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.”