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Route Course

The full marathon distance had its share of drama, while the off-course action was as enthralling. It was a day of guts, glory and some amusing side stories

It was no sleepy Sunday for Mumbai who woke up to marathon morning yesterday. There's one thing to be said for Mumbai marathon mornings - they are different. On Sunday, even as the sun had to still climb out of the clouds, hordes of runners, officials, volunteers had already climbed out of bed and were making their way to the train stations in the city. A cop near Elphinstone Road station asked a runner, "how many km?" (referring to the distance) while at the ticket window, a staffer did a mock running action and smiled and  said, "oye, all the best."


1. The clock is ticking:  Butterflies in a thousand stomachs as it is just
a few seconds to start time PICs/SURESH K.K.
  

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The music was blaring and the elite athletes were warming up at the CST, at 7 am prior to the elite race 7.25 am start.  As the excitement built and the clock ticked on, one spotted two fixtures of the Mumbai race, elite athlete co-coordinator Ian Ladbroke and race director Hugh Jones, chatting before getting on to their respective two wheelers. These two foreign gentlemen swoop down to Mumbai in January and have become part of the marathon scenery, like the Gothic CST in the background at the start and finish line of every 42-km.
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The media bus, which is an open deck double-decker bus that follows the elite men, was already packed with photographers on the open, upper deck as the gun went off and the race started. There were periodic shouts of 'neeche, neeche' (translated into "duck, go down") from the press to their brethren, standing on the seats for a better view, as the bus passed below the Marine Drive Bridge. A few trees too elicited similar shouts. The journalists and photographers would duly duck as the bus trundled on to shouts of `slow slow' and 'bhagao, bhagao' as the driver was told to pick up speed on turns or to slow down. 


Just so easy breezy for them: The running machine cranks into high
gear Pic/Atul Kamble


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Talk about zippy. Even before the elite athletes started off from the CST, the 21-km front-runners were already zooming towards the finish line at the CST, in just a little over an hour, sending the crowds behind the barricades, applauding wildly. Those who were not in the know seemed a little confused that runners were coming in towards the finish line, while one group had not even started yet. These though, were the 21-km runners who had started at the Bandra Reclamation earlier and by the time the elite runners were off, they already had the half-marathon race in their bag. Talk about Speedy Gonzales -- it was 'ehji, ohji, loji it is Soji' Mathew of India who came in first at 1:05:29, in the half-marathon.

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There's one thing about the marathon - it evokes different emotions in different people. From ecstasy at crossing the finish line, to the agony of running up those gradients, to a very simple emotion -- pride that Mumbai and India has the capability of holding an event of this stature. Through the course, one saw a few spectators holding up the national flag. On the Worli Sea Face stretch one heard a spectator roar, "Bharat mata ki jai" as runners ran past. A half-marathon participant was dressed in the national colours. One had seen the same gent do a headstand mid-course, near Wilson College a couple of years ago. The marathon with its head(stands) and tales.


Just like at Shivaji Park: Milind Soman, nearing the 42-km finish line

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Talking about spectators, Mumbai must guard against the trend of  Mumbaikars, preferring to stay at home as the marathon becomes familiar. The event entered its ninth year and compared to the initial years where we saw wild enthusiasm from supporters, the cheering seems to have tempered a bit. Maybe 2013, when the marathon reaches a milestone tenth year, we will see the Mumbaikars out in full force again. Also, earlier one would see some cleaver banners and posters with messages that made the runners smile through their pain. They seem to have all but disappeared. Let's have those smart Alecky banners back, Mumbai.

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Having said that, there were still people cheering on the runners on the course. From coming in to egg on a friend or family member, to being there just for the spirit of the event - Mumbai is different, thanks to its supporters on the road. There were people giving out water and biscuits to the runners. On Worli Sea Face, a hungry runner grabbed a fistful of biscuits leading one onlooker to comment, "look at him, seems to have come from Ethiopia famine." Oops. Let's just say that was a little politically incorrect. There were a clutch of women running impressively fast on the Sea Face stretch. These were  Ethiopian athletes and the only thing they seemed famished for, was a new course record as they ate up the kilometers with awesome zeal.


Tall deeds: The pomp and pageantry are part of the package
Pic/ Syed Sameer Abedi


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It is interesting to see how, with every year, the marathon is bringing with it fresher experiences, newer indicators of its growing stature in the marathon world. One saw a poster advertising for a marathon in Seoul in 2012. The poster was on the course. The Mumbai marathon may now become a stage for other marathons of the world to woo top athletes through it. That's a proud moment for Mumbai. Afterall, a marathon is about Seoul and sole.

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One feature of the marathon is that amateur runners start a good two hours before the elite athletes but somewhere on the course, the elite athletes catch up and pass them, causing the amateurs to applaud in wonder and admiration. The elite athletes in the 42-km caught up with the amateurs in Worli, and some runners moved to one side in deference, while the others simply stood stock still till the African safari roared past them.

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It was amusing to see a goat run on to the course in Mahim. A 42-km runner nearly crashed into the frightened goat  on the way back from the Sea Link stretch. People shouted, "bakri, bakri."  Last year, a stray dog had run on the course near the Trident hotel. This time, it was a goat. Every dog has his day, every goat gets out of the way?


Wave it with pride: Patriotism and fervour marked the day pics

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While the ebony-skinned Africans dominate the event, it is interesting to note the large number of Westerners coming down to run this event. The race featured several Australians, English women, Italians and athletes of other nationalities. Many of these, seem to be serious runners who have done very well.  There is a Dane in the marathon Open Men event who came fifth. Two ladies from Great Britain have taken the first two places in the Open Women's full marathon. In the men's Super Veteran category there is a German and a Netherlands participant who have run away (literally) with the honours and it is the same in the women's Super Veteran category.  We see an American and a Frenchman in the Men's Veteran category taking first and third place respectively, while in the Women's Veteran category there are two Italians. It is a global world out there and the Mumbai marathon is breathing life into that cliche.

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It is not just the runners who have to steer themselves carefully on the course. Yesterday, a standing advertisement of Asics, the sportswear brand, keeled over and fell down on the Bandra Worli Sea Link while the Kenyans were running full tilt. The lead car that times the runners and is a little ahead of the front runners was quick to knock the fallen advertisement out of the way with a little push. Clever thinking that. At another juncture, the driver of the lead car honked in warning to tell photographers on the open deck marathon bus to duck as a bridge loomed overhead. Ah, let's hear it for the lead car and some quick thinking car-naame.

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It is time the marathon organisers think about full scale, professional interpreters for African athletes who cannot speak in English. Then, maybe, one day, journalists would be able to do a full-scale interview with athletes asking them about their lifestyle, conditions in their country, what they do for a livelihood, high-altitude training and other aspects. Here, journalists are simply scratching the surface asking athletes about weather, the course, the prize money � while there are surely so many more interesting facets about the Dark Continent that one could glean from these running machines.

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Mumbai cha mulga Milind Soman,  watched bemused as the Africans streaked past him on the finish line on the 42-km course. It was great going for Milind too, though, who may have started nearly two hours before the winners but finished in a very good time too. Shivaji Park is proud.

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One saw one or two runners running without their shirts in the midst of the 42-km course. One does not know whether they were trying to mimic Siddharth Mallya's antics of last year, or simply whether it was too hot or even whether they thought they needed to show off their bodies. Salman Khan, leader of the no-kameez club has company.

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