The Auroville marathon had been on our bucket list for a while after hearing rave reviews about the beauty of its route. After an elusive 2 years, we finally made it to the 10th edition which was on February 12th 2017. It was a 3-4 hour drive from Chennai city which made it convenient for us to park ourselves with our respective families in our home town for a couple of days before we headed to our race destination.
My husband Amit and I along with a group of Chennai runners who called themselves Pillar Pacers headed by Dr Kumar Janardhan began our journey on Saturday morning. It was a picturesque drive from Chennai on the east coast road (ECR as it is popularly known as) which took us through Mahabalipuram, VGP Golden beach and MGM Dizee world, bringing back memories of our childhood excursions here. We made a few stops on the way at a South Indian joint to grab a cup of coffee, the breath taking salt pans and the winding roads for our mandatory photo shoots and selfies.
It also gave us an opportunity to interact with some of the runners from Chennai-an enthusiastic bunch who purely ran for the fun factor rather than stressing on mileage, pace, position, time, etc. It came across as a breath of fresh air to listen to their experiences of running races like the Cherrapunji marathon with that sparkle of unadulterated joy in their eyes.
We reached Auroville by afternoon, collected our bibs, bought T shirts which costed around Rs 300 each, grabbed a bite of lunch at the Auroville centre, bought a couple of cakes from Auroville Bakery (a must visit) and headed back to Pondicherry (12 km from the start line) to halt for the night. The half marathon commenced at 6:15 am and we reached the venue 30 minutes prior to the event the next morning.
The race began on time and we decided to enjoy the route rather than stress on the minutes ticking away. It was a rather muddy trail consisting of some hard pebbles and by no means an easy one. The mud had a sort of reddish tinge to it. Dr Kumar jokingly told us that post the race, our shoes will be unrecognizable. So many runners usually take a pre and post-race pictures of their shoes as a memoir to show how hard they have run.
After a few kilometers, we were soon treated to the first rays of the sun falling on some shrubs. Only a partial part of the leaves glowed in the light making it quite a pretty picture. For a moment, we wistfully wished that we had brought our cameras. As we ran ahead, we soon found ourselves entwined by trees and creepers on both ends. Red ant hills were found plenty on the sides of the trail, reminding us of pictures depicted in the Amar Chitra Katha stories where sages usually spent their time in deep meditation. No wonder many said that the Auroville marathon was to be enjoyed rather than raced as it instilled that calming factor in you. This run was nothing less than a meditation as we soon fell into a trance of this enchanting forest.
The winding pathways soon gave way to several twists and turns making us go in a zig- zag manner. “It reminds me of a snakes coil” I chuckled to Amit as we paused at one of the water stations which was there almost every kilometer with volunteers handing out oranges, bananas and energy drinks. The music from my speakers seemed to be in sync with the scenic surroundings as I began to imagine myself as a Sambar deer running in the woods.
The beauty of the trail continued to mesmerize us and things were going well until the 15th km mark. We saw the 10 km runners,who had just began their race, streaming in so fast, reminding me of those herd of buffaloes scurrying away in fright on hearing the tiger approaching them. I slowed down cautiously not wanting to elbow or trip over them as that portion of the trail was narrow.
Unfortunately for some reason I tripped over a stone and fell down flat bruising my knees. A few concerned runners stopped and asked if I was fine. I nodded, stood up and began to walk a few steps. Thankfully neither my ankle nor my foot was sprained. Amit came over with a worried expression and patted my shoulder. “Your knees look bad Swe”, he said.
Suddenly something in me snapped as I was furious at myself for having fallen down even though it wasn’t my fault. “I am not going to give up. Hell with my knees, I will reach the finish line in style.” I told myself. Now anger usually makes me perform better for some reason. I was instantly reminded of the movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag where Milkha Singh was heavily bruised by his jealous counterparts but still ran the race next day and broke the national record.
I always tend to draw inspiration from sports-persons especially those who fight against the odds be it former running champions, a nail biting cricket match where a player blasts away the runs with a fierce expression on his face or the Indian army who fight it out in trying circumstances, bleeding with pierced bullets.
The adrenaline rush set in as I kept going, visualizing the finish line. I soon reached the 20th km mark. Feeling no pain, I decided to accelerate that last 1 km. I could faintly hear the drum beats and music. I saw the finish line at a distance and sprinted ahead giving a hi-five to the by standers on the side-lines as they cheered for us. Overtaking the foreigner in front and many others, I ran till I crossed the finish line in 2:06.
I was elated to finish strong and this had been my best on any trail run done so far. This year they had presented runners with medals and I was happy to get mine-a wooden carving which said Auroville Marathon 10th edition. The design on it sort of reminded me of the Batman image.
Rushing to the medical centre, I got my wound cleaned up and applied an ointment. Clicking a mandatory picture, we soon chatted with other runners. A lot of people gazed at my knee in horror and asked “Are you OK?”, to which I nodded with a smile. As we walked out, Amit noticed many people staring at my knees and mentioned the same to me. I shrugged and joked saying “Why they would look at my knees when there were more scenic things to look at, considering the beauty of the surroundings?”
We headed back to the hotel, changed and drove down to Chennai to take that Tetanus injection immediately. It was an enjoyable experience overall except maybe for that fall.
Philosopher Confucius said “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” I was glad that I had risen in a strong manner and this Auroville run will be one of my greatest glory ever as I have emerged stronger mentally!