The Four Year Old who Ran Forty Miles
The 4 Year Old who runs half marathons
Budhia Singh lives in Orissa, India where a third of the population live in slums and the state has the highest child mortality rate in India.
Since the age of three Budhia has been running 20 miles a day and is currently preparing to run a half marathon, his fifth in seven weeks.
Is Budhia's story an account of exceptional child talent or a darker tale of child exploitation.
His coach Biranchi Das, a local judo instructor, aims to train Budhia to become India's greatest marathon runner who will go on to win Olympic glory. His training regime begins at 4 o'clock in the morning in a typical blazing, misty dawn in Orissa.
His mother who worked as a maid for £3 a month has four children, of whom Budhia is the youngest. She was unable to feed and clothe them so took the heartbreaking decision to sell Budhia to a travelling peddler for £10. The peddler was a drunk who would beat the boy regularly. When Biranchi found him he was naked, wounded, and seriously underfed.
Budhia's talent for running was only discovered when Biranchi heard the young boy swearing at another of the Judo students. He ordered Budhia to run around the running track until he returned. Biranchi went out and forgot about the boy until his return six hours later. Incredibly, Budhia was still running!
Biranchi has no experience with athletics or long-distance running, but he has devised his own training programme which includes his belief that Budhia should not drink while running. He allows him energy drinks before and after a race, but never during one.
Budhia's coach wants him to take part in the Delhi half-marathon. No-one knows how he will cope with his first competitive race, but for Biranchi, it's an important step in his plan to turn Budhia into an elite, Olympic athlete.
On the day of the race, there is a problem. Budhia's fame has arrived before him, and with it controversy. He has been told that, due to International Rules, he can't run in the main race. He is so much the centre of attention that the race organisers agree to allow him to compete in the final event, a 6km race for all ages. At the after-race party, in the evening, he meets former Olympic champion Daley Thompson.
Tim Hutchins, the coordinator of the London Marathon, is outspoken: "Children shouldn't be training hard, for any sport, until they are fifteen or sixteen years old. For a child of three to be training hard is verging on the criminal".
Back in Orissa, the child welfare minister is taking a keen interest in the case. She thinks Biranchi is using Budhia's running talent and the media coverage to promote his own interests and believes the child's health will suffer. Biranchi disagrees and argues that he is trying to improve Budhia's life. He is being properly fed, he is clothed, and he is receiving regular schooling.
Biranchi's plans are becoming ever more ambitious. He will have Budhia run from Puri to Bhubaneswar, then he'll run the marathon in Nayagarh, and from there they'll go to Milan. But, before this he will set Budhia an even greater challenge, one that will put him into the record books. He will run 70km, 42 miles, non-stop. With no water, this is a run that could put Budhia's life at risk.
If he succeeds, he will become the youngest endurance runner in the world, and there will be official observers ready to record his achievements.
On the day of the race, temperatures are expected to reach 90°F. Not even the elite Kenyan athletes run these distances in such temperatures.
Budhia has a police escort and medical backup. Six hours into the run and Budhia has covered 58km. Biranchi uses a water-bottle, like a carrot on a stick, to entice him to keep running. After 67km, Budhia stops. Exhausted and disoriented, the army doctor who has been overseeing the race, steps in. After a protracted delay, Budhia is taken to the central police stadium to recover. The army doctor is convinced Budhia is ill, suffering from convulsions and possible brain damage.
One of Many Lonely Sojourns
Despite stopping 3km short of the target, he has still set a new record and will go into the Limca Book of Records as the youngest ever endurance runner.
Biranchi insists that Budhia runs of his own free will, he likes to run, and is not coerced in any way. The authorities are not convinced. Three days later, on the basis of the Limca run, a police warrant is issued for child exploitation. Biranchi is arrested. He is ordered to bring Budhia to Capital Hospital where the child committee want him examined by sports scientists.
The medical team include a cardiologist, a paediatrician, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist. They found his pulse-rate high, his blood-pressure high, he was under-nourished, anaemic, and suffering a vitamin deficiency.
The child welfare minister has now banned Budhia from running any more marathons in the state.