It is a very enchanting and enthralling book with a throbbing narrative in collaboration with Mathew Shepatin. Basically it is an account of his early life and his Boston marathon experience of 1975. The narrative is very interesting in the sense that each chapter starts with his Boston 1975 progress during the race and the later part of the chapter devotes to flashback to his early life as a college student, running with Amby Burfoot who is his original inspiration, his “conscientious objector” status during the Vietnam war, his degree at special education, struggle at getting a job etc. He was a natural born runner with a great capacity for hard work and a body which could take any amount of hard work with very little injuries. The realisation that he could be a top notch marathon runner came to him only during a race with Amby Burfoot in which he raced alongside the great Amby for about 15 miles of a 20 mile race. The seeds of inspiration which Amby sowed in him made him take up competitive racing including marathons. Boston Billy alongwith Frank Shorter, Amby Burfoot and Jeff Galloway were the pioneers of long distance running first in America which then spread to other cities in the world which has since then grown exponentially. His latter attempts at Montreal Olympics of 1976 and thereafter founding a successful running business alongwith his college buddies makes for a good story. It is an excellent book, very inspirational, very nice story of an easygoing hardworking American who loves running dearly.
When Mumbai Road Runners suggested an alternative half marathon route in the Mumbai suburbs, all i could think of was my regular running route in the Eastern Express Highway stretching from Mulund all the way to Ghatkopar. It was a lonely stretch of straight, flat route with greenery on one side.
I knew the Eastern Express Highway was the best track to hold a half marathon in an alternative to the Bandra-NCPA stretch, which was legendary for its temple, churches and masjid and the seashore. The stretch between Ghatkopar and Mulund was beautiful, peaceful and empty most of the time. I had run at even 9 am and not found any traffic.
I suggested to Sai Kiran Shetty and Rajesh Pillay, and received typically positive response from them. They did not flinch at the suggestion that we hold a half marathon between Ghatkopar and Mulund. Rajesh then came up with the suggestion that we turn into the salt pan section to stretch the route upto 10.5 kms.
We went on a recce one day and recorded the distances and checked out all the diversions. The salt pan stretch was out of this world. Runners would be treated to a section that hardly resembled the squaller. The sight of fields was to greet runners and I was excited just to ride on the small stretch.
We found another exotic 1.3km stretch at Ghatkopar which was out of this world, peaceful, calm and serene. That particular stretch also made us feel like we not in the middle of an urban jungle. We even saw a huge black snake slithering on the road and that raised the the excitement levels, at least in me. But permission was impossible. “No chance,” said the guard at the pumping station. “BMC will just not allow so many people.” said the guard.
A week later, I was doing my long run on a typically rainy day. I ventured along that stretch. I crossed a little bridge that was laid over a stream and saw two shy animals. They did not look like dogs but it sent a shiver down my wet back. I liked adventure, but felt it was not the right time be like Mad Mike and Max, the Nat Geo naturalists.
That one recce was enough for the three of us to determine the route, but I still felt a little uneasy. The logistics had to be planned but Sai Kiran and Rajesh were past masters and, since they were both together most of the time, had covered all the logistics themselves. The Thursday before the race day we did another recce and set out the route and practically discussed everything. Meanwhile the mails and joint chat sessions had cleared plenty of air.
Sai Kiran and Rajesh felt providing breakfast was important because we were in the middle of nothing and the runners were best left with little food in their stomach after their run. Meanwhile, Sai and Rajesh had already roped in Prasad Indulkar and his smiling wife Vishaka into the team and the ease with which things turned out was surprising.
Prasad was a photographer, breakfast provider, funny man all rolled into one while, Vishaka, the quiet smiling types, endured Prasad’s PJ’s and our suggestions with the calm demeanour that only doctors can have.
On Thursday, we even discussed where each of us would position ourselves. So when Sunday came along, I was excited with a hint of nervousness. It was always exciting to help organise an event and if this goes off well, it would feel good. But, we were anticipating last minute trouble.
On race day, Prasad picked me up at 5 am and we zipped along and reached the start point in world record pace, with Prasad keeping us in good humour.
When the first runners’ car arrived, we quietly directed them how to park. The second car came in and parked some distance away from the first and we had to gently remind how it was better to stack one car after another with minimum space. The rest of the morning went in a blur. Car after car rolled in. Some lost their way but most got it right and came directly.
I was bundled into Vikas Mysore’s car and sent to Vikhroli where we positioned to turn runners back from the little loop that we had added to complete the distance of 21.1kms. Luckily the rain kept away but a little cloud caused us to open our umbrellas at Vikhroli. The first runner to reach us was Andrea and she stumped me with a question for which I almost fumbled with an answer: “How many kms is this?” Gosh I had not thought about this but my rough calculation was it was around 4.5 kms. Andrea had apparently reached Mumbai just a few hours before the race hour. How she found the energy to reach the venue and run the distance will be a mystery.
Next 30-40 minutes were spent asking runners to turn back, most of whom did so smilingly. Then we saw a young man dash across in his track pant. We thought he was not part of our group and let him go but in a short while he came back with a smile and asked us whether he was supposed to turn from where we were standing. The last runner was a stout young man who smiled broadly as he came in. We left the post and headed towards the finish line after instructing Chhaya and Rama to take a call on when they should head to the finish line.
At the finish line, things were happening. Runners, who were targeting 10k, were finishing and we had to gently guide them to their respective duties towards food and water. A bag was laid out and runners were instructed to drop the trash into the bags. Aruna Rao was incharge of ensuring that runners were not only collecting their breakfast but also collecting money from those who had come in late and had not registered. She did all this standing up despite undergoing a spine operation recently.
Within the next one to two hours runners poured in. Surprisingly, everything was smooth till that point. Then came the news that a runner had suffered a fall and bruised his hand. Vishaka was quickly transported to attend to Nilendu. Luckily that was the only fall.
I went around curiously, asking runner whether they faced any problem. I wanted feedback on the route and the arrangements. Everybody had praise for the route and the arrangements and that warmed me up. Finally, Sai and Rajesh, the roving volunteers came along and settled down at the finish line. I somehow felt assured that things were going smoothly. Rajesh, usually a very calm person with an assuring smile, had looked busy in the morning. At the finish line, he again looked calm.
The runner count was growing. We had anticipated around 90-110 runners, prepared for 120 with twenty extra breakfast packets to boot, but the final numbers were close to 150. Resourceful that they are, Sai and Rajesh, had quietly ordered for some idlis to shore up for the remaining runners. Nobody should go hungry and they had ensured that.
The best moment came when we were winding up. We packed all our belongings into the two cars and as I turned my attention towards the trash bags, I was pleasantly surprised. One bag had been taken away by some runner to be dumped properly. We then picked up the remaining two bags and disposed it off properly.
It was an amazingly clean event and I should thank all the runners for their cooperation. Ram’s facebook post asking runners to bring their own water bottles had worked brilliantly. There was NO TRASH whatsoever, even along the route.
As we found our way back home, I was left with a strange feeling: I never felt as if I had done a great deal. I felt I had virtually nothing to do. But then Sai and Rajesh and later Prasad and Vishaka had ensured that things went off very smoothly. The volunteers had come and quietly done their bit and left. Some are nameless for me and others have become new friends.
I later called Sai and complained that that I had not done enough. His statement exemplified what organisation is all about: “We work out all the details and execute it so well that we feel that we have very little to do on D-Day.”
Who says marathon is all about running. It’s all bloody mind games buddy, there is no physical activity involved in it, at least after 30 kms, But that is for everybody, for me it is the 22 to 30 kms that plays havoc with my brain. Post 30 kms i get stronger and more determined like a demon, well not exactly like Ravana but more like Ram possessed!!
Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2013 was my fourth full marathon and the 2013 edition was the 9th year in succession that i was participating in. A journey which started in 2004 with a bludgeoning, bedraggled 3.45 hours in the first ever half marathon with barely any practise and not having any concept of what a distance of 21 kms entails. Well 21 kms was daunting those days.
2012 was a relatively quiet year for me in terms of the number of events that i took part in, Auroville was more fun and adventure, while Ladakh was challenging in brutally tough conditions. A couple of smaller distances like 5K, 10K took place in between and there was a training run of 42 kms while Mumtaz Qureshi was attempting his first 100 kilometers and the first Ultra distance of 50 kms along with the Navi Mumbai runners but that was again spaced out throughout the day and not a continuous effort. But Vasai Virar Marathon was the game changer during the year. Last minute entry with barely any preparation for a full marathon to speak about, i still managed to carve out a huge 27 minutes slice off my previous best from SCMM 2012 to return in 5.07 hours when the conditions on the return leg of the marathon was brutal with sun beating down hard and massive traffic snarls along the route. It was a tough marathon to conquer.
Training for the SCMM 2013 was going as per schedule with the last long run of 31.74 kms on the last Sunday of December followed by a fast 21 kms on the first Sunday of the new year and a PB fast 10 kms on the second Saturday followed by a ferocious 5km on the Tuesday of the week before the marathon. All i had to do was another fast 4kms or so on Thursday but a debilitating back ache on Tuesday morning almost put paid my hopes of even starting the marathon. This had happened earlier also during the week before the Bangalore Ultra 2010 and i had recovered by Sunday morning, but there i had almost collapsed after doing 25 kms of the scheduled 37.5 kms. So there was apprehension in the mind and therefore i consulted a couple of my friends urgently soliciting their advice. Reema Agarwal and Raj Vadgama were the saviours as they immediately texted a few stretches to be done which i immediately set upon doing for the remaining days. But not much relief upto Thursday morning had me worried. The back was getting better but there were doubts in the mind as to whether i could survive the entire 42 kms without it giving away. Friday and Saturday were supposed to be complete rest days but i was out on my feet both days and standing for a couple of hours and more. The back was straining all the time. So the hydrating and carbo loading plan also went out of the window. But meeting friends especially upcountry runners on both days was a cathartic relief from the anxiety so i decided to start the marathon and see how the back holds as the kilometres unfolds before me.
So there we were, i.e. Bhasker, Raj, Aishorjyo and myself in the cab from Goregaon to Azad maidan, to meet and greet a few more thousands of like minded insane persons daring to run 42 kms in an unusually cold Sunday morning. The atmosphere at Azad Maidan was electric as usual with runners nervous with anticipation. All set we trotted to the holding area meeting more runners on the way and waiting impatiently for the gates to open. When the gates opened and we started proceeding towards the starting mat, Amar Sundar met me and we started discussing the music concerts in India. Imagine on a marathon morning with a few seconds to go for the start, we were talking about GunsNRoses, Deep Purple and all that rock bands.
It was 5.42 when i crossed the start mat and gingerly proceeded towards Flora Fountain. While it was cold before the start it took only a few kilometres for the body to get warmed up and i started feeling the sweat around my neck. On the way to NCPA i saw the 4.30 hour bus and thought of sticking with them but a few minutes later impatiently left the bus because i thought their pace was too slow. I wanted to put maximum miles in the bank before my back gave away or cramps started affecting me which was on the back of my brain based on previous year’s experience. On the marine drive i again chatted with a few runners while observing that only a couple of music bands were up and playing. There was one music band which was just setting up and to them i hollered “c’mon start the music”. Overall i thought the crowd mobilisation in the early hours and at the start was very poor compared to what we observed during the Vasai Virar Marathon which of course started late at 7.00 a.m. Probably the bitter cold was making marathon friendly Mumbaikars sleep a wee bit longer. The return leg of the Mumbai Marathon was reverberating with the multitude of Mumbaikars out in large numbers, wildly cheering, applauding, shouting, giving various things in neat order. People were out not only in tony Pedder road but also beside the slums of Worli and the bylanes of Mahim. It was a magnificent display of affection that Mumbaikars have for the marathoners in their maximum city.
Kemps Corner flyover and Pedder road incline was the first test for my back but thankfully it held together so i started ripping through to Haji ali but slowed down towards Worli by which time the half marathoners started appearing on the opposite side of the road. This year as compared to last year i decided to focus only on the road and not to look out for my friends mainly because most of my friends had graduated to the full marathon and also to conserve my energy. Reaching the Worli sea link, i went into a zone with pure adrenaline coasting me through. Srivatsan crossed me at the beginning of sea link and gently inquired whether i was on schedule to which i replied that i was ahead of schedule because the 4.30 hour bus was still behind me.
A couple of toilet breaks at the Sea Link behind the hoardings looking out into the Arabian Sea gave the much needed relief to the bladder because i knew there was no toilet until Worli sea face on the return leg. The sun was rising on my right under a mask of mist with the high rises on the background and the lolling fishing boats in the foreground. It was surreal Mumbai which we don’t see often. But running on the Sea Link is also boring because there was no crowd to cheer us and the photographers looked completely bored and were interested more in taking photographs of the sun rather than of us. There was one photographer who had lined up his tripod and to which i had beautifully balanced in the centre hoping to get clicked when at the last moment, he swerved the tripod in the opposite direction to catch a departing runner. Damn!!
20 kms done in 2.00 hours compared to 21 done in 1.59.32 at Vasai Virar marathon. At the Mahim Causeway i met Dr. Sharma whom i had met exactly at the same spot last year also when he had quit the race but this day he was looking strong. My weak zone begins from 21 kms onwards, but the back was holding good so i decided to take it kilometre by kilometre from there onwards. Upto 26 kms i did not realise that i was carrying three sachets of G.U. gel in my pocket and therefore immediately gulped one sachet. Last year the elite marathoners streamed past me by 25 kilometres and this day i had gone past 28 kilometres before they arrived and were gone in a few seconds. I could catch only a few names Kiprop, Kemboi, Ramaala, Tota and the women winner arrived in an absolutely fast pace followed by the others. In between Binning arrived with his Indian contingent. Their drinks station was separately arranged with their water bottles numbered containing their favourite drinks but unfortunately one volunteer fell badly while delivering the bottle to the elite runner. Fortunately the elite runner was not in the lead pack, otherwise it would have been Breaking News of the Day.
On the return leg of the Worli Sea Face i espied the 5.00 hour bus and was completely determined to not allow them to overtake me. From there it was a tough run with the back giving jolts of pain once in a while but i took only a few seconds’ break each time and started again on my journey. On reaching Haji Ali i saw Anand who should have finished the race by then, but he had pain in his right leg. He urged me not to stop and carry on to beat the 5 hour mark which gave me a much needed impetus to give it a mighty push to the finish!!
Pedder Road was conquered in a better shape than last year and so was the rest of the route. Another gel at 32 kms and at 35 kms the cramps started slowly on my right and left calf muscles. But a quick check on my garmin showed that if i did not take much walking breaks i was in with a chance to break the 5 hour barrier. So despite the cramps getting stronger and the calves pulsating more often, I started getting stronger and determined. By the time i turned into M.K. Road the cramps were badly taking a toll. At 41 kms i still had 11 minutes to reach the finish line so i said to myself, damn, come what may, i am going to succeed. At 500 metres to go banner, the right leg was twisting inside even as the left calf muscle was twitching in pain. Fortunately the back was okay and so was the upper body with no pain in the shoulders and arms. At 300 metres i again checked the watch and was sure to reach before 5 hours and in fact predicted would reach by 4.58 and it was 4.58.39 hours when i crossed the finish mat to be hugged by my oldest runner dear friend Veera. It was such a joy to see him at the finish line. So i completed my first sub- 5 hour marathon in another Personal Best time. Year on year i had carved out 36 minutes which co-incidently was the same margin last year as well.
Few observations – the cramping is getting delayed every year and hopefully in a few years’ time i should not cramp until the 45th kms mark. So there ends another edition of Mumbai marathon and every year i think this will be my last full marathon, but you bet i shall be back next year as well!!