Shivananda Hadapada from a small village near Hubli is overjoyed that he will be travelling to Indonesia for a run

When Shivananda Hadapada received a phone call informing him of an imminent trip to Indonesia, he thought it was a prank. “I thought it must be one of my friends,” he says. It wasn’t. Hadapad finished last month’s TCS World 10K in a time of 35:48 seconds, placing him fourth among the 13,200 runners in the Open category. What the result also did, unbeknownst to Hadapada, was put him first among ‘The Young and the Fast’, a Nike contest for runners between 15 and 24. “I didn’t know where I had finished or what it meant,” he says. “I just ran.”

Next month, Hadapada and Madhuri Deshmukh, who was first among the women in the same age-group, will travel to the Indonesian island of Java for a run in settings that can only be described as exotic. The trail will take in temples over a millennium old, the flanks of the volcanic Mount Merapi, and the Javanese rainforest.

“I have led a life of poverty. This is something I could have never dreamt of. I have no major medals to show, so this brings me great happiness. Naanoo foreign ge hogthaidini (Even I’m going abroad),” Hadapada smiles.

The 24-year-old hails from Nalavadi in Navalgund taluk, some 22 km from Hubli in Karnataka’s north-west. His father, Shekharappa, is a farmer and his elder brother a barber. Hadapada’s earliest memory of running is of dashing to the fields his family worked on – two kilometres from home – and back. “As a boy, nobody told me to run; I ran because I enjoyed it,” he recalls.

A PE teacher from school noted his daily sorties to the farm and introduced him to competitive middle-distance running.

Success followed at the district level and between 2008 and 10, there were medals on the track at the state championships.

For one reason or another, though, Hadapada was unable to rise beyond those heights. After three years at the government-run DYSS sports hostel, his performances did not really improve and he found work as an ‘office boy’, his competitive career essentially over.

It is here that Hadapada’s story takes a pleasant turn. Where others might have jettisoned such pursuits, he continues to train before work. “I want to improve every day,” he states. It does not bother him that he is now an amateur or that he runs only a few open races a year. “There was a time when people in my village asked me: ‘Why are you running? Do you have to get somewhere in a hurry?’” Hadapada says, breaking into a grin. “Now they call me the horse.”

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