15.01.2006 - 3rd Mumbai Marathon – Lionheart running
|Running through the mega city, 30 degrees hot, the sun burning on my head. Mumbai Marathon indeed is something special.|
|Hello, admirers of India, wintertime runners and hello my running friends,
it indeed is an experience of a very special kind, to run here. During the last few weeks I have been traveling through India and the idea to participate at this event came to me spontaneously. Before Christmas Eve I still was in my no-running winter break, after some 20 marathons in 2005 I had run. Today, 4 weeks later I try the experiment Mumbai Marathon. Yes, very little preparation time, I know. But it has worked out well. Only with a lot of experience und listening to your body one can do that. The hot sun is burning on my head, the black asphalt road is burning hot. No wind, no shade.
It is not hard to see that marathon running in India is still very new. The time measure company comes from Germany, as I find out while registering. I am really lucky to register as one of the last, because my train was late 4 hours the day before the race. Train delays are normal for India. I hardly before deadline 7 p.m. make it to the little Marathon Expo in the World Trade Center, where I am received very friendly. Some 200 foreigners only will take part, and I am glad to be one of them. I patiently join the waiting line for 45 min., which for Indians is not at all possible. But that is India. For 1.200 Rs (23 Euro) I get my number, some pins and an information flyer. For another 600 Rs (12 Euro) I get my little black Champion Chip, which says a flyer I have to tie properly on my shoe. After finishing I will be refunded 500 Rs for giving it back.
Actually, my marathon adventure started 2 days before, in the holy town of Varanasi on the holy river Ganga. Not at all holy my motor rikshaw driver drove through the rough and always too crowded narrow streets and managed to bring me just on time to my train to Mumbai. Well, I made it! I a going for some 30 hours quite comfortable traveling in a sleeper train. And it surprisingly isn’t even full.
Mumbai, the day of the marathon. I get up at 6.45 h after a good sleep. I take a warm shower at my tiny hotel which is possible just in the mornings. My hotel is very close to the start area, in only 10 minutes I am there, deposit the bag with my fresh clothes in one of the provided counters and do some stretching. In India I call it yoga, because indeed it is very similar to it. Today there is a half marathon (21km), which starts at 7.00 a.m., a Senior Citizens Run (5km at 8.15 a.m.), a Wheel Chair Event (3,5 km at 8.20 a.m.) and the big 16,000 people Dream Run (7 km at 9.30 a.m.). All together there are 28,100 registered runners today including a few Bollywood stars. Many run for charity. In the heat of the morning I am sweating already before the start, as I am coming from the cooler North India. The policemen at the other side of the security fence smile and ask if I wanted to push the fence? Foreigners sometimes are funny and do strange things though. I don’t even see many of us, only talk to 2 US-Americans. If one could trust the water supplied? I trust it. Soon we will see, that the water will be given in small closed 0.25L bottles, hygienicly handed over with plastic gloves. There is electrolytes also in plastic cups. Nothing else to drink or eat.
The start correctly is held at 8.00 a.m., India herewith is very punctually. Like all Indian trains always start punctually in the origin. We are crossing a sort of big red carpet, then walk some 500 meters to the real start line, where the official start is held at 8.05 a.m., crossing the beep mats we Europeans runners well know. I am very much looking forward how the spectators will be, if the streets will really be empty of cars and where the course will lead us.
The spectators are waving their arms, very often take pictures of us, and shout. English is not very well known amongst most of the Mumbaikars, but some words amazingly spread around: “Keep going”, “Looking good”, “Keep it up”. Waving arms the Indians do know well in comparison to show feelings like cheering loud or shouting frenetically. The more I like how they are having fun whenever I wave into the crowd or stop for taking a picture.
During the first km I often stop for taking a picture. Slowly the day awakes. Sometimes I jump onto the stone wall where people are sitting, step into a hedge or go over to the other side of the wide road for taking a picture. The road is for 5 hours completely blocked for traffic. Mumbai takes it easy, so to say “shanty”. It is like it is. Many policemen in their typical colonial khaki brown suits are posted in front of the masses of spectators. Their long wooden sticks they of course never use to calm the people.
What is special here? Well, there aren’t as many spectators as a 30 million city would promise. Some 200,000 families are expected to watch us running. Looking into their faces is different from the ones in Europe. They are fascinated, somewhere between highest respect like from a high cast member or a movie celebrity and admiring us, that indeed its possible to run so fast and so far. I find runners in sandals, typically Indian chappals, I see barefoot runners, who certainly not believe in barefoot running. Its more because they don’t have other shoes. Some are running in a sort of shorts looking like underwear. Others, mostly women run in decent long sleeves and long pants. I am passing one runner who is singing mantras. Some modern young Indians have ear plugs in, listening to music. And of course there are runners with their cell phone in hand making a phone call. Modern times. One one s bold head is colorful written “Mumbai Marathon 2006”.
Its typical also for Indians to start much faster than their ability would allow. After only 5km I can see many participants just walking, after km10 they are many many, and after km20 I don’t see many running any more. So many won’t make it to the end, cramps, dehydration. It is just too hot.
The first turning point is at km3. I see the men elite runners group coming, mostly black African runners, then the ladies. I see the masses of half marathon runners with their blue numbers on their last kilometers. At km14 is the second turning point. We are constantly running alongside the quai walls, watching into the misty sea. I can’t see far out. For the fifth time I meet the 2 Americans who run together. After a while with them I slowly go on. A group of 10 runners in blue dresses are constantly singing and shouting and clapping hands, celebrating their 60th association anniversary. In 60 years they still would like to participate here.
Then comes the long hot part, many km in the open sun. No wind, no shade. I see only very few marathoners running, most of them are going alone since the begin. Then comes the third turning point, km23. I am still fine, carefully watching my body and energy level. I always drink water whenever there is and I spill it over my hot head.
For a while I am running behind a young Indian, Abhijeet Singh, reach him and decide to stay with him. He is very sympathetic, speaks perfect English, had turned 30 two days ago and is from Mumbai. “I’ll be under 4?” he is a bit worried – Yes, I calm him, you will easily do it in 3:59 h. Two years ago he went to the peak of Mt. Everest. Running together is much more fun. We are passing several lonely runners and are getting prepared for the hills to come after km27. Its not easy for him. Its his first marathon and he had little preparation. But together we will make it in a fantastic way.
The streets are wide, definitely enough space. Almost everywhere is people standing, sometimes in big groups, sometimes just a few. I look up the buildings and find balconies crowded with waving young and old fans. Wow. I can’t hear so many drums and music bands here. But there are some, sometimes hidden behind the waving crowd. One percussion band really plays good western rhythms and some 10 cheerleader like girl groups spread over the kilometers are doing a good job. I would not have been surprised to find only boy cheerleaders here, because dancing is not typical for Indian girls.
So we are approaching the last few km. The first sponsor boards are being carried away. Less spectators now, and only in the shade, of course. More or less relaxed but quite exhausted we are doing our last km, enjoying the end of that race. We are happy we made it without stopping. 3:51 h is a bombastic time. Bombay-astic.
We are getting a little medal around our necks. And on it goes. I have no chance to stand for a while, just a finisher picture of us two I can take. A guy takes my arm. As a traveler through India I know this grip well. I don’t like it. But in this case I am doing him wrong, as the guy apparently is from the organization committee, dressed in a red suit. He doesn’t speak any English, I don’t know what is going on. I want water. So, its good to have somebody at my side who speaks perfect English. Abhijeet, my friend helps me out: you are first in the Veteran class (aged over 45)! Don’t tell me, seriously? Alright, that’s why. So I am sitting under the hot textile tent next to the price giving stage, completely wet, sweating and without water. And waiting. I want water, please! Do you have showers? No. Slowly I am given some half empty bottles of water. At least something. Soon are coming in No. 2 to No. 4 of the veterans. We are talking and are waiting for the soon to come price giving. Vivek, one of the race officials explains with a very sorry face, that I am the first, but the price will go only to Indian runners. Its alright, so the 25,000 Rs (500 Euro) will find somebody else. Anyway, I just ran for fun, for to take some nice pictures and write a report about this marathon. Slowly my body is recovering and filling up its dried out tanks, as water bottles are coming. I am sweating a lot. I do some yoga stretching. The other four runners try their best to join me, but hardly can stand up. Only Abhijeet can do it, amazingly hungry already. How can he eat now? He is really enjoying his spicy rice curry, the official finishers meal.
After the official veteran winners celebration ceremony Vivek invites me to come up to the stage for a minute. He gives me a large lovely yellow flowers buquet and I salute to the crowd: “Thank you Mumbai I love you, Namaste”. They were great.
Officially there are no massages, but we get a wonderful feet and leg massage, sitting on the plastic chairs in that tent. Thank you. Again and again some young guys come in and ask me for an autograph. Well, such things I haven’t experinced up to now. It’s a bit strange for me, but I like it. Later the owner of my internet place tells me, he knows that I am the real winner and that has seen me on TV. Lionheart in the Indian TV, what an idea. Many guys in the hotel, internet shop, or restaurants around tell me, its unfair to give the price to someone else, just because I m not Indian. I tell them relaxed, its okay. It is your marathon.
After the celebrations Abhijeet and I go to return the Chip, to get back the 500 Rs and get the Finishers Certificate. Unfortunately there is no electricity. So we wait. The strong mid day sun really causes me troubles now. I prefer to wait 45 minutes inside the empty food tent. One of the veteran winners wants to invite me for lunch. How nice. But in this humid heat I still cannot even think of eating. Unfortunately there are no fruits here, just that typically Indian spicy rice curry. I am tired, need a rest, a shower and a bed for 1 hour. After that I will eat a huge papaya. So we say good bye to each other, exchange email addresses and for sure will stay in contact for a long time, my friendly Mumbai running buddy and I.
On my tired feet I slowly walk back to my hotel. What a refreshing cool shower. Then I lay down, let the fan cool my feet and fall asleep. What a day! When I wake up I hear David Bowie singing on the TV oevr my head: “heroes just for one day”. I get goose pimples and softly I nod, folding my hands in front of my head and thanking Shiva for this magnificient experience.
Namaste, greetings from the soul. Salaam Bombay!
Lionheart Erwin Bittel, for a while in the streets of Mumbai, then keeping on traveling.