Decoding the Mumbai Marathon

After 12 years, up and running (literally) in the city, the Mumbai Marathon has gone beyond a race. Decoding the event that the city puts its sole into, pun and fun intended

Medals. They were new look medals for half and full finishers this time. The medals, which used to be rectangular have now been replaced by a round, big medal with the organizers claiming that they have to keep doing and trying new things to keep the event zany and fresh.

(From l) Winners Tesfaye Abera, Dereje Debale and Luke Kibet in their natty, new headgear. Pic/Sameer Markande
(From l) Winners Tesfaye Abera, Dereje Debale and Luke Kibet in their natty, new headgear. Pic/Sameer Markande

Talking about zany, one particularly liked the headgear that the men’s winners were wearing on the podium. It was the Indian tri-colour on a turban. Classy and compact, they seem to sit easily on African heads and the winners were smiling as they answered questions at the post-race press conference with headgear intact.

A cop uses some vision aids during the race. Pic/Atul Kamble
A cop uses some vision aids during the race. Pic/Atul Kamble

Luke Kibet (third place) winner looked especially fashionable with an orange blazer that went well with his turban. Luke-in’ sharp there, Kibet. The women too were wearing stoles in great fabric and colours as yet another new addition to the winning features. In the marathon, it is apparent that the only thing constant is change.

The Mumbai marathon envelopes all in its spirit. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
The Mumbai marathon envelopes all in its spirit. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Abera. What else can one say about the long-legged Ethiopian, Tesfaye Abera, who won making what film magazines often term as a ‘dream debut’. Abera, who ran his first marathon was with the bunch of leading athletes since the beginning.

Faces and aces in the crowd as the race begins. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Faces and aces in the crowd as the race begins. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Then, suddenly, near Worli on the second loop of Seaface, when the runners turn in from Podar Hospital, three runners broke away and started steaming away on their own. Bib No 12, Abera was simply waiting to make his move, one got the impression.

And when one looked again near the Lala Lajpatrai College, on the return loop, Abera was moving right up front from the two behind him. With about 8 km of the 42 to go, he was on his own, towering over (literally) all others with his 6-foot height and long strides.

Asked what he would do with the $US 41,000 (approx Rs 25 lakh) prize money, the Ethiopian grinned and said he was not sure but would most probably buy a house. Which is more than most Mumbaikars could say.

Records. That is what the race is about, in large part. The hotter than normal weather played party pooper in the hunt for a new course record. Incidentally, the standing course record is 2: 09:32 set by Uganda’s Jason Kiprop in 2013.

Abera took the race in 2:09:46 and those in the media let out a collective ooooh of disappointment as the clock ticked above the record. ‘No record, no record’ was heard even as Abera crossed the finish line and fell to his knees in thanks. It will take cooler weather for the Ugandan’s mark to fall.

Yet, it would be a shame to leave out Indian women runners, O P Jaisha and Lalita Babar (first and second respectively), Jaisha posted a new national record time of 2:37:29 while Babar who held the previous course record for Indian women of 2:50:31 posted last year, clocked a time of 2:38:21.

The girls, including third place Sudha Singh finished the race within the 2:44 for the 2015 World Championships in China. This is a huge step for the women’s section and now the aina shifts to China.

Ambulances seemed to be particularly conspicuous this time as they streamed down the course, sporadically. The merciless mercury was claiming its victims, rather hungrily. One saw quite a number of dehydration cases and stretchers were becoming part of the running scape.

The heat was taking a heavy toll on runners, especially the amateurs. There were a total of 14 persons admitted to hospital but a majority of them were already discharged by the time this was going to press. The Asian Heart Hospital medics seemed to be running a marathon of their own as they attended on numerous cases.

Talking about exhaustion, some top runners seemed to have dropped out because of stomach cramps too. It was all happenin' yesterday on the 26-mile 385 yard stretch.

Title. Defence of the titles. That is what the defending men’s and women’s champions came back to do, but while Evans Ruto did not, Ethiopia's Dinknesh Makesh made the race her own in the women's section. It was a clean sweep in the women's section by Ethiopia with Dinknesh (2:30:00) followed by Kumeshi Sichala and Marta Megra.

Dinknesh said about the race emphatically, “After the 21km stage I started to accelerate and got away from the pack and thereafter I just strode along to complete another good win.” Evans Ruto of Kenya finished in 2:18:17 and outside the podium this time.

However, it is the Ethiopian-Kenyan rivalry that is really giving an edge to the marathons here. The African countries are battling it out in an inter-Continental rivalry that sees some great off the field behaviour from both. Time for the boorish sportsmen to learn from them.

Half. The half marathon (21 km) saw its fair share of excitement too, with the leaders already coming in by the time the elite runners began the full marathon. The women’s half-marathon winner Kavita Raut, who successfully defended her title, stated that there were a lot of runners missing this year because there are competitions elsewhere too.

“This means that for most of the time, I was running against the clock, not the opposition, we need opposition to improve,” said Raut who has set her sights on the Rio Olympics. Men’s half winner, Indrajeet Patel stated that he was happy with the weather, though it was hot.

He then said that during the course of the race, “my lungs felt dry.” But he pointed to his throat, so one assumes his throat was dry. The men’s winners when asked about the hill, the killer Peddar Road incline stated with a grin, “That was nothing. There are harder hills to negotiate when we run in Ooty.” Apparently where there’s a hill, there’s a way, especially in Bombay.

Overcrowded, that seemed to be the impression one got as we saw hordes of half-marathoners (21 km) crowding the course. While of course, there is reason to be proud that more and more Mumbaikars are going for the long distances, one wonders whether the half will become altogether too crowded and organizers will have to set a cap for the event at a certain number, very soon.

It will certainly be interesting to see what twists the future may bring for this distance, which so many seem to be keen to try out these days. Would the half, then give way to the full and we see similar numbers in the 42 km too?

Who knows? The future’s not ours to see. On to January 2016 now, and marathon No. 13. Before you know it, it will be at our doorstep and inside the door.

On the ground. Perhaps the best part of running in Mumbai is the atmosphere on the ground on race day. Plenty of support and strategic locations, lots of shouting and even the few clever, quirky banners that seemed to have disappeared for some years, made a comeback then.

Mumbai must make a concerted effort to keep the enthusiasm barometer at an all time high as it is a defining feature of the race in the city. It is only spectator shouting that can egg on a runner, who suddenly finds fresh legs to go past that line.

Do not let it dry out and keep it going. After all, it is somebody else doing the running. All you have to do is put two hands together, cheer and clap. Do keep that unique Mumbai spirit sizzling. The slogan for this marathon was: Run for a reason. Cheer too for a reason. That reason being? It is marathon season.

New Yorrrrrrrrrk, here they come. The winners of the Indian men and women’s marathons Karan Singh, Arjun Pradhan, O P Jaisha and Lalita Babar are off to the US city for the New York marathon post their wins in Mumbai. Their Big Apple initiative was announced earlier in the week by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

This is just one indication of the expanding opportunities for Indian athletes. A lot needs to be done but the distance running calendar, is getting crowded for India and some doors all over the globe are opening.

Knowing how many desis are in New York, wethinks there will be no shortage of crowd support over there. Appropriate New York marathon anthem for the race would be: Who’s the hottest guy and girl in the whirl? Desi guy and girl, best foot forward, they may rock your world...

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