Mumbai marathon returns to claim the roads after three years of pandemic

12 January,2023 03:02 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  Ainie Rizvi

Marathoners amount to roughly 2 per cent of the total population that wakes up in the wee hours of the day and goes out to claim the roads

The Tata Mumbai Marathon will be held on January 15, 2023. Photo Courtesy: AFP

Nothing binds a city like its annual marathon event. On January 15, at the dawn of Sunday, 55,000 athletes will gather at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, to run a full marathon (42.195 km) in the southern chunk of Mumbai. The contorted racetrack will send runners across bridges, up and down iconic avenues including Nariman point, Wilson College, Haji Ali, Bandra-Worli Sea link, and more, culminating at the Wankhede Stadium.

The Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) returns as a beacon of hope after two dismal years dished by the Covid-19 pandemic. There are hills to be climbed and varying heat levels to be sweat through. The arduous stretch will offer high and low points of indulgence that will test one*s grit. Beyond the cycle of ups and downs, the marathon will represent the daunting spirit of the city and act as a panacea for modern society.

As the city gears up for the full marathon, spoke to seasoned marathoners from the city: Rajendra Kalur, Dilip Vaitheeswaran, and Surochita Gargari Yagnick on how they are bracing themselves for the big day.

For Dilip and his wife, it*s going to be a notable experience as she debuts at the national event. With only three days to go, the couple is now winding up and has entered the taper-down stage. ‘Tapering* in a runner*s vocabulary refers to the reduction in training mileage and workouts after a period of rigorous training. To ensure that they are attuned to the official routes, they have been practicing at the NCPA route, Nariman point over weekends with their running club - Striders.

"This will be my 7th full marathon; hence my confidence levels are high! More than competing, I look forward to enjoying the feel of running for 5-5.5 hours with my pals. Having trained with like-minded people over a significant period, I am anticipating interesting conversations over the books we read, shows we watched, and other topics of common interest. The beauty of staying on the road for a while is that it raises the combined gusto and builds camaraderie," shares Dilip in a telephonic conversation.

As opposed to fast runners, slow runners stride at a lower mileage and consequently, do not end up gasping for breath. Banking on good weather and optimum levels of sleep and hydration, marathoners have different sets of agendas this year. For Dilip, it is less about the time targets and more about his commitment to fitness and regaling over friendship.

On the contrary, Mr Kalur is eyeing to finish off at his personal best of 4.38 hrs that he attained at Berlin, in 2019. In conversation with Midday Online, he rummages through emails to share his bib number "4956" that will be stuck to his racerback T-shirt. After a lull period owing to the pandemic, he is excited to take to the streets of Mumbai with full throttle. "Thankfully, the practice never came down. Rather, the intensity of training has been on an upward trajectory. Despite the lockdown, I managed to stay motivated and run regularly in my building compound and open areas to keep the mileage consistent," recalls Raj when quizzed on his practice regime.

Mr Kalur draws an interesting analogy between running and fitness: Many people run to get fit but are they fit enough to run? It*s like the chicken and egg story. "In order to run, one needs to be in the proper form. It involves diet control, strengthening your calves, and shaping the upper body to build momentum. One doesn*t just wake up and decide to run a full marathon. They must undergo technical training that ranges between 7-8 months to build long-run mileage on a steady basis. This requires 4 days of regular running per week with a combination of short and fast runs, long and slow runs, and recovery runs to contour the muscles. To complement this, one also needs to perform a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) drill," remarks Mr Kalur who has managed to keep diabetes at bay with this workout regime.

While it is tempting to increase mileage, it is imperative to do so on a consistent basis. Upping one*s mileage suddenly is one of the leading causes of muscle rupture and knee injuries requiring prolonged recovery periods.

For athletes, yearlong preparations will be put to test on Sunday as they join a mass of humanity running to achieve the medal of completion. Prior to the gunfire that commences the marathon, runners can be seen performing dynamic stretches to get warmed up. Dilip finds the beginning of the marathon to be particularly discomforting. "The start is unpleasant owing to scores of people crammed into a small space. At this moment, I focus on finding my zone and building my breathing pattern."

Mr Kalur observes that it is important to cut off outside noise and focus on the self in the initial stage of the marathon. One needs to catch their rhythm and set a foundation for a stable pace. Another essential aspect is to monitor the heart rate and keep it under control. Once all that is in place, the thrill of running begins. Between 6:00-8:00 am is when the sea breeze starts flowing in and the run turns into a euphoric experience.

The art of running a marathon requires one to strike a delicate balance between physical, mental, and emotional fitness. Amsterdam Marathon qualifier, Surochita Gargai Yagnick is motivated to finish strong and well. Having run her first Mumbai marathon in 2012, the road runner is booting up for her tenth marathon in her home ground. An expert runner, her idea of finishing is to be spiritually well and in the pink of her health till the end. No matter what comes, she is determined to conquer it with her wide experience of running marathons across New York, Berlin, and London.

Read More: Road work forces changes to Mumbai Marathon route

"Running teaches you patience. It*s not an avenue of instant gratification. A full marathon is like living a lifetime in a nutshell. There will be tricky slopes that will require you to slow down while still, other paths will infuse you with a newfound vigour that you lost in the way," shares Yagnick when asked about how running enhances her mental well-being.

While running is an enriching affair, doing so over prolonged periods leads to the wear and tear of muscles. To recuperate from this, Yagnick advances with her home-based workouts. "I am not a professional athlete but an amateur one. Having run for 10-12 years, I have faced a lot of injuries. What helps me to recover is my strengthening regime which involves weighted muscle training, core exercises, and customised workouts with bands. Another way to prevent wear and tear of muscle is to know when to stop yourself from pushing too hard."

But to know when to stop comes with training, says Dilip. The last stretch of the marathon is a case of mind over matter. "This stage is the real test of one*s training. At around the 34th kilometre, begins the climb of the flyover at Pedder Road. By now the weather is sultry, and the body is reaching exhaustion. Now is when you see people starting to walk or hitting the wall. What it takes to ace this stage is apt training and mental strength. One has to be smart enough to not push themselves too hard in the first half, maintain optimum levels of hydration and stay away from muscle injuries. After crossing this stage is when we witness the maximum crowd support. People come out in big numbers offering juices, sweets, and water. This level of cheering shoots up our adrenaline and plunges us to the finish line with zeal!"

There are no excuses for Mr Kalur (53) and Surochita (48) to bail out on the marathon. Despite the challenges that come with age, they stand resolved to finish with diligence. "In the end, we only get a medal. Yet, every year, we go and sign up for the marathon again. For us, it*s not about any material gains but the sense of achievement that comes with reaching the finish line," shares Yagnick.

Marathoners amount to roughly 2 per cent of the total population that wakes up in the wee hours of the day, gets ready, and goes out to claim the roads on foot. The addiction to running keeps them going and helps them evolve as stronger individuals. For many, being on the road is like meditation. It enables one to reflect on their entire life, detangle thoughts and come out as a renewed people.

Read More: Tata Mumbai Marathon: South Africans to set the pace

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