Saturday, December 25, 2010

Goa River Half Marathon

If the first edition of the Goa River Half Marathon will be long remembered by all the participants, it will be for the fact that EVERY SINGLE RUNNER FROM MUMBAI SMASHED THEIR PERSONAL BEST TIMINGS IN THE DISTANCE, despite a tough course. Not only that MOHANA came FOURTH in female veteran category, BHASKER – FIFTH in the male veteran category and TANAJI – FIFTH in the men’s open category.

As 2010 draws to a close with anxiety writ large on everybody’s minds on the forthcoming and “looming as large” Mumbai Marathon in mid-January, then they can draw tremendous satisfaction from their performances at Goa River Marathon – it was a smashing performance by the runners – as would be evident from the happy and smiling faces of the runners post the race.

Goa was planning its first ever half marathon this year under the auspices of Vasco Sports Club who roped in RFL as the consultant – a coup of sorts because then at least we, having known the credibility of RFL as a top class organizer were sure of the arrangements. True to form, the organization was excellent, with 8 water & medical stops along the route, traffic stoppages for 3 hours from the start, timely start, sufficient volunteers making this first event a well oiled one.

Vasco da Gama is a sleepy little town experiencing its first burst of developments with few skyscrapers, good roads, well stocked stores, cafes, a railway station, public library and a bustling as ever bus depot.

Giles, Milton, Bhasker, Genieve, Dr. Sharma, Ritesh Patel, Krishna, Ajit Singh, Kavin, Kaushik & gang and myself left on 17th evening by Mangalore Express – we were lucky to reach Madgaon at 7.30 a.m. next morning because Ganesh & Mohana and Ashish and his friends travelling by Konkankanya later that night were delayed by more than 5 hours reaching Madgaon only by 3.00 p.m. Bhasker, myself & Genieve started our journey from Goregaon while Krishna, Milton, Ajit & Giles came from Bandra and the others reached V.T. station by 9 p.m. V.T. station was as usual jampacked with travelers galore – each jostling for that 1 square inch of space allotted to Indians in railway stations. Much before that Bhasker came into his sparkling form as usual and gave ample evidence of his upper body strength by doing gymnastics inside the local train compartment – he continued his repartee and wit when he befriended the local taxi driver from Churchgate to VT station and queried from him about Amitabh Bachchan’s rich hair – whether it was wig or real hair and what oil should he be using – the driver had to defend Bachchan, being from his same town – Allahabad.

Indian Railways known for dividing families better than divorce courts did that to our group as well – everybody was in different compartments and it required some organizational skill and talking to get Genieve sitting near us, deprived as she was of her friends Hari & Gary. The train journey went off well again thanks to Bhasker who kept us in splits and peals of laughter throughout.

Madgaon early morning was as chilly as Mumbai in December and Vasco was just stirring to life when we descended on the Vasco Residency at around 8.30 a.m. When told that we would be given the rooms only at noon, we decided to get the other business of collecting bibs done with by then. Luckily for us, Vivek Prasad had already checked into one of the rooms previous night itself, so we could keep our luggage in his room and descend into the hotel cafeteria for a well deserved breakfast.

The cafeteria was laboriously slow in delivering the breakfast of omellete and puri bhajis and pulled their trousers and started working only when Bhasker threatened to take over the kitchen. Breakfast done, we walked down to the Vasco Sports Club which was about 10 minutes away from the restaurant. Vasco Sports Club was bustling with nervous activity, being a first time experience for them, anxiety was writ large on their faces. Bibs & chips collected, t-shirts purchased, inquiries made of the pasta party, Giles & Milton started working over the route in minute detail with the RFL guys who were there– where are the hills & bridges, how will we navigate the 5km walkers who will be encountered on the return leg etc. At the bib venue we ran into a few Haryana runners – all confident of 1.08/ 1.09 timings – confident of winning the race, provided no African runners were there.

The route started from near Baina beach and after about 20 metres there was a right turn 10 metres a left turn 500 metres first climb – a flyover over the railway tracks which sort of curved like an inverted U, came down – second hill after 4 kms which was almost like the Lonavla climbs – turning and climbing for about 1 kms, then downhill, after 6 kms it was skirting the river front all the way to 10.5 kms turnaround, third gentle slope at about 7 kms. It was an out and back route so the runners had to touch 10.5 kms and come back the same way. There were water stops every 2 kms or so and volunteers were placed all along the route directing the traffic away from the runners and also holding few water bottles in their hand. There were few volunteers with relispray moving about in motorbikes offering to runners who required them. Music was blaring at few stops and three cheer girls enthusiastically waving the runners on.

The afternoon of 18th was spent earning a few hours of well deserved siesta, while the younger lot comprising of Bijay, Ajit, Krishna, Ashok Naidu, Kavin & Genieve went to the beach & few other places to experience the town.

The organizers had arranged a pasta party at HQ a hotel adjacent to the Vasco residency so all descended on that place at about 7.30 p.m. for a fantastic pasta treat – there we met runners from Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and few foreign runners – all enthusiastic about the event. By then we came to know that two Kenyans had entered the race, so Haryana runners – there is your competition.

The organizers had arranged a bus pick up from our hotel for 5.45 a.m. so Giles had issued a dicta to every runner to be down at the hall by 5.35 a.m. Despite that there were few late comers, but we reached the start venue well before time. The start venue was abuzz with activity – there were announcements, music, people warming up – typical of any marathon – though on a much smaller scale.

We met with Bhasker’s friends Ken & Corina, Canadians who were competing in the veteran category. The male veteran category was 45 and above while the female category was 40 & above. Ken, 57 was a 1.30 half marathoner. We also met with the two Kenyans – one a tall lanky strappling lad called Robertson and the second shorter one, both fit and raring to go. We later learned that the Kenyans were robbed of all their personal belongings so they walked all the way from Verna to the race venue - a distance of 23 kms. Luckily there were no bhasans, so the race started on time at 6.45 a.m.

The weather was pleasant at the start time and stayed that way throughout except the last 5 kms when the sun started beating down harsh on the 2.30 half marathoners. The first kms itself had the railway flyover, which was quite steep and then for about 3 kms we were still inside the Vasco town navigating past surprised and sleepy eyed Vascoans or Vascoites as it may. After 4 kms we were hit by a sudden blast of chilly winds, pleasant to the runners but at the same started the second climb, which was winding and steep, much like part of the Lonavla climbs. The going was steady pace with Genieve at my side. At around 6 kms, we were skirting the Zuari river side with river barges of the Mormugoa Port Trust lying along the coast. Also around this time we met the winner Kenyan Robertson, and soon followed by two Indians and then the second Kenyan. When the second Kenyan came by, I hollered, “come on Kenya” and he had time to give a wide toothful smile. Tanaji was lying 6th at this stage, followed by other returnees, Bhasker, Milton, Rajesh Poojari, Giles Drego, Dr. Sharma & others. Gul Panang and her trainer had gone slightly ahead but on the return loop, she had slowed down. I was with Genieve upto 10.5 kms turnabout testing my ITBS left knee whether it could hold on. With weather showing good signs and knee holding up, I decided to up my pace on the return leg, and hollered Gen to stay with me. The weather was holding good and I slowly started ticking of one runner after another I had passed by, (final count about 22 runners whom I passed on the return leg), the killer climb came by at after 16 kms – but shorter on this side – going steady met up with Mohana – shouted one kms to go, last hill over the railway tracks – which started a small tinge of cramps on the calf muscles, but pace steady, last few metres decided to sprint but cramps put paid to that effort – nevertheless finished in a PERSONAL BEST time of 2.23.32 seconds, Mohana came just behind and Genieve followed few minutes later.

Medal hung on the shoulder – met with all the Mumbai runners – came to know that everybody had smashed their personal best timings – evident from the smiles on their faces – Milton & Gen started an impromptu jig on a Konkani number which was emulated by others. Waited for a while to know the final results of our key runners – Bhasker & Tanaji – pleasantly surprised to know Mohana came in fourth in the women’s veteran category – she missed the third place by a whisker. Trudged back to the hotel, refreshed went out with the gang for a welcome and sumptuous lunch. Came back into Mumbai early morning 20th, tired, but definitely happy.

Goa is definitely the place to be next year – so guys, tick this on your running calendar – awesome route, best facilities, scenic beauty, beautiful weather – next year’s plans include a few days after the run just lazing around Goa.