Of all the things to do on the day before a (half) marathon race, most running blogs would say the top 2 would be
a) Sleep well the day before
b) Don’t eat anything unusual the day before and I had done neither. I had flown in from California to Bengaluru a week before. And flown in to Mumbai from Bengaluru a day before the race for a classmates mini-reunion (some whom I met after 3 1/2 decades!).
But, I was excited and looking forward to running the race, as it was literally a run down memory lane for me. The course would take me in front of Nehru Planetarium (where I worked part-time while studying), past Haji Ali and on Peddar Road (I lived close-by) and in front of Wilson College, Chowpatty and Marine Drive (where I had studied & hung out a lot).
I was lucky to find a running group from my friend’s apartment complex, who helped me to get to the start line. Given that this is Asia’s biggest sporting event and its huge numbers (47,000 runners), it was amazingly well-organized. The 3:16 am train from Andheri to Mahalakshmi (free ride!) was filled with runners & the excitement was so contagious!
After a 30-min bus shuttle ride and a 10-min walk to the start point, we (running group) did some stretching and warmed-up. The weather at 5:00 am was pleasant but it was quite dark. Before I knew it, the drums and excitement got louder and we were off through the gates! What I liked about the half-marathon course is that 80% of the route was along the sea-front — Bandra-Worli Sealink, Haji Ali and Marine Drive. I started the run on the sealink at a comfortable pace, searching for a good rhythm that I could maintain. After the turn at the end and the way back, the view on the left of Mahim Bay was amazing.
As we got off the sea-link, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people on the road-side, cheering us onand offering oranges and biscuits. As I ran past the Nehru Planetarium and came to Haji Ali, a wave of nostalgia swept me. I had run up on Peddar Road and didn’t even realize it. Kids and family members were offering fruits and biscuits and some were creating excellent old Bollywood music. It felt so good!
As I turned towards Chowpatty beach, the sun was just coming up and what a sight to behold! I had to stop for a while and take it all in. And, as I turned around the bend, I was in front of Wilson College, which brought back so many memories! The music and the traditional Koli dance was so exciting and loud, it was truly a unique experience for me.
By now, I was feeling the after-affects of not being fully prepared the day before. But, the Bollywood music and the thought of the finish line egged me on, this time the mind encouraging the body to move on! A gentleman saw my T-shirt and said, “I have heard of AkshayaPatra!”. I said, “Great! I am running for that cause today”. By the way, the Mumbai Marathon is the single largest philanthropic sporting event in India and India’s largest charity platform for non-profit organizations to raise funds.. 550 NGOs have successfully raised INR 196 crore over the past 14 editions.
The finish line got closer and the mass of people got larger, probably because the 10K race also ended at the same place. I was a bit slower that my normal time of 2:27 but I had a feeling of satisfaction, a sense of belonging and such a strong feel of my roots that I knew it was worth the effort.
On hindsight, as a non-local runner, I was concerned about other factors such as humidity, air quality and temperature. But, I had to change my attitude. I became more centered on what I could do, maintain my fitness and my physical and emotional health, than worrying about external things that I had so little control over.
All said and done, running gives me something to take my mind off from the routine and yet give a sense of focus and competition.
If you are a runner, one run that should be on your bucket list for sure is the Mumbai Marathon. The Bollywood music and the crowds chanting and clapping make Mumbai a memorable experience.