Mumbai Marathon 21/01/2018

Advance notice: this story has a happy ending.

When I got up this morning, before 4.30am, I was not expecting to have a good day out on the roads of Mumbai, and I had not been looking forward to this marathon at all because of the heat and humidity. The expo had been, irritatingly, an hour's taxi ride away and in general I didn’t have good vibes about the race. All I had been able to find to buy for breakfast was a packet of biscuits so I ate a handful of these and had a big drink of water.

I left my hotel just before 5am and immediately saw lots of runners in the street, so I followed them towards the start, which was a good thing since they clearly knew a better way than the route I had practised yesterday. As I was crossing one road a female runner (Indian) beckoned to me to join her and we continued together to the start. I was pleased to see she was wearing shorts, like me, because I had worried about getting to and from the race so scantily dressed. The start area, a large oval, was rigidly controlled with security checks and designated starting chutes. With 50,000 participants over all races it was a big event.

I was in the first group of 'amateurs' so I left right on the gun at 5.40am. It was very dark but I don't think I missed much. After some city streets we turned onto a long straight road which I think was alongside the beach. As I had started so near the front I had to put up with a torrent of runners passing me. There were very few women and only a handful of non Indians. I was already uncomfortably warm.

I had so many little pains it wasn’t funny. And a big one - my left lower back was so tight I knew that any sudden movement would wrench it. My right glute was stiff and sore, my left foot was aching and my stomach didn’t feel right. And a blocked ear. I felt I was moving extremely slowly, which was borne out when the 4:45, 5:15 and then 5:30 pace groups passed me. I felt like I was trying to run through mud, it was such an effort to move forward.

It only got light after about 90 minutes, and by then we were running along the water and there was a slight breeze. The sun didn’t appear yet but it was humid. The air was misty, which might have been the pollution. I was drinking and drinking, and glad of the frequent aid stations. But there was only water. After a while some aid stations had orange juice in juice boxes with straws; it was a chore having to unwrap the straw, pierce the box and then suck hard. There was no food for a very long time, but at some places they had large bowls of salt which were popular. The half marathoners came by in the other direction.

There were several improvised stages with Indian traditional dance. The Indian Navy band was playing. Other runners were friendly, some saying hullo, and always apologising for bumping. I was amazed, I don’t know why, how the other runners looked just like runners at a marathon anywhere, apart from there being so few women, more runners in bare feet and fewer older runners. A lot of them wore club shirts but the vast majority wore the race shirt, which I also wore although it was a bit too tight. The runners were very enthusiastic about the many race photographers, going right up to them and raising their arms in celebration.

We turned onto a long bridge. I was trying to move a bit faster and to convince myself I didn’t feel as bad as I have felt on other bad running days; in the latter I was successful. 18 kilometres used to be a point at which I could tell if I was going to have a really bad day and at 18 kilometres today  I could still run ok. 

Then at 19 kilometres I went to the toilet, not in itself a great experience, but when I resumed running I just felt so much better. This was a turning point. I picked up the pace and felt very positive. I knew things would be ok after all. A marathon is always hard but I would make it.

Shortly before half way we turned towards Mumbai and came back into urban areas. The first elite men came by in a group followed by the elite women all running alone; they had started at 7.10am. The streets were quite lively with spectators and also people going about their daily lives. And a few mangy dogs. But no cows. We passed lots of shops, some parks and all sorts of buildings. Along much of the route there were groups of police standing guard. I think I enjoyed this bit the best because it was the most Indian part of the route: broken up footpath, tiny shops, dozing dogs, colour, dust, noise.

Masses of marathoners were walking by now, and I had the impression of passing groups of the people who had passed me earlier. Some food appeared at some of the aid stations, mandarins and bananas and biscuits. One time I took some mandarin segments and they were salty. I ate some tiny bananas. Towards the end there were locals handing out what was I’m guessing their own food and many of the aid stations had run out, especially the ones with Kit Kat fingers. So sad.

We came back along the beach we had passed in the dark - it was wide and sandy. I coaxed myself through the 30s, telling myself I could walk a bit each kilometre after 32, but then I got to 32 and made myself run to 33, the same at 33 I made myself run to 34 and so on. I never properly walked! But I was running very slowly. I was having funny sensations in my lower legs as if they might give way, then I had shooting pains in my right foot. My back had eased up. All in all I was pleased with myself. I was also pleased that the sun hadn’t really been an issue until very late on; it was possible to run in the shade most of the time and by the time I had to run in the full sun I was past caring.

The finish was right in front of the architectural extravaganza that is the main railway station, a Mumbai icon. I had made it in 5 hours 18 minutes. I don’t think that was too shabby considering my frame of mind when I went into this. The finish area was crazy busy and I sat on the dirt to recover. It was funny watching the officials trying to tell people where to go and seeing them being ignored. 

Eventually I summoned the strength for the walk back to my hotel. By now the traffic was up to full strength compared with 5am and it was hard work getting through it. I felt self conscious in my shorts and was keen to put on my jeans again. I had a nice chicken biryani for lunch with naan and watermelon juice and attempted a limited amount of sightseeing by walking to the Gateway of India monument and square, which was packed with families in their Sunday best. On the way there I finally saw an Indian cow, just ambling down the street during a break in the traffic.


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