Who says marathon is all about running. It’s all bloody mind games buddy, there is no physical activity involved in it, at least after 30 kms, But that is for everybody, for me it is the 22 to 30 kms that plays havoc with my brain. Post 30 kms i get stronger and more determined like a demon, well not exactly like Ravana but more like Ram possessed!!
Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2013 was my fourth full marathon and the 2013 edition was the 9th year in succession that i was participating in. A journey which started in 2004 with a bludgeoning, bedraggled 3.45 hours in the first ever half marathon with barely any practise and not having any concept of what a distance of 21 kms entails. Well 21 kms was daunting those days.
2012 was a relatively quiet year for me in terms of the number of events that i took part in, Auroville was more fun and adventure, while Ladakh was challenging in brutally tough conditions. A couple of smaller distances like 5K, 10K took place in between and there was a training run of 42 kms while Mumtaz Qureshi was attempting his first 100 kilometers and the first Ultra distance of 50 kms along with the Navi Mumbai runners but that was again spaced out throughout the day and not a continuous effort. But Vasai Virar Marathon was the game changer during the year. Last minute entry with barely any preparation for a full marathon to speak about, i still managed to carve out a huge 27 minutes slice off my previous best from SCMM 2012 to return in 5.07 hours when the conditions on the return leg of the marathon was brutal with sun beating down hard and massive traffic snarls along the route. It was a tough marathon to conquer.
Training for the SCMM 2013 was going as per schedule with the last long run of 31.74 kms on the last Sunday of December followed by a fast 21 kms on the first Sunday of the new year and a PB fast 10 kms on the second Saturday followed by a ferocious 5km on the Tuesday of the week before the marathon. All i had to do was another fast 4kms or so on Thursday but a debilitating back ache on Tuesday morning almost put paid my hopes of even starting the marathon. This had happened earlier also during the week before the Bangalore Ultra 2010 and i had recovered by Sunday morning, but there i had almost collapsed after doing 25 kms of the scheduled 37.5 kms. So there was apprehension in the mind and therefore i consulted a couple of my friends urgently soliciting their advice. Reema Agarwal and Raj Vadgama were the saviours as they immediately texted a few stretches to be done which i immediately set upon doing for the remaining days. But not much relief upto Thursday morning had me worried. The back was getting better but there were doubts in the mind as to whether i could survive the entire 42 kms without it giving away. Friday and Saturday were supposed to be complete rest days but i was out on my feet both days and standing for a couple of hours and more. The back was straining all the time. So the hydrating and carbo loading plan also went out of the window. But meeting friends especially upcountry runners on both days was a cathartic relief from the anxiety so i decided to start the marathon and see how the back holds as the kilometres unfolds before me.
So there we were, i.e. Bhasker, Raj, Aishorjyo and myself in the cab from Goregaon to Azad maidan, to meet and greet a few more thousands of like minded insane persons daring to run 42 kms in an unusually cold Sunday morning. The atmosphere at Azad Maidan was electric as usual with runners nervous with anticipation. All set we trotted to the holding area meeting more runners on the way and waiting impatiently for the gates to open. When the gates opened and we started proceeding towards the starting mat, Amar Sundar met me and we started discussing the music concerts in India. Imagine on a marathon morning with a few seconds to go for the start, we were talking about GunsNRoses, Deep Purple and all that rock bands.
It was 5.42 when i crossed the start mat and gingerly proceeded towards Flora Fountain. While it was cold before the start it took only a few kilometres for the body to get warmed up and i started feeling the sweat around my neck. On the way to NCPA i saw the 4.30 hour bus and thought of sticking with them but a few minutes later impatiently left the bus because i thought their pace was too slow. I wanted to put maximum miles in the bank before my back gave away or cramps started affecting me which was on the back of my brain based on previous year’s experience. On the marine drive i again chatted with a few runners while observing that only a couple of music bands were up and playing. There was one music band which was just setting up and to them i hollered “c’mon start the music”. Overall i thought the crowd mobilisation in the early hours and at the start was very poor compared to what we observed during the Vasai Virar Marathon which of course started late at 7.00 a.m. Probably the bitter cold was making marathon friendly Mumbaikars sleep a wee bit longer. The return leg of the Mumbai Marathon was reverberating with the multitude of Mumbaikars out in large numbers, wildly cheering, applauding, shouting, giving various things in neat order. People were out not only in tony Pedder road but also beside the slums of Worli and the bylanes of Mahim. It was a magnificent display of affection that Mumbaikars have for the marathoners in their maximum city.
Kemps Corner flyover and Pedder road incline was the first test for my back but thankfully it held together so i started ripping through to Haji ali but slowed down towards Worli by which time the half marathoners started appearing on the opposite side of the road. This year as compared to last year i decided to focus only on the road and not to look out for my friends mainly because most of my friends had graduated to the full marathon and also to conserve my energy. Reaching the Worli sea link, i went into a zone with pure adrenaline coasting me through. Srivatsan crossed me at the beginning of sea link and gently inquired whether i was on schedule to which i replied that i was ahead of schedule because the 4.30 hour bus was still behind me.
A couple of toilet breaks at the Sea Link behind the hoardings looking out into the Arabian Sea gave the much needed relief to the bladder because i knew there was no toilet until Worli sea face on the return leg. The sun was rising on my right under a mask of mist with the high rises on the background and the lolling fishing boats in the foreground. It was surreal Mumbai which we don’t see often. But running on the Sea Link is also boring because there was no crowd to cheer us and the photographers looked completely bored and were interested more in taking photographs of the sun rather than of us. There was one photographer who had lined up his tripod and to which i had beautifully balanced in the centre hoping to get clicked when at the last moment, he swerved the tripod in the opposite direction to catch a departing runner. Damn!!
20 kms done in 2.00 hours compared to 21 done in 1.59.32 at Vasai Virar marathon. At the Mahim Causeway i met Dr. Sharma whom i had met exactly at the same spot last year also when he had quit the race but this day he was looking strong. My weak zone begins from 21 kms onwards, but the back was holding good so i decided to take it kilometre by kilometre from there onwards. Upto 26 kms i did not realise that i was carrying three sachets of G.U. gel in my pocket and therefore immediately gulped one sachet. Last year the elite marathoners streamed past me by 25 kilometres and this day i had gone past 28 kilometres before they arrived and were gone in a few seconds. I could catch only a few names Kiprop, Kemboi, Ramaala, Tota and the women winner arrived in an absolutely fast pace followed by the others. In between Binning arrived with his Indian contingent. Their drinks station was separately arranged with their water bottles numbered containing their favourite drinks but unfortunately one volunteer fell badly while delivering the bottle to the elite runner. Fortunately the elite runner was not in the lead pack, otherwise it would have been Breaking News of the Day.
On the return leg of the Worli Sea Face i espied the 5.00 hour bus and was completely determined to not allow them to overtake me. From there it was a tough run with the back giving jolts of pain once in a while but i took only a few seconds’ break each time and started again on my journey. On reaching Haji Ali i saw Anand who should have finished the race by then, but he had pain in his right leg. He urged me not to stop and carry on to beat the 5 hour mark which gave me a much needed impetus to give it a mighty push to the finish!!
Pedder Road was conquered in a better shape than last year and so was the rest of the route. Another gel at 32 kms and at 35 kms the cramps started slowly on my right and left calf muscles. But a quick check on my garmin showed that if i did not take much walking breaks i was in with a chance to break the 5 hour barrier. So despite the cramps getting stronger and the calves pulsating more often, I started getting stronger and determined. By the time i turned into M.K. Road the cramps were badly taking a toll. At 41 kms i still had 11 minutes to reach the finish line so i said to myself, damn, come what may, i am going to succeed. At 500 metres to go banner, the right leg was twisting inside even as the left calf muscle was twitching in pain. Fortunately the back was okay and so was the upper body with no pain in the shoulders and arms. At 300 metres i again checked the watch and was sure to reach before 5 hours and in fact predicted would reach by 4.58 and it was 4.58.39 hours when i crossed the finish mat to be hugged by my oldest runner dear friend Veera. It was such a joy to see him at the finish line. So i completed my first sub- 5 hour marathon in another Personal Best time. Year on year i had carved out 36 minutes which co-incidently was the same margin last year as well.
Few observations – the cramping is getting delayed every year and hopefully in a few years’ time i should not cramp until the 45th kms mark. So there ends another edition of Mumbai marathon and every year i think this will be my last full marathon, but you bet i shall be back next year as well!!