block pain, not impact!

Pain teaches you to run comfortably!

From the moment you start going barefoot, you will change the way you run.

In February 2012, Barefoot Ted visited Mumbai. He was scheduled to run the Bandra-NCPA with MRR.

Ravi reached the starting point in Bandra, as usual, with shoes.

At the 2015 VVMM (Photo: courtesy Ravi Kalsi)

At the café in the Navi Mumbai mall, one of the employees hovered around our table, seemingly a bit concerned by the long conversation underway. It is a problem of our times – we go to cafes to chat over coffee but too much conversation and too little coffee is deemed bad for business in times more appreciative of money than life. Monetization – one day its seepage into every nook and cranny of human life will leave us with existence as exoskeleton and nothing human or lively within. Ravi has no particular interest in painting. But he appreciates it and responds to art on the strength of what personally appeals to him and what doesn’t. He was aware of M.F. Hussain as a great Indian artist. One thing that had always intrigued him about Hussain was – his aversion for footwear. The great artist was notorious for going barefoot. Artists sometimes lock on to details of life, others overlook. We stand on our feet. Yet it is the super structure our feet support, which gets all the attention and laurels. Who appreciates feet? Centuries ago in Europe, one of the most inquisitive minds of all time – Leonardo da Vinci – had lauded the design and bone structure of the human foot. “ To me, there seemed to be some connection between Hussain’s art and his tendency to go barefoot,’’ Ravi said. Beset with a chance to run alongside Barefoot Ted, it seemed the best opportunity for him to take off his shoes. He had never run barefoot before. But he could hear his mind nudging him to try it. So Ravi took off his shoes, tied one to each side of his hips and proceeded with Bandra-NCPA. “ My foot was hurting but the determination to complete the run saw me through,’’ Ravi said. Then came, the next flush of intuitive confidence in his progressive resurrection of the many instincts he had missed in school and college. Barefoot Ted was giving away autographed copies of his book and Ravi Kalsi felt damn sure that his name would be called out to merit one. The universe stood by him. Ravi’s name was called out. In his mind, it was an endorsement for running and barefoot running. “ It was destiny speaking: this is your stuff Ravi,’’ he said. Them feet were still paining. But what the heck, he had found his groove.

In January 2012, he ran his first SCMM in the event’s half marathon segment. He finished in 1:52. Running with MRR, he decided to attempt graduating from the half marathon to the full. He needed some handholding for the transition. Born in 1931 and 85 years old as of 2017, Hal Higdon is an American writer, runner and author of the bestselling book: Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. Ravi used Higdon’s training program for the transition. His personal idea was to combine full marathon and running barefoot. The venue selected was Hyderabad and its annual marathon. While packing for the trip, Ravi consciously left his shoes behind in Mumbai. It shut a door in the brain. There was no going back. It eliminated self-doubt; set him up to deliver. He ran the full marathon in Hyderabad barefoot, completing it in 3:56. “ A sub-four barefoot – that was really a big achievement for me,’’ he said. However given Hyderabad roads were good then and Mumbai roads, not so, when it came to the full marathon at the 2013 SCMM, Ravi reverted to using shoes. He finished that race in 3:46. It was ten minutes faster than how he had performed in Hyderabad but he wasn’t quite satisfied. He also noticed another thing – he was getting quicker. What should he focus on? Go longer and stay with the full marathon or go faster and be loyal to the half marathon? He decided on the latter. He hasn’t done a full marathon since. Not just that, he found that if in his pursuit of speed he curtailed distance to 10 km-races, he isn’t as comfortable as he is in a half marathon. He wasn’t a track athlete by grooming and thus well placed to run a fast 10 km-race. On the other hand, the half marathon, while being fast also allowed Ravi to find his rhythm and dwell in a zone. The half marathon appeared apt combination of speed and distance for him. With this the Ravi Kalsi Mumbai runners know now was born. By the 2014 SCMM, his half marathon timing dropped further to 1:31. At the 2015 SCMM, it was 1:35; an outcome of not being able to train much given 2014 was a busy year at work. By now, he was employed with a BPO.

Running at SCMM (Photo: courtesy Ravi Kalsi)

Ravi has never had a coach in running. He is self-taught. It wasn’t deliberate. It just happened that way partly propelled perhaps by the fact that his friends include coaches and he considers himself a good listener. “ I like to watch videos of elite athletes running. When you look at them running, you get to know what running is all about and what one’s own running is,’’ he said. On the surface it would seem all about beating the clock and returning a good timing. But at day’s end it is about making mind and body perform so and fact is – there is a way to run faster. “ Elite athletes get that timing because they run in a manner, which gets them such timing. My focus therefore shifted to running right. The 1:31 I got at the 2014 SCMM was not a case of running right. I am still a work in progress,’’ Ravi said. North of Mumbai and now an extension of the giant Mumbai-Thane-Navi Mumbai urban sweep, is the town of Vasai. Technically, it falls in Palghar district. Vasai and the adjacent township of Virar have for some years been nodal points of a much loved running event, particularly noted for its cheering – the annual Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon (VVMM). In 2015, running the half marathon at VVMM, Ravi notched his first sub 90 minute-finish in the discipline. Roughly two months later at the 2016 SCMM, he finished the half marathon in 1:29:55, narrowly breaking the 90 minute-barrier and ending up third in the event in his age category. It was his first podium finish at a major event. Ravi does not however give this result undue importance. “ Coming third is like being in the right place at the right time. It was luck, nothing else. I compared this result with results elsewhere in the world. Elsewhere, there are like 500 people better than this timing and I get a third place here? That doesn’t speak much,’’ Ravi said. According to him, he is still not running right. He continues to go wrong as regards running form. He is merely running faster without running in the manner that sustains fast running. “ If you get it correct, it becomes smoother, more efficient and faster,’’ he said adding that he is able to figure out the biomechanics involved by himself. The year though wasn’t smooth sailing. His training was inadequate for the IDBI Federal Mumbai Half Marathon in August and it showed; “ past the eighth or nine kilometer, things went downhill.’’ But less than three months later, at the Indian Navy Half Marathon of November 13, Ravi bounced back. This time it was a win in the veteran category of the race’s 10 km-discipline with a fifth place overall in the men’s segment alongside. His timing was 40 minutes, 16 seconds. Then, at the 2017 SCMM, he finished the half marathon in 1:25:29, once again placing third on the podium in his age category. “ I still have this feeling that I am nowhere. I need to improve,’’ Ravi said.

On the podium after winning the 10 km-discipline in the veteran category at the 2016 Navy Half Marathon in Mumbai (Photo: courtesy Ravi Kalsi)

When I met him, he believed he had improved a bit after the 2017 SCMM. He had experienced the improvement in his training runs. He wasn’t running a lot; he was averaging about 40-45 km per week. Closer to an event, he stepped it up a bit. “ I don’t run much. But when I run, I try to do it right,’’ he said. For him, rest was as good as a work-out. Rest is important. He was doing no cross training but admitted to consciously living life’s small moments, like climbing stairs, listening to feedback when running on sand, listening to a walk etc. One thing he made sure to take care of – his diet. He ate in moderation and ensured that what he ate provided nutrition. Plus, he didn’t attach a premium to competing in races. At events, he simply did the best he could. In 2004, Ravi and his wife were blessed with a son. I asked him if his son was aware of his interest in running and whether he had seen the medals and certificates; more importantly if he knew the happiness, running brought. “ I think he feels good about it. That is quite heart-warming,’’ Ravi said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is based on a conversation with the subject. Race timings are as provided by the interviewee.)

2017 RAAM GETS UNDERWAY / A SPOT REPORT

Amit Samarth just before the 2017 RAAM got underway in Oceanside, California (Photo: G. Rajeev)

Article by invitation:

 

On June 13, 2017, the year’s Race Across America (RAAM) got underway from Oceanside, California. One of the most grueling races in the world of cycling, RAAM sees participants cycle from the west to the east of the US, a distance of approximately 4800 km. People ride solo as well as in teams. The solo race ends in Annapolis, Maryland.

 

A view of Oceanside pier; starting point of RAAM (Photo: G. Rajeev)

According to Wikipedia, a RAAM winner usually finishes the race in 8-9 days, cycling roughly 22 hours every day. It takes a toll on cyclist and support crew. This year’s participants include Srinivas Gokulnath, Samim Rizvi and Amit Samarth from India. Sahyadri Cyclists – a team of four cyclists and their support crew – was also listed. 

 

Amit riding off; ahead lay 4800 km of the United States (Photo: G. Rajeev)

G. Rajeev was at the starting point of RAAM to catch his first glimpse of the race.

 

He sent Outrigger this piece.   

 

I got to the Oceanside pier about half an hour ahead of RAAM’s scheduled start at noon.

The start point was on the boardwalk by the pier. There was a crowd milling about there. It was smaller than I had anticipated; mostly cyclists and their support crew, some race volunteers, a few gawkers who looked puzzled at the activity going on, and of course security folks who were looking suspiciously at anyone wandering by.

It was a beautiful day – clear, sunny and warm, but perhaps not ideal for cycling incredibly long distances. I didn’t know any of the cyclists or their history, but I noticed Amit Samarth immediately thanks to his tricolor jersey. I chatted with him briefly and took a picture. He said this was his first time attempting RAAM, but he had crewed for Seana Hogan last year. She has won RAAM several times.

 

RAAM on a recumbent (Photo: G. Rajeev)

I wandered around some more, checking out the bicycles and the riders. Mostly a lean and fit bunch, as one would expect with lean and sleek machines in tow. Some looked intense but most were relaxed and seemed in a jovial mood. The crew looked more on edge in general.

I saw someone who I thought might be Samim Rizvi, so I asked him if this was his first time doing RAAM. When he said, “ No, this is my fourth,” I knew it was Samim. I then took a couple of snaps. Samim was preoccupied discussing something with his crew, so I left him alone and went off to stand at a point a little beyond the start.

 

 

Andre Kajlich on his handcycle. He is the first solo handcyclist to qualify for RAAM (Photo: G. Rajeev)

The race started with Race Across the West (RAW) racers heading out at intervals of about a minute or thirty seconds. There were some four person teams in this race and maybe some two person teams as well. After about thirty minutes of this, the race volunteers changed out the signs to indicate that the RAAM racers were set to start.

The women went out first, followed by the other racers in what seemed to me to be random order. Each support vehicle followed its racer closely, some driving by sedately and quietly and some going by with yells and raucous music. There was one racer on a handcycle, a couple on a tandem and one racer on a bike that he had modified at home into a recumbent.

 

Samim Rizvi, ahead of the start of the 2017 RAAM (Photo: G. Rajeev)

Samim rides off into the race (Photo: G. Rajeev)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Jurczynski and Ann Rasmussen on their tandem bicycle (Photo: G. Rajeev)

Team Cassowary gets ready (Photo: G. Rajeev)

It was daunting to look up the boardwalk as the racers cycled by and think of the 3000 miles of road that awaited them. I waited for Amit and Samim and a few more and then headed back.

My phone was almost out of charge and my parking meter was expired.

There were still quite a few cyclists left at the start when I looked back at around 1:30 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(G. Rajeev is an engineer by profession. He is based in San Diego, California. For more on Samim Rizvi and what it is like to attempt RAAM, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/chasing-a-10-day-raam/)

MAINTAINING SUB-THREE

Vijayaraghavan (Vijay) Venugopal (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

The story behind a hat-trick of sub-three finishes over 2016-17 at the marathons in Paris, Berlin and Boston

Early May, 2017.

I had completely over-estimated the distance to my appointment from where I stayed. Bengaluru’s Vittal Mallya road ended up very much in the neighborhood. A lot had happened in the 34 years since the man in whose memory the road was named, passed away. Impressive brick and mortar constructions bearing the name of the company he was elected director of in the year of India’s independence, rose nearby. Vittal Mallya’s son, having defaulted on bank loans worth millions was now living in UK. Suddenly, the high flying life wasn’t what it seemed. It smacked of quicksand; a gooey mess that sucks you in if you are not watchful. With an hour to kill and the afternoon heat of an Indian summer to escape, I stepped into a luxury mall the son built. As with all malls, the shift in ambiance worked till the skin’s relief in trading heat for air conditioning wore off. Then, the monotony of synthetic world took over. I tried to think of what lay ahead. Closer to appointment, I reached the assigned office, an address for several businesses. In the reception they all shared, the lone copy of the Bengaluru Times returned me to faces that harked of mall left behind. It wasn’t difficult identifying Vijayaraghavan (Vijay) Venugopal when he walked in. He looked every bit, runner.

Approximately 700 km south-west of Bengaluru and less than 100 km from the tip of the Indian peninsula, is Thiruvananthapuram; erstwhile Trivandrum. It is the capital of Kerala, among early states in independent India to establish a reputation in games and athletics. Most educational institutions here – at least in the decades before Indian independence and in the decades immediately following it – had big campuses with playgrounds. Some colleges were well known for their teams in sport; talk to old timers and you realize, there even used to be an element of talent scouting. In years gone by, at several places in cities, towns and villages, it was common to see open space preserved as a volleyball court or badminton court. Post-harvest, fields devoid of crop served as venue for local football tournaments. In the 1970s and 1980s, a drive along the state’s national highway usually yielded the sight of local matches in progress. Rivers and large ponds at old houses on land yet to be divided into a hundred plots became swimming pools. Point is – the affection for the active life ran deep. It wasn’t cosmetic. Every day, the emphasis on academics grew. But in Kerala, until the recent epidemic of life by entrance tests and professional qualification, it was never deemed bad to indulge in sports.

Vijay was born in 1975 in Thiruvananthapuram. At that time C. Achutha Menon of the Communist Party of India (CPI) was chief minister of this paradox of a state, at once literate and conservative, ahead in social indices yet industrially barren, admiring arts and literature, politically volatile and sport loving. Arguably, the Malayali’s greatest strength and weakness was awareness exceeding what is best for his / her own good. It was a vibrant universe of interesting aspirations and potential self-entrapment. Amid this, through all the frequent processions by flag wielding political cadres and the occasional shut down in capital city, a fleet of buses painted grey plied without fail in the morning and in the evening. Ferrying people to work, they belonged to an organization begun 13 years before Vijay’s birth. Thumba in Thiruvananthapuram is very close to the Earth’s magnetic equator. That made it an ideal place for scientists to do atmospheric research. In 1962, the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) was established. Since then, sounding rockets have been regularly launched from Thumba. The growing organization became known as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC). It is today the largest facility of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), doing work on everything from sounding rockets to ASLV, PSLV, GSLV and GSLV Mark III rockets. Vijay’s father worked at VSSC. The family – his parents continue to reside in Thiruvananthapuram – spoke Tamil at home.

From a 10 km race in Bengaluru (Photo: courtesy Vijay)

Every town in the country has an idea of the best schools around. In the Thiruvananthapuram of the 1970s, Loyola School, located just outside city limits and tad to the north, was among most sought after. That’s where Vijay studied. “ I was the typical school going child – good at studies and good at sports,’’ he said. Loyola had a reputation locally in sports; its basketball team was particularly respected. Vijay used to participate in the school’s athletics competitions finishing second or third but what he was genuinely interested in, was a sport the Kerala of that time wasn’t famous for – cricket. In an irony of sorts, despite cricket played in Thalassery in north Kerala in the early 19th century – much before it was played elsewhere in India – it had failed to excite Keralites as much as football, volleyball and basketball did. Vijay was a good cricketer. He became captain of the school team, played in the district under-12 team for Thiruvananthapuram and played in the under-13 and under-16 teams for Kerala. He dreamt of becoming a state level player competing in the Ranji Trophy, which is a domestic first class-cricket championship.

After school and pre-degree, Vijay joined the College of Engineering, Trivandrum (CET). He studied mechanical engineering. In this phase of life, studies took precedence. Yet he continued to play cricket, remaining good enough to be part of the college team. CET’s cricket team was strong; it has produced Ranji players. One of the years Vijay was at CET, they topped the university in cricket. To keep his interest in athletics alive, Vijay participated in track and field disciplines at college. However, there was a practical reason for his partiality to cricket. Vijay liked to excel at what he did and he knew that competition in track and field events in Kerala was tough. “ In athletics, you could win at your school or college and be the king of all you surveyed there. But step out and you got killed by competition. It was that competitive in Kerala,’’ he said, an observation speaking much of the breadth and depth of sporting activities in the state. By the time Vijay was at CET, Kerala’s fame as a powerhouse in Indian athletics was firmly established. In the 1970s, names like Suresh Babu and T.C. Yohannan were frequently mentioned in the media. Then, in 1976 – a year after Vijay was born – a young P.T. Usha was spotted by coach, O.M. Nambiar at a prize distribution ceremony. The rest is history.

While Vijay’s craze for cricket was strong enough for him to feel that getting a spot in a Ranji Trophy squad was greater achievement than securing entry to an Indian Institute of Management (IIM), what did happen after his B Tech in mechanical engineering was admission for MBA at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), Delhi. Here, they formed a cricket team and Vijay was part of it. But in a match he suffered serious head injury after being hit by a ball. Following IIFT, he joined the pharmaceutical company, Dr Reddy’s. In 2002, he shifted to Lupin Limited, another pharma company. He recalls wining a 100 m dash at a company sports meet. But once again, what assumed importance was cricket. Vijay became opening batsman for Lupin’s cricket team. Every year in Mumbai, pharmaceutical companies competed for the Merck Shield; it was a cricket tournament among pharma companies. When Vijay was at Lupin, the company won this shield once and finished second twice. “ Yet, a truly active life was eluding me,’’ Vijay said pointing out that in his view, the years between age 20 and 32-33 years of age were given to preparing for employment and then staying surrendered to employment. In 2004, while Vijay was based in Mumbai, the first Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) happened. Once or twice, he applied to run at the event but didn’t go. It did not excite him enough. Further, through school, college and subsequently corporate life, his fancy had remained with team sports. Distance running on the other hand, appeared an invitation to court and dwell in personal ecosystem. There is a certain solitude that comes with running. The impulse to embrace such sport wasn’t yet there in him.

In 2007, while still at Lupin, Vijay moved to Shanghai in China. He was there for the next three years. In China, he took to playing badminton. He also added the breast stroke to his repertoire of swimming styles picked up long ago at the Water Works Swimming Pool in Thiruvananthapuram. The year after he arrived in China, the Beijing Olympics took place. Seated among spectators at the stadium known worldwide as Bird’s Nest, he watched Usain Bolt in action. He also got an opportunity to see Formula One racing in Shanghai and see the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic play at the Shanghai Masters. In 2010, Vijay returned to Mumbai with Lupin. A year later, he left the company and Mumbai. Alongside, he decided to look for a different sport to stay engaged in; cricket’s time was up. “ Looking back, I think this was also a product of the stage and age in life I found myself in. By nature I am not an extrovert. I don’t build friendships and relationships easily,’’ he said, illustrating the shift from an early romance in life with team based activities to pursuits truer to his nature. Besides, as he pointed out, emergent allegations of betting and match fixing had taken some of the sheen from cricket. In 2000, the Hansie Cronje episode surfaced, which also named former Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin; in 2010 three Pakistani cricketers would be implicated on match fixing charges, by 2013 the Indian Premier League (IPL), which commenced the year after Vijay moved to Shanghai, would also run into turbulence over spot fixing. As the habits and tendencies of market seeped into a cricket becoming more commercial by the day, the game’s purity and standing took a beating. Those lost years – the age from 20 to 32-33, spent surrendered to career and cricket – would have been ideal for a physically demanding activity like running. Contemporary life is such that the mind wakes up to the loss, only later.

From a visit to New York; Vijay with his daughters Sharanya and Radhika (Photo: courtesy Vijay)

In 2011, Vijay moved to Pune with a company called Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd. The new job had less travel attached to it. Daily life swung between work and family. There was space available to be filled. Compared to Mumbai, Pune was a smaller place. Facebook had grown to be a popular tool to connect with people. The city had runners. Vijay spent his time running a bit, swimming and visiting the gym. He explained how his interest in running grew. “ In the amateur space in India, running is among the few activities that are goal driven. By nature I need some small goals to achieve. Looked that way, running is measurable and finite,’’ Vijay said. He started going out with running groups in Pune. In December 2011, he did a 10 km-run. Next year, he ran the TCS 10K. In 2013, he was back in Mumbai, this time for his first SCMM. Having found a sport that fit his nature, Vijay’s next priority was to ensure that he didn’t rush into it. His first half marathon was in 2012, in Pune; his first official half marathon was in Hyderabad, in August 2012. Registering for his first serious SCMM thereafter, he however didn’t follow any specific training plan. Nevertheless he completed the 2013 event’s full marathon in 4:02. Doing the full marathon in Hyderabad in August that year, he decided to attempt a sub-four. “ I was really humbled by the experience; it was miserable after 27 km. I finished in 4:07,’’ he said. He recalls asking Kochi-based runner, Ramesh Kanjilimadhom of what may have gone wrong. “ The first thing he asked was – which training plan did you follow?’’ Vijay said. That was the moment Vijay understood the importance of training plan. Looking around for a plan that fitted in with his nature and priorities, he zeroed in on the Run Less Run Faster program. Authored by Bill Pierce, Scott Mur and Ray Moss, it featured only three days of running per week and had much cross training thrown in. “ I have since tweaked it a bit but till date, that is essentially the running plan I follow,’’ Vijay said.

Vijay’s wife grew up in Bengaluru. In 2013, Vijay and family shifted from Pune to Bengaluru, where his wife commenced working while Vijay dabbled in some entrepreneurial ventures (by 2015, Vijay and his partners would launch Fast & Up, a sports nutrition brand, currently well-known to the Indian running community) . A challenge in Bengaluru was managing his susceptibility to asthma. The city has one of the highest incidences of the condition; a 2007 report available on pharmabiz.com said that Bengaluru accounted for an estimated 25 per cent of all asthma cases in India. Despite this, on the bright side, Vijay’s life in running was beginning to fall in place. Running the full marathon at the 2014 SCMM, Vijay breached the sub-four barrier by a wide margin. He completed the race in 3:34. That was a huge improvement. While his new training plan was definitely delivering results, his approach to improvement was also noteworthy. He wasn’t targeting improving in the age category he belonged to; he was targeting the best he could be. Next goal was to crack the 3:30 mark. However at the Spice Coast Marathon in Kochi later that year, Vijay could complete the full marathon in only 3:37. With it, his 2014 calendar concluded, for Vijay does not run more than two or three marathons a year. “ The decision to run only a few marathons is a combination of borrowed and personal wisdom. Elite athletes advise so. In my particular case, I need adequate time for training and recovery. So two to three full marathons a year appears optimum,’’ Vijay said.

A couple of months later at the 2015 SCMM, the 3:30 barrier fell; he finished the full marathon in 3:23. Why are his improvements in timing, sizable? Why are they not by small increments?  “ I don’t know the reason for that but that’s how it has been,’’ Vijay said. Same year, running the half marathon at the Bengaluru Marathon, he got his first podium finish with a timing of 1:29. According to Vijay, he values all distances in running between 5 km to 42 km. He does not foray into races exceeding 42 km. “ Eighty per cent of the time I am in training mode. It is only the balance 20 per cent that I compete,’’ he said. In November 2015, he returned to Kochi for the Spice Coast Marathon. It is a flat track. At the eighth kilometer, Vijay tripped and suspected he had injured himself. However, it seemed manageable. At 21 km, he actually took the lead. “ Suddenly I saw the police escort in front of me,’’ he said. That year, he won the full marathon at Spice Coast. His timing was 3:14. It was both satisfying and a turning point. As the gap with the three hour-barrier reduced, new goals loomed. Then at the 2016 SCMM, a setback occurred. Usually for the asthmatic Vijay, running at sea level is a better experience than running in Bengaluru. Unfortunately a week ahead of SCMM, he got an asthma attack. Its effects continued into race day in Mumbai. He was targeting timing below 3:10. He maintained the required pace till the 26 km-mark. Then he found he couldn’t sustain it. He pulled out. It was his first Did Not Finish (DNF).

After the Paris Marathon (Photo: courtesy Vijay)

1896 is a special year in the world of sports. That’s the year the modern Olympic Games made their debut in Athens, Greece. Less importantly, it was also the year the first Paris Marathon – the Tour De Paris Marathon – was held. According to Wikipedia, the current Paris Marathon traces its origin to 1976. The event is normally held on a Sunday in April and participation is limited to 50,000 runners. The route is attractive, passing as it does through the heart of Paris. Vijay had decided that once he breached the 3:30-mark, he would try running overseas. He applied for the Paris Marathon of April, 2016. After a couple of weeks spent putting the DNF at SCMM behind him, from February onward, he started training for the Paris run. That month there was a half marathon in Delhi; he finished it in 1:23. Back in Bengaluru, he mostly trained alone for Paris. Once, Soji Mathew – the half marathon specialist from the Indian Railways – joined the training run to pace him. Soji has been a podium finisher at major events in India, in his chosen discipline. “ I like running with better runners,’’ Vijay said. During these training runs he was reporting timings like 3:02 for the full marathon. He went to Paris with a plan for 3:10. One good thing about being in Europe and US is that Vijay’s respiratory system functions well. He finished the full marathon in Paris with a timing of 2:59:48. It was his first sub-three. “ I was genuinely happy for it,’’ he said.

The nature of a marathon course plays a role in the timings athletes can set. Flat courses are prized in this context. In the world of marathon running, the maximum number of world records has been reported from the Berlin Marathon. The current world record of 2:02:57 is in the name of Dennis Kimetto of Kenya; it was established on September 28, 2014 in Berlin. This city marathon was begun in 1974 and usually takes place in the last weekend of September. With the outcome in Paris, Vijay qualified to run at the 2017 Boston Marathon. But before that iconic race, there was Berlin. The 2016 race in Berlin saw altogether 46,950 entrants from 122 countries; among them, Vijay.  Running the full marathon, he completed the race in 2:55. That was his second official sub-three. Berlin done and with Boston due the next year, Vijay skipped the 2017 SCMM. It was important not to overdo. Meanwhile in Berlin, Vijay had developed a new goal. “ The charm of Berlin is that it offers the fastest course. For me, the challenge was to replicate the sub-three I earned in Paris. That I did. What I have seen in India is that people crack sub-three but then find it hard to sustain it. In the current running scenario, a lot of amateurs are knocking at the doors of the three hour-mark. Breaking it consistently is the responsibility of some people to show,’’ Vijay said. Can he make it a hat-trick in Boston? That was the challenge at hand.

Begun in 1897, the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. In running, it is historically significant. For most people, to go and run in Boston is to be part of a great tradition. It typically ends at that. Vijay on the other hand had a concrete goal – a third sub-three. Given he ran few events every year, he planned for Boston carefully. Two things particularly bothered. First, Boston’s is not an easy course; there are plenty of ups and downs. For someone new to sub-three timing in the marathon, ensuring similar result in Boston won’t be easy. Second, the city experiences fluctuations in temperature with some race days being warm, some cold. Vijay’s careful approach paid off. He completed the 2017 Boston Marathon in 2:57, among best timings in recent years by an Indian who is a resident of India and traveling there to run the race. He had a hat-trick in the bag. Vijay does not look at his sub-three timings as licence to be apart. He wants more people cracking the sub-three barrier. “ When you have a mass of people doing better, then you will also do better. So it is important that you have a sizable population registering good timing in running,’’ he said.

From a 10 km race in Bengaluru (Photo: courtesy Vijay)

What is Vijay’s goal now?

The globe’s six leading marathon events – the races in Boston, London, Chicago, Berlin, New York and Tokyo – are part of the World Marathon Majors. “ I am now looking at getting sub-three at all the six major marathons. It will be challenging because you have to maintain timing and also stay injury-free. I am not getting younger. My next full marathon will probably be 2018 SCMM. Getting a sub-three in Mumbai would be nice,’’ he said. There is also another emergent angle. Several businessmen have put their capital behind sports they fancy or are synergic with their business; some do the least they can in terms of active participation in sport but leverage media to make it seem significant. Few actually excel at given sport. Vijay is now the CEO of Fast & Up. Although Vijay’s entry into running preceded the creation of Fast & Up by a few years, his subsequent excellence at running does make him among the few CEOs around who not only have hobbies synergic with their work but can also be taken seriously in the sport concerned. Asked if the combination of sports nutrition brand and its CEO, passionate about running, was conscious choice, he said the situation was coincidental. “ Running started in 2013 in right earnest and Fast & Up happened from late 2015. So it was purely co-incidental. But I do concede the synergies. I try to stay away from the brand as much as possible, when it comes to me as an individual in running. You would have never seen me promoting my runs / podium finishes and the brand together. Many a time when the internal team wants to portray my finishes from the official Fast & Up handle, I vigorously dissuade them. Fast & Up is promoted by other athletes who genuinely like the brand and a host of well-wishers. For me the brand should grow up as an institution. Individuals don’t matter,’’ he said. Does the combination others imagine in their head, put pressure on him to perform? “ No. I don’t see it as a combination. However I am aware of the fact that people may perceive a close association. As long as you are sincere to what you do, it does not matter,’’ he said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is based on a conversation with the subject.)

LOVE RAJ CLIMBS EVEREST FOR THE SIXTH TIME

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Indian mountaineer, Love Raj Singh Dharmshaktu, reached the summit of Everest for the sixth time on May 27, 2017.

A senior officer of the Border Security Force (BSF), Love Raj was on this occasion part of the ONGC Eco Everest Expedition.

He had previously climbed Everest successfully in 1998, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2013. The May 2017 expedition was his ninth visit to Everest.

“ Love Raj reached the summit of Everest around 6.10 AM on May 27,’’ Capt. S.K. Sagwan, leader of the expedition, said when contacted. According to him, a total of four team members (including Love Raj) summitted the peak on Saturday, May 27. Three other team members were slated to commence their summit attempt on Saturday night with hopes of reaching the top by Sunday morning. “ Following his successful summit, Love Raj is on his way back to base camp,’’ Capt. Sagwan said, Saturday evening.

At the time of writing this article, Anshu Jamsenpa, mountaineer from Arunachal Pradesh, who climbed Everest twice in five days in the 2017 climbing season, had a total of five successful ascents of the peak. While Love Raj’s successful ascents of Everest were along tried and tested routes, of his nine trips to the mountain, two were as part of expeditions attempting challenging faces – the Kanshung Face (1999) and the East Face (2001).

Love Raj Singh Dharmshaktu (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Love Raj’s sixth successful climb of Everest has happened after a long wait. It was originally slated for 2015. But that year, while Love Raj was at Everest Base Camp, the devastating earthquake that killed thousands in Nepal, struck. At Everest Base Camp, the earthquake triggered a massive avalanche with resultant casualties. The climbing season was terminated following the incident.

Love Raj is an Assistant Commandant with the BSF.

He was awarded the Padma Sri in 2014.

This blog has previously written on Love Raj and the Johar region in Kumaon that he hails from.

For more on Love Raj please try this link:   https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/everest-to-the-east/ . For an account of the 2015 avalanche including Love Raj’s experience, please try this link:  https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/everest-when-the-earthquake-struck/

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)