The marathon was the most challenging run I have had to do in my 49 years on earth. I should think that it would rank right up there with my first steps or even my first crawl but since those are moments I cannot recall this must rank right up there on top as the most challenging physical activity I have ever attempted.
If someone asked me if this was the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life, I would put it on par with the effort I had to expend to get through school, especially class 8 when I flunked in 4 subjects in the half yearly exam and class XI where even after mutual assistance (Chetan Shah was at the other end of this mutual business) neither of us had enough to show for Anjan Dasgupta to have the pleasure of deducting any marks by way of penalty. When I think about it, I am not sure if I made an impression anywhere in school except in the attendance register and even that impression was upto the teacher to make against my name.
Enough of digressions, over to the marathon. After all, I have a lot of ground to cover.
- At the outset, allow me to thank Ankit Agarwal and Santanu Santra who helped me get into running. So disgusted they were with my lack of discipline and slowness of movement, that they both left IRIS and went a long way away from me. Santanu even changed his name in a bid to acquire a new identity and rid himself of any association with me, while Ankit started working for a firm which produced medical equipment in a bid to see if there was anything they had that could set me right.
- Then there is Rajat Chauhan, my friend, a marathoner (he ran 21 km everyday this past December), a doctor, who has promised to help me come up to a reasonable speed before the next edition of the marathon arrives. If there is one big carry away from Rajat, it is that there is a huge difference between orthopaedics and sports medicine specialists. The latter help you keep on doing what you have been doing, the former want you to stop. I remember having shown by X Ray to a leading orthopedic 2 years ago, he was sorely tempted to get me on to his operating table, his business must have been slow. Rajat took one look at the same X Ray and threw it away, saying “If you knee does not have this much of wear and tear when you are 47, you have not even used it.” The next time any of you want to have your knee checked out, you know what sort of a doctor you are looking for.
- It was Priya who sent me to Rajat. Priya is a PYT and a smart one too who ran 5 marathons in 5 days in the Himalayas at a height of 18000 feet. (Priya: If I have exaggerated a wee bit, leave it be) Priya is a musician, a composer, a hugely talented person who got the young men of her building in Goregaon running after her, so that they could get a date with her. She simply outran all of them.
- I owe a special thank you to my physio Heath, a South African who has now inspired me to run in Cape Town in April. Aptly named the twin oceans marathon, it will allow me to boast that I have run from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. Heath drilled into me the importance of stretching but if I have not been as disciplined as I should have, I have only myself to blame. Heath does a deep tissue massage like nobody else that I know, he is simply a class act. If you have ever seen Anil Ambani run, you would have seen Heath running alongside. (While on the subject of Anil Ambani running, I think the reason he runs is so that he can keep pace with SEBI’s whole time Member Dr Abraham, also a keen runner. The only place they can have a private chat without worrying about the conversation getting taped for subsequent airing is during a marathon!!)
- Thanks are also due to Shahaji Bhosale my coach in Vashi, I was his first ward and the one to disappoint him the most, methinks. I have a feeling that he tolerates me, because I must have been a good endorsement for him, causing his clientele t grow. “If he can make me run, surely anyone can,” was his understated sales pitch. I am especially grateful to him for pointing out on day one that everything was wrong with the way I run. I am also happy that he has not done much to correct it, for, this excuse has stood me well even as I have laboured over distances long and short. All this notwithstanding, I hope I have done him proud by being the first of his wards to attempt and complete the 42 k.
- I have to thank my co runners at Vashi, each one faster than me, who would lavish fulsome praise on any slight improvement I had to show, knowing fully that I was never a threat to them. Ram, Mahesh, Sivakumar, Aditya, Bhosale, Rajendra, Srini, Mani, Balu, Jayaraman, the Pavan Putris (we used to call them PPs) Raji, Sheela, Shobha, Anu and of course, Deepta. Each of them has inspired me in their own unique ways. They were all so much faster than me that to a bystander it looked as if I was standing by.
- Many are those who helped me enroute. The day was hotter than I had expected. i must thank Shilpa for helping me undress, she is also truly a great pin up artiste, the dexterity with which she pinned my bib back on was amazing. Personally, the bhangra musicians turned out to be more useful to me than all the other musicians, this has to do with where they were placed and the rhythm which they stuck to. We need more music on the way back. A special thank you to Revathi’s husband, Shivvie, who egged me on at the Haji Ali circle, it helped me gain some tail wind. At 32 km, one is thrilled to see a familiar face. But at my speed, I was torn between feeling happy that he was there and feelimg embarrassed at my slow progress.
- I have always been a slow runner. I continue to be one. Initially I used to blame it on my old age (I am almost 50, you see) but then older people went past me. Then I turned to blaming it on my weight until much heavier people started passing me by. That’s when my excuses started turning complicated. It was a broth, with a bit of travel related excuse leading to poor sleeping habits caused by irritating flight schedules disrupted by weather. Throw in some client enforced socializing, a bit of illness and there you have a concoction that will cause people to actually give you credit for running in this condition.
- It was at the Mahalakshmi race course that this woman Roshni Bakshi kept overtaking me. It was very embarrassing at first especially because she is Deepta’s batchmate. Howsoever much I tried to tell myself that it was unnecessary to get competitive, I had to find a way to deal with it. Mercifully for me, even before I completed 2 of my targeted 8 rounds of the race course, I had found a way out of my predicament. No, I did not stop running, that would have been a cop out. Instead, I simply decided to run the other way. But very soon, I had a new problem. I discovered that Roshni had a habit of reversing her direction every so often. The moment I realized this, I started doing the same thing and from then on, Roshni Bakshi never overtook me and I could run in peace without being torn to pieces by someone who ran so fast that even her shadow could not keep pace with her. I also rechristened her Rush Nee Bhag Chi, with apologies to the 4 languages I am twisting in so doing.
- When I told Deepta about my new name for Roshni, she wondered why I had spared her friend and another batch mate, Sandeep “Dingo” Bhandarkar, an experienced runner and my guru. Turn out that she did not want Dingo spared, considering that she had co habited with Rush Nee in the girls dorm at IIM A. Dingo was easy. He became Bhag daud kar. Nice Maharashtrian Brahmin ring to it, wouldn’t you say.
- This ability to find creative escapist solutions so as not to be viewed in dim light would stand me in good stead much later too. When deepta announced her intention to run, I was genuinely concerned. Mercifully for me, she said that she would run the half and not the full, eliminating the possibility of me finishing after she did in the same event. I kep telling husbands never to compete with wives. Balu did not heed my advice and ran in the same event as his wife Raji and lives to regret it as she finished way ahead of him. When he got injured during training, keeping him off the tracks for 6 weeks, I thought he would see reason. But no, he is an analyst you see, Crisil trained. He was trained not to see whats behind the scenes, he was ill equipped to understand the subtle messages. Poor Balu. He has run off to Kerala to hide.
- I did not have to confront the timing issue until I reached the marathon venue. I overheard people around me talk about their target times. 3: 30 said one, to which another said, “I would have liked to do 3:15 but my boss is running with me, so I have to slow down.” When it was my turn to share, I said “2:30” confidently. Most thought I was mad, yet others did not know what hit them. Being polite, they chose not to probe, little realizing that I was talking about finishing by 2.30 PM and not in 2:30 hours. How am I to blame if they understood otherwise? Mahabharata has been truly instructional in my life.
- You may wish to know why I could not have finished sooner than the 6 + hours I took. For this the organizers are entirely to blame. Last year when I ran the 21, the first signs at the toll gate very clearly announced “No overtaking.” I took it seriously and being a concerned citizen, I realized that I had two choices. I could either insist on starting before everybody else and run faster than them so that I did not violate the law, or if I started later, stay back and not overtake anyone. In so doing, I ensure that not only did I not have to overtake anyone, I did not let anyone overtake me either. Later someone told me that the rules did not apply to marathoners but I ask you this: why have signs if they are not meant for those using the road? How silly.
- Manoj Sinha tells me the story of this run where he finished in record time because he got to admire the rump of two PYTs. No such luck in Mumbai. I strongly urge the organizers to have a reservation policy so that there is a greater representation of PYTs in the run. Now that they have started asking for the photos of the runners, this should be easy enough to do. The presence of more PYTs can be tremendously inspirational and if Manoj was not left behind because of his fixation on their rumps, I am sure it can have a similar effect in Mumbai too.
- On the subject of Manoj Sinha, I must tell you that he wanted to run too but woke up too late. And then asked me to get him a bib. You know how these NRIs are, they want everything their way. They will create conditions to violate rules and then blame our motherland for being in a state of lawlessness, a jugad state and so on. You have heard the saying, right? Jab tak suraj chand rahega, NRI to badnam karega. I will have none of this. What is worse is that he wanted to come and show us up, us poor Indians with a target time that was half of mine. I think we should not let them in, say what?
- As someone said to me, there is hope for me yet, considering that I belong to a minority of 0.0001% of Mumbaikars who not only dared to run and go on to finish the 42 km long run yesterday. While I accept the compliment with humility, I should point out that if you focus sufficiently narrowly on the numerator and divide by the humongous population that we are blessed with, anyone can be in as much of a minority as they choose to be. To extrapolate further, I must have finished first in the category of Vashi resident Tamil Ayyars of Kolkata origin, married to Iyengars from Delhi. So there, I am feeling good already. Levity aside, I am actually on top of the world.
- Why did I take 6+ hours? Because I ran much much more than the required distance. My Garmin tells me that I ran almost 43 km. On many roads I took the outer arc, adding to the distance traversed. I tried to stay in a group of one, so that people coming from the other direction could spot me and admire my efforts. This is very important. Until such time as I had not passed all the 21 km runners coming from the opposite direction, I stayed on the extreme right so that they could see me and applaud me. Subra did, Raji did. But Rashesh did not. I am not sure if he even grunted an acknowledgement as I hailed him. May be that’s because he is IIM A. May be because, his competitor Ranu Vohra of Avendus was running the 42 k while Rashesh was still on the baby slopes which is how we marathoners refer to the 21. Though I must give full credit to Rashesh’s as a manager extraordinaire for planting two of his able lieutenants to keep an eye on Ranu to see if he was cutting any deals on the way. In any event, Rashesh’s lack of encouragement slowed me down further.
- In all of this there was a silver lining though. Over the 5 years I have run the half marathon, I have always had to face the ignominy of the full marathoners overtaking me even before I reach the finish line. It used to be traumatic. How else can I describe it when people running twice your distance overtake you in half the time? No such worries this time around. I can say honestly that I have now raced several Olympians to the finish. They overtook me as they were supposed to but so what? How else would they have won? I did not want a repeat of what Asterix did to the Romans. The organisers would not have approved.
- The biggest gain from the Marathon was a totally unexpected one. As a colossal failure who did not get into any enginering college, what to speak of IIT, as a disaster who did not study at the IIMs, I used to respond to those that asked if I am from the IIMs with a stock “I am with a lass of 89″ reply. But now that i have been invited to lunch next Saturday by the class of 89, I wonder if I can now say that I was with the class of 89? I should try it out the next time.