Mumbai marathon: Some sole searching

We enter the last few laps of the Mumbai marathon to be run on January 18. A look at how the event has evolved as it turns 12 this year. A little looking back and some looking forward, in this showpiece event

This is the twelfth edition of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) which has had so many twists and turns in the course of its history. The first ever marathon was run in the month of February and novice runners took a beating because of the heat and the lack of experience and preparation for a marathon.

In the stomachs of runners that day
In the stomachs of runners that day

The organizers then changed the month to January, stating it is the coolest in the calendar. The marathoner's greatest foe is not the opponent snapping at his heels but hot weather. Amateur runners especially need to train not just early in the mornings but for a while in brutal heat too in Mumbai, to acclimatize.

Strength is the result of struggle
Strength is the result of struggle

This year, January 18 has 40,485 runners across all categories in the event. The 42-km (full) sees 4,325 runners, 725 more than that of last year. The half-distance (21 km) had record registrations which closed in one week after opening, proving that the half distance is one that Mumbaikars are moving to, as a litmus test of their fitness.

(l) Anil Ambani (centre) well known face and pace in the race
(l) Anil Ambani (centre) well known face and pace in the race

The dug up roads especially near the Oberoi-Trident where the half and full marathoners turn are cause for some concern, but the civic authorities have promised that all will be smoothed out in time just before the sun rises spreading its first red blush against the sky on January 18.

(bottom) John Abraham with the timing car of the event. The elite runners will be behind this car. Pic/Bipin Kokate
(bottom) John Abraham with the timing car of the event. The elite runners will be behind this car. Pic/Bipin Kokate

France's Marion Bartoli winner of the 2013 Wimbledon women's title is event ambassador. The traditional and mandatory press conference with the event ambassador should take place on Thursday or Friday, next week. Bartoli can expect a question or two about the Paris terror attacks, with France the focus of the world right now Talking about terror, it was the 26/11 attacks that changed the flavour of the Mumbai marathon. From that year onwards, runners went through security scanners at Azad Maidan before proceeding to the finish line and checks were mandatory. Like so many other things, in a way, the innocence of a great event ebbed a little from then on.

The road work is a cause for concern. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The road work is a cause for concern. Pic/Bipin Kokate

There is something to be said for an event in which the defending champions Evans Ruto and Dinknesh Mekash return to defend their titles. It says something about the stature of the marathon and its lure. Critics will carp but the running showpiece is something that the city can be very proud of. It is a dashing dozen this year.

Arun Bhardwaj, the ultra marathoner. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Arun Bhardwaj, the ultra marathoner. Pic/Bipin Kokate

It is good to know that event organizers are fanning out across the country to promote running everywhere. Recently, Kolkata had its first running event a half-marathon and some more, which means 25 km run. Some runners used it as a tune up to the Mumbai event. It was a small beginning but an important one. The organizers claim it is vital to mix distances and not stick to the world recognized 21 and 42 km only. One hears that there are some plans about a run in Ahmedabad... but this has simply been overheard there is no confirmation on this yet.

Conquering the distance last year
Conquering the distance last year

Since we live in the time of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan one hopes that the debris (plastic bottles and cups especially) is cleared away quickly post race. The Mumbai marathon too should be imbued in the spirit of the Swachh. Here is to the runners make a clean sweep, in more ways than one.

Marion Bartoli, tennis champ is the event ambassador this year
Marion Bartoli, tennis champ is the event ambassador this year

The Get Active Expo is here, being held at the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC). One remembers how years ago, the expo which is also the venue where runners collect their running bibs and champion chips (nice rhyme there) was held at the World Trade Centre in Cuffe Parade. Now, it has moved to the north of the city, with a lot of lifestyle & fitness entrepreneurs setting up shop at the expo. This time, of course, it is not shop but non-stop that is the feature of this Expo. Arun Bhardwaj, an ultra marathoner (ultra mrathoners are runners who go beyond the 42-km marathon distance), is seeking to break his record of distance covered in one day on a treadmill. Bhardwaj, who has a long list of running achievements to his credit, stood out with his candour and lack of smooth talk at the press conference held at the Oberoi-Trident on Wednesday. In a world where hype and hoopla rule and it is many times not the real workers but the big talkers that take it all, Bhardwaj was refreshingly different. He is going to be 46 next month, is a vegetarian and a teetotaler. Here's more power to his treadmill running feat, and feet, of course.

The all muscle and bustle John Abraham attracted his share of flashbulbs as he came in as brand ambassador for the marathon. John claimed that the marathon was very high, the highest in fact, in his showreel priority list and he was so very proud to be associated with the race. He also stated that this is his fittest year. Since the year has just begun, we presume that he meant 2014. John will be present on race day, and when asked if he is running, Procam International (organizers) honcho Anil Singh claimed in jest that “John wants to run, but, always, the girls do not let him.” Well that is one obstacle some men the ‘non-Johns’ won't mind having in their way.

For a couple of years now, it has been fascinating to watch the Ethiopian and Kenyan runners battle it out for supremacy in both, the men’s and women’s sections. While earlier, it was just the Kenyans that came in, the Ethiopians then started coming into the marathon in numbers and suddenly, the front runners were Kenyans and Ethiopians. It is very interesting to see how runners from the Dark Continent, make light of a very challenging course.

Since the marathon is not always about oh so serious running and oh so staid timings but is a celebration of spirit and fun too, a little play on words about this event. That somebody told us that if you pay an entry fee to a marathon, they literally give you a run for your money. Lose your fat, lose your calories, lose your mind at times, running the grim, energy sapping 42-km, just don't lose your sense of humour.

That butterfly catchers or spotters may be hunting for those winged creatures in vain on that Sunday morning. The reason being that all those butterflies will be fluttering in the stomachs of runners, especially the debutantes, on marathon day.

That one of our favourite sights are the runners with Jaipur foots, on wheelchairs and blade runners finishing the course that day. They are a reminder that in a grim, dark world there are always people who are beacons of bravery, who put the light into your tunnel. And let us doff a hat to the men from the defence who will be running that day. Many of them, without a limb that they lost in war, defending the very people that are running besides them, the spectators cheering on the course, with all limbs intact. As they pass by, let us reserve the loudest shouts for them, for all those that lost their hands or legs . so that we may live.

Finally, talking about limbs, we would be highly obliged if Mumbai packs away its cars for a good seven hours that day, according respect to runners on the course. We see motorists start moving out even as the last of the full marathoners are finishing. Hold your horses, or steering wheels, you can surely do that just one day for a few hours in the year. Where's your heart and soul, Mumbai? Don't you want to earn some good car-ma? January 18 is a day for heels not wheels. Get that, Mumbai? Seal the deal then.

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