Around the 15 kilometre mark, Srinu Bugatha looked behind to see if there are any Indian runners chasing him. With no one is sight, he continued running at a pace which he thought was good enough to break the course record at the Delhi Half Marathon.

But it wasn’t to be. Though Bugatha won the 21 kilometre race with a timing of one hour, four minutes and 33 seconds. It was almost a minute slower than Nitendra Rawat’s course record for Indian men. Suresh Patel and Harshad Mhatre claimed second and third place with timings of 1:04:57 and 1:05:12 respectively.

“I wanted to get the record because that is what I came here for,” Bugatha said. “Winning the race is good but perhaps breaking the record would have given me more motivation. I was a little tired as I had run 5,000 and 10,000m in Ranchi last week.”

With most Indian stars missing from the half marathon, Bugatha grabbed his opportunity to emerge victorious. But he also knows that a tougher competition would have made him improve his timing.

“I ran 21 kilometres alone. There was no one to set the pace or someone I could chase,” he said. “The foreigners are too fast so if there were some good Indian runners, I would have pushed more.”

In his small competitive career of five years, this is Bugatha’s biggest title. He has won over 100 national and international races and has been in the national camp for some time now. But, Sunday’s win, according to Bugatha, may fuel new aspirations.

“The win in half marathon makes me believe that I run full ones as well,” he said. “I will train and coach will also be happy that I am winning so he will also help.”

The 27-year-old is on a comeback trail. Three years ago, Bugatha ran in every race that he could get a chance in. He won a fair share of prize money from the races apart from the medals at the national and state-level meets. But in 2017, officers at his unit put their foot down.

“I ran for money,” he said. “Wherever I got the chance I ran and got the money. Then my unit got serious and they said you have talent so run for India and try something else.”

He also lost interest in running, and despite being a regular at training, did not put the required effort.

“I ran a lot in training but mind was somewhere else,” he recalled. “I was using my phone and social media. I won a race and there are thousands liking my photo. I loved it. But that ruined my career. I now have a keypad phone.”

The armyman from Andhra Pradesh did not start running until he joined the army in 2010. After his training, he ran cross-country races for his unit and the talent was spotted by Services coach Amrish Singh. Bugatha never looked back since then.

“They kept me at the centre after I won cross-country races,” he said. “I am good road-runner and I began running long distances in 2015. I have national medals in 5,000 and 10,000m.

“Another thing was that if I was in sports, I won’t have to give duty in army. I can just eat and train.”

He did not think of sport when he joined the army as a 17-year-old. All he wanted was to get a respectable life after losing interest in studies. “I used my money to build a house in Visakhapatnam,” he said. “I shifted my family there so they can live in better conditions than village. My life gave me army and then army gave me running.”

Bugatha also draws inspiration from fellow army runners Gopi T and Nitendra Rawat. “Gopi got to Olympics and that made him a superstar,” he said. “The motivation he got he used in future races and look at him now. I will also try for Olympics now. Earlier I used to run for money, now I will run to get to Olympics.”

Course record

While Bugatha failed to create a course record on Sunday, there was atleast one record that was broken.

Defending champion in elite women’s category Tsehay Gemechu of Ethiopia retained her title with a course record timing of one hour and six minutes. Ethiopia’s Yelamzerf Yehualaw clocked 1:06:01 to grab the second place, while Zeineba Yimer clocked 1:06:57 for the third place.

For Indian women, L Suriya won the race with a timing of 1:12:49, while Parul Chaudhary and Chinta Yadav clocked 1:13:55 and 1:15:28 to finish second and third respectively.

In men’s category, Andamlak Belihu of Ethiopia also defended his title with a timing of 59:10 minutes. It was Ethiopia’s Solomon Berihu who clocked 59:17 minutes to grab the second place while Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie finished third with a timing of 59:33 minutes.