Thursday, January 19, 2017

Maximum city, Maximum run, Maximum fun

Warning: I am very verbose in writing. Hence I tend to write very loooong blogs. As in the case with all my blogs, this blog too is very very long and I would request you to not read it or skip the paragraphs and read only those that would seem interesting to you.

Pre-SCMM blogs: I have written in great detail about my 11 months of preparation and 3 months of training for SCMM 2017 in earlier in case you are interested.

SCMM: 15th January 2017:

Last weekend before race day: There was a lot of excitement and best wishes the weekend before race weekend. Since I had been nursing a niggle in my right ankle and had not run a single run during the three weeks of tapering post the 34K long run, I ran on Saturday. We had a race plan discussion meeting post the run which was very good and the points that Santhosh and Srini V touched upon were most important, even though they had emphasized upon the same points repeatedly right through our training, and stayed with me all through the week and through my run. Sunday, the discussion was more about at what points the RH volunteers and supporters would be stationed. Full marathoners would have RH cheering at 7 different points, which is quite a lot!!

At the Expo
Chandra always makes very elaborate plans for the RH aid stations at Mumbai. It is really astounding to see so many folks travel all the way to Mumbai, some children too, and stand for seven long hours in the hot sun, cheering us and handing out water and bananas to us. Since we knew the kilometer marks where the folks would be standing at, we look out for them constantly and I took bananas from them regularly. I really don’t know what we have done to deserve such care and pampering. It must be the collective good karma of many past lives that is giving rich dividends to us now. Chandra also takes great pains to organize the pre-race dinner and post-race lunch for us and believe me when I say this, I urge all the folks out there to train with RH and run SCMM just to be a part of these two events. Even if the race day turns out to be a no show or the worst disaster, these two are worth all the training that we go through and all the sweat (there is no blood as we are so well taken care of).

Bib collection: Ashok and my daughters along with my niece had driven to Mumbai on Friday and I
Bibs collected
took a flight to Mumbai on Saturday. Since it was a very early morning flight I did not have anyone with me and managed to catch a short nap on the flight. As I was carrying only a backpack, I got out of the airport very early and met up with a friend of mine and we went to have breakfast at my favorite Ramakrishna Hotel at Parla East station. I was supposed to meet Kavitha for breakfast and she arrived at Ramakrishna with Ravi and her son and post breakfast we took a local to Dadar and from Dadar central to Byculla to collect our bibs. Unknowingly we got into a handicapped compartment and met runners from Bhopal who gratuitously gave up their taxi to us at the Byculla station and we arrived at the bib collection and took many photos and had a whale of a time. We met
Pre-run dinner at Bombay
many other RH folks and Ashok and my daughters. Finally we headed to our hotel and took rest. Post lunch Kavitha and me had to come back to the expo as I had been given a men’s XL t-shirt. The organizers told me that they did not have my size and promised to courier mine to me in 60 days.

Pre-run dinner: The pre-run dinner at Bombay Blue was one big RH party and the atmosphere was electric and I just soaked in it. Post dinner when we returned back to the room, Kanchen, Kanika and I decided on our morning wake up and toilet timings and slept early.

Start point: As per previously decided, all of us marathoners met near Welcome Hotel at 5.00 am and started walking towards the start point. Jyothi handed me and Kavitha our small bottles of out hydration packs filled with her famous liquid curd rice. We stuck together but kept loosing and finding other RH-ers time and again. At the start point we were quite at the back and bumped into Abhi, the official 5.45 pacer and took quite a few pictures. All the 'fast-ies' had moved ahead and it was just Jyothi, Kavitha, Dilshad and me along with Parag, Raghu and Abhi. Abhi had a fan already who wanted to run with him and he was talking to her rather kindly J. Dilshad told her that we were all four hour (4.5 Hr & 5 hr) finishers and were just running slow today and I had a sense of déjà vu and wondered what’s with these Parsis?  Another Parsi (Zahver) had nonchalantly misled another runner in Hyderabad 2 years ago J. We were the noisiest lot and it was a wonderful few minutes of high decibel mirth and enjoyment.
Abhi - the official 5.45 bus pacer
 0K – 18K: The start was bang on time at 5.40. We kept walking to the start point and crossed the timing mat at 5.50.AM. We felt calm as we ran towards Flora Fountain, past the Oberoi hotel, to Nariman Point, past the Air India building. A gentleman with a hat on was playing an acoustic guitar and singing “hai apna dil to awara” while his wife played the tambourine.  We soon reached the Marine Drive where people were setting up the stages and music for the dream run which was to begin at 9.00 am. I kept watching out for the kilometer boards and missed the first couple and sighted the first one only at 3K and was pleasantly surprised to see that we were devouring distances without even realizing it. It was still dark. But the path was well lit and there were no incidents of people falling etc. No one had any headlamps. I did see a number of runners help themselves to water and electrolytes at water stations from the third kilometer onwards. We took our first salt pill at 6.5 km and second one at 15K as we reached the Bandra Worli Sealink. The sky was still cloudy and the sun had risen and we were treated to a glorious sight of sun dawn and sun rise through the Marine Drive and the sealink. It was very calm on the sealink and we were sticking to out run walk pattern of 6 min run and 1 min walk.

We suddenly saw some lead motorcycles and a media bus pass by us and knew that the elites were around the corner. We saw the elite runners whizz past us on the sealink. First it was the men and then the women. Their silent footsteps and long strides was awe inspiring. They were so fast that even if you blink your eye you can miss them. The men runners had two pacers ahead of them and I was quite surprised to see two men pacers for the women runners. The men were sticking together and ran like a pack. But the women had scattered and there were quite a few who had fallen behind. There was one seven feet tall European runner who had fallen behind but was still going strong. There was another who had fallen behind and was struggling. The atmosphere on the sealink was very quiet and the sun had not yet come out in full force due to a heavy haze. A media lady asked me what was written at the back of my t-shirt and asked me to pose and took many pictures of my t-shirt. I had poured some water on my neck and back by then and wondered if the picture would turn out all right.

18K – 33K: At around 16K Jyothi was slowing down and I always find it difficult to run with smaller strides as my ankle hurts more with smaller strides. The wonderful person that she is, she sensed that I was struggling to run slow and told me to run faster and ahead of her and I started running at my pace ahead of her and at each walk break we would catch up with each other. At 18K I separated from her and started running continuously at my own pace. We passed each other at 18.5 where there was a loop we had to take before exciting from the Bandra-Worli Sealink and she told me to go ahead. I passed Padma Srinivas too at this point and another runner from Bhopal who we had met on the Mumbai local train when we were going to collect our bibs.

As the battery of my Garmin does not last for more than 3 hrs, I had not switched it on but use it just to see the time. So I started looking out for the kilometer boards. As we exit the sealink, we enter Mahim which was lined with the street kids who were cheering us loudly and I tapped the hands of as many street kids as I could. Their constant “aunty mujhe” or “arre! aunty miss kar gayi” egged me on to high five as many of them as I could.  I missed the 19K, 20K and the 21K board and was pleasantly surprised to see the 22K board at 9.06 at the Bandra fire station Flyover. I was very happy to realize that I has completed 22K in 3 hrs and 6 mins and decided to complete each kilometer in 9 mins. I was crossed Nanda at Hinduja Hospital after a few minutes and informed him that Jyothi is just behind me. I crossed Siddhivinayak temple at 9.23 and the 25K mark at 9.25. Ashok had been waiting for me at the 33K point along with Abhishek. I estimated that if I keep the 9 min pace I will reach them at 10.40.

I kept nibbling bananas, biscuits, small pieces of sandwiches, small bites of chapathis, Jyothi's liquid curd rice, dates, almonds, raisins and took my salt pills at the scheduled times and sipped water regularly. I even drank two packets of the ORSL ddrink provided by the organisers. Due to this I did not get the head ache I get during long runs neither during the run nor post run. Small sips and small bites regularly was the key. By now I was seeing that many aid stations were getting empty. But the people were still well stocked and were still handing out stuff. I had missed grabbing the wet sponges at quite a few places and saw an aid station with one last sponge. But I was beaten to it by another runner and she grabbed it. But as I ran past her she offered it to me and said that you use it and give it to me. When I returned it back to her with just one squeeze on my head she told me to squeeze on the neck and shoulders and told me “ there’s plenty for both us us. Use it generously so that water enters your t-shirt on the back”.

Once I crossed the 30K mark I saw Kavitha and Dilshad ahead of me. I decided to keep them in sight and continue with my 8.5 min/km pace.I found that I had done many kilometers with less than 9 min pace. I met Nagraj Adiga and Naveen Tangiah here and Naveen's ever smiling face and a sweet hug and 'you are lookign really strong' re-energized for a few more kilometers. I was able to maintain my race plan and met Vinay at the 32K mark. He asked me how I was and I told him what I was doing and that I was feeling good. He told me that Dilshad was up ahead and whether I wanted to catch up with them. But I was reluctant to increase my speed and told him that I had them in my sight from the past 2 kms  and even he advised to just maintain my pace and not speed up now. I reached Abhishek and Ashok who were at the 33K mark in between 10.35 and 10.40 and we started from there. I told Ashok tha I was doing good and asked him to just make me run as much as possible. He told me to do a 500 steps run and 100 steps walk and I told him to reduce it to 300 steps run. We passed Kaiwan and Dilshad after a short while and also met Parag, Kavitha and Raghu. Raghu had been on the 5.45 bus and had had a bad fall at 17k point and was continuing his run after a delay of 10 to 15 mins. Kavitha joined me and Raghu and Parag went at their pace.

33K – 41K: Things were going fine and I was tiring a bit. But with Kavitha and Ashok I was able to maintain some run walk pattern. Just when things were going according to plan and smoothly, we entered the dreaded Peddar road. We decided to walk the stretch completely. We saw Mukesh Ambani’s dreadful Antilia building and wondered which of the buildings had Lata mageshkar’s flat. We completed Peddar road with a walk and saw that I got slowed down slightly after this stretch and struggled to run for a couple of kilometers. We kept walking and the six hour bus passed us and the pacer urged us on to walk and told us home is the place to chat and we have to run here. I was quite surprised to see that we were well within a 6.10 or a 6.15 finish. I kept urging Kavitha to run ahead and get a sub-6 finish. But she just wouldn’t listen. She said ‘I will have none of this. I am going to finish holding hands with you as that is more important to me than getting a 10 minute less finish”. I really have to thank my stars that I am surrounded by such gems of people. I even saw a very elderly hunched lady standing with her daughter and grand daughter cheering and I went and thanked her and gave her a hug.
Once I was back on the Marine Drive, I started feeling exultant and euphoric. It was all I could do to not start celebrating right then and there. But since we had five more kilometers left and I was still struggling to run, the celebrations had to wait. After we crossed the Marine Lines station the police vehicle passed us making loud announcements in Marathi and I thought that there were asking all the
medal pedh pe nahin milte, unhe paana padta
hai, pyar se, mehnat se...lagan se -
non runners to get out of the streets. After a few minutes we saw cars whizzing past us and then I realized that they had announced that the traffic would be let and that the runners should run at the side. Immediately we saw that they were bringing down the cool zone station and all the aid stations were being packed up, boards and kilometer markers were being removed at great speeds and efficiency. But since the roads are wide we did not have any difficulty in running. We were also prepared for the eventuality of not finding water and had trained with our hydration packs for exactly this and were mentally prepared.
My struggle to run continued but I slowly started telling myself that the end is very near and that I must somehow run. I started feeling better after I crossed the 40th kilomete mark. I said to myself that it was now or never and I pressed on. Once I exited the Marine Drive and ran past the Ambassador Hotel, I knew that I had won. But I hadn’t. It took my weary feet another fifteen odd minutes to get to within the sight of the finish line. They had removed all the directions signs and kilometer markers by now and we were just following the runners ahead of us. Thankfully they
had stopped the vehicles at one of the junctions we passed and we could cross it easily. Credit must be given to the Mumbaikars as we did not see any unruly honking or motorists fighting with the cops as is the case in Hyderabad, Chennai and Namma Bengaluru.

The Jeff Galloway of RH - Vinay
The finish:  I saw the mark 1000 mts written in white paint on the road and told Kavitha that we are just 1km away. I still could not run well and Kavitha asked me to hold on for the last 200 mts. Someone shouted 200 more but Kavitha warned me that it was still 600 more. At about 300 mts we started slow running and kept seeking each other’s hand as we did not want to loose each other. Once we took the left turn we started sprinting towards the finish line. We had planned to hold hands as we crossed the finish line and we did just that. We hooted as we crossed the finish line. I just could not hold in the sob that was threatening to erupt right from 25k in anymore and I burst out crying and even Kavitha burst out with me. A lady yelled to clear the timing mat and we dragged ourselves to a side.  We sighted my daughters and niece who were busy cheering us and filming us. My younger daughter was sobbing too. I hugged each of them and then saw Dilshad finish with Kaiwan in tow. Soon Ashok also finished his unofficial 9k.
Collecting the medal was one long walk and my tear dam burst open again once the volunteer put the medal around my neck. They were so alarmed that they gave me two post-run nutrition bags. Ashok rescued me immediately and they heaved a sigh of relief because wherever you might go in this world, no one knows how to handle a sobbing woman J. My daughters took more pictures of me with the medal. Meeting Abhi and Vinay was great as it was his run walk strategy and Jyothi’s encouragement that had got me this far. A few quick stretches at the recovery zone and we were off to the hotel to freshen up as we were very eager to meet everyone at the Irish Pub for the post-run lunch.

What next: It has taken me all these days for it all this enormous achievement to sink in and slowly I am feeling a sense of loss and lack of purpose. Many people say that that they need a break from running and that they will take a season’s break. For me running is the break from life. Running for me is cathartic and a wonderful release.  I run because I find peace and solace in running. For me movement is bliss. It is a great feeling everyday that I have to run and I really do not know what to do on rest days. So, I guess, I will just continue to run.


  1. Wow, its amazing and inspiring to read. With the detailing and pictures, I could visualize the whole run. Wish you the very best and God bless!

    1. Thank you soo much. Good luck to you too and God bless!!

  2. Congratulations & a big runner's hug to a dear friend who has shown remarkable grit & determination in training, insatiable desire to excel, yet very humane in accepting life. You have achieved what every distance runner aspires to be, a Marathoner! Consider this as the first step to bigger things to come in your life. Stay blessed!

  3. Thank you Bipra. God bless you and your family too.

  4. Asa re, fab write up. Next up for you - a marathon here in USA.Chicago? - Harsha

    1. Yes! One in SLC, one in SF or Big Sur is also on my bucket list. One Day!!

  5. Fantastic read, Asha! I had all the time in the world to read every word! Kanchen and I were saying you looked so fresh back at the hotel, so good to read the real story of your run. You are truly an inspiring person and I'm lucky to meet people like you at RH!

  6. Thank you KRK Sir. And we are lucky to have you in RH too. The forever youngster among us!!