Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Notes from the Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon 2013

It’s been a little over two weeks since I ran the Vasai Virar Mayor’s Marathon 2013 (VVMM). Three of my toe nails are still bluish-black (I think I will lose them) and my hopes of running a sub-five marathon lie shattered. This was my second full-marathon – I had taken 5:24 hrs to complete the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2012 (SCMM) and I thought I would easily do the VVMM in under 5 hours. I had trained reasonably well and everything was fine for the first half. The crowds were lovely and lined the entire road from Virar till Vasai. There were school kids out with banners, dressed in their school uniforms, most definitely instructed to turn up by their schools, there were housewives in their night gowns, men with stubbles, rubbing off the sleep from their eyes and even a few groups of ethnically dressed performers, dancing to the beat of drums and dholaks. There were water stations every kilometre or so and at a few places they even handed out oranges and biscuits. The route was very scenic – parts of it reminded me of Kerala’s landscape. As we ran, we could hear church bells peal at a number of places as the good people of Virar and Vasai attended Sunday mass.

I crossed the half-way mark in around 2:20 hrs and then things started going downhill. Unlike the SCMM which starts at 5:45 a.m., the VVMM started at 6:45 a.m. I guess it couldn’t be helped since a large number of runners are from Mumbai and it takes a while to reach the starting point at Virar. Secondly, the SCMM is held in January, whilst the VVMM is in October, the peak of what can be called Mumbai’s second summer. It’s hot and humid and there are long stretches with no shade. The third big difference between the SCMM and the VVMM, and this is a really big one, is that for the former, the roads are closed to traffic for the entire 6 hours one is given to complete the full marathon. At the VVMM, the roads were opened to traffic barely two hours after the marathon started. By 10:30 a.m., traffic was in full flow.

I guess this happens in all tier two marathons. The second half of the run was pure hell. It was not just on account of the traffic, heavy enough at times to force me to walk rather than run, or even the weather. As I started to run back towards Virar from Vasai, the water stations started to disappear. Even the many balloon bunches that lined the route, which I relied on for directions, were taken down much before the 6-hour cut-off. I once lost my way a little bit and ran for around 200 metres in the wrong direction before someone corrected me and sent me back. At a few places, I had to stop and look for signs or ask for directions before running on. Towards the end, around one kilometre before the end, I saw a runner ahead of me fail to take a u-turn (because the signs weren’t clear and there was no one around to direct him) and run a hundred odd metres extra before he turned back. The sweeper van meant to pick up stragglers who wanted to drop out was in operation much before the 6 hour deadline. I was asked at least three times by enthusiastic young men if I wanted a ride to the finishing point, something I found to be very dispiriting to say the least. The first time I was asked was around the four hour mark, when I was going strong, at least so I felt. Once on a crowded pavement, a man asked me if I would like to sit down, rest and eat something. It took me a second to realise that I was talking to a shop-keeper and move on. These little things do matter. Marathons are not just for the elite runners. I feel that that the organisers ought to have considered the recreational runners who make up the bulk of the participants before shutting shop so early. On the positive side, there were pilots on motor-bikes who darted back and forth and supplied us with directions and water (which made up for the absence of water stations) till the end.

I thought of giving up many times, but ultimately I didn’t. For personal reasons, I won’t be able to take part in SCMM 2014 and I needed to complete the VVMM within the cut-off time to be eligible for SCMM 2015. I tried to motivate myself by imagining that I was a Viet Cong guerrilla running along the Ho Chi Minh trail, a Spetsnaz commando on a killer mission, a US Navy SEAL running stealthily behind enemy lines, an NSG Black Cat Commando on a mission to free hostages held by suicidal terrorists, a warrior in a Zulu impi marching towards Isandlwana. None of that really worked. Ultimately I finished just inside the cut-off time because I had posted details of my run on facebook and didn’t want to lose face in front of my facebook “friends”. I ran because I didn’t want to tell my office colleagues that I couldn’t last the course and had chickened out. I ran on, a week after my 39th birthday, fuelled by my ego and the painful awareness that it would cost me a lot to prepare for and run a full, timed marathon once again before registrations started for SCMM 2015.

I completed in 5:49:10 hrs, wearing bib number 205. My results, with splits etc., are available on this site. Please choose Vasai – Virar Marathon 2013 and enter my bib number 205 for my results.

I am unable to write about an event like this without a few words regarding the toilet facilities, in my opinion one of the best criteria to judge organisers of such events. I got to the starting point around fifteen minutes before kick-off and asked for the nearest toilet. I was directed to one inside the large building to my right. It looked dirty with what looked like a large piece of human dung inside. I gingerly prepared to pee and the large piece of dung moved, trying to jump out. It was a frog! To be fair to the organisers, that toilet was not meant for the participants. Enroute, I found a set of portable toilets around the fifteen kilometre mark. Neat, clean and easy to use, I never saw another set of such toilets till I finished and entered the resting place for the participants, which had a similar set of toilets. However, I didn’t need to use a toilet on the return leg since it was so very hot and humid. I wouldn’t have minded if I could have relieved myself much before the fifteenth kilometre, but the entire route was so lined with cheering people that I never found a spot where I was by myself with some cover.

Before I conclude, there’s one special request I have for the organisers. During the first half of the marathon, along with the crowds that lined the route, there were loud speakers belting out popular music. Even when the crowds weren’t there, especially as we neared the half-way mark, loud speakers played songs at full blast. I can’t say I am speaking on behalf of all runners, but for me, when I run, silence is a blessing and loud music is something I treat on par with air pollution from vehicle fumes. The loud music played from those speakers gave me a headache. Please note, I am not talking of the sounds made by those cheering kids or even the drummers. I am only talking of the large black loudspeakers which made such a racket for the entire 21 kilometre stretch during the first half. Please dispense with them for the next event, if you don’t mind.

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