Nitendra Singh Rawat has been one of India’s premier long-distance runner for a few years now. He had won the Mumbai Marathon at the start of 2016 and secured his berth at that year’s Rio Olympics.

Rawat suffered a hamstring injury before the start of the race, but competed anyway. He finished 84th and has since been dropped from the national squad by the Athletics Federation of India for the upcoming Commonwealth and Asia Games.

The 31-year-old Army man came into the Mumbai Marathon weekend with a clear aim of performing well and earning back his reputation.

On Sunday, Nitendra’s journey almost came a full circle. Not only did he make a respectable return that he so desired, but came within 0.3 seconds of making a victorious return on what is the most widely followed marathon in India.

He finished with a time of 2:16:54 and was edged by Services teammate Gopi T who crossed the line with a time of 2:16:51. But, despite missing the top spot, it was a commendable performance. One that will go a long way as he trudges along on the road to redemption.

It has been a tough terrain so far. Despite missing the top spot, Nitendra was happy with his performance after a year of failures.

Asked if the result would be good enough to earn his place back into the Indian team, Rawat said: “You should ask this question to the selection committee of the national camp. They will give a better answer. My job is to run, so I am running.”

The experience in Rio is still a sticky subject for the 31-year-old.

“When people start expecting many things from a particular player, it gets to you,” Rawat added.

“When you don’t perform, then these people, who used to say lot of positive things, begin insulting you. The fortnight after my Rio performance was horrifying. I used to get individual messages, which were very demotivating. It used to play up on my mind often.”

Rio failure

In the year away from regular competition, most of his contempararies have streamed ahead.

“I hadn’t competed anywhere for a year and these guys are performing well. Gopi and Kheta Ram and have achieved a certain level. I am starting from zero once again,” he said.

“I fully recovered in March 2017.”

“I started training with the national camp back then in Bangalore. Yash Pandey the physio helped me recover. He had a big hand in my recovery,” Rawat added.

Representing India at the international stage is now his only aim.

“The pressure is immense to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. Now I am getting a second chance. I want to do better in these competitions. The target I had for Rio, I want to achieve them here,” he said.

However, he is taking it one step at a time. Rawat had won gold in the Delhi Half Marathon in November, his first race since Rio.

With the admirable finish in Mumbai, he now feels confident of tackling the Delhi Marathon next month, where he could achieve the necessary mark to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.

“It is very difficult because once you attain a certain level, it is very difficult to achieve it once again,” he said.

“Delhi Half Marathon was my first competition since Rio and I had prepared a lot for it. I wanted to do well. There was no second option. Even though my training was up to the mark, my confidence was low. Plus the fear of injury also comes into my mind. There was pressure.”

Rawat, though, is positive and believes that the weather in Delhi will help him clock a time that will allow him to compete at the Commonwealth Games.

The journey on the road to redemption carries on, but Rawat is trudging along well so far.