Hitting pay dirt

Lalita Babbar.-SHASHI ASHIWAL

What is rupees five lakh to a man and a woman after a hard grind on the streets of Mumbai on a Sunday morning in mid-January? A massive reward, of course. One has to be in the shoes of either Karan Singh of Army Sports Institute, Pune or Lalita Babbar of Central Railway to get the full import.

On the face of it, a sum of Rs. 5 lakh is huge, but here we are talking of two runners, who faced a lot of hardship and challenges including rising temperatures to win the honours in India’s No. 1 marathon.

Lalita, 24, won her third straight Mumbai Marathon (42.195 km) in 2 hours 50 minutes and 31 seconds. This was three minutes and 11 seconds better than her previous personal best of 2 hours 53 minutes and 42 seconds (January 2013). She received a bonus of Rs. 1 lakh for breaking the course record. It is an amazing fact that Lalita has run three marathons and won all of them. However, her best was not good enough to match the qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games (Glasgow) and the Asian Games (Incheon) later this year. “I will try to break the record. My target is to qualify for the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games and for that, I have to run below 2:50:00 so that I can come closer to it (the qualifying mark),” Lalita had said on the eve of the marathon.

Karan Singh.-SHASHI ASHIWAL

After the race, however, Sunita Godara, the 1992 Asian marathon champion and the co-ordinator of the Indian elite athletes at the SCMM 2014, said, “It would be very difficult to clip more than five minutes in the next few months. She has to make up only seconds in the steeplechase and that is what she will be trying to do at the national camp.”

A ticket-checker at Ghatkopar station in the suburbs of Mumbai, Lalita said she had prepared for the race only for a month. “I didn’t do any separate training for the marathon, but did what was needed for normal track events. There were no international marathons in 2013, so we were just keeping the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games as targets. I could have achieved a better timing but I was running alone after the halfway mark. There was no one to push me,” said the runner, who is being coached by J. S. Bhatia and Renu Kohli at the national camp in Bangalore.

Karan Singh’s victory in the Indian elite men’s section once again confirmed the Army’s control over the long distance race. He was up against Rashpal Singh, Binning Lyngkhoi (winner in 2011 and 2013), Elam Singh and a few more. “I was mentally tougher this time. It was hard in the last seven kilometres. I train with Ram Singh Yadav and Elam Singh and I was ahead of them in the last ten,” said the Havildar, based at ASI, Pune.

The total prize money for the Indian elite field (men and women) was Rs. 40 lakh.

G. Viswanath