It was not supposed to be this. I wanted FM to be my 1st run in Mumbai & also my 1st FM to be in Mumbai. Being the lazy person that I am, I have never been in a position to prepare for running this long. Even Standard Chartered gave up all its hope of seeing me & stopped sponsoring the event. Not to let down the Tatas (and to get a feel of the event & the climate), this year I registered for the HM at Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM). Thus, Mumbai found me awake early on a late-January morning geared up for the 21K.
I departed with the regulars, brother Vikas & Rahul, in a cab at 05:30 for the venue. Both being Mumbaikars, I didn’t have to worry about anything. But they had not factored the Metro work underway in South Mumbai. And we landed in a huge traffic jam (the 1st of the day) just as we were about to cross Bandra for Mahim. With the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL) closed for the event, all south-bound traffic (including trucks & dumpers) were now in this pre-BWSL era route. The entire suburban Mumbai seemed to be participating in the TMM. Some runners were so frustrated that they had started walking towards the venue. Or they may have been the non-serious ones who, taking advantage of this jam, simply decided to walk to the finish point & collect their finisher medal!! But the traffic moved & we reached Doordarshan junction where a volunteer informed about a BEST bus waiting to pick up runners. (It has been ages since I travelled in one.) Upon alighting, Vikas & Rahul scampered ahead as we were already late, but not me. Because hum wahan se daudte hain, jahan se marathon shuru hoti hai. A longish walk (with a pee break) & I arrived at an empty holding area.
Another longish walk to the start point & I realized 23 minutes (beyond the flag off time) is not really late at the TMM. It was a big crowd there, reminding one of the scene inside a Mumbai local. Next time I am taking a Mumbai local so as to reach the venue in time.
I was in for a 3rd walk – from the starting mat this time, thanks to the crowd (of participants). It was a few hundred metres (rather more) before I could even start running. I didn’t regret this as the three walks were all the warm up I could get, late as we were in reaching the venue. An Indian Navy (going by its white uniform) band played Hum Honge Kamyaab as the runners began their 21.1 KM run.
And a slow jog when some space opened up. Maybe the Bhangra group (or the one dressed in typical Punjabi attire & playing what seemed like Punjabi music) has charged up the runners who now realize they are attending a running event. We are now at the Worli sea front (it is still as crowded) & I get the 1st glimpse of the iconic Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL). Long after the political power moved to Delhi & commercial power to Mumbai, Calcutta (now Kolkata) prided itself on its trams & the Howrah Bridge. Now that the BWSL has been constructed & the trams having disappeared into history, it is left with only Didi! I have often traveled on the Sea Link but this will be the 1st time I will be doing so on foot. A group of Dholchis pushes us on to the BWSL. But the cable stayed bridge is still a long way away. The approach has a slight incline & the runners are cautious enough not to waste their energy so early in the run. We cross the approach & are now running over the sea. And there is a sea of runners in front too (as you can see in the pic). BWSL (in fact, the entire route) is closed for traffic. I wish other marathon organisers (specifically those in Ahmedabad & Baroda) could, like TMM, tell the motorists, “Ye marathon ka route hai, tumhare baap ki sadak nahi”.
A signage on the LCD signboard says, “Two Wheeler & Pedestrian not allowed”. Maybe, runners are not pedestrians & considered no less than an automobile, at least by the authorities. Pride is the dominant emotion at this point! Immediately the signage changes to “Speed Limit 80 KMPH”. And I realize they either forgot to change the signage or did not bother to do so. Couldn’t they at least have shut it off for the duration of the run? Even the Ethiopians & the Kenyans do not run so fast.
And we are now on the cable stayed part of the bridge. Some runners stop to take a Sea Link Selfie, this being once-in-a-year opportunity to do so. Quite a few have now slowed down after the (mild) climb on the approach. And I take off (somewhere just before the turnaround). I cross the 3:00 hour bus in the return over the BWSL, which means I should finish under 02:30 easily.
The faster FMers are now seen on the other side even before one gets off the BWSL. There are quite a few from Baroda doing the longest run (actually, the FMers from Baroda outnumber the HMers). The first known face is that of Dr. Manoj Subramaniam (have I spelled his last name correctly?). He is a comrade (not the type found in Kerala but the ones who complete a grueling event called Comrades Marathon). And a little behind comes Rajinder Singh, the Surd I often bump into when running on the streets near my home (his flowing white beard making him look much older than he is). I am at the Sea Front now & get a friendly wave of recognition from Hiren Mehta. The FM here has a large participation (around 7000) & it is difficult to spot the 35-odd FMers from Baroda. This is quite a big number for Baroda, but the no. of participants is also equally large. We get back on to the Worli Seafront & the navicular starts paining. This has happened earlier too & I think it is usually the case when I wear Brooks. I hadn’t experienced this for quite some time. So I took this pair with me as these are quite comfortable & have a nice pacy feeling. Also, the pain persists for some time & then disappears. So I just curled the toes, landed slightly on the outer side of the foot & carried on, ignoring the pain because Mard ko dard nahi hota.
One spots Haji Ali soon enough. The dreadful part (so one has been told on facebook, blog posts & personal accounts) lies just beyond – Peddar Road flyover. A short stop to get the blood moving properly (thakaan se darr nahi lagta sahab, cramps se lagta hai) & I trot towards the infamous (among runners) flyover. I am doing a good pace & a 02:15 finish looks plausible. I plan to run-walk the stretch to make up for lost time at the start before going all out at Churchgate. But, as Wodehouse so famously reminded, the best laid plans of men & mice are soon laid to waste (or something on these lines). It is another traffic jam ahead on the flyover. Some time back, what were runners ahead are now walkers & what were walkers are now crawlers. Many would have given up at this stage, but they have taken the lesson from 3 Idiots to heart – Bachcha, finish karo, finish… Medal to saala jhak maar ke tumko milega. Moving forward, I glance to my left at the super-expensive architectural monstrosity which goes by the name of Antilia. But there’s no one to be seen on the balconies or at the windows to cheer the sole runner in the extended family. Maybe he is yet to pass by, or the brothers are still a long way apart. I walk the Peddar Road flyover to the top. And find the runners flying down (OK, running down) now, which opens up some space. I resume my run.
I have always heard that the crowd support is tremendous at TMM (or SCMM, as it used to be called). I experience it first-hand this time. From the Heera-Panna market onwards, it seems there are more people cheering than those running! Only a few are empty handed. As if they are telling me, Runner bhai, TMM bachcho ke daudne ki cheez nahi hoti, dehydration ho jaye to cramps aa jaate hain. If not the fruits or water or biscuits, they are carrying placards with the best one-liners I have seen anywhere. In fact, the wit is far better than what I found in Rajkot or Kochi, where it was more of an institutional effort. Not to forget a group of Japanese (else, why should they carry the Japanese flag?) who were handing out Yakult to the runners. I have found the crowd support better only in Rajkot, but that was the 1st ever HM in town & organized by the district administration with participation of schools (forced?) & other institutions (compelled?). At TMM, this appeared to be spontaneous & entirely voluntary. Mumbai Road Runners (going by their facebook page) had a large contingent of volunteers at their creative best. The chest swelled upon reading “You are a Human Rocket”. And nothing has ever been truer than “Sweat is Sexy”! Not to forget some considerate chaps too who pumped us up with “Kenyans are finishing all the beer” & also reminded that “the beer is getting warm”. I think these particular guys should be sent along with Team India on overseas tours (especially Australia & South Africa). But the authorities always goof up, like the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai in this case. Maybe the missing Bin was symbolic of the state of civic affairs in Mumbai. Well, bade bade shaharo mein, aisi chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rahti hain.
We come to Charni Road & the sun is out now. The Girgaon Chowpatti on the right, railway tracks to the left & there are no high rise buildings to provide shade as we run. Bisleri has put up (or sponsored & branded) cooling zones along the route, basically a covered passage fine spraying a jet of water. I went through a couple but missed quite a few in the crowd! The regulars found the TMM hot, but I felt it was wonderful weather (perhaps the cooling zones helped). Not really humid. And neither cold nor warm. In fact, Goa (early Dec. in 2016) was warmer & Kochi (mid-Nov. in 2015) was very bad in terms of temperature as well as humidity. Maybe I was expecting Mumbai to be equally bad. To think that all along I have been hesitant to run the SCMM as it is held on the 3rd Sunday of January, when the temperatures have started rising. Well, I should consider coming here regularly.
Now a days I wear a cap during the long runs. Previously, I wore sweat bands on the wrists but they get wet fast in warm weather and, being thick, do not dry during the long runs. So I started wearing sleeves which are much better. But once I didn’t & some sweat went into the eye. It was a horrible experience, so I now wear a cap & wear it backwards, afraid that if it gets too wet the sweat may again drip into the eye. The damp cap also helps in keeping the head from getting hot. Why to have another hot headed person on the road when there already are so many? And pour some water on the neck to bring down the body temperature. (I have said this earlier too, you can expect some running gyaan on this blog.)
We are on the Marine Drive. The finish is not too far now, but the hamstring tendons are feeling the strain. Did I over-exert too early? I remind myself that I have completed a FM just two weeks back & push forward. Also that there are people (not just the Kenyans) who are right now downing the beer. Yes, it is painful. The foot as well as the knees (as also the thought that stock of beer is depleting). But I am not really feeling tired. The preparation for the FM is coming useful now, as also the GU Gel that Vikas gave me in the morning. Of course, there is the planned beer session with friends after the race & they would have started much earlier than I did. I believe this is what really helped in running through the pain. You know what, kabhi kabhi daaru peene ke liye daudna bhi padta hai. Aur daudne ke baad peene wale ko marathoner kahte hain.
And one comes to Churchgate. This is one station where you can get a window seat of choice in the general compartment of a local train during off-peak hours. But only because this is where they start from & you are present when the empty train arrives! Also a heritage town with beautiful buildings constructed when architecture was a work of art. But today, loads of money can only buy you an Antilia. A left turn soon after & seeing the no. of people on both the sides, it appears as if the 08:40 Virar local is about to arrive. I am aware there were no rail tracks here, but for all I know, Achhe Din may have already arrived in Mumbai. Talking of Achhe Din, I didn’t come across any of the famed potholes today. Maybe, Mumbai patched those up for the TMM.
There were so many distance markers in the latter part that runners felt like, Kilometer par Kilometer, Kilometer par Kilometer, Kilometer par Kilometer milte rahte hain, lekin finish line nahi milti my Lord. MIlte hain to sirf Kilometer markers. But they give way to Meter Markers now that we are so close to the finish. It is a narrow road & the runners are already cramped for space. Plus, these were the slower ones. There is no way one can comfortably run the last stretch. Of course, traffic jams are a way of life for the Mumbaikars & they won’t really mind this. I feel happy for Rakesh Rawat who is doing the FM today. He always sprints to the finish. Had he been here with me, he would have waited till the cut off time to make that last dash over the last timing mat! I only got to walk my way past the mat into another side street at CST.
The sis would have been tracking me, as she called up to wish me on finishing the maiden Mumbai HM. And told me the finish time, which was the fastest I have over this distance. That was the last call for some time. I tried calling Vikas, Durgesh, Prasad Menon & a few others who would have finished by now. But none of the calls connect. I move to the finisher zone & am guided to the medal counter where I receive the medal & a bag containing an apple, something wrapped in paper, a packet of Maggie noodles & two sachets of coffee powder. I decided to collect my bag from the baggage truck & then look for some hot water to make myself noodles & a strong coffee. I had just collected my bag when I received the call from Durgesh who told me that he was already moving towards Café Leopold. And informed that one has to walk back to Churchgate to get a cab. I was on my feet again & a friendly fellow runner I met at Churchgate, on being asked directions, advised me to walk (if I could, was what he enquired first) along with him (he was going to Mondegar, another iconic watering hole) till the rendezvous point. Where I caught up with Durgesh. While we waited for my Omelet (Durgesh already had one) & our beer (he waited for me to join), he took charge of the medal ritual this time…
P.S.: We were yet not through with our 1st beer at Leopold & Prasad Menon rolled in on Ceat Tyres. (Actually, with Rupesh, who works with Ceat). An extended beer session & I decided to be a regular at TMM. Because, FM abhi baaki hai mere dost.