A CONVERSATION WITH AMRITPAL GHATORA - SUB 3 HR MARATHON RUNNER & SIX STAR FINSHER
Updated: Jan 21
Running. Whether you choose to go solo, or in a team, everyone can get involved. Black, white, little, large, fast, slow and anything in between. Running does not discriminate and it truly is one of the most accessible sports there is. All you need is a pair of running shoes and you’re set. That little nod as you pass another runner can mean any number of things (if you know, you know), but ultimately, I see it as a nod of acceptance. An acknowledgement. If you run, you’re a runner.
To celebrate South Asian Heritage Month, BBC Sport ran a feature called “Five South Asian sportspeople you should know more about.” Number 1 on that list was Milkha Singh. Known as the “Flying Sikh,” Milkha Singh was a 200m and 400m runner. A three-time Olympian and the first ever South Asian to win a gold medal at the 1958 Commonwealth Games. Now immortalised at Madame Tussauds, there’s a special place in the hearts of Indians for Milkha Singh. Especially for those of a certain age. I wonder why the success story of Milkha Singh hasn’t manifested itself into a passion for running, in amongst today’s British South Asian generation?
The number of South Asians in competitive (as well as recreational) running seems to be extremely low. For me, the combination of South Asians and running seem like an oxymoron. “I don’t know what it is. It astounds me,“ says Amritpal Ghatora. A recent paper published by BMC Public Health found that, out of 60,000 people surveyed, just 2.9% of parkrun participants identified as “Black, Asian or Other ethnic”.[i] Amrit is a British born Indian, a sub 3-hour marathon runner and an Abbott World Marathon Majors six-star finisher, of which there are only 7,141 on the entire planet[ii]. As a runner myself, the running world is yet another arena where I don’t feel like I see myself represented. Amrit is one of the very few in this space and this fascinates me because, as he says, “with running, there isn’t an element of ‘I’m going to be picked last’ or the colour of someone’s skin.” Amrit’s first ever marathon was London in 2008, which he completed in 4 hours 42 minutes. His time now sits at 2 hours 51. He smiles as he reminisces, as if reflecting on the journey from that first race to now. The journey is a simple one. “I went down to West Ham Park. I thought ‘I am going to do 1 lap.’ It was only 400 metres. I came back the next day and did 2 laps. Came back the day after and did 3 laps…4 laps…5 laps. That’s literally how I started.” The inspiration to start running came from the 2004 Olympics and watching Kelly Holmes win gold in the 800m and 1500m events. Amrit recalls he wasn’t best pleased with his physical fitness at the time. “I was 12st 7lbs. I will never forget the number. I just needed to be a little more active. It initially started off as a hobby. Then it grew into my lifestyle. I grew to love running.”
It’s a lifestyle that seems not to infiltrate into many other South Asian lives, especially not from a competitive standpoint. “In the running community, there is a problem. If I am at the start line at my local parkrun I am the only Asian guy there, until you go to the rows at the back. Do I feel intimidated? Maybe I used to. I don’t care now. I’d like to see more people do it in our community.” Racism and prejudice seems not to be the issue, either. “I’ve been all around the world. I can honestly say no one has ever said to me that you shouldn’t be running because of the colour of your skin. Maybe if I wore a Pagh (Turban) when I ran, it’s a different story? I’ve got 2 identities, in a way. But then again, it’s my make up. It’s who I am. I know I will always stand out. I think I like that because I am proud of where I have come from. I am proud of where I was born into. I am proud to be different.”
Amrit has taken chance after chance and is a prime example of how risk equals reward. He has left behind a career in engineering to become a full-time running coach. His dedication and progress has seen him be a part of the London Marathon “We Run Together” campaign. He has collaborated with sporting giants, such as Nike. He is also an ambassador for the world’s leading performance nutrition brand Science in Sport, often appearing on marketing emails that pop up in my inbox from time to time. “The brand is great. They really champion diversity. Their morals, methods and vision is what it should be. After the George Floyd incident the narrative changed a lot in the sports industry. But it needs to stay that way and they’re one of the brands that have continued doing that.” All of this has come simply from donning a pair of running shoes and putting one foot in front of another. Now he is trying to give back. Coaching and being a part of a running team helps Amrit share the knowledge that he’s gained over his journey. His YouTube channel contains a wealth of information and knowledge, from running and training tips to race day vlogs and product reviews. These additional touchpoints could be the push that other South Asians need to start running and I for one am all for that.
Follow Amriptal Ghatora online:
· Instagram - www.instagram.com/amritpalghatora/
· YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/amritpalghatora
· Website - https://www.amritpalghatora.com/
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[i] Quirk, H., Bullas, A., Haake, S. et al. Exploring the benefits of participation in community-based running and walking events: a cross-sectional survey of parkrun participants. BMC Public Health 21, 1978 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11986-0 [ii] As of the end of the 2021 season https://www.instagram.com/p/CWlfPKmMmqD/