Before I went to bed on Saturday, I studied the five-hour pace card, which lists the times a runner must complete each kilometre in, and told my brain I had to achieve those. Then, I put it under my pillow and slept, like an optimistic student before the exams.
Like many of those hopefuls, I hadn’t prepared enough. I had run the half here, as well as at other places, and had done one marathon, but I knew Sunday would be a true test of endurance.
At the start line, I was pumped to see runners supporting causes, like beti padhao, beti bachao, Swachh Bharat, organic farming, population control, the importance of trees, even a 10-headed Ravan with a map of India highlighting religious discrimination.
I kept close to my targets most of the first half, my area of comfort. Still, as I crossed the halfway mark, my mind told me, “Idiot, if you had registered for the half, you would be cooling your heels now.” As if to reinforce the point, the elite runners — who had started about an hour-and-a-half after us — cantered past with ease, raising the mental barriers.
But the rising sun also revealed the race’s true challenges, as the mercury rose too, which slowed me down. By 37 km, I was running in direct sunlight, and was drained. Maybe the organisers can consider moving the event from the third Sunday of January to the second, before Mumbai’s brief winter begins to recede. I slowed to a jog, and had to walk most of the remaining distance (in my mind, it felt like I was crawling). I considered running barefoot, as I had before, but didn’t, because I knew it would be difficult to put my shoes back on.
The support system is noteworthy, and not just the staff at the water and aid stations. Residents on the route were out, encouraging runners with biscuits, pain-relief spray, oranges, salt, carbonated drinks for sugar shots. On Peddar Road a man stood with a placard offering ‘Free Hugs.’ And as the amateur marathoners neared the finish line, they were greeted with high-fives by an enthusiastic policeman shouting in Marathi, “Fakta donshe! Fakta donshe! [Only 200 metres left!]” But there were also less pleasant sights, like runners ignoring the large bins near the water stations and throwing containers on the track, putting other runners at risk, and some men at the Sea Link urinating into the sea; maybe it was biological urgency, but it seemed like they wanted to fulfil some juvenile ambition.
As I neared the finish, a t-shirt slogan ahead of me got me revved: ‘There is no finish line.’ Indeed. I’ll be back.