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21 January 2007

Mumbai Marathon 2007

Mumbai Marathon 2007. Image source: Tata Interactive Systems

Image source: Tata Interactive Systems

I DID IT. I ran today's Mumbai Marathon. Well, I did not actually run the entire 21 kilometers comprising the half marathon, but the twelve kilometers that I managed in two hours and fifteen minutes is the longest distance that I have ever run since junior high school. And this is a personal benchmark that I will never forget or ignore.

Organized by Standard Chartered Bank, the Mumbai Marathon was meant to provide Indians (and non-Indians) with an opportunity to run for a cause. Now in its fourth year, the event has shown statistical growth (close to 30,000 athletes and amateurs versus 25,000 last year) that strengthens its claim as Asia's largest marathon. It has attracted a number of NGOs supporting a variety of causes, from awareness for the disabled to nature conservation.

My employer pledged to run for the cause of child rights. Fifteen of us, including the managing director, showed up this morning, and we started the race along the rim of the Arabian Sea. I vowed to savor the whole event as it might be my last race in India (or my last one ever, period). Initially, we planned to walk the miles, but as the race progressed, I decided to join the fervid running crowds and meet my colleagues elsewhere after the race.

When I made my way up a bridge, an elderly couple carried a small piece of paper scribbled with “You can do it”.And run I did, albeit slowly. I did not physically prepare for the marathon, so I took turns walking and running—and savoring Mumbai’s morning streetscapes. The views from the boulevards were stunning! Façades I had only seen in a passing car were now in clear focus under the shimmering light of the rising sun. There’s the Victoria Terminus! And here, the Hilton Towers! Over there is the seaboard, and beyond the sea, the Malabar Hill skyline! And did I tell you about the Art Déco buildings of Marine Drive and the Parsi houses of Peddar Road?

But more impressive was the show of public spirit. Volunteers cheered us on from the sidewalk with placards, bottled water, candies, and music. Children and their parents waved from balconies. Around me were screams of delight whenever friends met each other along the way. When I made my way up a bridge, an elderly couple carried a small piece of paper scribbled with “You can do it”. I paused and thanked them. “I think I can do it,” I smiled back.

On two separate occasions, strangers asked where I came from. “Shopper’s Stop”, I replied without missing a beat. Of course I knew they were referring to my nationality, as there were lots of non-Indians running. But I wanted to make a plug for my company’s participation. There were groups of people running, or walking, together in bright shirts blazoning their organizations. Several teams even carried huge banners. I passed by a man loudly asking on his mobile phone where the rest of his colleagues were.

As we approached the eight-kilometer mark, the professional long-distance athletes began to emerge on the other lane. Spectators and runners began cheering wildly. By now my steps were getting wobbly, my right sole feeling raw. But the sight of those athletes who run through pain made me push harder. I knew I must not give up, and I was going to make it through another two kilometers.

When my colleagues made their way past Hajji Ali Juice Centre, we all knew we must stop: it was the halfway mark of the marathon. I was ahead of them, so I detoured and sped up to meet them. Congratulating each other, we paused for photos and cool fruit drinks. We did it.

And I did it. I ran a marathon.

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