Avinash Sable is India’s foremost athlete in the steeplechase. He has rewritten his own national record several times and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. But after about a year without competition, the 26-year-old tried his hand, or rather feet, at the half marathon and ended up with the national record in the event as well.

Sable participated in the Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday and became the first Indian to run a half marathon under 61 minutes, clocking 1:00:30 seconds and finishing much ahead of his compatriots.

At a time when there are no track races and the athletics calendar is disrupted like most sports, the athlete from Maharashtra, only participated in the half marathon to test himself after training consistently over the last seven months. The Delhi Half Marathon was the first major athletics competition to be held in India since the coronavirus lockdown earlier in the year.

“It felt good to be back in competition and the result made it better. I am happy because after all that training, the improvement showed,” Sable told Scroll.in. “I participated in it as a trial event to test myself… how much faster have I become and how many seconds I have shaved off my time. It was a trial for my endurance level.”

Before the event, the goal was to touch the 60 minutes and he was successful in setting the event record for an Indian at the Delhi Half Marathon. Sable broke the previous national record of 1:03.46 held by Kalidas Nirave by a fair margin.

“I have improved by around three minutes in timing from my earlier personal best in the event, it’s great to see the improvement,” he added, saying that he didn’t undergo any special training for the half marathon and is focusing on his main discipline.

Sable, who qualified for Olympics in 3000m steeplechase during the World Athletics Championships last year, was in Ooty for the last few months and because he was already training, the lockdown didn’t affect his preparation as much.

“In the initial 15-20 days, I couldn’t train and was worried. But when I realized this lockdown will be on, I restarted my training as and when I got time because if I had stopped it would take a long time for me to regain that fitness level,” he said. Sable stayed back at the camp in Ooty from March till the end of August.

Due to the pandemic, he was worried about travelling to Delhi from Bangalore was a risk but one he had to take to be able to compete as he was really keen to. “Nothing happened but if it did I would not have been able to compete. We were quarantined for a few days and all safety measures were in place,” he said.

The Indian Army man, who hails from a family of farmers in Mandwa, Maharashtra, had planned to go home only after the Olympics. For now though, Sable has an interesting take on his personal experience with the unprecedented postponement of the Tokyo Games due to the pandemic.

“At first all I thought about was wanting to participate in the Olympics,” Sable explained. “Most players want to play there soon. But now, after getting this time and the preparation I did in it, I realized that there has been a lot of improvement and my perspective changed.

Sable added: “Now I will go there with a different frame of mind, to do something new and different. I feel much more confident now and sure of getting a good result at the Olympics. It’s a plus point for me now that I am not just thinking of participation but also of a good performance.”

The extra time will help him raise his level and come close to the international standard.

“My standard was below the world level and I couldn’t compare with them. But in the last seven to eight months I got, I was able to reduce my time. Earlier, it was difficult for me to improve the 20 seconds I needed to but now it is not as difficult because I have worked on all the aspects of training. It’s now easy and I feel confident.

“When I play my next competition, I know that I will have improved on my time. I now believe from my side that I am a world-level performer now and will test when I play a competition next,” he asserted.

The runner is now hoping to participate in a next steeplechase competition soon but any timeline is tough given the uncertain times.

“There will be domestic events soon but I am hoping to participate in an international level meet soon because before the Olympics I want to test myself and see. I wasn’t able to compete with international athletes now, running with them will give me the confidence that I have to compete against them at the Games… waiting to know when we will be able to travel internationally and take part in meets now,” he said.

Whenever the opportunity arises, Sable’s recent record and confidence augur well for him and India’s chances.