Monday, December 26, 2011

Goa River Half Marathon – River soothes while Vasco fumes

Goa River Half Marathon – River soothes while Vasco fumes

The second edition of Goa River Half marathon was eagerly awaited because of the wonderful experience that we had last year – scenic road, beautiful weather, excellent organization, post run party in fun filled Goa.

This year many of us decided to spend a couple of days extra in Goa after the marathon to laze around in the beaches enjoying the excellent Goa weather, drinks, foods et al, a kind of resurgence of mind and soul before the wind down to the much awaited and dreaded Mumbai marathon in mid-January.

The fact that GRM is gaining popularity in its second year itself was evident when the bib distribution venue was shifted to the Municipal Ground near Vasco market, a much larger space compared to last year and with few stands as well selling t-shirts etc.

We landed in Vasco-da-Gama on Saturday morning and collected our bibs etc. from the venue after dumping our luggages in the hotel. What followed during lunch on Saturday was something defying all laws of marathon practice as enumerated and codified by the gurus world over. Here were a bunch of enthusiastic runners merrily gulping one glass of beer after another much to the amusement of a few non-drinkers and to the chagrin of the purists. It was a sight to behold – few would have to dared to guess that we were going to run 21.097 kilometres early next day after barely sleeping for a few hours during the night.

The evening pasta party was an event to forget because there were hardly any pasta and fruit salad available in the trays, such was the demand from the runners.

If the previous evening was pleasant, early morning on the race day was a different weather altogether. It was warm in the morning itself before the race portending a difficult day for the runners. The race route was exactly the same as previous year, so those of us who had run the previous year were confident knowing the route and its uphills and downhills. The race starts near the Baina beach and loops the Vasco railway station coming to a railway flyover within the first kms itself. Then it hits Vasco town for about four kms, before coming to the river front, where the road opens out to a scenic beauty and greenery all around. But until we reached the river front, it was sheer torture for the runners because of the intense humidity which was killing the runners. At about 3 kms there is a small uphill and then at 4 kms, the largest climb which is about 500 metres in length and twisting and winding, which was a real beauty. Around 6 kms there is a small climb and at around 7 kms another small climb. Last year when the weather was pleasant we barely noticed the three small climbs, although we did come across and navigated the largest one at 4 kms. But this year the humidity humbled the runners to the point of desperation.

Only when we came to the river front, we could experience good breeze blowing across and the humidity had lessened here. It was very pleasant to run along the river front enjoying the scenic beauty of the place. The first of the Africans returned when I was in the 8th km while the first of our friends Dnyanesh went by after my 9 km mark, gliding smoothly like a Rolls Royce. The cheering and hollering had started. Every few metres there was one runner who was familiar and it was this cheering and hollering that kept us going as there was hardly any local residents of Vasco on the road to cheer us. There were about four spectators at around 18 kms clapping for us.  I feel the organizers need to build more local sport by involving a local sportsperson as the brand ambassador instead of a film star. They should drum up support by using the radio, television and local newspapers.

Last year I was battling ITBS in my left knee which was my first serious running injury so I was very cautious in the first half. This year I took off in the first half at a good pace. Upto 15 kms I was doing good pace and in line to break my personal best at the distance, but after that the humidity again hit the runners severely slowing me down considerably. I took all the uphills on the return leg albeit slowly and realizing at this point that a personal best would be difficult concentrated on staying the course comfortably. I sprinted down the last 200 metres to finish in a time of 2.15.48, lopping off 9 minutes from my last year’s finish time.

The unwinding started pronto and for the next two days, we enjoyed Goa tremendously and ran on the beach on Tuesday – a recovery run deemed as such more to recover from the after effects of the beers on Sunday evening and Monday full day, rather than from the Goa River half Marathon.