A mind-blowing 8,000-plus runners swarmed through the city at the first-ever Vodafone Coimbatore Marathon 2013.

A red T-shirt over her sari and barefoot, A. Savithri Devi, 59, runs at a fine pace. Adjusting her speed to keep abreast, she says this is her first marathon. She walks regularly to Thiruvannamalai, and even today, she is treating this marathon as a pilgrimage. “I am chanting Om Namah Shivaya to myself, just like I do when I go on my pilgrimage,” she says.

Accompanying Savithri is her colleague from GKNM, Shakuntala, 56. “How could we not take part in the marathon? It is for the CCF, which we are all a part of.” It is her maiden marathon too. Both wish they had signed up for the 10K run.

The energy is astounding at the Vodafone Coimbatore Marathon 2013. A wave of red surges ahead. Whenever the runners slacken, NCC cadets stationed at intervals shout out encouragement and applaud. The chenda melam plays near the Masonic Hospital and a school band at the other end of Race Course. There are stations handing out water and electrol. There is immense satisfaction in drinking half the water and pouring the rest over our heads like the ‘real marathoners’ do, says a first timer.

The 21.1K runners have been flagged off first, followed by the 10K ones. Now the 5K ones can’t wait to get off. Dongri David, RJ with Radio City, keeps up the enthusiasm with jokes, instructions and music. It is hard not to break into dance to Ethirneechal adi, Kolaveri and Appadi podu or Badtameez dil that play on the loudspeakers. Every now and then, an anxious mom gets on stage to make an announcement for her missing kid. Another time a student comes up saying he has lost his teacher!

Smart phones and tablets are on overdrive as friends, family and colleagues pose for photographs. Some serious types jump up and down, flex their toes and do bends and stretches to warm up. Some others look a bit concerned, wondering if they have bitten off more than they can chew.

At last, the countdown begins and off we go. Thud, thud, thud, thud… DSP, KG Theatre, Masonic Hospital, Thomas Park… we pass familiar landmarks. By now there is a corresponding thud, thud, thud inside the head too. We exchange smiles with total strangers, wave at drivers of buses as they stop to let us pass and look in smug superiority at those in cars who are not running.

We also wish someone would give us a lift for the rest of the way. But that’s not true as big boards with stirring messages urge us not to give up. As we near the finish line, bus drivers honk loudly to cheer us on…we run, and run and then run some more till blessed VOC Park swims into vision.

We are home. We are marathoners. We can’t wait for Coimbatore Marathon 2014.

RUNNERS’-SPEAK

Aaravamudhan walks tiredly with his physical director Senthil Kumar for breakfast after the 5K run. He has completed it in 45 minutes. The Class VI student of C.S. Academy is here with 70 of his schoolmates. “I’ve been training them for a month and they ran as a team,” says Senthil. Teachers took part in the event too, one of them in the half marathon.

* Software engineer Sridhar Raman from Bangalore has run the half marathon in 2 hours 25 minutes. “I loved the experience. It was very well managed, especially the food and aid stations. I also loved running in the Race Course and Forest College stretches.”

Joining him was his father Raman for who this was the first marathon ever.

* Engineer Anitha Sampath from Bangalore finished the 21.1K in 2 hours 27 minutes. Her only suggestion was that markers be placed every km.

* Half-marathoners Sridhar Reddy and Nandagopal S. of Chennai Runners loved the loop after 10 km (in Race Course). Ashic Philip took part in the 10K and dedicated it to his fiancé Saumya.

* The loudest applause was reserved for music teacher and frequent marathoner Madhumitha Chandrashekhar from Chennai. She came in last in the 21.1K. “It was just not my day. At the four-km line, I was gasping for breath. I was just not enjoying myself. At the 14-km line, I almost thought of giving up. Cyclists Sundar, Rajendran and Deepak Samuel egged me through to the finish line. It was thrilling to receive a standing ovation.”

TEAM WORK

CCF, Coimbatore Runners and event management company Tango Productions, Chennai, worked on the Marathon for 11 months. Almost all marathons are associated with charities, and so the trustees of CCF thought of this event. Since over 50 per cent of cancers are lifestyle-related, they thought the run would promote a healthy lifestyle. The original plan was an event with 5,000 runners but the numbers swelled, says CCF trustee Divya Chandran. The organisers of the Chennai, Auroville and Hyderabad Marathons supported us, she says. Chennai Runners came four days before to help. On Monday morning, the running route was clean again, all the paper cups having been removed, thanks to RAAC and Coimbatore Corporation.

WHAT THE ORGANISERS SAY

Ramesh Ponnuswami of Coimbatore Runners, race director of the Marathon We set out to deliver an event that would raise awareness about CCF and put Coimbatore on the running calendar. The feedback is excellent — people want to be in Coimbatore the first Sunday of October every year! This event had something for everyone — from the winner to the first-time finisher, all had a great time.

Divya Chandran, CCF Over 8,000 runners in an inaugural event is unheard of. Sponsors and volunteers pitched in. So did spectators and well-wishers along the race route. As an organiser, it was gratifying to hear the participants already making plans for next year.

T. Balaji, managing trustee, CCF We are committed to serving the community by raising awareness and enhancing the life of those with cancer. Coimbatore has overwhelmed us with the response. We feel we have brought an event of international standards to the city.

FOOD COURT

The food served to the marathoners was sponsored by Senthil Group of Companies and catered by Madhampatty Thangavelu Hospitality. Nearly 9,000 people were served idli, vadai and pongal, with chutney and sambar, and coffee. Thirty-five counters were manned by 200 staff. The food (22,000 idlis, 25,000 vadais and pongal made using 400 kg of rice) was cooked in the main kitchen and transported to Nehru Stadium, in batches every half-hour. The coffee (500 litres) was made fresh at the stadium. “We put in place the counters by one a.m. on Sunday morning and sent out the first batch of food at 6.30 a.m.,” says T. Rangaraj of Madhampatty Thangavelu Hospitality. This was also the catering firm’s effort at contributing to a social cause. “We pared down prices to the minimum,” he says.