Beauty always comes at a price. Little did we realise that this exorbitant price would involve steep slopes and slushy mud paths where every step had to be watched with a hawk’s eye.

This was our second time at the Durshet Forest marathon. Situated at Khopoli, about 8.6 km from Adlabs imagica, it was just an hour and a half hour drive from Mumbai in the wee hours of the morning. Accompanied by our two runner buddies Rodman and Sunil Talwar, we headed towards the Durshet Forest lodge, indulging in animated chatter throughout the journey.

It was a carnival like atmosphere when we reached there. Meeting our runner buddies felt a tad more special, considering it was friendship day which was followed by warm hugs and cheerful hi fives. Some of our pals were doing a relaxed 10 km while my hubby and I, along a few others opted for the 21 km. The 32 km race had already commenced an hour back.  We assembled near the start line, waiting for the flag off.

At 7:00 am sharp we set off, the initial 200 metres being a downhill start, before setting foot on the tar roads for about 2km, after which the smooth roads paved way to an uneven terrain of rocky pathways and rolling hills.  The unmistakable cascade of greenery was a visual treat to our eyes and it literally felt like a green carpet welcome. The mystical woods looked even more beautiful in the monsoons with the streams gushing gently on either side.

As we continued our strides, we soon encountered muddy slushes-an after effect of the torrid rains the day before. Added to which, the humidity levels soared with not a speck of rain that particular day.

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Now running on the roads was one thing and running on pebbly pathways where a slip and a fall could result in a severely bruised knee, was a different thing altogether. It seemed to zap our energy levels to an extent that we were drained after 5 km.  Fortunately there were aid stations with volunteers at every kilometre mark, handing over water, enerzal and bananas. A sip of enerzal did wonders as we prepared ourselves for a long road ahead.

At the 7th km, we were greeted by a steep gigantic slope. I remember staggering up this incline like an old woman with a hunchback, last year. However this time, I fought my mental block and ran up fiercely, determined not to let the hill get the better of me. The village folk cheered us on as we turned at the 8 km mark and descended downhill, encouraging our fellow runners who were struggling with this monstrous incline.

I relaxed and decided to bask in the beauty of the surroundings. Running in the forest tends to remind me of stories that I have read during my childhood. The pebbles on the muddy route took me back to the story of Hansel and Gretel, where Hansel left a trail of the same to get back to his cottage from the woods.  I spotted a huge tree at a distance which traced me back to the magic faraway tree story with its queer folk of pixies, elves and gnomes residing in it. Just as I was smiling at these pleasant memories, we were asked to turn back and follow the loop up to that horrid slope again.

The 21 km route had apparently changed from the previous edition. I stared in disbelief and managed to conquer that incline once again and came gliding down smoothly, subsumed again in my thoughts about the peculiar creatures from Grimm Brother’s fairy tales and Enid Blyton. It certainly helped in taking my mind off the tough conditions that we were subjected to.

As we ran along further, I imagined the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland popping up and me posing a question to it- “How far do I have to go?” To which I get a reply, “It depends on where you want to go”. I persist saying “To the finish line please” to which pat comes the reply “Then you will just have to keep going.” My eyes blinked as my garmin buzzed at the 16 km mark. “Well just 5 km more to go”, I comforted myself.

We soon spotted the tar roads and bid goodbye to the woods. I picked up pace and continued my strides  when my garmin buzzed a 21 km at 2:18.   I stared at it in confusion as the finish line seemed a good stretch away. Nevertheless I put my best foot forward, ran like a person possessed and finally came to the 200 metres uphill stretch to the end zone. I glanced at my watch which showed 21.87 in 2:24 at 6.3 pace.

After collecting our medals and doing the customary poses, we headed towards the breakfast area which served poha, sheera and upma- sufficient to cater to our famished appetites. While discussing the run, it was apparent that the route was stretched a little further according to everybody’s garmin and the 21 km was certainly tougher than that of the previous edition.

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Durshet Forest Marathon was a well-organized event with its cheerful bunch of volunteers and photographers. It guaranteed me of being amidst natures surroundings with its resplendent beauty. Yet it also offers its intimidating stance about not being easy to conquer nature’s abode.

A fraction of a second led me to wonder if I was probably safer, signing up for city marathons where one needn’t tread on uneven surfaces or be appalled by the timing. However I realised that stepping out of your comfort zone and taking up such challenges moulds your mind into that of a stronger person.

I may not have bagged a podium or my personal best with regards to timing which certainly is not in my priority list when I run a race. But I have certainly emerged as a tougher person, managing to finish 6th overall.

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It is the journey which ultimately matters as I pen each moment down with immense fervour, as a record of one of life’s greater experiences.

Thank you Run buddies for a wonderful experience and a great event!