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A tough day at the office – Mumbai Marathon

India… What an amazingly chaotic place?! I’m guessing that Lorenz and Mandelbrot both visited Bombay (now named Mumbai), as they worked on the basis for chaos theory. You can’t help looking around thinking, “How the hell does everyone get where they’re going??”  And yet, among the madness, there are certainly patterns that allow people to get on with daily life. But within two days, my brain hurt from just being here – so many strange sites, smells in an intense cultural departure for me.

If you can’t walk across the road without being nearly hit by 5 cabs/buses/mopeds, then how do you clear 42km worth of track in one of the most congested cities in the world for Asia’s largest marathon. 37,000 people were to take the streets in the full marathon, half marathon and 15km Dream run. The start times were scattered, but that’s still a lot of people to organise to run through a city of 14 million people. After walking the streets for one day, I had my doubts that they could pull this off safely. But I had been told that the race was well organised and I even met with Shobha, one of the event organisers, with her son and they were confident that everything would run smoothly.

The race start was 7:40am. We’re staying a couple of kms along the race track, so that was pretty convenient and I got there with 10 mins before the start. Daz stayed up near the hotel, at a corner that turned the track around the bay, a strip called Chowpatty. Actually, the course is kinda shaped like a noose, starting at the top, following along till you get to the loop, round the loop then back to the top. I was shocked to walk outside and find the streets empty. No cars in the typically bustling roads, supporters lining the streets as I jogged toward the start. It was pretty impressive to see Mumbai in control of it’s streets. As I got closer to the start, the crowd thickened and I was grabbed by a couple of fellas to appear in their photos. Maybe they mistook me for a “real” runner.. I jumped through a gap and found myself near the start line, but I instantly noticed that something was wrong… There were runners there, but not many. Only about 30, actually. And they all looked fast… Like Kenyan fast. I seemed to be hanging with the elite runners and as I looked around for the rest of the entrants, I was surprised to find there just wasn’t anyone else about. With only about a minute before race start a number of “regular” runners made their way up a side road and stepped in behind the elites. There wasn’t a lot of ceremony, the gun just went off and people were running. I figured that the runners coming up behind were the rest of the greater group and they just weren’t in a rush, so I got myself over the start line and headed into round 3.

It’s kinda weird, but I noticed at the expo the previous day – which was pretty well organised by the way – that I didn’t see loads of serious Indian runners picking up their gear. There were plenty of participants, just not guys I’d reckon on running a 3 – 3:30 marathon. I thought maybe I was just being a tad judgmental, so I didn’t go making any brash statements to the locals. Now here on the track, I noticed it was the same. Apart from the elites, the rest of the runners seemed kinda…well….not cut out for this kind of punishment. They were wearing all sorts of athletic and non-athletic gear. There weren’t loads of runners around me, but the Indians I ran next to had all types of shoes on – including runners, street shoes, leather boots, cricket shoes and even bare feet. They were in assorted tracksuits, work shirts, tennis gear and jeans too!! I ran along trying to work out if I was about to be swamped by the bulk of runners and trying to register that I was running in India..

Within a 10 minutes I hit the first turn and saw Daz on the side of the road… Next to him was a big group of locals in matching whites, all holding up sheets of paper with letters. The red letters were in a line in the order of T, B, O, N, E….!! HAHA! Daz had gotten me a local fan club! He was holding the video camera, but trying not to lose his sh*t at how funny it was… I loved it! All the boys were cheering and I jumped in for a couple of quick pics. I ran down the road laughing and not far later there was a u-turn and I followed the water back to Darren’s position. This time he had another group and they were holding up the letters E, N, O, B, T.. Haha, too funny. I was laughing so much that I couldn’t get the camera out for a photo. 3kms in and I was already all over the place. How great were those guys to get involved. And how awesome of Daz to make up the signs. Best supporter ever!

I was a little worried when I saw some of the competitors slow to a walk after just 3kms. They’d either been running too fast to begin with, or their race plan was to run in short bursts… for 42kms… nuts!

There were plenty of Standard Chartered stages along the way, with groups of supporters cheering and bands playing. The atmosphere was great, but I still thought the runners were much thinner around me than I anticipated. I ran along the bay until I came to a turn some 3kms later that took me into a city area. I had a bit of a chat to a fella name Captain Thako, from the Indian army. He was a good guy and we passed each other a few times along the way. By this time, I started seeing plenty more runners on the other side of the road too, but it seemed these were the half marathoners, who must have started an hour before me, because they were passing 15km. It was a trickle, that turned into a flood and I was happy to see more people out on the road.

Coming up on the 10km mark, I kept my eyes peeled for a sign. I’d done pretty well in eating the right things over the past few days, but it was inevitable the Harry Potter would show up with a Goblet of Fire. I spotted the booths coming down a hill and barrelled straight in. I lost about 4 minutes, but it was worth it for my sanity, haha.

As I ran further through town, I realised that there was just no chance that this many people could have passed me at the beginning of the run. I was doing a pretty decent clip and you tend to know the people who you’ve passed and recognise those that are new in front of you. I just couldn’t figure it out. I was guessing that there were staggered team starts or something. But I took solace in the fact that, no matter what had happened, I was passing people all the time – it’s a big confidence booster over that kind of distance.

I found myself passing around another section of bay, seemingly a good neighbourhood, with plenty of well-wishers on the side of the road. There were loads of drink stops along the route, all with bottled water being handed out. Up to this point I’d been grabbing those with caps on, in some hope that I was being hygienic, but then in this section I grabbed one without. It tasted pretty wrong… It wasn’t bad, just full of isotonic powder. It wasn’t the good kind, but I was pretty hot and knew I was losing a lot of salt through sweat, so I drank as much as I could without gagging. I’ve noticed that there aren’t a lot of bins on the streets, perhaps because they’re afraid of bombs, so I dropped it on the side of the road like everyone else. There were plenty of kids clearing up though, so I didn’t feel like I was adding to the rubbish in the streets.

I ran next to a few more fellas and got photos with them. I gotta say, no one seemed intent on running fast. I passed a few guys with cool slogans on their t-shirts. Things like “Dr. Roy, Born 1932”, “I Will/Can/Must” with the “I” being represented by an Indian flag, plus my personal favourite on an elderly gentleman that said “Hang the corrupt! Wake up India”. Ha! Awesome..

I ran through a section of town that was bustling with foot traffic and street traffic. As I passed through an intersection, I noticed it was just a chain holding back rows of motorbikes, cabs and buses. I ran through and tried to video the madness of the cops dropping this barrier. Basically the chain dropped for about 15 secs and crazed Mumbaik drivers surged forward and flew across the track, trying not to hit each other.. Then, as the next runners came up, the chain was raised again. I guess the control of the roads was as good as it was going to get and as the day wore on, Mumbai was becoming restless with this invasion of their streets.

This city is very hard to get around, so taking a cab to see the whole track would have taken about as long as it did to run, though it would only cost $5. I was pretty much running blindly, so when they told me to u-turn, I u-turned, when they told me to turn left, I veered left. Though I almost got it wrong when they asked me if it was my second loop… “No, my first” I replied. Number 2?, they repeated.. “No, really, number one”, as I jogged by, but they signalled ahead and tried to get me to take the next u-turn anyway. It seemed that this meant you were making the last turn in the loop and heading home. I almost turned, but knew it couldn’t be right, so I repeated that I was on loop 1 and kept heading straight. I passed halfway and an older gentleman told me that the best was yet to come. He said that the bridge was ahead and more scenery. I’d seen this bridge in pictures, but really didn’t understand where it was.

Mumbai is a pretty dirty city. In fact, I think they just clean one building at a time, so it takes about a century to get to clean the first again. It’s deceiving though, because when you get inside some of these places, they’re really quite lovely. Clean and ornate, well set out. The Indians obviously prefer to show off to their guests and friends, rather than the outside world. But when I hit a poorer part of town, with rugged looking gents peering out their bedroom windows with their shirts off, I realised that this city has so many facets and this marathon gives you a little glimpse of all of them. Even further along the track I ran onto a freeway. On one side was another section of water and on the rocks near the shore, very tired souls were picking up washed up rubbish and assessing its usability. On the other side of the freeway was a hillside with a slum sprawled across it. I presumed that the people on the shore belonged to that slum and it reminded me that I was one of the luck few, in a city of so many poor, running a foot race for my amusement, while these masses sifted the wreckage of humanity for something to reduce their hunger.

Looming ahead along the freeway was a beautiful long bridge, the Rajiv Gandhi Sealink, looking reasonably new and solid, suspended with a huge array of cables. As I ran away from the slums and up onto the bridge, I had my moment. In the distance was the city that I’d come from. I’d travelled from the “ritzy” part of town where most tourists spend their time, through the suburbs and far enough out that there was space for slums. Now I was crossing this epic bridge, heading back to the ritz. I was startled by the contrast, even though I’d seen this type of thing before. It saddened me, but made me understand a little more of the depth of this massive city. Everyone was a part of this place and many of the banners that lined the streets to advertise the marathon, exhibited pictures of the marginalised groups that benefitted from the charity around the day’s marathon. The ads said “I will win this marathon” and showed blind men, children from impoverished families and aids sufferers. The marathon is a long lonely battle and I think the ads really captured some of this reality by aligning it with the lonely struggle of so many Mumbai citizens. As I reached the other side of the long sealink (around 2kms is my guess), I felt like I’d seen a little piece of their struggle. I can never understand it, feel it and hopefully I will never know it, but I could see it. These people just get on with life and I observe it, in wonderment at how they can be so brave all of the time.

I thought about the kids in Haiti and the fear they must be experiencing. They must be so scared and so alone. I was running past the 26km mark now and I felt tired, hot and thirsty. Difference was I ran toward a guy who handed me a bottle of water and told me I was doing a great job.  Kids in Haiti could barely find food and here I was in an underprivileged neighbourhood, in a city bursting with people and hardship, being handed water and encouragement. I just didn’t feel worthy. I mean, I know I’m doing a good thing and money being raised from my efforts is going to help these kids….but…well, I just felt like I could never match the sheer fortitude and strength of human spirit it must take to get through their lives. I know this is a lot to talk about in a race report, but it’s the experiences like this that move me when I’m running. Maybe it’s the only time I really process them.

I ran next to an older German man. I knew he was German, because his singlet said that he was part of the German 100 marathon club. His name was Gunther and I’d seen an article in a local newspaper here. Gunther was completing marathon number 191, so he wasn’t too far from the double century. We had a chat in broken English and I bid him good luck. The old warhorse had plenty more go in him and I have no doubt he’ll have clocked 200 within a year or so. Well done Gunther!

I ran back through the city and the fans were waning. So many runners were struggling around me and I approached one guy and asked him how he was going. He said he was ok, but he was looking forward to getting to the end. I asked a couple of leading questions, basically to see what time he’d started. He said 6:45… I asked if that was a special marathon time, like for a team event and he replied no, it was the time everyone started. I told him I kicked off at 7:40 and he laughed and said that I didn’t look much like an elite runner, but that was the elite start. WHAMMO! IIIIDIOT! I’d started an hour later than I needed to for potentially the hottest marathon I’ll do! I seemed to have passed about 1000 other marathon runners, but these were all the 5 hour marathoners, so it made sense that I was passing them. That was a real RunLikeCrazy moment though – as if running 52 marathons isn’t hard enough, I’d decided (inadvertently) to make it harder!

I pushed myself through the city and as I crested a hill, I saw an amazing spectacle unfold. A commotion broke out at one of the drinks stands and as I ran toward it, I could see the volunteers grabbing at a whole lot of little kids who ran this way and that. They were carting off boxes of bottled water! The street kids were robbing the water stop at the 34km mark! Hahaha. I needed a drink, but I guess they needed it more. They were laughing as they ran off and the cops were lazily trying to stop them. No one seemed to really care that much, but I guess the runners behind me were going to see it differently.

At 35 kms I was waiting for the wall. I was struggling to keep pace for a sub 4 hour marathon, but as I looked at my watch, I realised I could still do it. I’d had an extra GU and plenty of Gatorade, carrying an extra strong bottle with me. It was potential suicide to step up the pace now, with the heat and so many marathons ahead of me, but there were no truck tires attached to my ankles and my quads were still driving forward. If last week’s run was anything to go by, this is where it would potentially all go wrong, but… I decided to go for it.

Then as I ran over another small hill through the city streets, a little man popped up next to me. He couldn’t have been more than 18 years old, but he had a spring in his step and he fell into position on my shoulder. I tried to talk to him, but he just smiled and said some incoherent words. I told him my name and he said “6kms, 6kms”. I said, “Ok, Gary it is then. Yes Gary, we have 6kms to go and only 34 mins to get there. Are you thinking what I’m thinking??” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t, but he kept smiling and running next to me, so we pushed on together. We hit the original bay road, called Chowpatty and in the distance, I could see the UFO shaped tower above the Ambassador Hotel, the one next to mine. That was the street we’d need to turn down to get to CST junction and the finish line.

There were still plenty of spectators down here and the music was blaring. Gary and I powered on and when I stopped to grab a drink, he stopped, when he slowed to grab one further along, I found myself looking back, trying not to leave him behind. This is dangerous, as it’s a one man race, so in the later stages you need to focus on getting yourself home. You can’t stop for anyone. But he was up next to me again pretty quickly and we kept plowing along. As we ran side by side, I think the spectators really took a liking to us, because they were shouting more loudly and cheering the two of us on. I realised that this was a bit of a statement, that I was a bulky white guy, running next to one of their slim local boys. To anyone on the side of the track, we looked like team mates, striving to pull each other through to the end. And right then, that’s exactly what we were. I kept pushing because I knew he’d stay with me and he kept on my shoulder, because he knew it’d get him to the end.

I kept checking my watch and time was running out. We passed 41km mark and I looked over to Gazza and said – “Mate, we’re too close to the line here, we need to go under 5 mins.. You got anything left??” He just looked back and said, “1km, 1km”.  I grinned, “That’s right old mate. Let’s get this done”. And as I dropped a gear and increased the pace, I could feel him push on harder too. We were going quicker than I had for the whole run, but it felt good and I was running with a new friend. As we ran toward the chute, the crowd at the sides were going ballistic. We kept passing runners who were ready to pass out, but we stayed in step and came up to the finish line with only a minute to spare – 3:58.44!

I was pumped! Daz was there and he’d roped another group of fellas to do the TBone right on the finish line for me. God bless Daz, what a hero. I got some photos and thanked Gaz for his stellar performance to get me home. He said his name was Laxmann and he’d enjoyed running with me.. Well, Gary Laxmann, you’re a champ and it was an honour to run with you too!

I was pretty stuffed after that. I went to the Standard Chartered tent and found the lovely Shobha and her son. They introduced me to some other runners and tried to get me to eat, but I was spent and all I wanted to do was lie down.

We headed back to the hotel and one more crazy thing happened. As we hit reached the road that acted as part of the track in the last 1km, it hit 12:30. That was it. They removed all the barriers and allowed the cars, buses and motorbikes back into the street. But there were still runners coming, so as the runners moved to the left of the road, the taxis veered all around them and tried not to hit them. They were even honking at them! I couldn’t believe it, but the Mumbai Marathon was over and the city needed its roads back.

What a mad and exciting place!? I am happy I came. I am honoured to have been included.  I wish only that I’d started earlier, but maybe my experience would not have been so full.

Thanks for having us India. I hope I’ll get back someday soon and learn more about your insanely interesting country.

Dubai Marathon on Friday. Canary Islands Marathon on Sunday. This is going to be an intense week.

You’re all champions!

TB

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5 comments

  1. T-Bone, Daz,
    Alex here – Daz’s Russian trainee back from Melbourne: What a encouragement for some one like me who is on his way to get ready for September marathon in Moscow. Over 3 weeks now and I haven’t droped out. February – my first 10 km. Press on gues, would love to run (and party) with you in my home town!

  2. Hi TB,
    I’m an Indian and i could totally relate (and even visualize) what you would have gone through. Not just because i’ve been to Mumbai many a times, also because i love running.
    I’m glad you covered India in your 52-52 and happy that you had a great experience to take back with you and cherish for some time.
    What you’re doing is neat. A selfless act (well you do get something from anything you do after all!) indeed and that’s very commendable. God give you strength. Kudos to you!

    Take care and i’m sure you’ll beat the remaining 49 at ease!

    Love and Regards,
    Navin Sadarangani

  3. By the way, i just noticed you mentioned Dr.Roy in your column. By the way, that was his 100th marathon when you passed by him. For a man who only ran his first marathon at age 52 (and is now 75), he too has achieved quite a feat i’d reckon.

  4. very entertaining read….make sure u turn this into a book….allb the best for tomorrow and Sunday….shalom

  5. Maaan ! I’ve remembered about your blog , and reading the “after Tiberias” post and came by … Seems like the work day , or at least the half of it is lost, cos there is no way I’ll stop reading now. I’m really glad u and Dazz had a good time in Israel , and I’ve to congrat u both for this reading in quite amazing. Really – just like an adventure book! Keep up having a great time and great runs. Hopefully the next runs are going to be cooler !
    P.S. How’s Duzz doing ? Has he picked a marathon for himself , by now ?

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