Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Marathon Man Feat of Endurance

7.09 p.m. 25th September 2011 will forever be etched in the memory of Rajesh Vadgama a.k.a Raj, because that is the precise moment when he crossed 100 kms at Marine Drive, Mumbai. His friends and supporters running alongside him and waiting for him at NCPA erupted in a thunderous applause reserved for the high and mighty sportsmen – people who have won the world or Olympics titles or achieved monumental feats of endurance. There was no sign of exultation from him, just a casual walk down to the end of NCPA inwardly soaking in the pleasure and joy of having completed a mammoth 100 kilometres in 15 hours.

The last lap of 5.1 kilometres was a joyful one as all his supporters had decided to run alongside him on that last lap. The lap started casually as were the previous ones, but since it was late evening, the Marine Drive promenade was packed to the rafters with families and children and elderly people all coming down for a casual stroll down the Marine Drive. Since he had to run in a straight line in order not to cramp badly, we had Sameer, Roshni, Ganesh, Milton and others shouting and waving to people to step aside for a few seconds for the running cavalcade to pass through. It was a majestic and magnificent feeling to be running alongside him that last lap as it was in the previous laps. Since he had to run 5 kms in the last lap, it was decided to run upto 2.5 kms and make the return leg to NCPA the home stretch to glory. Taking few walking breaks in between as advised by Dr. Ashish Contractor of the Asian Heart Institute, the final stretch of running started somewhere after the Jazz by the Bay restaurant. With barely 500 metres to go, Raj upped the pace to about 6.5 minutes per kilometer making all of us running behind him to suddenly scramble up for pace amazed at the man’s endurance, mental strength and determination. It was a moment of pure joy and triumph for him and all of his supporters. Triumph of mind over matter, man over the elements of scorching heat, humidity, tiredness, pain and sheer distance. A distance that will daunt an ordinary human being, running 100 kilometres in the sultry climate of Mumbai is no mean feat. Originally it was planned to do the distance in 12 hours, but as the day wore on and the sun beat down mercilessly, it was evident that running 100 kilometres in 12 hours would have been a daunting task in the humid climate of coastal Mumbai. But neither Raj nor any one of us had even an iota of doubt that the man will not finish the distance that he had set out to cover in the early hours of that Sunday.

The quest for glory started at 4.00 a.m. outside the Borivli National Park gate in Borivli east where about 10 runners had doggedly woken up at unearthly hours of 3.00 a.m. or thereabouts and travelled to Borivli to start the tryst with destiny alongside Raj. The run started precisely at 4.00 a.m. along the Western Express Highway and the plan was that runners could come in and join along the route. The route that was chosen for this event was the western express highway upto Bandra causeway and then via Cadell Road, Shivaji Park, Prabhadevi, Worli Sea Face, Haji Ali, Babulnath, Marine Drive upto NCPA and thereafter multiple of NCPA to Mafatlal Swimming Pool and back until the 100 kilometres were over.

So we had the indefatigable Bhasker Desai starting alongside Raj at BNP along with Hemant, Milan, Gayatri, Dr. Sharma, Unmesh, Nachiket, Sanjay Kasle and few other runners. Running at an earmarked pace of 7.30 minutes per kilometer, the group reached Goregaon check naka at 5.05 a.m. where they were joined by Sunil, Priyankar, Beena, Anjali, Atul Tuli and Milind Soman. The early morning motorists were probably bemused to see this crazy lunatic bunch of people getting up at unearthly hours on a Sunday morning to hit the roads running. It was decided not to take any of the flyovers, so running along the highway, the group ticked off one milestone after another along the highway, places we remember only as auto or cab destinations, such as Chakala, Airport, Vakola, Kalanagar etc. Alongside the runners there was a support vehicle laden with water, Gatorade and refreshments like bananas, chikkies, dates etc. Since it was a humid morning the runners were consuming water regularly. Ashok joined on the highway in order to take photographs along the route. His vehicle and the support vehicle was driving along in tandem with each other.

The first set of runners from Borivli were to get off at Mahim, a distance of 23 kilometres for a fresh set of legs to take over from there upto NCPA. It was decided that the fresh set of runners will wait at outside the St. Michael’s Church at Mahim at around 6.30 a.m. The running group was expected to reach Mahim around 6.40 a.m. and a 5 minute halt was scheduled here. The running group reached about 6.42 a.m. and instead of waiting immediately left via the Cadell Road. The runners waiting at St. Michael’s Church scrambled up to join him and the running group which took him to Mahim then left for their respective homes, satisfied with their morning accomplishments. However there were a few runners who continued running even beyond Mahim. There were more than 10 runners who joined from Mahim – Kavin, Zubin, Kaushik, Dhanraj, Apurva, Apurba, Ashwin Jain, Sripad, Suresh Negi, Qureshi, Amit & Neepa Sheth etc.

The wait which was scheduled for Mahim was taken at Shivaji Park. The ambulance from Asian Heart Institute also joined at Mahim. Also joining at Mahim were the duo of Varun Joshi on his bike and Mike behind him taking photographs along the way. Manish Rahul, Bijay Nair, Unnikrishnan Nair & Francis joined in at Sidhivinayak Mandir bringing in divine intervention of the Gods to bless the runners.

The support vehicle was stopping every 2 kms in order for the runners to refresh themselves. By the time the group had reached Haji Ali the sun was in and already streaming down though it was not very difficult at this stage.

The group reached NCPA at the expected time of 9.00 a.m. by which time 40 kms was done with. Few of the runners who came from Mahim exited at this stage while few such as Kaushik, Zubin continued their spree in marine drive also.

The idea was to do multiple loops of Marine Drive from NCPA to Mafatlal Swimming pool and back along the Marine Drive promenade which was a distance of 6 kilometres. However, it turned out to be more than 6 kilometres and slightly less than 7 kilometres.

Meanwhile, Puneet Chawla, Mani, Srinivas & Rohit had also arrived at NCPA with fresh supplies of water and refreshments, A water stall was placed at the Mafatlal Swimming Pool end with Ganesh and Shyam T as the initial set of volunteers. The water stall at under the marine drive flyover could not be set up immediately because we did not have enough volunteers. Luckily by the 3rd loop or so, Mrs. Raj and her family friends decided to set up the stall at beneath the flyover. Before the event, hectic preparations were on to procure the supplies and co-ordinate and here people like Puneet Chawla, Pramila Pai, Mani, Srinivas & Rohit Bansal were of immense help in arranging for ice-box, ice, water & refreshments.

Fresh set of legs were coming in at each loop with Sunder, Aishorjyo, Rohit, Srinivas joined in the loops as it was increasingly getting hotter and brutal as the sun kept climbing up. Milton, Giles, Varun, Venkat & Usha came in later loops as did Anand, Ashwini, Vikas and his friend. Manish Rahul & Kavin who completed the leg from Mahim to NCPA came in later for a second round of running along with Manish’s wife Ami. Khushro Patel came in at Mahim and also at NCPA during late evening in order to provide cheer and support to Raj. Ganesh, Chetan, Subra Shyam, Swami & Jitendra were doubling as runners as well as volunteers manning the counter at Mafatlal Swimming Pool. Abbasi did a couple of loops in the morning session and then came back to an evening session as well. He was of great help in procuring items from nearby places for Raj. Venkat brought in the weighing machine and immediately started weighing Raj and some other runners at the end of each loop to determine weight loss, if any. He also brought in a delightful sprayer which was used to spray cold water on their return to NCPA. Scientific, methodical and innovative approach to running.

If the afternoon session was proving to be brutal, Savio de Souza, the renowned marathoner and now came on the scene like a messiah and immediately took charge of Raj and helped him with proper stretching routines at every stop. Meanwhile Dr. Ashish Contractor of the Asian Heart Institute was at the site early itself and constantly taking care of Raj and exhorting him with the proper pace, right time to take a walk, encouragement etc. He was on a bicycle throughout the day as were a couple of other volunteers.

As the day wore on, and the loops kept getting completed one after another and the sun beating down relentlessly on the marine drive promenade which had no tree cover whatsoever, the determination of Raj never relented even for a second. There was never a thought that this was an impossible task. Raj never had a grimace on his face even for a second. In fact all throughout the run from BNP onwards there was a perpetual smile on his face as if he was relishing this challenge all through.

The volunteers at both ends i.e. NCPA and Mafatlal Swimming Pool were keeping track of the times and keeping the water bottles filled in with Gatorade, putting them inside the ice, peeling off the oranges, slicing the water melons etc. all to ensure that minimal time is lost in the turnaround at the loop ends.

As the evening wore on, the sun started setting down into the Arabian Sea, it was certain that he was going to miss the 12 hour deadline that was set for completion of this mammoth event. The crowds started swelling on the Marine Drive promenade for evening stroll It was around 6.30 p.m. when he embarked on his last loop of 5.1 kms, this time accompanied by all the runner friends. Since the crowd had by now risen to alarming proportions, and it was absolutely essential that he be given space to run and that too in a straight path, Sameer, Roshni, Ganesh, Milton and few others took it upon themselves to clear the path ahead, shouting and beseeching pedestrians to stay on the sides. The crowds thronging the Marine Drive were witness to a grand spectacle of a marathon man completing a feat which very few Indians have achieved so far.

What was heart-warming and endearing was the best efforts put in by everybody that day to make Raj’s 100 kms run possible. From the people who co-ordinated and helped with the logistics such as Puneet Chawla, Pramila Pai, Srinivas, Rohit, Mani to all the runners who ran alongside him, many of whom completed their longest ever mileages ever that day, to volunteers like Ganesh, Shyam, Jitu, Swami, Giles to front runners like Sameer, Roshni etc., coach Savio de Souza, Dr. Ashish Contractor, Venkat etc., everybody put their best feet forward to make this event a success – all this reflects on the love and affection that people in the running community of Mumbai have for Raj. There were a couple of runners who had completed their early morning mileages, yet were there during the evening hours to lend support for this event. Ashok and Ganesh were to leave after a three hour sojourn, yet they remained until the very last lending full support to the group. Even the few drivers who had come with the runners assisted in the group event.

Meanwhile another story was being played on the same day at the same route: that of Apurba Dass, the man whom we affectionately call as Marathon Monk. He started from Mahim with the group, but before that he had already run a few kilometers from his house to Mahim. He was going through the entire route from Mahim onwards alongside Raj, which was to somewhere around 90 kilometres. Somewhere during the day, he probably decided that he would also notch up 100 kilometres run that day by adding another 10 kilometres. Since he was planning to run the Navi Mumbai barefoot half marathon scheduled for 6th November 2011 he also decided to do a barefoot running on the hot pavement of Marine Drive which he did with no pain whatsoever. All though the day, Apurba kept the pace for which he is famous for and not showing any signs of tiredness whatsoever, he completed 100 kilometres a little before 8.00 p.m.

Monumental feat of endurance by two of our best running buddies in one day – Raj & Apurba.


  1. wow Ram : this is like i am feeling again:))) superb write up and I am Touched by your efforts and support:))
    thank you again ,, most probably this week we can celebrate:))

  2. Ram:

    A very nice write up to capture a great event. You have captured the event so well and bought out the collective energy of everyone who contributed to the succes.

    You have been modest in not mentioning that you were the organizational and logistics backbone of the event.

    And Puneet too manned the NCPA base station so meticulously.

    Well written.


  3. Lovely recount Ram, brings to mind vivid images of the event. I salute Raj and Apurba, and every one of the others who made this possible. Clearly, their endurance is only exceeded by the size of their hearts.