“Ganpati Bappa Morya…” The loud roar calling out to Mumbai’s favourite elephant God Ganesha made me realise how different this race is going to be. Yes! I am talking about the starting line up for the Mumbai Marathon (21K)… An European runner who I had just met asked me, “what are all these people shouting?” I replied, “Ganpati Bappa Morya is the salutations to the Elephant God who is considered the remover of all obstacles. We usually call out to Him before we start any good activity.” She asked, “So, all these people here are Hindus?”. I replied, more to myself than to her, “That’s the best part of my city… your religion, class, caste, language, nothing matters… we all dance to the procession of Ganesha and love wada pav to the core!” And so began my run!!!
Let me go back a little in time… The day I had to leave for the airport…
January 16, 2013
Amit was working from home and had informed his workplace that he will be taking a short break to drop me at the airport. I went to do some last minute shopping and most people I met that morning, knew that I was going to Mumbai for the half marathon. They also knew about the condition of my knee. The only common advice I got from everyone, including Amit, Nithya and Eddy was – You are running for a good cause. Just try to complete your run. Don’t bother about the timing or anything.
To be honest, I was quite stressed out about the 3 hour cut off. I completed my last 21K in 3hr 16m. I was counting on the spirit of Mumbai to help me shave off 16 minutes from my previous timing.
January 16, 2013 – On the way to the airport, waiting for the cab…
Amit and I had lunch at the airport after checking in and guess who came to wish me luck…
With Sufian just before immigration -
I got into the flight very apprehensive. It was my first run outside Singapore in the recent past. Mahipal – a kid from the village where we usually trek, was already in Mumbai, he was going to be at the airport to pick me up with Nikhil. Though I was going to have more than my usual number of supporters physically present on the race day, I was very nervous. There were a lot of things playing on my mind not just related to the race as I looked out into the sunset from my plane….
A sweet couple from London who were visiting Singapore were seated next to me and within 5 minutes into the discussion, they made a donation for Cankids (when they learnt I was running the marathon for a cause). Thank you Uncle and Aunty for your sweet gesture. You gave me the sign I needed. Everything was going to be fine and this trip to Mumbai was going to be unforgettable.
Coming back to the race day… Nikhil stayed over so that I do not get stressed out about him getting late to pick me up. I got up at around 3 in the morning, actually could not sleep. I know it is very important to rest well before the race day but I guess I was too excited and anxious at the same time. My mom was ready with the tilak from SiddhiVinayak (her way of wishing me good luck) and my dad gave me a hug and wished me luck. Nikhil and Mahipal were ready and we left for the race venue. We got there at around 4:25 AM and I was surprised to see that the volunteers were just getting started. Well, and the gates to the holding area opened around 10 minutes later than what was mentioned. Somehow, none of this affected me. My enthusiasm was growing leaps and bounds and I was grateful to have the chance to run in my city for a cause that was growing so close to my heart. I quickly used the toilet provided for the runners and started walking towards the holding area. I met an aunty who was 73 years old and it was her 3rd half marathon. She gave me a big hug and wished me luck. I also met some really young ladies who were so inspired and inspiring at the same time.
We all wished each other a great run and geared up for the start. On the dot at 5:40 AM, huge cheers and roars filled the atmosphere and we began the run. I was running faster than I intended to and knew that I would not be able to keep up the pace but the atmosphere was too charged UP and I decided to go with the flow. The sight of the Sea Link and the chance to run on it was making me feel so good and excited that I kept going.
I got pushed a couple of times and no one seemed to maintain any lane discipline at least at the start, but I decided to ignore it and enjoy my run. When I reached the start of the Sea Link, I silently thanked my family and friends for being there for me.
Towards the end of the Sea Link, I saw a lot of people lined up on the sidewalk. I assumed they must be making pictures. I did strike me that there were no women making pictures. Thankfully, I just wanted to run because all those guys were peeing. It was very funny and weird at the same time.
When I got out of the Sea Link and entered Worli, the roads were lined with people cheering hard at the runners… Some of them were offering biscuits and bananas… I kept thanking as many people as I could, because I was already experiencing the famous Mumbai hospitality that so many people in Singapore spoke to me about. As I kept running, at some point the 42K runners were on the other side of the road. I decided to give back some of wishes… I cheered and clapped for each of them as I ran and loved it when the guys on the other side of the road reciprocated.
Then came the stretch at Haji Ali. The durgah looked so beautiful in the morning, glowing in the golden rays of the morning sun. There were some DJ stations in this stretch and I also found out later that the guy who was cheering the runners like crazy was actually Salman Khan! At this point, I just wanted to get to the Kemps Corner flyover where Kajol, her friends, my parents, Mahipal and Nikhil were waiting. I finally got there and spent a few good seconds hugging them all… when Nikhil urged me to start running again…
Some pics from the cheering squad -
I have never had posters made for me, this was such a surprise. Thanks Kajol, at the cost of sounding very egocentric, I must tell you that I simply loved it
From here on, the last 5 Kms was a challenge. Just a few metres after meeting Kajol and her cheering squad, a very sharp pain shot through my thighs making it very difficult for me to even walk. But I decided to keep moving on slowly. The crowds kept cheering on but I started panicking. I had come this far and I really wanted to finish this race. I was dejected but was not yet ready to give up. At this point, I was walking very slowly on the side of the road, when I saw this kid with his dad, holding a plate full of eclairs. He offered some to me. I usually do not eat anything when I run (walk in this case) so I thanked him sweetly and walked on. I heard him tell his dad in a sad voice “Nahi Liya” – translates to she did not take it. I don’t know why but I walked back to him and took one and ate it in front of him. He offered to take the wrapper and dispose it off for me. As a final note he shouted, “run didi run… you have the energy now”. It was so cute and genuine that I had to start running at least for him to keep his faith. Thus I started running again albiet very slowly.
All through Marine Drive, there were people cheering the runners and making us feel no less special than the elite runners I was gaping at on the other side. When I neared Churchgate station and I had run for around 2 hr 52 min, there was a decent chance that I could complete this race before the official cut off time of 3 hours. I reached the 100M to go mark and saw that the elapsed time was 2:57:03… I ran like a maniac and completed in 2:57:25… My runkeeper timing showed 2:55:38… I was so happy.
This is not a great timing as far as most regular 21K runners are concerned. For me, it is an achievement. I felt so happy that just a few years back walking 21 metres without a break was a challenge and now here I am running 1000 times that distance. Everyone who was a part of this journey with me, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. This medal belongs to you!
Thanks for reading!