ALL OUT FOR A RUN
I ran my first half marathon during the year 2014. I had taken up jogging as a form of exercise around 20 years ago and this soon developed into a form of daily routine that I could not do without. It was in 2009 that I gathered courage to take part in a 10 km run. When Soles of Kochi, a wonderful group of persons dedicated to running, organised the first ever Spice Coast Marathon, I thought that it was a good occasion to graduate myself into running half marathons (distance 21.097 kms). I huffed and puffed my way to the finishing line promising myself that I would not indulge in such adventures again. But come next year, I again found myself at the line-up when half marathon started. After a couple of half marathons, I felt like running a full one (distance 42.184 kms) to feel the experience. I managed that last year, convinced yet again that it would be foolhardy to make an attempt again. I have managed to hold on to that resolution till date which meant that I limited myself to half marathons this year.
Tata Marathon held in Mumbai is renowned for being the largest and best organised event of its kind in the country. Registering for this run is not easy as there are too many applicants and some weeding out is done by the organisers. I was thrilled when I received communication informing that my application for participation was accepted. I went and collected the race kit which included the bib with the electronic chip incorporated into it and information about the run and the route. One was asked to report for the race, which was scheduled to commence at 5.30 am on 20th January at least 30 minutes before the start.
I reached the holding area about an hour before the scheduled start and found that other runners were gradually coming in. The organisers in Mumbai place runners together based on their speed -- thus a person who runs the race faster is kept in a different group than runners who prefer a more gentle pace. My group comprised the slowest runners who usually take more than 150 minutes to complete the distance and not surprisingly, we were placed at the rear end.
What do runners do before the start of a half marathon? On looking around, I found that some of the participants were busy clicking selfies, either singly or in groups; there were some groups who were busy doing stretching exercises while some others kept themselves occupied by browsing through their smart phones. There were also groups busy talking to each other, catching up about developments in stock market or exchanging notes on developments in their social and political circles. There were a few like me who were watching all the fun and excitement. I also got to know a fellow runner, who had travelled all the way from Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir where he is posted in a border policing agency.
By 5.20 a.m., the enclosure had filled to full capacity and there was welcome relief when gates were opened, signalling that we should proceed to the starting point. It was slow progress and by the time one reached there, it was five minutes past 5.30 a.m. Past experience had taught me the valuable lesson that there would be too many runners jostling for space during the first 1-2 kms and hence it would be better to go along with the general speed of the crowd during that stretch. Once the field opened up after the initial couple of kilometres, one could breathe easier and set up a comfortable pace.
The route for the half marathon involved running along the full length of Rajiv Gandhi sea link, an amazing piece of engineering that connects Bandra with Worli though a bridge built across the sea. This stretch was in the initial phase of the run and it was exhilarating to feel the gentle cool breeze from the sea as the body started warming up.
The incline in the sea link allowed one to have an idea about the number of runners taking part in the race. Dawn was still far away and under the neon lights, it appeared as if a sea of humanity was moving forward in unison, with barely a gap in between. The pictures and reports in the newspapers the next day showed this spectacle to the whole world while informing that nearly 46,000 runners from various parts of the country as well as abroad took part in the event. Though the presence of such large numbers of participants reduced space available for the individual runner, it was invigorating to run with so many others and the excitement involved itself gave one a high.
All for one
Once the 10 kms-long stretch on the sea link was over, one understood why runners from all over the country flock to Mumbai every year to take part in the event. Streets were lined with Mumbaikars who had woken up early on a pleasant Sunday morning to cheer up the runners. There were people all along the route standing with water, glucose, lemon, biscuits and chocolates to perk up the participants. A few among them were standing with placards supporting various causes while small music bands that dotted the stretch kept entertaining everyone with lovely Bollywood numbers. All this had a very positive effect on the runners who never felt that the stress and strain that can occasionally happen during such events; instead, the whole feeling was akin to taking part in a large and enjoyable spectacle.
After the sun broke out, one had the opportunity of looking at fellow runners who were cruising along at a similar speed. The first aspect that struck one was that around 30% of those running were women, all of who looked supremely fit. There were people from all age groups but the presence of large numbers of youngsters was heartening. I also noticed that attire of runners had changed considerably during the five years since I ran my first race in 2014, when most of the runners preferred the ubiquitous track pant. I found that the majority were wearing jogging shorts, while some sported running tights. I also spotted a lady draped in the elegant Indian traditional dress of sari, who was running comfortably at a good pace.
Determined to run
It has been reported that there are 500 marathons, big and small, organised in various parts of the country during a year. Further, one finds that even full marathons are passe at present and newer events such as Ultrathons and trail running over picturesque locales, where distances to be covered often exceed 100 kms, are preferred by veteran runners. What is it that makes more and more persons take up long distance running? The first is that running is the easiest, safest and cheapest form of exercise; all you need is the determination to do it and a pair of decent footwear. This is boosted by an inborn instinct to keep on improving the distance and timings, where the competition is only with self and not with others. Jogging is a wonderful way to relax as well, and as one gets into the rhythm, muscles start loosening and the mind also unwinds simultaneously creating a pleasant sensation that is hard to beat. The feeling is akin to meditation and it has been my personal experience that as mind becomes clear and uncluttered, solutions to various issues also emerge. Hence, once one falls into the running groove, it is very difficult to come out of it.
As is my wont, I made to the finishing line telling myself that there would be no more half marathons for me. But I have started preparing for my next run; the lure of long distance running is too overwhelming to attempt defiance!