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Running the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2012

sidbreakball
FEATURED COLUMNIST

IAAF Half Marathon

The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2013 is scheduled to take place on this Sunday, 20 January 2013. This is Asia’s largest and richest marathon. This year they aim to raise over Rs 17 crore for charity. Here’s my account of finishing last year’s full marathon in 3 hours and 31 minutes -

It can be disconcerting for someone new to Mumbai to try and greet the sun. My first morning in Mumbai felt like being in the Twilight zone. It was dark outside at 7 am in the morning. I remember checking my watch, the time on my mobile, and even considered booting the laptop to triple check the time. In North Eastern India, the sun can wave hello as early as 4 am. Kolkata lights up sometime well before 5. And this city was still plunged in darkness at 7!

That is a dream scenario for those who want to train early in the morning. And for the open marathon run itself. Mumbai Marathon began earlier in the morning for the Amateur run, 5:40 AM. Kolkata had flagged off at 7 AM in contrast.

First thing I did in Mumbai, seek out Jogger’s park. Twilight zone again. There were people walking, jogging, and even running! All around a track. These people were not coming or going anywhere, they were just going round and round in circles. Coming from Kolkata where a road runner is looked upon as a baggage snatcher or a robber fleeing a crime scene, I felt like an alien among brothers among all these runners.

Click on the image for the full map

 All train tracks lead to CST. That’s where the race flagged off. I imagine it had been flagged off, never really saw any indication that the race had started. The start was ambiguous. The beginning of races are always nerve-wracking. Heart pounding. Usain Bolt will attest to that. In this race, we were herded together in a field and then released on to the road. Just walking along on that road, I was hoping to hear some siren signaling the start of the race. Maybe a gunshot. Nothing of the sort. It was like going out for a stroll, at one point I asked a fellow runner if the race had started. Just walking along and then people started to run. Up ahead there was the start line under a gate arch, so I knew when to start my stopwatch at least.

Having run my last marathon in 4:30, this time I had set a personal deadline of 3:30 and my dream was to do it in 3 flat. I ended up finishing in 3:31. Maybe if I had set a minimum goal of 3 hours and gone for 2:30 I may have improved my timing. Teaches one to aim so high that you’re bending over backwards when you shoot.

At the beginning of the race I felt like a right stud. Running ahead and overtaking people. I didn’t get high on that, knowing that those who are fast have already gone way ahead of me. I ran the first hour at 14 km/hr, 2nd hour at about 13. Average speed of 12.05 km/hr for the entire race. Not too shabby. Nothing to be proud of if you are aiming higher.

While the pace I set for myself was a comfortable enough one at 14 km/hr, maybe being conservative and going at a speed of 13 km/hr might have let me finish in 3:15. But then I’d be berating myself  with what ifs. What if I had gone faster? So yeah, go for broke!

What really surprised me about this marathon was that it had an audience. My frame of reference is just the Kolkata marathon, the crowd there consisted of people going about their daily business. Down here in Mumbai, people were out and about in good numbers, standing around and cheering on the runners at five thirty in the morning. Later when I mentioned this to my colleagues, they laughed and said that the reason so many people were out was to spot the pretty females and not cheer on the runners. Lechers do abound everywhere but the crowd I saw was there for the right reasons. Later on, towards the end of the race, people were on hand handing out fruit, biscuits and refreshments. I was beyond hungry at that point. Without those helpful citizens, I’d have taken a lot longer to finish.

Picture running on this with fog obscuring everything

One stretch of the run overwhelmed me completely. The Bandra Worli Sea Link. More so than fatigue, I was torn with the urge to stop and just stare and soak that scene in. When I first heard of the sea link, I misheard sea link for ceiling. But as I ran across it, ceiling seemed like an apt name for the bridge. Stairway to heaven fits it better. The pic to your right taken later doesn’t do it justice. Early in the morning you can’t see the water below. Only fog. Felt like running on a suspended platform floating in the sky, leading to heaven. This surreal image is indelibly tattooed in my memory as one of the most beautiful visions of my life. Chasing the horizon one step at a time.

That bridge is one of a kind in India. When it was inaugurated, it was also open to pedestrians and cycles for a week before being closed to them for good. Now if you want to walk on it, you have to show that you are willing to cover a marathon of a distance to do so. The only way to experience the ceiling of stairway to heaven is to run in the Mumbai marathon. The opportunity comes once a year.

I reached the bridge sometime after the first hour. The half marathon runners were coming down the opposite way as I was crossing the sea link. A lot of them clapped and flashed thumbs up to the full marathon runners. The sea link is a recent inclusion in the marathon. AFI president Adille Sumariwalla had been in favour of it for a while:  “Since the general public or spectators will not be allowed on the sea link, the athletes will be by themselves throughout this 5.6km stretch. This will give them the opportunity to strategise and could well decide the race leader or even the winner.”

To sum up, here’s what I took from that quote: Cut throat competition. No crowd, no witnesses. Bridge can decide outcome of race. Athletes will be by themselves. No one watching. Running across a 5.6km stretch over water which can swallow all that’s thrown in it.

A little stretch of road rash style, free for all, where the marathon runners try to throw the competition overboard using banana peels and throwing elbows!

After the 28 km mark, I was joined in running by rats running around in my tummy. If I had spotted a kid with ice cream or chocolates, I’d have purloined it in an instant. I was already in motion at about 13 km/hr. Wouldn’t be much of a stretch to reach out and grab it. Tiny kid wouldn’t be able to chase me on those stumpy legs. No toddler with truffles appeared so I had to settle for the bananas being provided to the runners.

The thing about the internet is that it gives you a hundred opinions and lets you make up your mind. I came across different opinions on what one should eat before a race. I figured the only way I could be sure of what the right way is, is through experience. So I just downed some fruits to avoid a full stomach. Bad choice. Hunger pangs kept stabbing at my tummy.

There was a foreigner who was keeping pace with me from around the 20-ish mark and we ran together till the 35 km mark. I half expected the bystanders to cheer me on, Go India or something else which doesn’t sound so fundamentalist. If this were the elite run, they would have. Why discriminate here? Instead, people were egging him on. “Come on uncle!” Ok, so he was older than me and maybe that’s why people were cheering him on. Would the same people cheer me on when I grab a bottle from a toddler? I’m older after all, and my need is far greater than overfed chubby cheeks.

He started to distance himself from me after the 35km mark. Hat tip to the guys who scoff at age and keep running. Now I wish I had tried to keep pace with him.

Over 90% of the earth is water. So where is it when you need it? Seems every marathon I run there’s some one clowning around with my water. In the Kolkata marathon, there was a girl standing with a glass of water at around the 39 km mark. I wish she had remained standing while she handed the glass to me. These volunteers were instructed to run along with the runners and hand the glass over like exchanging a baton in a relay race. So that girl started running faster than me while holding out the glass of water as if to say “Come and get it”. Looking at my tongue hanging out and frantic motions to her to hand the damn glass over already, she realized this isn’t the time to be Bolt and relented her breakneck pace.

Tongue hanging out, approaching a water station like a deserted desert traveller hoping you aren’t looking at a mirage. Towards the end of marathons your self control ebbs away. You’re just looking for a reason to slow down or stop to end the pain. I’d never stop outright for whatever reason. Even crawl along if need be. Stopping to punch someone who’s begging for it might be a worthy reason, I really got one here.

That was towards the end of the race. I was beyond exhausted at this point. And thirsty enough to snatch a bottle from a baby in a stroller. Babies are the best to steal stuff from. All they can do is howl, which they do irrespective of bottle thievery. Mommy will just think that the kid is just crying for no reason. Babies take note, don’t cry wolf. If you, do no one will listen when a thirsty desperate marathon runner comes along and snatches your stuff.

I thought that was the worst refreshment-related experience I could have in a marathon. Having the refreshment run away from me literally. Well, worse than having to chase a bottle while a girl eggs you on, is having a bottle of water thrown at your nuts.

Towards the end of the Mumbai Marathon, I approached the first water stand and missed the bottles since the volunteers were empty handed/serving others. Ditto at the next stand. Third time being the charm, the volunteer with the bottle said “Howdy! Catch!” and hurled a pointy bottle at my nuts.

Giving him the most “WTF were you thinking” look I could muster, I moved on. Maybe if I had punched him, the adrenaline rush could have boosted my speed. But throwing the punch would have drained me more. Plus with bystanders around I might have been mobbed. Not that I considered the pros and cons of a punch in such detail at the time. Instinct said move on, so I did.

The last 8 km were the hardest. I slowed down to the point where my speed dipped to a brisk walk. So I walked a little for a couple of minutes. I remember reading in a book of ultramarathon running that first timers ought to alternate between a walk and a jog in a ultra race. There was something to be said for that. I got my second wind and began jogging again.

After a point, the full and half marathon routes converged and I couldn’t make out which runners are in the full with me and which are in the half. For the most part, the half marathon runners were easy to identify, younger/older/fresher/slower/faster, you could tell which ones are in the half marathon, but hard to tell which were in the full.

The last km of the race threw me off. The road was divided into two parallel tracks and I saw runners coming back from the one opposite to the one I was in. I assumed that I would have to go ahead and then circle all the way back. That made my footsteps a little heavier. Some way ahead though, I saw the words 400m on the road. Then 300m. Realizing that the race is almost over and I may just make it in 3:30 I started to sprint ahead, all fatigue forgotten. Made it dot at 3:31.

Finishing the Marathon was half the battle. In this respect, finishing it in Kolkata was a lot better. There was no visible finish line for stragglers in Kolkata. Everyone had packed up and emptied the area around the finish line. In Mumbai, the finishers had to stand in a heavy line for minutes before they could make their way back to the holding area. That was not fun. After a marathon all you want to do is either plop down and stretch or just walk around. Here we had to trudge along in a long line to the holding area.

Once there, it resembled a war zone. Runners in varying degrees of fatigue and physical damage were getting treatment here and there. Moving forward there were stalls where the finishers were given refreshments, and a finisher’s medal was put around my neck. We then had to walk all the way across the field to get to the road, I ended up walking with some other finishers of the half marathon. We got talking and they were in awe of my timing saying that their running coach himself only does about 3:30 himself. That perked me up a lot but it still didn’t feel like too much of an accomplishment.

Doing a little research online put it into perspective.

  • sub 3:00 finishers - 55 (3.8%)
    only 5 non-elite sub 3:00 finishers
  • sub-4:00 finishers – 179 (12.4%)
    124 runners finished between 3:00 and 4:00
I was in among the top 100 of the 1895 runners who participated in the full marathon.

This is the biggest marathon in India. There were over  38842 runners total in the dream run, full and half marathon, wheel chair, including amateurs and senior citizens. With my time, I finished around 40th in the amateur category, which had a little under 1895 runners, excluding the couple hundred of elite runners.

Hopefully, the next marathon I run in, I’ll crack the 3 hour barrier. That would be something to take pride in.

Here is a comparison of the two full marathons I’ve experienced:


Kolkata, 2010Mumbai, 2012
Timing 4:30 3:31
RefreshmentsWater and glucose.Water, glucose, biscuits, and fruits.
VolunteersSmall in number. Very many.
CrowdPeople going about their businessPeople coming out to cheer and give out refreshments.
RouteWide and encompassing a bigger area.Up and down, smaller area but the Sea Link is priceless.
WeatherNot cool enough, race started at 7 AM.Early started at 5:40, overcast skies.
TrafficAfter the 3 hour mark, barricades were lifted, had to run in traffic. Cops did make way at intersectionsTraffic of runners. When half and full marathon crowd merged, wasn’t much room towards the end
ParticipantsSparse in number. Mostly casual runners who dropped out halfway. All shapes and sizes.
Edited by Staff Editor
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