Mumbai, January 2015: 1h 45s achieved!

Email sent to donors who were supporting my run and charity:

Last year they called me “uncle”, this year I was “sir”, perhaps indicative of another year passing. But the supportive energy of the Mumbai crowds and the runners I spoke with was the most uplifting part of the run this year.

The race started with my running mates Gautham and Ravi, but not for long. Ravi was smarting from perceived failure a couple of months earlier in Delhi.  He recorded a personal best there, you see, but that is just not good enough for  a tormented 40-something looking wistfully back at his days at (junior) Wimbledon.  On the other hand, the closest Gauth has come to professional sports is beer in hand at Chelsea games, and yet, here was another example of middle aged resurgence, raring to go.

They left me in their wake as I settled into a fast but not punishing pace, determined to not just get a good time but also have one.  My favourite part of the race since my debut run in Mumbai six years ago has been crossing the Sea Link – the majestic bridge constructed across Mahim Bay and inaugurated in 2009.  (My guitar teacher recalls the endearing story of one of his students, a little boy, crooning Hotel California but with “Sea Link” substituted for “ceiling”, as in “Mirrors on the Sea Link…”.  Kids these days, no sense of rock history).

With astounding foresight for the challenges of the 21st century, the officials commissioning the Sea Link conceived of four lanes in each direction for cars but none for cycles or pedestrians. So the Mumbai marathon is a once in a year opportunity to cross the bay on foot, that too with no motorised sounds, only the glimmer of dawn, the moon, and the drumbeat-like footsteps of the runners for company. Each year I make it a point to look up at the bridge as I run, watching the main and suspender cables form converging and diverging patterns as I move along. Beautiful.

I have a theory that the word “pedestrian” will evolve in parallel with climate change. From something ordinary, average, unexceptional, to a more revered, exalted status.  As in “wow, that was the most brilliant and pedestrian movie I ever saw”.  Or “Wasn’t that just the coolest, most pedestrian party”?  And why not.  After all, being on foot reduces our umm… footprint.  Yes to pedestrian footprints.  No to carbon footprints.  Don’t get me a job as a slogan writer.

But we must move along.  We have a sub-1:45 target to make.  The official pacer for the 1:45 “bus” was a bandana wearing,  flag waiving, stubbled fellow who would shout out words of encouragement: “chalo sir”, “good running sir”.  He took note of my signature heavy breathing and asked kindly if I was okay (the unsaid alternative being, “are you about to collapse, sir”).  The crowds cheered and I would give them a full-throated Punjabi cheer right back, generating another roar in return. I felt they deserved some appreciation for turning up early in the morning, and encouragement to be back next year.

The dreaded Peddar Road hill approached and with it the expectation of seeing family and friends at the usual spot at the top of the hill.  But we need to roll back about an hour as a parallel story was unfolding at home. Meera, Aman and Nandita were stirring in the early hours and a debate postponed from the previous night was reviving.  The key question: who would hand me the nariyal pani (coconut water)? The argument had erupted the previous evening only to be laid to bed for the moment. Now as I approached the hill I wondered who had won the battle.

Short steps, high cadence, gaze straight ahead, arms close to the body. I moved up the hill efficiently enough and at the top saw the group of cheerleaders and in particular Meera, bright yellow coconut water bottle in her extended right hand. I noted the serious look on her face as I approached, and remember thinking – she won the right to hand off, and now really doesn’t want to mess it up. Well it all went as smoothly as a practised relay run and I made a mental note to thank Aman later for yielding to his sister.

One’s mind truly comes into play in the next to final stretch of the race on Marine Drive.  The race feels like it should be over, and the remaining 5k seem interminable. My motivation was flagging half way through that stretch when bandana-man reappeared magically. “Very good sir!”. I told him I needed to get under 1:45 and his confident response was re-assuring “pukka ho jaye ga sir!” (“You will definitely make it!”). Running with bandana-man for a while, and then some mutual pacing with another runner I had befriended, led to a finish in 1:44:23.

You have contributed to my fund raising efforts in the past couple of years, and for that I am very grateful.  This year I raised Rs. 6.2 lakhs ($10,000) exceeding my target by nearly 25%.  The folks at Mumbai Mobile Creches came to see me after the race and expressed their deep gratitude which they wanted passed on to you.  A visit to one of their centres is being planned and you will hear more about how your donations are being utilised.

Thanks again.

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