It's naïve to think that a time of 2hrs 15minutes or below is beyond the reach of the Indian male marathon runners. If the current crop of runners, says former national long-distance coach JS Saini, is not cracking the barrier, it has nothing to do with genetics but haphazard training. "A 42km race isn't a joke. It's a bit difficult to race below 2:15 without proper regimen," he said.
Way back in the 1970s, Saini worked in tandem with the late Shivnath Singh, and the results were astounding. In the build-up months to the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Shivnath gave a good account of himself, clocking 2:15:58 in the trial in Patiala. At Montreal too, he ran neck-and-neck with the leading pack for a major part of the race, which included the likes of USA's Frank Shorter who finished second. Shivnath finished 11th clocking 2:16:22, which was a national record.
Two years later, the Services runner lowered his mark, clocking 2:12 in a domestic meet. The record still stands.
Boom no threat
The recent boom in marathon runs in the country hasn't threatened the 34-year-old record with the new breed of runners hovering around the 2:20 mark.
Services long-distance coach, KS Mathews, puts it on the crammed schedule. "Almost all the major prize money races happen in the country between November and February, which is doing no good. Athletes are chasing money, not time," he adds. The absence of high-quality long-distance runners, says Athletics Federation of India (AFI) director, ML Dogra, is another factor for the poor performance in marathon events. "Unsuccessful track runners jump into marathon races. It does add to the numbers but not to the quality.
"The world's leading marathon runners also have good basic speed in 10km track events. They cover the distance in less than 28 minutes, while top Indian runners cover the distance in 30 mins because of faulty training. So, it's difficult to catch up the leading runners."
Dogra feels top Indian runners should do specialised marathon running, with focus on two three major races in a year. Though Services runner Binning Lyongkhoi showed promise some five years back when he won a medal in a 20km road race in Switzerland, he is struggling to crack the 2:15 barrier. So much for the haphazard training!