The mountains come to Mumbai

A group of Ladakhi runners are seeking fame and fortune via the Mumbai Marathon, and a legendary city coach is training them

Published - January 20, 2018 01:21 am IST

Nawang Tsering is just 19, but they already call him Rocket back home in Leh, for the pace he generates between strides. He is hoping his road-running career will take off when he runs the half-marathon in the Mumbai Marathon this year. He is in august company. Jigmet Dolma and Tsetan Dolkar, both 24 and students of the Indira Gandhi Open University, are returning to Mumbai this year after very respectable performances in 2017: Ms. Dolma came in third in the marathon in the elite category, and Ms. Dolkar finished fourth in the category reserved for Indian nationals. They, with seven other athletes from India’s far north, qualified for Mumbai Marathon events via their finishing times at the Ladakh Marathon September (where Ms. Dolma finished in 3’18”56 and Ms. Dolkar in 3’23”50).

All ten runners are competing in Mumbai courtesy Rimo Expeditions, which also pays for their training and preparation. Another common factor: they are all mentored by Mumbai coach Savio D’Souza.

Mr. D’Souza, 67, is a runner himself (he ran the 5,000 and 10,000 metres before moving to the marathon, where he was national champion from 1984 to 1988). He still runs the half-marathon, in the veterans category, though not with the intent of winning. He gets as much joy from training others, and enjoys huge respect from the running community. He can claim credit for producing scores of marathoners, and aside from elite athletes, he also trains street kids for free.

Mr. D’Souza was introduced to C. Motup Goba, the organiser of the Ladakh Marathon, by Kaushik Laijawala, a Mumbai runner and trekker. Mr. Goba’s other interests include adventure travel: he also owns Rimo Expeditions. Mr. D’Souza does not charge his usual coaching fees when he goes to Ladakh. “Rimo take care of my travel and stay there, and they arrange the travel and stay for the Ladakh marathoners in Mumbai,” he says. “I am doing this as honorary work, to give back something to marathon running by working with kids from poor families.”

Raw talent

On his impressions of the talent in Ladakh, Mr. D’Souza says, “Long distance running talent is there in Leh, waiting to be tapped for moulding into India material. Basic fitness levels and lung capacity is quite high. The advantage for them over others coming into distance running is endurance; harsh living conditions, simplicity in living and eating habits, readiness to work hard, and hunger for running, these are all positive factors. When a training schedule is given, these youngsters follow it and during a race, they keep to pre-race plan.” Mr. D’Souza says that the one thing Ladakh runners are missing, when compared to international runners, is speed, and he puts that down to most of them not having first run track events like the 5,000m and 10,000m before switching to the marathon.

The success that Ms. Dolma and Ms. Dolkar had in the Mumbai Marathon changed their lives. The two women, who come from humble farming families, went home with prize-money cheques worth ₹3,00,000 and ₹2,25,000 respectively last year, and also got entries into other Indian road races on the strength of their Mumbai performances. “Radio stations, local newspapers, television channels there gave them coverage, since the Mumbai race is well-known and over 14 years is setting a benchmark for marathon running,” Mr. D’Souza said. “I visited their homes to meet their families this time. One Mumbai podium finish can make runners famous in remote villages up there, where sports opportunities are limited.” Their success also sparked off a running craze in the mountains. “They have realised by now that long-distance running is a way to earn money, similar to the route taken by Kenyans in marathon running.”

The Ladakh Marathon is also breeding more runners, Mr. Dsouza says. “This year when I went there, besides catching up with Jigmet and Tsetan on their preparations, I took a look at emerging talent. 40 children in the under-12 and under-14 age groups joined us for the first time. With age on their side, these kids have the time to develop the speed necessary in competitive distance running. I hope the Sports Authority of India, or private parties involved in sports promotion, set up training bases there. Leh and surrounding areas at high altitude can do for marathon running what Mizoram or Manipur are doing for Indian football. Marathoners are waiting to be discovered in these boys and girls.”

Ready to run

Mr. D’Souza will be running on Sunday too, but, he says, “I run for fitness, not for competition. Our runners group will be there, encouraging each other to the finish.”

He is focussing on his wards, making sure they can give their best. The young Ladakhis — six women and four men — are acclimatising to Mumbai, with two sessions daily, split into an endurance build-up on the roads and speed work on the athletic track at the Priyadarshini Park. Mr. D’Souza says that he doesn’t mind if his wards don’t finish on the podium, “as long as they improve personal timing each time. They will reach the podium eventually.”


Raj Kalady

Managing Director,Project Management Institute, India

Category: The full marathon; my first, so am very excited

Personal best: Two hours and 12 minutes earlier this year in Delhi.

Target: 4:30-4:45. I am taking it a bit slow as I am nursing an Achilles injury.

How many marathons in 2017: Eight half marathons, starting with the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon followed by Hiranandani Thane, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Customs Marathon Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Kochi.

Practice regime: Typically three days a week of training in the earlier part of the year, mostly focusing on strengthening. Post July, I have being doing long runs on Sundays and from November, have been focusing on mileage on two additional days. Mondays are rest days.

Run for a cause: No specific cause.

What running means to him: Running allows me to introspect. It connects me to people from different industries. The preparation and regime up to the final run means a lot of commitment all year through. It gives me an immense sense of achievement.

Last year’s marathon: Mumbai marathon is one of the country’s best, in terms of organisation. The run takes us twice on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link for the half marathon; you don’t even get such a view when you drive on the Sea Link. I wish the weather was kinder.

Rashesh Shah

Chairman and CEO, Edelweiss Group

Category: The full marathon

Personal best: 4:45

Target: 4:40

How many marathons in 2017: I had the chance to participate in one full marathon and three half marathons

Practice regime: I train with the Striders (a running group) for an hour four days a week. I wake up at 4.45 am. Running on your own is quite lonely. In contrast, running in a group helps you bond with others, and motivates you to run. On the other three days I like to swim, cycle or hit the gymnasium depending on the weather and my work schedule. I usually rest on Mondays.

Run for a cause: I run for EdelGive Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Edelweiss Group that supports over 130 NGOs working in areas like education, livelihood and women’s empowerment. The Foundation has impacted the life of more than 4.5 lakh people through contributions crossing ₹100 crore over the past decade.

What running means to him: Running teaches you perseverance, focus and rigour. It has made me much more patient and calm. It also gives you enough time to reflect on the day gone by or what you plan to do today or the next day. There is a sense of commitment and you know you have to do things the right way to achieve your goal. I started preparing for my first half marathon by running five rounds of the Mahalaxmi Race Course. The length of the track is almost 2.5 km and once I was able to run all five rounds, I was confident of completing the half marathon. It was exciting to do so, and since then, there has been no looking back.

Last year’s marathon: Last year I ran 21 km at the Mumbai Marathon in 2 hours and 4 minutes. It was one of the best planned ones, and there was a very enthusiastic crowd and support ambience. Clearly the Mumbai Marathon is an annual institution. Always have a strong contingent from Edelweiss alongside, that makes it all the more enjoyable.

Krishna Prakash

Additional Commisioner of Police

Category: Full marathon.

Personal best timing: 4:10

Target: Below four hours

How many marathons in 2017: More than 25 half marathons and three full marathons across the world

Practice regime: The triathlete has been running for the past three years, and the full marathon since last year. He either cycles or swims every day except the first day of the week.

The cause: Street children.

What running means to him: Running is like spirituality. Whenever you are running, you’re in a trance; in rhythm with your breath. When I run and swim, many good things come into my mind because it is a creative space. It helps me be creative, healthy, spiritual and social.

Last year’s marathon: My first full marathon; full of energy.

Abhishek Sinha

Partner, Khaitan and Khaitan

Category: Half marathon

Personal best timing: 2:04

Target: Two hours

How many marathons in 2017: Two half marathons.

Practice regime: Early morning runs coupled with a little bit cycling and swimming. Cardio and weight training on weekends.

The cause: Has run for CRY and an NGO for people with Alzheimer’s.

What running means to him: Running is my passion (He ran his first marathon in 2012). The Mumbai marathon is one of the best in terms of organistaion

Last year’s marathon: Did not take part last year.

Virendra Ojha Advocate

Category: Full marathon

Personal best timing: 3:57

Target: 3:45 minutes

Practice regime: He runs around 90 to 100 km per week.

The cause: He ran from Guwahati to Shillong, around 101 km, for the Income Tax Department for the cause of clean money.

What running means to him: Running is my passion, and I am enthusiastic about fitness.

Last year’s marathon: Ran the full marathon despite being injured.


Men’s record: 2:08:35

Gideon Kipketer, KENYA

Women’s record: 2:24:33

Valentine Kipketer, KENYA


Marathon timings have come down in the men’s elite category to two hours, nine minutes, 32 seconds in Mumbai Marathon 2017, clocked by Tanzanian Alphonse Simbu. Fourteen races earlier, when South African Hendrik Ramaala won the inaugural MM 2004, he was timed at 2:15:47. Mr. Ramaala is back at MM 2018 as pace-setter for Indian male marathoners.


In the women’s elite category, the 2017 champion was Kenya’s Bornes Kitur, clocking 2:29:02 as against the 2004 champion from Poland, Wioletta Uryga’s winning time of 2:47:53.

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