Runners gear up for Vasai-Virar Mayor's marathon

Marathon season is upon us and full marathon runners are peaking for the Vasai-Virar Mayor’s Marathon to take place on December 21

Come December and Mumbai’s merciless mercury dips slightly, not significantly, but just enough to make you sigh, ‘Thank God the November heat is over.’ This means it is marathon season.

Runners stream across Vasai-Virar proving that the running boom has hit India
Runners stream across Vasai-Virar proving that the running boom has hit India

The city now rides the running tide thanks to the Mumbai Marathon which takes place in January every year. The big glamourous momma of the marathons has sprouted several country cousins. One of these is the Vasai-Virar Mayor’s marathon taking place on Sunday, December 21.

A Mumbai marathon winner comes closer to the finish line
A Mumbai marathon winner comes closer to the finish line

The marathon is in its fourth edition and registrations have crossed the 12,000 mark. Incidentally, registrations are open till December 13. Many runners use the event as a preparation for the Mumbai Marathon, taking place nearly one month later.

The Vasai fort The half marathon has it as a backdrop
The Vasai fort The half marathon has it as a backdrop

The Vasai-Virar or VV as it is called, is already on its way to stepping out of the shadows of other marathons and claim its legitimate place in the running sun. Talking about sun, the all important factor in long-distance running, the weather is going to be a huge factor in the race.

Organisers state that though November was very hot, the weather is cooling off now and the temperatures are going to be kinder in the third week of December. The organisers cite an early start, with the full marathon (42-km the distance that humbles you) beginning at 6 am.

The half-marathon (21-km) begins at 6.30 am, followed by an 11-km run and then smaller races for different age groups. Like we have seen in other marathons, many runners start with shorter distances finally ‘graduating’ to the 42-km.

It is the great leap of faith for runners. We have seen more and more runners crowding the 21-km and now there are hardly any places left in the 42-km too, at least for the Mumbai marathon. Mumbai has started believing it can go the full distance.

The full and half marathon distance has professional and amateur categories for both men and women. One of the biggest USPs of this event is the scenic backdrop that the runners encounter. Naturally greener than Mumbai city proper, Vasai-Virar (VV) offers stunning locales. Runners who are not looking to break records, can afford the liberty of looking around to drink in the intoxicating scenery.

The full marathon begins from Virar goes up to Vasai and comes back to Virar. For the halfers (not a word really, simply made it up in the best marathon spirit), it is begin in Vasai and the Vasai Fort is in the background, and finish in Virar. The route traverses through prominent locations, passing through 10 villages so runners have a rustic ambience.

A number of temples and churches enroute, some more than 150 years old, are important landmarks. Those runners who feel like giving up, especially when they hit what is called ‘The Wall’ in running parlance, when you feel you have nothing left in the tank to give, can look to the divine for inspiration.

There are at least 20 water stations along the route; 10 medical stations; 10 cardiac ambulances and around 250 medical personnel who work on race day. For the SoBo set, who might think you need a visa to reach VV. The marathon motto is the uplifting ‘Save the Girl Child’.

This idea, once again reinforces what a powerful medium the marathon is for messages of different sorts. In fact, it is a moving billboard and marathons over the years have become mobile planks to garner attention from women’s rights, to banishing racism, awareness about different medical conditions and so many others.

Coming back to the marathon specifically, the course is flat and fast for a major distance but it has one flyover. For marathon runners, a flyover is a challenging incline and often, marathons that have gradients on their course have seen them dubbed with interesting monikers like ‘heartbreak hills’ or the more in-your-face ‘f... the flyover’.

The VV attracts some of the country’s top runners, the fleet of foot Bining Lyngkhoi; Elam Singh; Sanvroo Yadav; Soji Mathew; G Lakshman; Kavita Raut and Lalita Babbar, to name a few. The 2013 Full Marathon for men was won by ASI’s Sanvroo Yadav in a time of 2:27.26; while the Half Marathon for men was won by G Lakshmanan, clocking1:07.01.

The Half Marathon for women was won by Lalita Babbar in 1:22.07. These are impressive timings but VV organisers says they “are expecting faster times this year.” Like all organisers they live in hope. They base their expectations on a relatively late marathon (date was pushed back because of the elections).

Big names of Indian sport promoted it in the past. There was P T Usha; Shiny Wilson; Dhanraj Pillay; Yuvraj Valmiki; Sushil Kumar; Yogeshwar Dutt amongst many others. The Western Railway has been contacted to send out an early train to get runners to the venue, as they have been doing for the past three years.

The runners are from different places in the city as well as from other districts. The locals also participate in sizeable numbers as there is a separate prize fund for participants from the Vasai-Virar Region. The smaller age group races are also only for local participants. There are also some runners from the expatriate community.

The VV is proud of the crowd support that it gives its runners. Organisers say that locals throng the route, to cheer and they are willing to bet it is more than the Mumbai Marathon. The race is entirely funded by the Vasai-Virar City Municipal Corporation; but organizers are looking to up the scale of the event. The focus is on providing facilities to runners.

But organisers admit that the publicity and promotion of the event has taken a back seat. They claim that will change once a strong sponsor comes on board and the event will be pushed much more aggressively. Some runners do use the VV as a tune-up for the Mumbai Marathon.

Whatever your reasons for running the VV, it is one more event on Mumbai’s marathon calendar. Indians are part of a phenomenon called ‘marathon tourism’ which is travelling to different destinations to run the marathon. The VV is one more opportunity for people to summon up their courage, discipline and self-belief, to become conquerors of 26 miles, 385 yards.

About Vasai-Virar
>> Vasai-Virar is a city and tehsil (sub-district) in Maharashtra state in western India.
>> The region comprises the mostpopulated part of Palghar district.
>> t is a suburb of Mumbai. According to the 2011 census, it is the fifth largestcity in Maharashtra.
>> The city is located on the north bank of Vasai Creek, part of the estuary of the Ulhas River.

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