Global MRR – Running in Dubai

If you ask any runner which part of the world would you like to run, if he is a passionate runner he would mention any part of the world as one will get an experience in a different region with a different climate and a different surface. Some love to run on Sandy surfaces, some on Roads, some on Trails. With an opportunity write on MRR Global theme I am more than happy to write on the running culture in UAE. UAE in a way I would say is a boon for runners. Because in a shorter area it can provide all kinds of running experience that you want get involved into, it has sandy surfaces, roads, trails, etc. All these you will get in a very short vicinity you don’t need to travel too much to get a different kind of surface to run on.
I started my running around 4 years from now in Dubai. My first run was a predictors run held by Dubai Road Runners which used to be at Safa Park in which you had two options either run 3.5k or a double loop of 7 km. I thought 3.5 km would look short so went for a double loop and then after completing the first loop the whole second loop I was wishing and at the same time cursing myself for not taking the 3.5 k run but yes I did complete somehow with stitches in stomach, walk, run, craving for water and reached the 7 k mark.
There are multiple running clubs around here to name a few known ones like “Desert Road Runners”, “Dubai Creek Striders”, “ABRaS Runing Club”, “Dubai Trail Runners”,“Abu Dhabi Striders” then come the sporting brand clubs like “Skechers”, “Nike” etc. The best part about all clubs is that you are not forced to be a member of a single club ie a person can be a member of multiple clubs during the same calendar year and no one objects to it.
Each club has its own way of training and specialty, these opinions is only from my point of view. I have run with every club. There is paid membership in few clubs and few are still free to join. But the fees charged is very negligible because along with the membership lot of freebies are given which makes the fees paid equivalent to zero.

Dubai Creek Striders Running Club
Track & Field Team for Desert Road Runners

I would say that other than the branded clubs all the other clubs are being run by at least one passionate person who is too passionate about “running” and a lot of sacrifices of hard effort, time and money is being put in to run these clubs at par. Each club has its own specialty of training and each one has a well designed schedules for their preparation for the upcoming races be it a marathon or a 10 k etc. The training schedules are designed in such a way that it suits all level of runners from a Novice to the Elites all follow the same schedule at a time.Friday and Saturday being weekends the clubs meet up in the morning and mostly long runs are arranged on these two days. For a long runs as well as the weekly short and long distances there are groups formed into different pace groups so that each and every runner is accommodated and accordingly they set off for a run. In case of Desert road runners everyone gathers for at coffee shop to sip some coffee after completing their long runs.

Skechers Club with Our Spoils after an Event

Major Spots For running
There are multiple different beautiful spots for running in Dubai as I mentioned earlier and the count is innumerable. Some of the prominent ones I would like to mention and share my experience:
Al Barsha Pond Park – It’s a small family park with a pond in between and a 1.4 Km track soft Track around it. This is a favourite training spot for both Desert Road Runners and Dubai Creek Striders for Short Interval and Long interval Trainings
Jumeirah Beach Running Track – A properly marked soft rubber track laid right beside the beach extends upto around 7 km, going to and fro makes 14 k for the day. I mostly love to run on this track and some days I just go on the sandy part besides the water making it a straight patch of sand for 7 to 8 km and coming back to make 15 to 16 km or doubles to make it 30k.

Jumeirah Beach Track
Jumeirah Beach Track

District One Cycling and Running Track – It’s a 8 km Rubber jogging track laid right beside the cycling track. So incase you have some cycling enthusiast in your family you can take them along and while they enjoy their cycling one can complete their training runs and to add over it there is a small tunnel to pass through in between the run.

District One Cycling And Running Track

Other than these there are lot of running paths many with different views around it like Dubai Marina Walk – it’s a bit busy walk way but you can run around the whole path as long as you want around the Marina waters on one side and hustling bustling shops and restaurants on other side, there is so much happening around that in case you are having an easy run you wont even realize when the 10 k has passed on your watch. Springs & Meadows – a Gated community with beautiful greenery and ponds around – best place to run on the weekend mornings and go for long runs straight or in loops. Zabeel Area – Place where the Dubai Creek striders have their long runs – flooded with peacocks in the morning. Now with new development of the Creek we might see more than a 70 k running path all along the creek.

New Creek Route

If one is a fan of Trail runs UAE has plenty of options. I normally go with Dubai Trail Runners for trail running. The best spot for Trail runs is in Hajar Mountains and different wadi’s of Ras Al Khaima. Wadi Shawka – a Trail runners delight, you will be greeted sometimes by the camels, sometimes by goats or sometimes even by donkeys enroute your 21 or 35 km patch of trails. Lots of village life to see with small farms and different style of path to run on from rocky to sandy patches. And incase you come across a pond at the end of your turn then you can do some water diving practice too, it just removes all the exhaustive feeling of your body and you are fresh to return back. Fossil Rock – Challenge yourself with Sand Dunes over the mountains, it’s a tough run mostly done on Saturday mornings by Dubai Trail runners, running through the sand mountains (what I can call it) sometimes digging through knee deep sand and specially the last point where you run to the top of the mountain with bulk of sand in your shoes tests the best endurance you have in your body.

Fossil Rocks
Fossil Rocks

If one fancies running up the mountain then there is Jebel Hafeeth in Al Ain. A group of Abudhabi Striders leaves around 2.30 am inorder to be able to reach the base of the mountain to start running at around 4 am so as to avoid the vehicle traffic. But running this mountain on a well built road upto the top is a unique experience. We also have Hatta Area in Dubai which is again a weekend place to go for a run on mountains as its on the border of Dubai and Oman and requires a travelling time of around 2 hours. Again a picturesque place to be in with good mountains to test the strength of your knees. There are few short hills in Residential area in Jebel Ali near Ibne Batuta Mall where one can practice few short hill reps. Else other easier options for hill reps for some is the multi-story mall parkings or the bridges.
The trainings go almost all through the year. Most of us expats living here get 1 month off in a year, many people tend to take that during the Summer time when the kids also get their off from school. So during summer the number of runners in the group become low. But the running continues all through the year. The summers are very hot sometimes temperature reaching upto 48 to 49 digree Celcius with 70 to 80% humidity. But it’s a different experience to run in such heat also. During summer we also get an option to run Indoors with an Air conditioned Indoor Running Track – A 650 meter running track laid in one of the Exhibition centres for around three or four months. This is a special initiative taken by the Government authorities to promote sports during summer giving multiple options of football ground, cricket play area, basket ball courts, gyms etc at some charges but the running track which is laid around these grounds is free of cost. Sometimes we do train indoors on this track taking the loop of 650 km. You will find most of the runners making full use of this indoor track during the summers.

Dubai Sports World Indoor AC Track

During winters one would feel there is no other better place to run than UAE. A perfect temperature to run in neither to hot nor too cold. Rains we don’t get here much but some days when the rains show up its beautiful day to run too because the winds just make you flow with them.
Running events – multiple running events are conducted all through the year. Every event has some speciality in itself. One will never be unhappy to spend the charges charged for the event entry because with most of the events especially the ones organized by the running clubs carry some or the other non monetary benefits for the runners, eg Abudhabi Striders Yas Half Marathon offers a full day water park access within the registration fees, while Dubai Creek Striders Half Marathon goodie bag is full of surprises year on year and they try to keep the registration fee as low as they can afford to and at the same time the quality is not compromised at all, the venues, routes, arrangements etc is of best quality.

Abu Dhabi Yas Water Park Half Marathon & 10 k
Abudhabi Yas Half Marathon

Dubai Marathon route is one of the fastest routes available for any runner to get his PB added with best temperature as a natural support. Also Dubai has the one of the fastest Half Marathon Route which you will get in the RAK Half Marathon. Along with the price money of 1million AED another 1 million is for grabs for the one who can beat the World Record, so you can understand the quality of competition that can be expected in these events.

Dubai Marathon Moments

Plenty of events to choose from ranging from flat routes to trail routes. Also almost all events are competitive as there is a multi-nationality presence in each event. There are more than 190 nationality people living within UAE so you will find people from different Nationalities in each event so it makes it more competitive at the same time it helps people learn from different training programmes people follow across the world as you meet them in different events and discuss on training porgrames etc. You even get a chance to compete head to head with some of the best known names in running in some events as they might be visiting Dubai and have entered into the event happening during that time. Even in summers one will find events happening mostly night runs, or evening events while the temperatures are still soaring at 40 to 45 digree celcius. Solomon Wadi Bih 72 & 50 km – A Trail run in the Wadi Bih Oman being organized from last 25 years, which attracts almost all runners to participate It’s an individual as well as a Team Event. . There are prices for best team name and best dressed teams also. Due to the increase in nos of participants year after year it is now held in two days. First day all individuals and second day all teams compete running upto an high altitude and coming back the same route. Urban Ultra Hajar 100 and 50 km – The organizers try and make their best efforts to make the hardest route possible. Cut off times at approximately 20k, 40, 50 and 70 or 75 k are just the beginning and to add on to it you need to cross two trechorous mountains in order to complete the first 50k.

Start Of An Urban Ultra Event
One of The Best Dressed Team at Wadi Bih Event
Wadi Bih Oman Route Up Up and Away

My best experience in running during this short time of 4 years has been the 7 Emirates Run. It covers all the 7 Emirates of UAE (Abudhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah). Initially it was 537 km in 11 Days, now been reduced to 497 km in 7 days. I have run this event for two consecutive years and finished it at the the top. The race itself is like a dream fulfilling for a Runner as you need to run 70 to 90 km for the day and rest and then run the next day again and additionaly it supports a great cause to support a charity that makes limbs for Children who cannot afford it. Other than this one gets to explore the whole of UAE on foot, meet different people, be able to see heritage places, experience the kind hospitability of the Locals around, going through villages, farms which one misses out while travelling through the cars and other transporation mediums.

7 Emirates Run Greet And Meet The Camel Enroute
7ER Sometimes Sandstorms Greeting You and No one else around
The Kid in the Centre Who was supported by the Charity of First 7 Emirates Run Comes to Meet Us.
The Farms Enroute
7 ER Support Vehicles and a Glimpse on the Route

Though I have run with almost all clubs in UAE my trainings mostly happen with Desert Road runners. Weekly event that happens with DRR is Predictors run which happens on Saturday evening (venue is now changed to Jumeirah Beach track) whereby you need to predict your time for 5k or 2.5 km and try to reach that predicted time. You compete with yourself every week. If you hit your predicted time you are awarded with some prices on spot. DRR also conducts an “Iftaar run” normally happening in Ramdaan after breaking the fast. Other couple of events conducted by DRR are of 5 k and 10 k are held at the Dubai Autodrome. Similar type of events is followed by Abu Dhabi Striders. They too have predictors runs in Abu Dhabi. One more interesting running event that I would like to mention here is of Dubai Creek Striders “10 k Peacock Run” – 3 to 5 Runners are grouped together to run as a team. Each group is mixed with Slowest and Fastest runners and all runners need to arrive at the finish line together. The winners receive a trophy while the last group receives Wooden Spoons.

 

Exploring the Stanford trail

The best part about running inside Stanford campus was the aspect of stumbling across unexpected trails and beautiful routes. I landed here couple of weeks ago and was told  that this city was a haven for outdoor activities.
Being a runner, the first thing I noticed about the place was the number of runners  of varied age groups, who would be running throughout the day,  even at 2 pm in the afternoon when the sun would be blazing – something that was unthinkable in India. It was hot alright considering it was peak summer sans the infamous humidity that I face back in my home country.
The Campus drive loop  I went out for my first run inside campus. Serra street as it is called leads straight to some fountains, a beautiful garden to the right and a tall tower clock to the left. It was a 2 km loop and I ended up going up and down 5 times covering about 10 k.  A little deviation from one of the side lanes here led to some short trails with trees and shrubs. Further down was a road with palm trees on either side and trails in plenty.
Stumbling upon an unexpected trail: The next day I decided to explore a new route. I took a right from Serra straight and went on to the main road from where I took a right from Starbucks cafe. This was the adjacent street and called Stanford avenue.
The city had separate lanes for cyclists and runners. One could cycle or run without any stress about getting hit by a speeding  vehicle. The best part was the fact that cars would voluntarily stop on seeing runners and cyclists.  It sort of felt like a red carpet welcome as we would cruise past them, of course, not without pausing to give that nod or a slight wave of acknowledgment.
Stanford avenue was adorned with dainty cottages with pretty little gardens on the porches. Quaint and tidy, the vision was a treat to the eyes as I went straight ahead. All on a sudden, I noticed a small pathway on the side of the main road. To my delight, I discovered that it was a trail.
Dried leaves were strewn about on both sides with tall trees that provided the shade from the harsh summer sun. The pathway coiled like a snake as it turned into a small bridge from where there was a slight incline. I ran ahead basking in the beauty of the place. I enjoyed the stillness of the woods which reminded me of  the woods that I had read about in Grimm Brothers fairy tales. A sudden sound of the leaves rustling prompted me to turn around  wondering what caused the noise. After a short game of hide and seek I finally realized it was a bushy tailed brown squirrel trying to make its presence felt and catch the attention of the runners.
Amused at the little encounter, I went  ahead. The trail was barely a km and it soon turned upwards leading to the main road. Just a few meters away, I found a zebra crossing which led to yet another beautiful trail- popularly known as the dish area.
A dish without the spoon The dish was a grueling hilly terrain. Blades of dried grass adorned both sides as the roads tilted up to a deadly incline. It was a vast area with multiple entries and haunted by hikers, walkers and runners. Considering the deadly inclines with practically no shade, running here in the afternoons would be considered as self inflicting torture but that’s probably what makes runners a strong lot.
Being vast and wide spread, the dish area had a few entry gates and was located right behind Stanford campus.   Ascending the slopes was worth it as I got a magnificent view of the city and the ocean in the horizon.
When I finished my run, I was tired but a satisfied soul. The runner in me always looks to enjoy my experience in a new place and explore new routes. This is just the beginning,I thought as I looked forward to some upcoming events  which promised to showcase some visual treats and breathtaking trails for the next one year.

‘Insta’ celeb on the run

There is a certain thrill that one feels on seeing their photo on social media. The numerous likes and cheeky comments tend to bring out a child like glee irrespective of the age factor-something that entices them away from the rigamarole of daily routine and chores.
That instant ‘ping’ of a like or a comment on the smartphones manages to elicit a smile which probably only a bar of chocolate  could do during our childhood days.
After Facebook,  instagram seems to have become the new rage. One is able to post several pictures right from their travel escapades to random clicks with friends or celebrities. With the fitness bug having caught on, one sees yoga poses, hiking trails, bicycling trips and running shots doing the rounds.
MRR ( Mumbai road runners)-a vibrant community of 9000 odd members, believes that every runner on the road is a celebrity and has devised a novel way to ensure that their runner gets the status of one by flaunting their images on social media.
They introduced a concept of insta girl and insta boy of the day where clues would be posted on a daily basis about their runners. This ‘taaza khabar’ would leave others in the community brimming with curiosity on who these celebs  of the day were. The ‘guess who?‘ phenomenon would begin with their morning cup of cutting chai as a flurry of names would leave a trail of comments on this post.
By tea time, the stars would be revealed and this was something everyone looked forward to. It sort of broke the lull from their monotonous affairs of the cubicle life or corporate boardroom.  Each day was awaited with great fervour as the “who is it going to be today” frenzy gradually caught on.
The star couple of the day would be elated on seeing their images being posted on a page of a 9000 odd member community which boasts of runners from not only India but all over the world.
Other runners got to know their counterparts much better with the creative clues that were posted by the enthusiastic admin team.  Irrespective of being caught in traffic snarls or long haul meetings ,the ‘insta’ fever perked the excitement levels by keeping everyone on their toes.
This was probably  good enough to give stiff competition to ‘Bombay times’ which would usually only  report on celebs getting a nose/ lip job done or an attire they wore to a certain superstar’s party.
The MRR insta fun certainly made waves with its tongue in cheek humor clues as an introduction to their runners in their previous season.
Going by the popularity of their previous insta edition ,MRR is all set to bring on their season 2 of the insta girl -insta boy series. More clues, more humor and more celebs -the time has come to get to know your runner pals a lot better.
Quirky and effervescent, season 2 promises be a cup of hot piping coffee with an extra aroma and a dash of some special flavor!

7th Anniversary Run

We have many running groups across the country but what is so unique about MRR?

– is it that MRR has around 9000 members?

– or is it that this group is ” by the runners and for the runners?”

Very few running groups can boast of having a monthly group run, every 1st Sunday of the month, continuously for the past 7 years!! Whether it’s peak summer months or the wet monsoons of Mumbai, come what may, these monthly runs will always happen.

Last Sunday 2nd July was MRR’s 7th anniversary and the entire running community of Mumbai was looking forward to it. We had +400 runners who braved the heavy downpour and still made it for the event. The entire route from Carter road to NCPA was as if a race was happening in the city.

Like for all monthly runs, there were enough water stations on the route and enthusiastic volunteers cheering the runners.

As a memento, every runner earned a medal which they proudly displayed and many even posted on the social media. Also breakfast was served to everyone, which everyone relished. And in this weather hot tea was also served.

Now all these costs money but the admins decided to charge only Rs 100 per person!! I am sure the costs were much higher than that. The best part about these runs are the camaraderie amongst the runners seen after the run. Every one wants to be clicked and take selfies with their friends and people who they feel inspire them.

I have personally seen this group grow by leaps in the last 5 yrs. Whether it is the admins or the volunteers or the photographers, everyone puts in their 100% and work selflessly sacrificing their own interests.

What more do I expect from MRR?

Possibly getting into organising a race

 

The MRR 7th Anniversary Run 2017

It was somewhere in the year 2009 when I met  the gang that started as MMR and later rechristened as MRR.  It  began with long runs on Saturdays at the lush green lungs of  Mumbai  suburbs that we know as Aarey. It was quite a challenging route  with one loop of around 8kms with a fair share of uphills that we had nicknamed “Heart Break Hill”. There was no FB group and  we had a platform known as Runners For Life  which had groups like the one we have on FB today.

Later in the year 2010, the Bandra NCPA long run was conceived  by Giles, Milton, Ram  amongst others and  myself including Bijay, Mani Iyer, Bhasker Desai, Mumtaz Qureshi and few others  became part of the same.  This was basically to have  training runs  mostly on the SCMM route   so that  runners  are familiar  with the  route and its difficulties.  The response was good considering the number of people running at that point of time and slowly the popularity of this monthly run grew and people from  different parts of  Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane joined  the fun.  The MRR community itself grew from a mere 20  odd people  to  over 8500  now and it is a matter of pride  and joy that today we have  members from across India connecting with us and also coming to participate in the iconic run whenever any of them are in Mumbai. Some die hards  schedule their visits so as to participate in these runs, and  we have had members  coming in specially to participate in the Anniversary celebrations.

The anniversary runs are a lot of fun, as runners come in huge numbers and runners across various groups  participate in the run as well as celebrations. It also gives an opportunity  for the runners who are connected on FB to actually meet and put a face to the name that they know and interact with.  The charges for participating in the monthly runs have remained constant at Rs. 50/- (inflation and GST can take a walk!) and on an average  any monthly run has upwards of 200  participants, equivalent to a small event. The Anniversary runs  have larger numbers and hence a  bit more effort goes into organizing the same. The 7 Anniversary  run on 2 July 2017 had over 400 participants, by any standards a  decent number even for a time event.

I have participated in most of the  monthly runs and  all of the Anniversary runs.  This year  since had scheduled  a 16 k  run for myself, I had decided to start from NCPA and do a 8k loop. I had to ferry  another MRR  member, Vishaka who also stays in Powai and who was attending the run  for the first time.  As we were  proceeding towards NCPA, the rains were  heavy and  we were a bit worried as to what the  scene would be if the  rains did not abate.  A moment after we landed at NCPA, the heavens opened up in full glory.  Since Vishaka was to do a 10k, I asked her to wait for MRR volunteers to arrive, and I pushed off  for  my scheduled 16k run.  The first 4 kms was run in blistering downpour and head winds, but  later on the  rains abated a bit and though the shoes swished with residual water, it was a comfortable run.  I completed my run in good time  again battling strong winds and rains on the return leg.  A  bit later runners started to converge on the promenade opposite NCPA.

The sight was that of a festival. Runners of all kinds  with colourful attire, swarmed the promenade like proverbial bees.  The chatter was endless.  There would have been a world record of the maximum amount of selfies taken, hugs exchanged, hi fi’s given and the  happiness quotient. The glow on the face of the runners told the story and it is this glow which makes us  arrange these  runs  month after month. It is such a satisfying experience  to see the sense of achievement on the face of the runners. Many  ran the distance for the first time, many ran in the rains for the first time, and  some volunteered for the first time. One thing was common among all of them – the joy!

The  hydration points were well stocked  with water, energy drinks and some eats, and also  volunteers  with unlimited smiles, and last but not the least, photographers to capture the run and the smiles so that  the FB pages are  flooded the next day with new profile pics and group pics!  The  finish point had participation medals  for all and yummy breakfast for that customary ‘carbo loading’.  Runners do enjoy running, but the most thing that the runners enjoy is the camaraderie and fun times that  they spend with like minded people.  This explains  why even after the run, the runners are still at the venue a good one and a half hours after completing their runs.  The customary  Anniversary cake prepared thoughtfully by Ritu, was cut by  our iconic  runner Khushroo,  and  Sameer Gaikwad, who had travelled all the way from Baroda to participate in this event.

From a motley group of 20 runners this run today had over 400  runners, which  is an indication of the running culture  that has  grown and MRR has had a good share in making the same popular with its own brand of  openness, and all inclusive  philosophy.  A word here  for the  tireless efforts put in by the  Admins of MRR, all of them who are professionals, and who put in  that extra mile to make the runners comfortable, be it the monthly runs, or managing the  FB group,  and more importantly  conceiving and implementing the various programs to help  underprivileged runners.  A huge thanks to the  Volunteers  who  work hard to  provide an enjoyable run to the  runners, sacrificing their runs and tirelessly manning everything from purchase of  materials to serving  till the last runner  has crossed the station, and doing this with smiles and all the time encouraging the runners.

Its  been a wonderful  8 years journey, and it is heartening to note that most of the initial group members are still a part of this wonderful initiative and  the group has grown in manifold terms.  Here’s wishing MRR  a fantastic future and many many more celebrations!

Some pictures of the First Anniversary  Run – 3 July 2011.

Running with the alter ego

 

The rains had finally arrived and lashed the city with great fury. The waves crashing on the rocks was a mesmerising sight. It was a misty morning and I was out on my long run. The past few days had been stressful and I felt that a good run would be the best cure to all the troubles.

The roads appeared desolated as the dark grey clouds hovered above. I could barely sight a soul. Splash splash I went, my feet playing along with the puddles on the road as the rains came down in full force again.

I was soon lost in my thoughts which were rummaging like the howling wind when I suddenly noticed a faint running figure,clad in blue, catching up with me. Sporting a blue cap, the heavy showers dillusioned the face.

“Strange”, I thought to myself. ‘”Where had this person come from? I had barely spotted anyone earlier.”

“You seem flustered. Are you ok” the voice of the figure came sailing through. I glanced in surprise at the perceptive stance of this stranger. I nodded quietly.

I could sense this ‘figure’ looking at me sideways for a long time. Finally the eerie silence was broken.

“Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone.” The voice continued. ” We are so used to a certain lifestyle that we are reluctant to step out and explore other possibilities even it’s for a short while. Often apprehension and insecurity take over preventing some golden opportunities to knock on our door. We bolt the door so tightly that we fail to understand the significance of embracing newer opportunities which make us better than what we are today ”

I was bewildered at this philosophical talk early in the morning especially since I wanted some solitude to sort my head. I was moving countries for a year and was having mixed feelings about the whole process.

“You do not know what’s in store for you.” “Give yourself a chance. Who knows, you may come back as a better person. ”

I was startled by this statement and stopped in my tracks for a moment.

The voice continued ” Don’t stop and lose your momentum or sense of direction. It’s now or never. Take the plunge and grow in experience. Not many people get this chance at your age or stage in life”.

I gasped in shock wondering how this ‘figure’ had read my mind. It strangely seemed to respond to all my inhibitions which I hadn’t disclosed vocally.

The heavy downpour
continued as I stared at this figure going ahead. I wondered who this was and the run had almost come to an end.

“Don’t look so surprised. You keep voicing out your troubles and I always end up giving you solutions. You know me Swetha.”

I stood transfixed, stunned as to how this figure knew my name. I suddenly shivered as a gale of wind blew from behind as I watched that figure slowly disappear down the road.

The rains had stopped and the weather began to clear up. I spotted some cleaners and asked if they had seen a person in a blue cap and shirt. They said there was not a single soul and I seemed to be the only runner on the roads that morning.

I reached home and was still pondering over this strange encounter. As I looked up in the mirror I saw a reflection of a blue shirt and cap glancing back at me.

I smiled! I had found the answer to my troubles

MRR- Bonhomie at its Best

I think I first connected with MRR (Mumbai Road Runners) on Facebook when I was planning to do my very first 10k in 2012. I had registered for the Pinkathon that year. Unfortunately, I ended up skipping it due to a Family Emergency. Anyways, along with some other Runner Groups, MRR soon became my Go to place for every little Running query. Initially I had the Fly on the Wall approach simply skimming through the posts, garnering knowledge and trying to inculcate whatever was feasible.

In 2015 post my first FM, by when I had moved on from being a Solo Runner to connecting with other Runner Friends thanks to my buddy Roshni Rai, I met Ultra Couple Sunil and Sangeeta Shetty. They were nice enough to take Anupma Diddi and me for our very first Run with the MRR Gang in June 2015. We went directly to NCPA and ran about 12k or so returning with the Bandra-NCPA Runners. Both of us didn’t really know anyone but Samuel Chettiar made sure we were very much a part of the Gang 😃.

After the Mumbai Ultra on 15th August, 2015, I got to know a lot more other Runners. After all Misery loves Company Right 😉? We were all a bunch of crazy people going back and forth in loops. Needless to say it was wonderful to actually meet and even run along with some of my MRR friends from Facebook 😎.

Getting connected to more Runners helped me get the additional support in terms of Transportation. It was always an issue venturing out alone in the wee hours of the morning. Finally I had a whole Gang of people who were happy to have me tag along with them. Yup, my life was definitely more interesting and fun now thanks to MRR. From running in one event in the neighbourhood I graduated to running around all over the place having a gala time 😉..

We did crazy things like play Dress up for the MRR Halloween Run. Runner Photographer Indy Jadhv actually managed to look like Cowboy Amalesh Karle and I were enacting Shootout at Wilson 😅 . Oh Boy, that was hilarious.

Finally I managed to do the monthly Bandra-NCPA 21k post SCMM 2016 along with Salaj Singh as we edged Amalesh Karle on to finish strong at NCPA amidst loud cheers and applause. Sure makes you feel like a Star every single time 🤗. .

Being associated with MRR we even got to be a part of the Yoga Session by Beverly Mathews channelling our inner Yogis. It was a really informative session by Beverly with Neelam Vaswani and Kanishk Pandey demonstrating the various poses as the rest of us did our best to follow them and avoid toppling over 😁 . Yup, sure isn’t as easy as it looks.

The Ultimate Frisbee Game organized by Swetha and Amit at Juhu Beach was a laugh riot. All of us were running around, giggling, shouting and falling around like Big Kids. And the mad moments rolled on with the Ultimate Blast at the MRR Awards Bash. Volunteering was just another way to get to know people and making like-minded friends 😊.

Oh yes, how can I forget being part of the Famous MRR Runner Speak Video. Viv and Sam had a ball pretty much ragging us :P. Needless to say each of us was super thrilled as soon as we were done. All in all we had fun, though the less said about my over-animated video the better 😂 .

So happy to run and be a part of the very first MRR 10-Miler recently arranged at the Eastern Express Highway. Nice to have another MRR Run so close to Home. As always the Fun and Camaraderie is unmatched 😊 .

Feels unbelievable that two years have flown by.   I am very much part of this wonderful group. From simply reading up and gaining inputs and information, I am now actually giving advice, encouragement and freely sharing my views with others. Of course the biggest and best part has been the amazing people I have met and wonderful friends I have made thanks to MRR 🤗.

So Happy to see, learn and be a part of the Selfless work done by MRR including supporting deserving Runners from the low income bracket, giving away running gear to charitable organizations, organizing Charity Runs and many more such wonderful initiatives. Sure feels wonderful to be a part of such a Vibrant Community which believes in Sharing, Caring and giving back to others. MRR definitely Rocks.

Volunteer: Noun Altruistic activity where an individual provides services, In Hindi – Sevak: Not that Pradhan Sevak :)


My first volunteering stint with MRR was way back, on 7th June 2015.  Incidentally it was also a Farewell run for Andrea Stadler. Though I had joined MRR fb group in Sept 2013, my involvement was limited only to reading posts and questions posted by fellow runners & answers to these questions given by experts in group.

I used to always wonder how these guys run 21km for practice and that too every month, as till that time I used to participate in only 1 race (SCMM) in a year .So decided to join all like-minded people for a race.  Initially, I felt a bit scared as running 21km every month was not my cup of tea and was also not familiar with the route then ( The route maps were not posted then ) , hence decided to volunteer and get acquainted with members of the group & to know the entire route . 

Ram Venkatraman added me to the volunteer group which included other runners who had opted to volunteer during the run. All sorts of question were running in my mind as to how the hydration will be served, how we would know when the runners require hydration etc. Rupal Shah who was coordinating for that run had already shared few instructions for us in the group. This made me bit comfortable. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that is required to conduct a run, keeping to account the weather, no of participants, their finish timing, post run snacks, hydration (water) and coordinating with people coming from various parts of city etc.

However meticulous planning & execution by Rupal and admins made it look easy as the further instructions started flowing regarding spots/water stations assigned to volunteers and procurement of hydration( water ) for their respective stations based on the number of volunteers , baggage’s collection and other instructions for Andreas farewell like getting placards prepared , cakes etc. 

I was confused with so much instruction and was wondering how these guys arrived at hydration (water) figure just by taking into account the no of runners registered. (This doubt got cleared after I had few more volunteering stint with MRR and also thanks to calculation xls shared by Viv Menon). Subsequently a detailed instructions for runners & volunteers were shared for the race day runners thanking the volunteers on the volunteer post even before the start of day made me realize that this is gonna be an awesome experience. 

So as planned and instructed I landed up at Otters club at 05:00 am and was quite amazed to see so many runners in colorful clothes (few in MRR neo green ) turning up early morning for a practice run ( though the number was not quite huge as it is now ). As I personally didn’t know anyone there, I  started looking out for other volunteers by checking their FB profile pic and soon  met Subhash Putty and Rupal who introduced me to Sukhjeevan Singh Bhimber (Sukhi Paji )  , as I was stationed at mela with sukhi .Then there was a warm-up session followed by a briefing by Samuel Chettiar(Sam) for runners and  volunteers just before the run ( a practice which he still does before start and after finishing the run ), the briefing also included a Jumla of getting Hugs & Kisses ( The later one, I have never received during the run as said by Sam and hence a Jumla :) ) .Few runners had by then started painting their face with lipsticks and colors this reminded me of my school & college years were we had similar fun during trips etc. 

Show me some love –Before start of run

Post the start of the race the volunteers grouped according to their water station started leaving for their respective station, After reaching Mela (now China Bistro) Sukhi immediately placed the MRR standee and we started preparing the hydration (Mixing enerzal to water) by the time we had prepared few hydration (now water & enerzal) bottles, runners started coming to our water station. Was very thrilled to see happy faces of runners stopping for hydration(water) and fruits (banana & oranges) and almost every runner thanked us, this continued till 7:30 am.  The camaraderie  was unbelievable though didn’t knew many of them but the warmth in their smile and small talks and hugs made me feel homely and aren’t we a big family of runners ?

At Mela
At around 7:30 am we wrapped the water station after all the runners had passed our station and we proceeded towards NCPA, the point where the run ends. Many runners had already finished their run by then and Rupal and other volunteers there were helping them with hydration (water) and snacks. 

Post having snacks and after about 15-20 mins Giles Drego started with the cool down sessions, with runners participating in cool down session happily & then we had a small farewell function for andrea including a vote of thanks from her for the wonderful experience she had with MRR .All this and happy faces of runners greeting each other and discussing about run & clamour by runners was no less than a festival, it was an amazing culmination to what had been a splendid morning.

Post Run
I’d never volunteered in any run earlier and I have never been as amazed by it as I was that day. After this I knew I had gained more than what I had given back and made few good friends too.

My first experience volunteering for MRR monthly run was fantastic and I absolutely loved it and then I wondered why it took me so long to join this group and volunteer and if you haven’t yet had the chance to volunteer at MRR, I would encourage you to do so and here’s why

It’s fun to be on the other side of the race. Since I like to cheer people, it was fun for me to do that on just about every runner as they flew by. Cheering on runners is pretty much my favorite thing ever. 

It helps you to connect to other runners including podium finishers, ultra runners etc., listening to new stories of their achievements and get to gain so much knowledge about running, recovery, hydration etc. 

It helps you to better understand why and how certain decisions are made in races e.g. hydration (water) stations, refreshment, snacks etc.  Seeing a bit of the behind the scenes action, can provide the perspective that you just don’t have when you are running.  

Giving back is important. The community requires volunteers. At some point in your life as a runner, one of those volunteers should be you. Volunteering can be a thankless job, but it is an important one and races couldn’t exist without it and it’s a fact.

 

Bandra NCPA runs – memories so vivid that its hardly nostalgic!!

I started to run in May 2012. I had no intentions to run a race and this changed in two months when I ran my first Bandra-NCPA run with MRR. It was the July edition and July 2012 was the second anniversary.

A background first. Bandra NCPA run as it was previously called, was a 19k run from Otters club to NCPA. The route chalked out by the stalwarts of running like Milton Frank, Giles Drego and Ram Venkatraman did not have the half loop of Carter road and did not take the Worli sea face. As a result it was a 19k route. There were some runners who would take Worli sea face to make it a 20k but obviously I was not one of them. As a complete novice I always followed to the T what my coach Giles Drego told me. So when he invited me to run this one, he clearly said “You do a 12-13k. Run till haji ali and take a cab to NCPA. Or go back if you want but there will be cake at NCPA.” (Typical Giles)      

Anyway so the day arrives and I reach Otters Club all excited. I see about a hundred people charged up, dressed in vibrant running gear, stretching, warming up, meeting and greeting each other. The atmosphere was electrifying. I clearly remember seeing the legends of running there. These were the real stars. Giles, Mani, Ram, Bhasker, Ajit, Puru, Milton, Unmesh etc. I call them the legends of running because they are really passionate about the sport. We look at running now and it is full of limelight. Social Media, Brands chasing runners, race mania, sponsorship, challenges and what not. It has become the ‘in’ thing if I may say so. These runners are legends in my opinion because they used to run even when it was not the ‘in’ thing. So here I was like a little village child who was suddenly put on the streets of Manhattan somehow, looking everywhere in amazement, awe and excitement.

Pani Sir had graced the occasion. He had flown down from Bangalore to be a part of this. I had no idea who he was and it was much later I got to know the kind of respect the man commands in the running circuit across the country. I clearly remember him saying “We will go easy. We will maintain a pace of 6 consistently throughout the run” Again I had no idea what ‘easy’ meant and what ‘pace’ was. I did not own a Garmin back then. I only had to follow my Coach’s instructions and message him my total time taken later on.

The run began and I cannot describe the energy levels I saw on that day. There was a sea of runners and the waves were lashing. My initial thoughts to myself were “Dude… look at them.. they are all champions.. Thank goodness you only have to run till Haji Ali… else you would have reached NCPA by the time these people are eating lunch!”  I barely knew anyone there besides Giles and Kshitij Sharma but by the end of it I had made some acquaintances if not friends. And who would have known that some of these acquaintances would result in deep bonds of friendship.

The 2nd Anniversary edition

So I continued to run and people passed me. Cheering me on when they didn’t even know me. I was amazed again. This was not some group of elite, high and mighty people who had their noses in the air.

Vibrant and happy tribe

This was a group where a slow and new runner like me was welcomed with warm smiles and open arms. This was a pack I would want to be a part of. So happy as I was I continued to run. This was my first long run. I consider distances above 10K as ‘Long’. I had no idea about pacing myself and I continued at a decent speed. Obviously I got steamed out around Siddhivinayak Temple. I decided to walk when I met Aanchal Mundkur. She took out the earphone and asked “first time” I nodded. She said “Awesome.. cya at NCPA” and rushed off. The thing with Ms. Mundkur is you cannot forget or miss her. She is the girl in the orange cap. However, if my memory serves me right, that time the cap was white.

2014 edition

So I ended my run at Haji Ali and took a cab to NCPA as instructed. When I reached, many runners had already reached there and a few were coming in. After sometime Pani sir took the stretches. It was the most extensive stretching session I have ever been a part of. Just the stretching lasted half an hour. A big cake was cut and distributed among runners. And after some crazy group pictures I took a cab and went back home.

What changed in me that day was my reason to run. I saw this bunch of runners who I knew had a story behind their running but irrespective of their different reasons, they had in common real love and passion for running. That day I decided that I will never stop running. The only reason to stop will be losing the love or passion for the sport and I always pray that I stay in love with it. What started as a casual fling turned into a full fledged love affair. In the 5 years of being in love with running I have ran about 30 races with distances ranging from 10k to 42.2k. I may have not lost a lot of weight, I may have not got many PBs and I may have plateau-ed out but what I have gained here is some really good friendships. I have met some extremely motivating and inspiring people and forged a deep bond with some. And that makes it all worth it.

6th Anniversary Edition 2016

MRR is celebrating its 7th Anniversary on 2nd July 2017 and many congratulations to them…. Rather us. I have never missed the anniversary edition since 2012 and have been around for at least 8-9 editions each year. I have seen this community grow multiple folds. It gives me immense happiness to share that I was once a part of an edition with only 11 runners and absolutely no volunteers. Today the least attendance is in three digits. There are volunteers, hydration partners, contests, prizes sometimes even sponsored breakfast. The policy of ‘For the runners by the runners’ is strictly followed and a newbie will feel as welcomed as I felt in the July of 2012.

Last year I wrote something on the MRR run. Just ending with that rhyme.     

As the days get hot and nights get warm
I lay awake in my bed before my alarm
Excited as a child on his birthday
I get ready as its the first Sunday of May
The summers are here and its getting hotter
But I have to be in front of otter’s 
So off I rush as I dont wanna be late
With runner buddies I have a date
I park my car outside otters gate 
And find the lively MRR brigade
I meet and greet and hug and kiss
And make sure there’s no lady I miss
A pack of cheetahs all fit and lean 
And so many of them sporting the MRR green
So off they go at half past five

So much energy the dead could come alive
They reach the first water station at shivaji park 
And oh my god.. Its still dark
Water, enerzal, smiles and cheers
They take a sip and thank the volunteers
They continue on their journey south
So much fun there ain’t no doubt
And soon they take a breather at mela
Click some pics and eat a kela
By now its dawn and dark no more 
They are half way done and half way more 
They keep running alongside the sea
With a lovely view of haji Ali
And when the sea view comes to an end 
On pedder road they start to ascend 
Puffing, panting with all the might and will
When the hell are we gonna get a downhill

And so they hit the marine drive
At Wilson greeted with biscuits and high five
They tell you that you are almost there
NCPA ain’t that far from here
Continuing to run along the bend
They will run till the roads end 
And when they see the faster ones of the tribe
They will get a triumphant vibe 
And so they dash with hands in the air
Welcomed by applause and cheer
They stretch and plan breakfast and beer
And off they go to an Irani place near.

MRR welcoming runners with open arms and strengthens the camaraderie between them

It was a sultry April morning in 2015 when my husband and I landed up at Otters club for our first MRR (Mumbai Road runners) run. As we got out of the car, we looked around at the jovial faces feeling initially quite at sea. We then noticed a cheerful faced person walking up to us and introducing himself as Samuel Chettiar who instantly made us feel at home.

I remember the weather being excessively warm considering it was the month of April. However the reception that we received during and post the run was undoubtedly warmer as I recollect going back home with pleasant memories and some new friends. It was no looking back after that and we sincerely dedicated every first Sunday of the month to our new family of runners.

Month after month, as we clocked our long runs, our camaraderie with this community only grew. It was interesting to see people from varied age groups, several parts of the city and different professional backgrounds come together for this occasion. MRR has managed to connect individuals with a similar passion from different corners of the humongous city of Mumbai which wasn’t feasible otherwise given the erratic schedules and mind numbing travel times.

It is due thanks to their vibrant Facebook page that encourages runners to post their queries, car pool with fellow runners from similar or neighbouring localities to reach a particular destination for an event, talk about their experiences of running on different trails, read the story behind every runner and engage in a healthy discussion.

Fun is definitely the USP of every MRR run as sincere efforts are taken to ensure that no runner is discriminated or judged based on their pace, distance or timing. Volunteers are stationed in plenty offering a kind word or two along with the necessary hydration. Every runner is given their due appreciation and included in the group photographs- a reminder of their memories on the roads.

Breaking the monotony is believed to be crucial and hence the off season months of March, April and May are utilized to engage in different kinds of sports besides running which includes Football and Ultimate Frisbee. Yoga sessions are also conducted on a regular basis barring the monsoon months of June, July, August and September. While running forms the core of MRR, activities like these brings people of other varied interests together which in turn has led to the growth of the community every year.

The glittering MRR awards function held on an annual basis post the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon is an occasion for people to let their hair down, engage in a lot more effervescent activities like a skit or a dance and build a deeper bond with their fellow runners whom they would usually just wave out to during their long runs.

It has been 2 eventful years since I joined the Mumbai road runners and the camaraderie has only strengthened over the several months. Having been running since 2012, it was initially a lonely haul for both my husband and myself who would spend long hours on the road without a single person to acknowledge.  Today it’s a different scenario where we eventually bump into familiar faces thanks to MRR.

Having been residents of South Mumbai for over ten years, we haven’t been able to make that many friends in this part of town  as we have by the virtue of just being in a community like Mumbai road runners within a short span of 2 years. Today we have far more friends from other parts of the city than the uptight locality we are residing in.

Pondering at this irony, I often tend to dwell in remorse and regret that I didn’t join this vibrant community earlier. However the saying goes ‘When the student is ready, the master appears’. Perhaps there is a time for everything. Probably in April 2015, I was ready to learn, love, accept, empathize and not judge – the principles which MRR operates with.

It is sheer platform where everybody is a student and a teacher as this gigantic network offers something that everybody can learn from-be it a new comer, amateur or a veteran. The large-heartedness of the Mumbai road runners breaks barriers and distances by welcoming runners from all over the country and the world-a bond which is what makes runners feel at home and establish that connection. The rapport eventually  goes beyond running and I term this as a Karmic connection!!