Entering hallowed territory: interview with sub 3:00 full marathoner Vishwas Suryavanshi

Just 5 weeks ago (19th Jan 2020), Team Motiv8 athlete Vishwas Suryavanshi blazed through the streets of Mumbai to clock a 3:03:xx at the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). This gave him a Boston Qualification (BQ) time – the qualifying time for his age group being 3:05 – but not enough of a guarantee to actually get through, since the actual entry cutoff has historically come around 2-3 minutes below the qualifying time.

So after discussing with his coach Atul Godbole, Vishwas decided to take another shot at a full marathon this past Sunday (23rd Feb 2020). What happened on the roads of Delhi is the stuff of dreams. Vishwas smashed a 2:58:xx, achieving the much coveted sub 3:00 full marathon time, and all but sealing his entry into Boston Marathon 2021.

Flaunting after the race

Vishwas talks to his coach Atul Godbole about these last few weeks and the race day…

Atul Godbole (AG): How does it feel to enter the hallowed sub 3:00 full marathon club?

Vishwas Suryavanshi (VS): It is a great feeling & huge sense of achievement. It is a dream come true for me. A personal best marathon finish time which starts with 2:xx is totally a different feeling.

AG: Why did you decide to do another full just 5 weeks after Tata Mumbai Marathon?

VS: First up, I will say that this is something not at all recommended. But all this started in month of November. Earlier (before Berlin) I had registered for London Marathon which I had to cancel for some personal reason. Then the BQ attempt race was either Mumbai OR Delhi. All my friends, my running partners Krishna, Kavitha suggested Delhi is a good option to go for a BQ attempt, but already registered for Mumbai so decided to attempt in Mumbai and have Delhi as a backup plan. I knew 5 weeks is very short time but I thought momentum will help. This worked well.

AG: Did you think it would be too much mentally and/or physically?

VS: It was not too much because I did back to back major long runs during my comrades training but those were training runs & these full marathons are races which required hard efforts. The training plan that you designed for these 5 weeks helped to have quick recovery after Mumbai marathon, good ramp up with some spice of speed & proper tapering to get ready for another intense race.

AG: When I told you to eliminate all speed workouts in these past 5 weeks, you were a bit apprehensive, but it worked out great didn’t it?

VS: In those 5 weeks we did all easy runs & two long runs. No intervals, no tempo runs & no marathon pace runs so I was bit apprehensive of losing the momentum of speed, but in fact this helped to increase race day effort & pace. Same I discussed with Kavitha also and she said “that should be ok”. So absolutely this worked out very well to get desired outcome.

AG: Sub 3 is great, but a comfortable BQ margin is the icing on the cake, isn’t it?

VS: Sub 3 was more of a delight I would say. For many marathon runners (myself included) a big goal to is to join “the sub three club”. This is something I knew I was probably capable of, after having run 3:03 in Mumbai. Having achieved BQ at Mumbai was a huge satisfaction but little dicey for chances of actual entry so this race was more of an increasing the margin to 4 or 5 minute & I am happy that 7 min margin is huge to have guaranteed entry to Boston.

AG: Were you anxious leading up to race day?

VS: It doesn’t matter if the running marathon is a first-time challenge, BQ/PB/Sub3 attempt or if you’re a seasoned pro, almost everyone gets nervous before race day. So yes anxiety was there because plan was to repeat the same performance infact to increase the effort level. I had to put these efforts to convince myself “Yes TMM performance was not just a luck”.

AG: Did the 4am race start help?

VS: 4am starts means almost entire run we ran in a dark and weather remain pleasant for the run. Also different start times for FM, HM & 10k was very well managed to avoid crowds on the roads. Our way was very clear throughout run.

Vishwas with partner in crime Krishna before race start

AG: There were six 180 deg U-turns on each loop of this 2-loop course – did those affect you?

VS: Running on straight route and on a route having so many U-turns makes huge difference, it breaks the momentum where you have to drop your pace almost to zero. But I knew this before the race & my mind was prepared for that, I used these U-turns pace drop for on-the-run recovery. We cannot have everything perfect for a race, flat route, pleasant weather, empty road, early start & straight route. Out of these 5 points one was missing which was compensated by other 4 positives.

AG: I heard you had a problem with your garmin right at the start of the race – what happened?

VS: As usual it was crowded at the start of the race and during the 2nd km, a runner’s hand hit my Garmin and at 4th OR 5th km I realized that my Garmin was not beeping for lap notification so I checked and saw some unknown error, don’t know what happened. After that, the entire run was by feel. Only at the time of completing the first loop and at the finish did I see the clock and that timing surprised me. Anyways plan was to have run by feel like TMM but I don’t have splits, cadence & stride length details for this dream run. But that is OK, we have to expect the unexpected in Marathon and carry on.

AG: What time did the clock show when you crossed it at the end of the 1st loop?

VS: When we completed the first loop clock was showing 5:29:XX. At the start I crossed the timing mat at 4:01 am, so I knew I completed 1st loop in 1:28:XX.

AG: Did you feel you had a chance of a sub-3 based on that time?

VS: Yes, even if I finish 2nd loop in 1:31 I knew sub 3 is achievable. Plan was to remain strong & focused till end. Day after the race when I checked the published results it’s not -ve split this time , its a positive split by some seconds. I ran 1st half 1:28:41 & 2nd half in 1:29:27 for a final finish time 2:58:08.

AG: One of your energy gels fell down during the run – why didn’t you stop to pick it up?

VS: I was carrying 5 gels. One gel per 8km. At 25th km while pulling out my 4th gel from the belt the gel in the very next slot fall down. We need to do these things very carefully while running at 4:10 -4:12 pace. I didn’t stop because I didn’t want to leave the running pack, we were going very strong but comfortable. I thought I have this one gel & one 5 Star chocolate which are enough to take me through. I remember you always say that anything can happened on race day & it has to be managed and that should not become an excuse. Desire to succeed should be much more higher than fear of failure. This is the 2nd thing as part of expect the unexpected.

AG: What thoughts crossed your mind as you crossed the finish line?

VS: Our pack was going really well but at 39-40km I was a little behind and without Garmin working I didn’t know what exact distance is remaining & what will be the finish time. When I took final turn towards the stadium Sunil Shetty from the organizing team was cheering & he shouted “Vishwas it’s good sub 3”. I increased my pace & after coming on the track saw the finish line clock showing 6:58:XX. I started sprinting like anything and crossed the finish line just over 6:59 am. I was very happy, I knew its sub 3 & a BQ with huge margin. The only thought going in my mind is “Yes I am going to Boston now” I was getting very emotional and Amod, one of the pack members, gave me a big hug”.

Crossing the finish line – agony and ecstasy

AG: What is making you more happy – the sub 3 or the now almost 100% chance of making it to Boston?

VS: I will say both. Main goal for this race was to increase the margin between actual time & BQ cutoff. This goal is achieved as with 7 min margin it’s clear that I will get guaranteed entry for Boston. Sub 3 marathon is more delightful. You have marathon finish time which starts with 2 which is a proud feeling. Making it to the Boston was my dream & sub 3 was a long term goal, So I am happy for both. 😊

AG: The last 8-10 months have been brutal – 3 full marathon races in that period. How did you manage to keep yourself motivated during this period, especially after the the bad day you had at Berlin in September?

VS: It was very busy schedule for this intense training since we started Berlin training in June followed by TMM & Delhi. I was having clear goal in my mind which is to BQ. Yes, after having a bad day at Berlin I was disappointed but discussion with you on the next day after Berlin re-energized me, decided not to give up on my dreams and afterwards it was a fresh start. Road to Boston wasn’t an easy task so having confidence on our training program & burning desire of making it to the Boston kept me motivated throughout this period.

AG: Did you use any mental tricks during the race?

VS: Like TMM, I repeated 1 to 100 countless times. Also at times in last 10k I loudly said “Vishwas you are awesome, you are strong, going good”. Towards fag end of the race my lower calves were so tight, I was already behind the pack and loud inner voice asking me to stop. Two thoughts came to my mind “Great things happens out of comfort zone” and “pain tolerance and ability to survive is a key thing in marathon”. I remembered your mental fitness tips many times. Now it’s time to apply. They seem simple but very difficult to execute.

AG: Whats the single most important thing that you feel helped during a) training b) race day

VS: Discipline in training, being a 24×7 athlete & training with my team mates helped me to improve my fitness level.

Being confident, trust on training, pack running with strong runners & burning desire to succeed helped on race day. Also proper nutrition in 1st half helped in second half, it’s all about how you build your marathon.

Vishwas with coach Atul and teammates Krishna and Kavitha post finish

AG: I remember you once told me that you will stop running once you do a sub 3 marathon 🙂 – is that changed?

VS: Haha…you still remember that, it was a long back chat. 😊

But yes that is changed. I will not stop running but need to discuss with you on the next long term goal which will keep me motivated.

Mementos to cherish for a lifetime

AG: What is next on your plate now? Will there be another marathon anytime soon or will you take it easy for some time?

VS: Right now I don’t have anything in my mind other than recovering fully. So I will be having easy next few months. Will spend more time with my family and friends which I had to compromise over last 8-10 months.

AG: Thats awesome! Congrats to you again, and see you around on the roads soon! 🙂



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