Veer Singh vividly remembers how his second-eldest son, Kartik Kumar, used to run on the 200m sand track at the Maharana Pratap Inter College grounds in their village Shimlana, situated 30 km from Saharanpur, to prepare for the Army recruitment rallies back in 2015. Even though Kumar wasn’t eligible for recruitment due to his age, he would complete 40 laps of the 200m track alongside other aspirants with the dream of joining the army.
On a Saturday evening, Kartik, now 24 years old, achieved a personal best with a timing of 28 minutes and 15.38 seconds. Following closely, his teammate, 25-year-old Gulveer Singh, also set a personal best, clocking in at 28 minutes and 17.21 seconds. Their remarkable performances earned India a historic silver in the men’s 10,000m at the Hangzhou Olympics Centre Stadium during the Asian Games – a significant achievement as it marked India’s first medal in this event since Gulab Chand’s bronze in 1988. Kartik’s singular focus was always on crossing the required timing for the run during the Army recruitment rally once he became eligible. Winning the silver for India holds special meaning for Kartik, bringing back memories of those dedicated runs.
Before gaining recognition on the national circuit in 2016, Kartik primarily trained at the Dr. Ambedkar Stadium in Saharanpur for long-distance races. His breakthrough came with a 3000m silver medal at the Junior Nationals in Kozhikode, propelling him into the Indian junior team. Kartik went on to secure a bronze in the 10,000m event at the Asian Junior Championship, with a timing of 30 minutes and 5.30 seconds. In 2018, he finished 12th in the World U-20 Championships. “Prior to him making it to the Indian junior team, Kartik would always train at the village with Goldstar and Rasics shoes costing Rs 700-800. At that time, it was tough to manage the shoes for our father since Kartik would tear down his shoes in a very short time. Once he got into the Indian team and Indian Army, he did not have to worry about shoes,” recounts elder brother Sonu Kumar.
In 2019, Kartik came to the attention of Amrish Kumar, the chief running coach of the Indian Army, during the Federation Cup in Patiala. At that event, Kartik achieved a personal best timing of 29 minutes and 51.28 seconds, securing the sixth position in the 10,000m event. Over the subsequent three years, he displayed continuous improvement, achieving a personal best of 29 minutes and 42.63 seconds in 2021. He also won gold at the Federation Cup with a timing of 29 minutes and 20.21 seconds and set a personal best of 28 minutes and 55 seconds at the National Games in Gujarat.
Initially, when Kartik commenced training under the guidance of the Indian Army, he and Gulveer were required to cover 120 km per week, gradually increasing it to 150 km per week. As they comprehended the importance of maintaining the right pace, the training focus shifted to other technical aspects of long-distance running. They consistently maintained a pace of 3.8 minutes per km before breaking the 3.2 minutes per km mark. Training sessions were conducted in various locations, including Pune, Ooty, Hyderabad, and most recently Colorado. Exposure to different conditions and running with diverse partners played a crucial role in their overall development.
Before the race on Saturday, Kartik held a personal best of 28 minutes and 55 seconds, while Singh had a personal best of 28 minutes and 54.29 seconds. Throughout the race, the Indian duo remained in the sixth and seventh positions for a significant part. However, in the penultimate lap, a fall by Japanese runner Shiojiri Kazuya, along with two others in the top six, altered the race dynamics. As the Japanese runner Ren Tazawa fell behind, Kartik surpassed Singh in the final 50m, securing the silver medal behind Balew Yemataw of Bahrain.