January 20, 2010

Morning of the Mumbai Marathon, 2010

Turning up on the morning of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon soon becomes a habit if you’ve been living in Mumbai for as long as I’ve been. I ran as a participant in an earlier edition of the Mumbai Marathon but have subsequently chosen to take a train to Fort and walk around and watch others run instead.

I relish the early morning start. Sunlight streaming through the window as the train pauses at each station, a sudden burst of activity as passengers get in and settle around the compartment before it pulls away, the station receding from view, leaving early morning activity on the platforms trailing in its wake. It's no different an energizer than a cup of tea on a cold morning. I never get enough of it.

Each year it is the same. This year it kicked off on 17th January, a Sunday.

Mumbai Marathon is held on a Sunday in the month of January, and starts from Azad Maidan opposite Victoria Terminus in what was once known as Fort because there used to be a fort where Victorian Gothic public buildings now stand. The fort and its ramparts were brought down in the 1860s to make way for building space but the name stuck.

On the morning of the marathon local trains heading into town fill up along the way with participants making their way to the starting line. By half past seven in the morning the place is buzzing with the young, the middle-aged, and the old, men and women, with the electronic media out in full force, anchors reporting live from the venue.

There’s much talk and laughter. Colleagues representing their corporate sponsors co-ordinate their arrivals with those joining them at stations along the way, frantically calling on their cell phones and confirming meeting points.

Outfitted to reflect the causes they’re supporting on their run and/or the companies they work for, groups are easily distinguishable from the others by the colours and designs they’re sporting. Participants hail from varied backgrounds, profess different motives, and have a variety of running options to choose from.

This year the options open were the Marathon (42.196 Kms.), the Half Marathon (21.097 Kms.), the Dream Run (6 kms.), the Senior Citizen’s Run (4.3 Kms.), and the Wheelchair Event (2.5 Kms.).

There’s much excitement in the air. I suspect it is as much because of the promise of a day out on a mild winter morning in Bombay as for the satisfaction from joining hands with others for a cause, and not in the least for the inevitable bragging points to be had from participating in an event that is now recognized as the biggest Marathon in Asia.

Last Sunday the numbers participating in the marathon were reported to exceed 40,000.

Like the Haj is to a faithful Muslim, the Mumbai Marathon is fast turning into an event that one must make it to atleast once in their lifetime. And this was only its seventh edition. It’s an experience to behold when you run with a number stapled to your t-shirt and are cheered on by enthusiastic onlookers who’re there as much to find out what the big fuss is all about as for catching glimpse of Bollywood celebrities.

It’s a complete package. A running picnic no less except maybe to among few others the Sikh family I see each year as they coax the spirited man in turban as he wills his handicapped body forward even as the elderly Sikh man motivates him by holding the chair in front.

It is a moment that threatens to still time.

Elsewhere, for anyone stumbling onto the venue outside the imposing Victoria Terminus, a World Heritage structure, they could be forgiven for mistaking it for a carnival until they spot runners sweating their way past under a strengthening Sun on a humid day, the cheer of bright flowers notwithstanding.

The local trains to Victoria Terminus and Churchgate have fewer passengers on Sundays since much of downtown is home to corporate offices and remains closed on Sundays save private enterprises. Moreover a Sunday event ensures ready participation even if many got back home late Saturday night from attending deadlines at work.

In the days leading upto the Marathon, various NGOs pitch to corporates for sponsorships, making representations to decision makers while the call goes out to office cubicles for employees to sign up for the marathon to run on behalf of chosen NGOs. Typically the corporate or ‘dream run’ lasts 6-7 kilometres. The company commits to the NGO a fixed amount on behalf of each participating employee. It can range from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 7,000, and more.

T-shirts bearing the name of the beneficiary are printed along-with that of the corporate sponsor and employees are flush with enthusiasm, looking forward to the D-day.

It is easy to recognize groups from the colour and design of their t-shirts.

The enterprising among them carry signboards on their run. Soon the atmosphere turns into a mass of causes competing and complementing together.

While some sport their causes, others sport their attitude – I'm so not listening. Either way it livens up the marathon route.

Children are not to be left behind either, balloons et al, lending colour to shadows.

Last week as we made our way to D.N. Road the marathon was winding down to a close by half past ten. Stragglers strove past the finish line. Nearing the finish they couldn’t be bothered to coax their legs into a final sprint, instead walking to the finish.

The elderly sauntered past as they neared the last five hundred metres in their section of the run, talking shop as they walked past, worrying about work back at their offices.

Visitors busied in capturing memories of their outing on camera phones. Along a stretch of D.N. Road onlookers cheering in the shade of umbrellas bearing Kingfisher logos grew fewer, shading their eyes with their hands as they craned their necks out to catch sight of the thinning numbers running past as the event began to wind down.

Open-top buses requisitioned for the event and home to photographers busy clicking away all morning now prepared to move out as the driver took the steps up to clear the open deck of photographers.

An anchor-cameraman duo from a news organization that I could not quite identify from her mike walked back past the bus to where I could hear announcements being made from the stage erected outside Victoria Terminus. Announcement for the prize distribution ceremony was being made when I stepped off the open-top bus.

She was smiling away as I pointed my camera at them. There was cheer in the air.

The Sun was surprisingly fierce for mid-January. A few rested in the shade watching fellow runners go past.

The Marathon Flame burned bright at Flora fountain. Visitors posed by the flame and had their pictures taken. At Flora Fountain the marathon route turned right, onto Veer Nariman Road where a large board under the shade of trees at the turn indicated an alternate route for motorists and the marathon route for the runners.

This year there was much buzz over the changed route for the marathon set to include the 5+ kilometres long cable-stayed bridge over the Arabian Sea.

The Veer Nariman Road, formerly known as Churchgate Street, is named after K. F. Nariman for his role in the protests he waged against the Backbay Reclamation Scheme in the 1920s.

The road runs past the Central Telegraph Office, a solid impression from the Victorian Gothic era constructed in 1874 in the period following Governor Sir Bartle’s Frere’s demolition of the Fort in the 1860s to free up space in the city. Muncherjee Murzban, the Assistant Engineer, was in charge of its construction, building it from W. Paris’ designs.

Secured to a tree by the Central Telegraph Office, a loudspeaker played a FM station, the RJ screaming encouragement between songs to runners filing past the majestic façade.

Intrigued by all the hoopla two employees in uniform stepped out of the Central Telegraph Office and partook of the enthusiasm on the street.

Schoogirls in uniform stepped off the pavement across the road from the entrance to the Bhika Behram Well that was constructed in 1725 by a Parsi gentleman. Their plaits bouncing as they hurried across the road.

Later, we walked past Oval Maidan where players in cricket whites took shine to the ball in preparation for their Sunday match, their backs to the Veer Nariman Road while a batsman took guard at the wicket.

The cricketers were not the only ones oblivious to the runners as they pounded past on the street that mesmerizes in the imposing architecture opposite Churchgate station.

A couple walked past us. The youth sporting the adorable Snoopy from Peanuts lying on his back and contemplating while declaring MR. LAZY, on marathon day!

Note: In the Men’s category, Denis Ndiso from Kenya took the first place in 2:12:34, followed by the Ethiopian marathoner, Siraj Gena, in 2:13:58. Samson Limareng of Kenya was placed third at 2:14:24. The first ten places were taken by Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. The results declared are subject to dope tests and verification.

Related Link(s):

Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, 2010.
NGOs listed for the Mumbai Marathon, 2010.
Mumbai Marathon, 2010, Provisional Race Results.


Sarah Laurence said...

You seem to be making up for lost blogging time - great! I love that child with the balloon especially. The colors are so intense in your part of the world.

In Maine the landscape gets washed out in winter. Thanks for your tips on my blog, but I was already shooting with a good polarizer. Blame shooting directly into the sun with all the ice.

Riot Kitty said...

You are such a good writer, and a good photographer! I love visiting your blog.

Anjuli said...

You always have a way of making me feel like I was right there- with the commentary and the pics- it is the second best thing!! I found myself wanting to cheer on those participants.

I loved seeing the bystanders- and those participating- what a lovely group effort!

Anu said...

Great pics!!! for the last 3 years I have planned to go for the marathon - just to see.. not to participate... but something always comes up.... lets hope i am able to, at least next year...

Paz said...

This is very cool and I can see that many had a good time.


M.Kate said...

It is nice to have a peek of the country that I want to visit so much. Nice visuals everywhere.

Anil P said...

Sarah Laurence: Sure, much backlog to clear :-)

That's excellent. The polariser should help cut on the glare on reflection.

Riot Kitty: Thank you. It's a pleasure to learn that.

Anjuli: Thank you. It's a pleasure to learn you enjoy reading these posts.

Each year the Mumbai Marathon gets bigger.

In the days leading up to the event, registrations for the marathon are completed, registration / entry fees are paid up. Sponsors lined up. Kits arranged, and the like.

Anu: Thank you. You could give it a shot the next year.

Paz: Very much so.

M. Kate: Thank you. The best time to visit India is between November and March, though December up north can be chilly.

radha said...

Mumbai without the crowds, looks so nice and inviting! You took us through the marathon! Great work

charu said...

Anil, as always, an excellent post and superb photographs! (I miss Bombay!)

Darlene said...

Since they have a wheelchair category in the Marathon I guess I could enter providing someone pushed me. ;-)

Nidhi said...

Thank you for taking me right there without having to pay for an airplane ticket.

Ida Nielsen said...

Very interesting! I'd love to run a marathon but I hate running so it's probably never going to happen....

Anil P said...

Radha: Thank you. Yes, reminds me of those early black and white photographs of Bombay, with empty roads.

Charu: Thank you. They say Bombay grows on one once they've lived here.

Darlene: :-)

Nidhi: Thank you.

Ida Nielsen: A marathon would take a lot of commitment. Shorter distances are better options to most.