Today’s Readers Write story is sent to us by Urvashi Ashar, an amateur Marathon runner who shares her experience of running the Mumbai marathon this weekend, and the reason why she will do it again and again. Send in yours to firstname.lastname@example.org. Over to Urvashi!
You gather in the holding area of the Mumbai half-marathon and you are exposed to all kinds. I lost two of my friends in the crowd – they didn’t die, they were simply dispersed. We were all saving mobile battery for the run as we usually measure our performance on the apps available, and of course the music played on our phones during a long run – it makes the torture so much more rhythmic – consumes enough battery life as well. So we didn’t bother to call up or look for one another.
This gave me enough ‘me-time’ to observe and be amused by what people did in their ‘they-time’. While thirty percent of the throng stretched and warmed-up, fifty percent of the crowd was excitedly posing for phone cameras; and the remaining twenty were giving LIVE updates on their cell phones to someone sitting at home.
It’s pretty safe to assume that nearly all gathered there had their Facebook statuses/pages/albums updated, or then had been tagged on other people’s posts proving that they had crossed Hurdle No.One of a half-marathon – that of waking up early and reporting to the venue on time.
They then reversed roles – the people who stretched were now posing for cameras, and those who posed for cameras were now talking on the phone, and those who gave LIVE updates on the phone were now stretching and warming up. All this energetic activity took place at 5:40 a.m. on January 20, 2013.
It was an unusually cold night, and an unusually early morning. I was eternally thankful to my mom – who, like other moms is always right. ‘Don’t wear your sleeveless running top, it’s going to be cold’. This time I listened. Our half-marathon route began at the Bandra end of the Bandra-Worli sea link – several meters above sea-level and a major portion of the run was along the coast. So we had cold feet before the run, during the run and for a few moments after the run.
On a more serious note, when one participates in a half-marathon with any degree of sincerity – even just a point one per cent – one wants to give it one’s best, never mind one’s capacity or talent. So the tightening of shoe-laces, discussions about how much one has trained, offering of energy gels and drinks to friends, the tightening of each other’s belts and bands and the dissemination of gyaan – tricks and tips to complete a half-marathon, the dos and don’ts were eminent points of conversation – is what life was all about for those moments of time.
We were now being led into the race area, and a countdown to the gun-start had begun. Within these eight minutes, if even one person began to jog or run, for whatever reason, many assumed that the race had begun, and went berserk running and shouting at the same time, before they realized that the start-mat was still a short distance away. They then would stop and laugh and give each other a high-five and drink some water. And breathe.
The race started with a ‘Ganapati Bappa Morya’. Not kidding. The first two hundred meters were all good – if one discounts the rushing of many boys/men to the left side of the sea-link to relieve themselves. I really don’t know if they make use of a mobile toilet, let it flow into the sea below or then help the plants, if there are any, with a generous amount of urea. I was running straight, looking straight and trying to think straight. But it was a cold night and a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.
Anyway, a little more distance covered, and few in the crowd began slowing down. They had huddled together and I sensed a calamity. Something somewhere must’ve gone direly wrong with someone. Only then, I heard from the crowd, ‘Mujhe bhi, mujhe bhi… me too, me too’. It was the first stop where free energy drinks were being served, free being the key word. I don’t know if the runners were under the impression that this was the only place where tetra-packed vitamin-C-rich orange juice was given to you to help complete the race.
It was just the beginning, and by the end of it, they would learn that the organizers had taken enough care to ensure that energy drinks, pain relief sprays and water was available in abundance and frequently, and all that was expected of the participants was to breathe and run. We tried.
Soon it was 6 km into the race. The sea-link was behind us now, and we were at ground level. The sky was still grey but now with a hint of sun. The locals had gathered on either side of the road to watch us, cheer us and keep us going. It felt good. We felt appreciated, at last.
There are many who don’t see the point of participating in a half-marathon or a marathon. You pay an admission fee, you train, you run, you get tired and injured and all of that. And then you finish or don’t finish. So what is in it for you? Why would you do it? And I just shake my head unwilling to answer, because the answer lies in the gut. It cannot be expressed in words, just like the joy of motherhood. The spirit or joy of running and sweating it out can be experienced only by a runner, be it a professional or an amateur. And what he or she gains from it, only he or she knows but never can tell.
13 kilometers into the race, the sun rose and the Haji Ali skyline was a lovely coral. By this time, I was tired. My legs felt heavy and there was no way I could go on, when a little girl caught up with me, and tapped me on my shoulder: Come on, come on, she said. So I went on – a few more steps, and then she herself lagged behind for a bit and then stopped. My trot gradually eased into a walk once again. I’m far from being a professional athlete or even a good runner. My timing was an average 2 hours 29 minutes and 53 seconds… just 7 seconds short of a two-and-a-half hour timing. Those 7 seconds, I dedicate to her. The fact that I completed the distance ‘within’ two-and-a-half hours and not ‘in’ two-and-a-half hours is a big deal for me. Not having got the chance to thank her then, I do so with all my heart now.
The cross-road where Haji Ali meets Tardeo meets Pedder Road is a wonderful junction – not when you are a driver but when you are a marathoner/half-marathoner. Residents from near-by buildings come down with packets of food – biscuits, sandwiches, sweets, fruits. And the continuous rendering of slogans – ‘You make us proud. You make India proud’, and then ‘Go Mumbai, you can do it’ – left me feeling like Sachin Tendulkar must feel on the cricket field. It was special.
The Pedder Road climb is the most excruciating part of the Marathon/Half-Marathon, I would think. It’s also the place where the first stage is set and NGO’s and bands perform. One doesn’t need one’s ear-phones now. The music is blaring from loud-speakers. The song played suggested we run Gangnam style. By the time, we came to that stage, I really don’t know what my running style was. I am known to have a weird and bad running gait, anyway. And when I am dog-tired I dread to wonder in what awkward way my body is moving forward. So Gangnam style, it may have been.
A few more kilometers, many more Mumbaikars joined in at the sides of the road to egg us on. Cool zones, drinking water kept us going. A few still had the energy to call up home and say that they were now hitting Marine Drive. Marine Drive was a beautiful spectacle on Marathon day. It made for a picture perfect postcard of the City with Heart. Choppers wandered overhead, birds gathered and made for a pleasing visual against a golden ball, and pink parachutes added colour to a spectacular morning.
Now, you just want the race to end. Your eyes look hard for the finish line or even a hint of it. The noise from the cheering crowd gets louder. It’s the last two hundred meters and you want to give it your all. You also want a good picture for your album – one that shows you off as a true runner, and not just a bloke who is so fagged out that he can’t even smile and prefers to be carried home. Come on, if you are to tell your grand-kids these real-life stories, you need to be convincing when you exaggerate your achievements to them – tell them ‘I was so fresh even at the end of it all that I could probably jog another 21 kilometers back home. Look, here is a picture of me.’ And then they may believe you.
Well, I didn’t smile, and my pictures at the SCMM 2013 Half-Marathon are pathetic to say the least. But the race taught me a few things: Participating in a marathon is little about finish-time, it is not only about stamina and speed, it is also about running as one. Sometimes you are ahead, sometimes you are behind. There’s always someone to your left, someone to your right, and you are never alone.
The only thing that kept me going was the spirit – the spirit of a marathon and the spirit of Mumbai. And then the finish line came in view. And in the next twenty seconds, I was home.
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