Army man Nitendra Singh Rawat is a strong contender for the Tata Mumbai Marathon in the elite Indian runners full marathon category. The Olympian (he qualified for the Rio 2016 Games with an impressive timing of 2 hours, 19 minutes) is a veteran in distance running, but recalls how he took to the sport — almost by chance. Rawat, 31, who used to be an infantry Havaldar with the sixth Kumaon Regiment and posted in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, was not even an athlete to begin with. He says, he ran fast only to avoid punishment.
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"When I joined the army, in Ranikhet, Uttarakhand, I knew nothing about marathon running. All I knew was that I would one day be posted on the border or simply do some general duty elsewhere. "During our daily training drills as army men, we had to run long distance, and those who lagged behind were punished severely. So, to skip this punishment, I ensured I ran hard and finished in the leading group. I did it consistently and one day our trainer felt I had it in me to do well in distance running. He recommended that I be transferred to the Army Sports Institute in Pune, and that's how professional running happened to me," Rawat told mid-day on the eve of the Mumbai Marathon on Saturday.
The 1700-odd km journey from Uttarakhand to Pune changed Rawat's life. "At the ASI in Pune, I got a chance to train with seniors — the best distance runners in the country athletes, some of whom have achieved success at the international level too. Having trained with them, today I'm among India's elite, and it's a feeling of great pride to represent the army and the country internationally," added Rawat.
The soldier, who clocked his best timing of 2:15:18sec to win gold at the South Asian Games last year in Guwahati, is now eyeing the top spot at Mumbai's mega event. "I want to break the national record in the full marathon (2 hours, 12 minutes). It's a very old mark. I have been training in Ooty since last month. I hope to replicate my Guwahati glory here," Rawat signed off.