When Kartik Kumar bolted away from the rest of the pack at the start of the men’s 10,000 meter Asian Games race, his countryman Gulveer Singh was meant to be up with him and not back with the group behind him.
At least, that was the plan devised by their coach, Scott Simmons.
According to Simmons, the strategy for the pair was to run each 400m in 67 seconds and therefore complete the race in under 28 minutes (1675 seconds), which would have enabled the duo to break Surendra Singh’s national record of 28:02.89 (1682.89s) from 2008.
While both Kartik and Gulveer ended up with a silver and a bronze, the key objective for them here at the Hangzhou Olympic Stadium was to go past the national record.
“I felt that Gulveer should have gone with him,” said Simmons. “He didn’t have the confidence today. Even though he should have had it because these two boys have been training like this for the last 3 months.”
The thinking behind running a faster race was to capitalise on the tiring legs of the long-distance runners at the end of a long season in late September. Kartik has run only three 10000m races this year, while Gulveer has run four. Instead, they have come into the Asian Games with high-intensity training in high altitude of Colorado.
“We felt that a lot of other athletes’ fitness was coming down because it’s a long season. We could see that in performances in Budapest [World Championship] but these boys have been training all the way through and are strong. Athletes would prefer to be slow all the way and kick on in the end. But we didn’t want to be slow,” said Simmons.
“They [Gulveer and Kartik] trained for 10000m, not 5000m or 1500m. We talked about going out at 67 seconds [per 400m] and set the pace. They were close to the national record today and are in shape to break it.”
Gulveer eventually found the confidence to pull ahead along with the pack after the sixth lap and catch up with Kartik. Throughout the race, they remained within the group of six or seven runners, who led the race.
“But the fact that he [Gulveer] went out and was 66 or 67s meant the rest of the field, especially the Japanese found themselves seven seconds back and it made them go ‘We can’t let him go’. So he forced them to make it a faster pace, which was good. Otherwise, they would have run 70 or 72 seconds [per 400m], just jogged for 9000m, and then kicked in the end to see who had the best speed,” explained Simmons.
In the end, with some good fortune, both Kartik and Gulveer finished with personal best timings and also took home a silver and bronze – their first major international honours in 10000m. Kartik improved on his personal best by 39 seconds (2:15.38) and Gulveer by 36 seconds (28:17.21) as they finished behind Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew.
And Gulveer did it while running the last 1000m of the race with a gash on his right leg, inflicted by one of the runners, after a trip caused by Bahrain’s Dawit Adamasu.
The trip subsequently resulted in three other racers, including the Asian Championship winner Ren Tazawa of Japan falling over in the final 1000m of the race. Kartik and Gulveer were the last two in the top six pack when the incident took place.
“Even after getting spiked, he didn’t stop. They had to steeplechase a few guys and held his composure,” Simmons chuckled. “I am proud of him for fighting on.”
Simmons said their medals were just rewards for their hard work.
“When an athlete asks me why are they doing 25 times 400m, I answer ‘how many 400m are there in 10000m and the answer is 25. It clicked for them. These boys have been 100% in training. They have continued to try their best in every workout. What’s a workout? It’s practice, it’s like practicing playing the piano,” he said.
“You can’t fail at practice, you just have to try at practice. And they do that with the workouts on the track, the temple runs, the long runs, and progressing their long runs, which are longer than they have ever been before. We have been training them on mud roads that go 40kms so we can do good quality workouts.”
After soaking in the achievement, Kartik was a little disappointed with the outcome. “What I thought it didn’t happen exactly. I knew the medal would come. I came here wanting to break the national record. I wanted to do 27:50.00 but in between and in the start, I got slow. I couldn’t go as fast as I could.”
But he couldn’t stay disappointed for long and remained optimistic about breaking it eventually. “Koi nahi, aage karenge. Record ko break karke chodenge (No problem. The record will come eventually),” said Kartik.
India didn’t have success in the two other finals on the day when Muhammed Ajmal and Aishwarya Mishra finished fifth and fourth with a timing of 45.97s and 53.50s in their respective 400m races.
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