A wonderful trip down memory lane. Running in the 1980s

One of the stalwarts of our ASICS Running Club is a charming, very self-effacing man by the name of O.P.Pandey.

A week or so ago, he casually shared a photo on our Whatsapp group & we all cyber-erupted with cheering and questions and “Well done’s” & “Shabash’s.”

THIS was the photo that O.P. shared, from 1986:

And just look at that timing!

An easy-peasy sub 2.

O.P. initially demurred at writing about his experience, but we all insisted, and the resulting story, below, is an absolute gem!

I won’t spoil your enjoyment of his trip down memory lane – 30 years ago – by telling you too much in advance, but I love, love, love his story about joining the NCC in order to get running shoes!

Fab stuff 🙂

Let’s hear it for O.P. the sub-2 half marathoner!

“I was never an athlete, and in my young days I aspired to join the Army as an officer so I used to run in small open races at schools and college level. The biggest challenge was to get running shoes.

I remember I joined National Cadet Corps to get canvas shoes for a camp. I was so happy to get the shoes that I ran so much in these shoes that after the camp of 10 days was over, and I went to deposit the shoes to NCC Unit, I was scolded and asked to stand outside for damaging the shoes.

In the 1980s the scenario of amateur runners in India was not bright.

People generally run for recruitment in armed forces and police. Rarely, people from upper strata of society ran at that time. The professional runners also largely came from Defence (called Services) and Railways. Perhaps the motivation level was not big enough. For Rath Marathon, the entry forms were published in newspapers. Runners had to fill up the form and deliver them at the office of the sponsoring company at Barakhamba Road, Connaught Place.

No timing chip was available in 1980s. The route of the race started from Jawaharlal Nehru stadium to Chirag Delhi to IIT Gate. The half marathon runners took a detour from IIT gate and only the full marathon runners went up to Mahipalpur and came back to Nehru Stadium. During the race the officials noted down runners’ bib numbers and one official was sitting at IIT Gate at the half way point for the half marathon, noting down the bib numbers of runners and guiding them to go back towards Nehru Stadium.

At the finish line too, the runner had to go to the official desk to report his bib number and it added many minutes on to the net timing depending upon the rush at the counter. If I am not mistaken the colour of bib was different for half marathon and full marathon. Many good runners from gurukuls in Haryana also participated. They were too young but very strong and won the applause of runners. For water and hydration, the runner had to go to the MI camp at the finish line. The runners were provided their glucose water and biscuits.

I am not aware of any prize money for winning the race. If you look at the certificate the race was organised by the Amateur Athletics Federation of India and any athlete who ran for prize money were termed as professional and they could not represent their country at  an international level according to the rules prevalent at that time. How much money was paid to the winner of that race is not known to me.

Later on, the word “amateur” was removed from the name of federation.

I think a few hundred people participated in that run, mainly from the Army, police, railways and college students. The number of women runners was very small – maybe not more than 50.

Distance running in India was made popular by Procam International. Hutch was the earliest company to sponsor half marathons, organised by Procam International in early 2000. Then the sponsors changed to Vodaphone and currently Airtel for Delhi Half Marathon.

The earliest timing chip was worn on the ankle, with the help of Velcro, and the company took security money of Rs.1000 which was refunded after returning the timing chip after the marathon. Later on disposable chip tagged on shoe laces was introduced and present timing chip is in bib number only.

I do not remember any sports brand that was popular at that time. Only Bata made shoes by the name of North Star and they were popular at that time. Many athletes ran barefoot. The most popular shoe was called PT shoes, a kind of canvas shoe. The army drill shoes made of canvas were a luxury for people like me.”

Isn’t that just great?

O.P., my friend, your story makes for wonderful reading, and thank you SO much for sharing it with us all.

#keeprunning #keepinspiring


  • Preeti Chaudhary

    Wow!! Lucky to know these facts of 80’s marathon. Great Pandeyji

  • Om Prakash Pandey ji, such tremendous feats and such humility and humble nature, you are too good!!

  • Lovely trip, or should I say run, down memory lane !!

  • This made for a really good read. Those were the days…

  • jitendar kumar mehan

    Being the closest friend of prakash (op pandey) that time since 8th standard, I am bubby and was his companion in his journey till my first year in college when i lost my dad n my path changed due to responsibilities….i can vouch for his every word used! Having basic PT canvas shoes was a big luxury at that time. many times we preferred running barefoot…we joined NCC for getting shoes….Running was a passion n we used to run around 12 kms. daily on roads as we studied in afternoon shift..On weekends we used to take different routes sometime to dhaula kuan, india gate, lajpat nagar, IIT etc. Running in parks was quite boring for us. We didnt like circling around..In 80s running was a poor’s sport. I too completed ruth marathon. We can not forget our one more running campanion whom we used to called Kalu Tandoori as his dad used to run a dhaba in laxmi bai nagar. Prakash was a passionate runner…we joined NCC for many reasons…PT Shoes, leather shoes with spiked nails which used to give great tak tak sound while walking, refreshments of bread pakora on parade days was a big motivator. Attending NCC camps n getting 10 rounds to shoot from .22 rifles were other. We used to have common steel trunk to keep our cloths to NCC camps which we used to hold from each side n walk proudly to many NCC camps we attended sharing same tant. In national integration camp in palaj near anand in gujarat we killed a snake n kept it in our trunk thinking that we will peel its skin as we thought its precious n expensive…but it got rotten n we had to throw it away. there are hundreds of such stories with him ..catch hold of him n make him nostalgic..prakash’s zeal for running is unmatched..be it rain or any other obstacle..he never misses a chance to run..even before travelling out station..he will first go for running n then proceed..He is an icon for runners…An unbreaked jourbey of more than 35 years…he is still running….may be for next 35 years..best wishes Omi…

  • Sonali gupta

    Your write up made my day Pandeyji. It’s a huge achievement and you are so modest about it.

  • jitendar kumar mehan

    prakash and me were so happy to get new canvas shoes from NCC that we ran on railway track near Safdarjung airport and damaged the shoes in 10 days. NCC instructor was angry and asked how can you damage the shoes in 10 days camp. Those shoes gave us so much happiness that no NIKE or any branded shoes today can give.

  • Vijay shukla

    I know Pandey sir for last 4 years and I was big fun of him cos of his always smiling 🙂 face and he is of the guy, who always motivated runners in Nehru Park… but after reading this blog I got different experience about running is in 80″ …. really “epic” 🙂 🙂

  • Lovely Christine to come out with the running story our very own happy go lucky Pandey Ji

  • Super read. And that’s true.. in those days most runners ran barefeet. As a sprinter in school/college, all my runs were barefeet. North star was a prized possession and PT shoes were chalk polished and the only fitness/athletic shoes available most could afford. Oh what days !!! And this definitely made a good read . Thanks !!

    • Kulvendra Yadav

      So true. We remember white Balance PT shoes with green soles and using chalk to make them look neat.
      North Star was a prized possession too

    • Om prakash pandey

      Your observation that we chalk Polish was excellent. Remember how happy we were to wash our shoes on Sunday and getting it ready with wet chalk.

    • Om prakash pandey

      Yes so true in those days athletes too can be found competing bare feet. Surprisingly they had fewer injuries. Thanks

  • Kulvendra Yadav

    OP you always have been a great inspiration to me and others. Your moto of keeping things simple and keep moving is essence of life

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *