Shivnath Singh

The Marathon man India Forgot

29 May, 24 | 8:20 AM6 min read


Shivnath Singh, an iconic figure in Indian athletics, regarded as the nation's greatest marathon runner. Hailing from a small village in Bihar, Singh made his unbreakable mark in long-distance running inspiring many generations of athletes across the country.

Born into a family with limited means in Majharia village, Bihar, Singh initially took up running as a means to secure employment in the Indian Army. His dedication and talent, however, propelled him to heights beyond mere employment, making him a national icon.

Singh's athletic career took off at the 1973 Asian Championship in the Philippines, where he won silver medals in both the 5,000m and 10,000m events. He continued this success in the 1975 championship in Seoul, South Korea, securing similar honors. In between these championships, he clinched a gold in the 5,000m and a silver in the 10,000m at the Tehran Asiad in 1974, for which he was awarded the Arjuna Award.

In 1975, Singh made a significant switch to marathon running, driven by his ambition to achieve gold at the Asian Championships. His international marathon debut was at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, where he finished 11th with a time of 2hr 15m 58s. Although he had to drop out of the 1980 Moscow Olympic marathon, his 1978 performance in India set a national record. He completed the marathon in 2 hours and 12 minutes, a record that no Indian has surpassed for over four decades.

Singh's achievements are particularly remarkable considering the minimal training resources available to him compared to modern athletes. He ran barefoot, enduring considerable physical challenges, and his dedication to the sport was evident in his disciplined training under coach Ilyas Babar.

Despite his achievements, Singh remains a relatively unknown figure in his own birthplace and among the general population of Bihar. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 57, leaving behind a legacy that is still celebrated by sports enthusiasts and athletes alike. To honor his memory, an organization in Jaipur started Runner’s Day on July 11, his birthday, encouraging participation in long-distance running and celebrating the sport's heroes.

Singh's story is a testament to the potential of human spirit and determination, and serves as an inspiration for future generations of Indian athletes.