Monday, January 16, 2012

A running start

“Run Mumbai Run was the chant that echoed all around and has stayed in my mind.  A truly magical start to 2012. I know I’ve written about my running before and I tried to give it a miss this time but participating in the Mumbai Marathon is just too great of an experience for me to not talk about.

I understand why it’s easy to fall in love with the city, even as an outsider. First of all the logistics and arrangements were impeccable. From the bib pick up to the starting location, everything was done perfectly.  Secondly, the people here are warm and welcoming to one and all.

The 6:15 a.m. start time for the half marathon was ideal and about ten thousand of us  nervously paced around as time slowly ticked on. Everyone has a different way of preparing for a run. There were those who quietly stretched themselves oblivious to anything around them, groups loudly yakking and full of bravado and those who just sit silently. I fill the last category, as I don’t believe in doing anything before a long run. I just wait.

A few minutes before kick off, the entire crowd rose like a colossal wave and impatience was written on everyone’s face. Jostling, shoving and pushing ensued though I’m not sure for what reason. It really doesn’t matter where you start from; you have twenty one kilometers to overtake others!

The run began with much fanfare, music and good natured ribaldry. The sea of humans took off as one. Right in front of me, was an ex-army officer with a steel leg who started off at an admirable pace. I felt motivated to give it my best with two legs.

The feeling of running on the Bandra-Worli SeaLink at a few hundred feet over the ocean at early dawn is indescribable.  The sea-link, off limits for pedestrians on regular days, was lovely to saunter along on.

Very soon, and on the sealink, we crossed the first of the full marathoners who had begun their run from CST Station near Churchgate, our end point.

Rather than go through a kilometer-by-kilometer description, I really want to talk about the people support. Every step along the way, huge crowds had turned up to cheer us on. From infants and toddlers to folks well into their eighties, the enthusiasm was infectious. The great thing about running is that you don’t have to be a professional athlete or be an Olympian. For ordinary people like me, this is the closest and best it gets. The sheer presence of bystanders, clapping, encouraging, handing out almonds, chocolates, biscuits, fruit juices was quite something and tears welled up in my eyes. Nowhere have I seen a city come together in this fashion. Stage performances by known and unknown artists, high school kids playing music, Bhangra dances it was just a carnival out there.
All credit to the wonderful citizens of Mumbai for helping me finish my run with a personal best timing because without them, this would have been a struggle. Hats off to the organizers and the people of Mumbai who have gone through so much in the past but still have the heart to come together when it matters.

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