“But, does he sleep in the hypoxic chamber?” asked the veteran scout who is accustomed to low oxygen altitudes in Kenya and Ethiopia while enlisting promising long-distance talent, curious about Indian runners. Not merely training in the artificial chamber which simulates those conditions and improves endurance, but were the Indians sleeping in it as well, he demanded to know.
Marathon training is a complete lifestyle as expert after expert coming into Mumbai from Europe and Africa for the country’s best marathon say. Resting conditions are as critical as training ambience, and quality of food and sleep as critical as striding style and pacing strategem. A chamber was fixed at Ooty earlier last year by the army folk, and Army Sports Institute, Pune, offers a clutch of facilities, but the logical way ahead is to get talented youngsters to move to east African training bases.
In the first such efforts, distance runners Sudha Singh, Kavita Raut and Preeja Sreedharan spent close to two months in Kenya ahead of the Olympic qualifications , though the results were mixed with only Singh making the grade. But the benefits of such training are well-documented: Brits Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah set base in Kenya ahead of the Games.
The run-up to Mumbai marathon has seen many visiting stars stress that Africa’s dominance in road runs and longer track events is not down to simply genetics. “If we can take talented kids from India and train them there, you’ll see it’s not just the genes alone,” the scout stressed. So why doesn’t everyone do it? Funding is central to this. But if there’s one thing that the athletics federation, the sports ministry and organisers of the Mumbai Marathon can do, it is transplanting running talent into the heart of Rift Valley. For right now, far from sleeping in the chamber, India’s simply sleeping as far as preparations go.
Shivani is a special correspondent based in Mumbai