Wednesday, 19 September 2012

It’s all in the family, Our Airtel Hyderabad Marathon experience

The run up to the Hyderabad Marathon (AHM) has been anything but pleasant, the viral attack two weeks before the event all but spoiled the party. AHM is always special, being the first marathon of the season after the Auroville closes the season in mid-February. This event was going to be special for many reasons, unveiling of the Khadi gear and barefoot in a popular event (officially inaugurated in the Pedong run); Debut by daughter and wife’s cousin in their first half-marathon; and being finally able to run in an event with brother (My brother and I have been unsuccessfully trying to run together in a Marathon since Auroville 2011); meeting with Piyush Shah and Bhupendrasingh at Hyderabad to finalise the modalities for the Dandi-Sabarmati run.

In my race against time against the viruses, I took the help of antibiotics for once keeping Gandhian objections aside. The old bones responded slowly but surely. I wanted to run a marathon on the 19th August to test my body’s ability to take the Telengana torture. I came back bruised and limping and it took me two days to recover, but, I came back with the confidence that I will complete the run. I have been trying to keep my daughter motivated through her ups and downs of practice runs so that she does not get overawed by the event and most importantly enjoys her first Half Marathon. I enlisted the help of my friend Sudha Mani from Chennai to chaperone my daughter in her arangetram.

Came Friday and the low feeling which normally accompanies leaving behind Biscuit (my four year old Labrador to the uninitiated) gripped me. My wife delayed the packing till the last so that he does not get agitated. Wife packed enough food stuff for the train and to feed the family at Hyderabad. She collected garden produce for gifts to relatives and friends there. All this required a big shoulder (if I did not want to break my Gandhian principle of engaging a porter). I knew I was not fully fit when I huffed and I puffed with the bags and was short tempered with my wife for over-packing as usual. I must admit that at the end of the trip we came back with empty plastic containers and spoons only to show for the journey. Having run on the day of departure also, I lied down to rest the moment the train arrived and we occupied our berths. We had got lower berths and the two upper berths were vacant. TTE obliged by checking our tickets promptly and leaving us to rest. Even the high volume of chatter in the adjoining bay and high decibel telephonic conversation could not wake me.  We started out nonstop eating (carb-loading abused to the hilt).

The barren landscape on both sides of the track in contrast to the smiling Sunflower patches of last year made for depressing viewing. We had an early dinner (when you are eating continuously, dinner is only opening of the nominated dinner packets) of Idlis and peanut chutney followed by bananas. Sufficient stock of bread, chapattis and bananas left gave the satisfaction of ‘all is well’. Just as it happens in P.G. Wodehouse’s novels (my hero whom I unconsciously ape) when we think ‘all is well’ fate stands at the corner with a cosh to remind us of our infallibility. My steno, who normally sends a message to update me on room number in the rest house and vehicle, called me at 9.30PM. He dropped a bombshell that rest house has not been allotted and that my batch-mate who had promised me the amenities was not traceable. The heavy dinner induced sleep vanished and I got the mobile buzzing. I was in deep trouble, my wife having overheard the conversation and got the lay of the land, glowered at me in the dark. I know wives and daughter’s expectation are because they think ‘Their Hubby/Daddy Strongest’. I had invited my daughter and brother to join me the day before so we could have a family get-together before cracking the AHM. My brother was sacrificing the Army comforts he would be entitled to so as to be with his brother. I immediately called him and asked him to make some alternate arrangement; he was driving from Chandigarh to Delhi to take a flight to Hyderabad the next day. I called up all the people of Railways who I know to see if they could help. Finally, through the resourcefulness of my Deputy who has recently come from Hyderabad, I managed to get a room in a training institute there. It helped that the Director there was my batchmate. The train was late in the morning and was virtually crawling from Vikarabad onwards and I could imagine the frustration my daughter must be having every time she took this train on the way back from Hubli after visiting us. We crossed a cemetery, interestingly, the boundary walls of the cemetery were advertising birth stones. My wife actually observed it and the mockery was not lost on us. We reached Begumpet station a full 45 minutes late and thankfully a vehicle was there to receive us. We crossed a big ditch right outside the Town Planning department mocking it.

The room was very comfortable and we had a good breakfast of Bread, Jam and Green Tea. Chapattis were claimed by Rats in the train and wife had to settle for bread instead. My colleague’s brother and junior of my service was the Deputy Director in the Institute and he got us another room and sent his personal vehicle and driver Krishna to ferry us around. If you get Krishna to drive you around, can one ask for more! As is our usual routine, we started with a visit to the local Vinayak temple (he is my favourite!), I am sure he must have stepped in the previous day night looking at the speed at which the dark clouds facing our accommodation and transport were sorted out. After a visit to my wife’s cousin, we reached the bus stop to pick up our daughter (she was coming from the college after negotiating a bus break down enroute) to go for the bib collection.

Having left the directions to the venue of bib collection in the room, we had a little Hyderabad-darshan in locating the venue. The event was very well organized and it became a virtual Kumbh-mela where people were enthusiastically meeting each other and comparing Facebook and Dailymile profile pictures to the individual in flesh and blood. Good natured ribbing and exaggeration of each other’s running prowess was rampant. I was thankful that the event of running does not have weight categories, otherwise, the praise session surely would have added a few pounds to me. I could visualize how it would have been in the days of yore (without DM and FB) when sadhus met in melas and compared each others spiritual progress. It was overwhelming for me to see so many runners under one roof coming as I do from remote Hubli with virtually no company for running. The dreaded meeting with Bib-Bala, with who some war of words was there recently. Surprisingly, all was well and he met us very enthusiastically. His sister who had come for volunteering for the event was a very interesting personality and we had an interesting discussion on the subject that the people around famous persons like Gandhi do not get the deserved credit for bearing with their idiosyncrasies, my wife was shaking her head vigorously to my amusement.

The arrangements in the hall were very comfortable and each runner was dealt efficiently, I came to understand that people manning the desk were runners themselves. The venue was so comfortable that runners stayed on for the get-together after finishing their work of bib-collection so much so the space got congested for runners coming for bib collection later. There were polite announcements for people to clear out after getting their bibs. I had the honour of being served by Mr. Richard, who I met at the finish line the next day. My daughter and I took photographs in front of Fauza Singh’s poster(exhorting all to ‘Reach for the Sky’), what better place for a debutant than a 100 year old veteran. May her running career be as long and interesting! The interaction with Piyush bhai and Bhupendrasingh was nice. Piyush was egging me to join his effort to go for sub 4 next day. I told him that I respect the killer course of Hyderabad (Vishwas’ DNF of last year and his poignant blog thereafter is fresh in my mind). I told him that my aim would be finish the run and timing will be secondary.
Brother joined us at my wife’s cousin’s place for lunch. He had a minor hiccup in getting the room. We encountered a very heavy shower enroute from the Radisson Hotel, I was praying for a rainy day for the marathon day. We left for the rest house for an early dinner and sleep. We purchased some bread and Nandini low fat milk for dinner. Bananas and home grown Chiku’s were to bring up the rear. We set down to dinner at 7 PM to give enough time for the digestive system so that all clear could be sounded latest by 4AM the next day. My brother and I, the early batch of FM took one room and Wife gave company to our daughter for settling the butterflies in her tummy before her first HM. We didn’t get sleep and talked late into the night. Mosquitoes seemed to take a liking for the new brand of blood from Hubli and Chandigarh. Institute’s hospitality usually includes a Mosquito repellant, but, our room was declared a War-zone for the Mosquitoes. My brother scared me by showing me the gradients of the next day’s run on his laptop. Mosquito’s made sure that we woke up a full one hour before the planned wake up time of 2AM. I settled for an extended spinning session on my Charkha and I had a good discussion on diet, salt intake and Hydration with my kid brother and now a reputed Doctor. I seem to have arrived at practices in line with the generally accepted medical practices of the present times. We hydrated each his brand of poison, me my green tea and he his Gatorade supplemented water. We had two slices of bread and bananas for energy reserves. I stayed away from milk, and my brother did the honours with the left over sachet.

The driver arrived promptly at 4AM, I went to my wife’s room to get the bib strapped on to my shorts (As I have mentioned in accounts of my earlier runs, this act is like the Rajput wives of yore, putting a vermillion mark on the forehead and handing over the weapon of war to their warrior husband before going out to battle). There was a little discussion on how to strap on the timing chip to my foot with no shoes to tie them too. I tied the chip with an elastic band on my right ankle. We left at 4:15 after a snap of my brother and self in battle regalia. I left Sudha Mani’s mobile number with my wife and daughter and passed on my daughter’s bib number to Sudha. Gave last minute pep talk to Shweta to enjoy the run and forget about timing. I cautioned her about overdoing in the beginning. I always become Oxygen deficient due to short breaths due to excitement before the run. I consciously tried to breathe long and hard. I was chattering a lot to hide my excitement and fears.

We reached the start point at 04:35 AM. Even after participating in so many events, the sight of a start point and so many runners never fails to excite me. Met Bobby (my barefoot and bare top compatriot), he in his methodical way had already confirmed with the organizers that they would not object to our doing the Gandhi’s Madurai act during the Marathon. Being the first timed event after going barefoot, we compared notes on how we had attached the timing chip to our feet. We also had a discussion on what we do with the top after the Top-less act. I always tie it around my waist like we used to tie our sweaters in the games period in school. Met Coach Pani Sir, and got his blessings and a warm hug. I recognized lot of people from their Facebook and Dailymile profile pictures and earlier meetings, but, did not approach them for fear of disturbing their pre-race exercises. Race jockies were building up for the approaching start time. Running guru, Rahul Vergheese wowed the audience with 43 marathon credentials. Found an isolated place to empty my tank. Copied a few stretching exercises being taught by Pani Sir to Neera Katwal to keep myself busy. Finally the countdown began and mercifully the Chief Guest was on time unlike last year when we had a 20 minute late start. That and the relentless Sun had a big role in the higher number of casualties in the last year’s AHM. Met Piyush bhai and Bhupendrasingh, my comrades-in- feet for the proposed Dandi Sabarmati run.

We all started off as a long snake with loud shouts of joy to circumambulate the tank bund to approach the first of the flyovers, the Khairatabad one. I was at my chirpy best, talking to Piyush, Bhupendra and not to forget Avnish who would have a great partnership in this run with me. Piyush was running at his stoic best and broke ahead of me. A volunteer was riding along giving advice on conserving energy my running in a group behind a leader as the Geese do. He was also giving us the average speed and was a pleasure to be with. I told him of the pedigree of Piyush and Bhupendra that they would not need such tips considering the mileage and varied terrains under their belt. The weather was humid and I was warming up under my top earlier than my usual 3K back home. I did Gandhi’s Madurai act after the first KM much to the cheering of Avnish. I also met one youngster who was also barefoot and topless. Maybe, it was not such a revolutionary act as I feared. Avnish repeatedly wanted us to catch up with Piyush and Bhupendra who were a few 100 meters ahead of us. I told him I will run to my pace and would not try to catch up with anyone. My brother drew alongside me and we had a good chat. He kept telling me of the landmarks we were crossing as we ran. He has stayed here for more than three years in one of his earlier postings. The policemen were enthusiastically cheering the runners. Morning walkers were looking on and some broke into a run looking at us. Barefoot, Khadi gear and topless meant I was attracting lot of stares. I kept calling out to fellow runners to cheer each other and called out every passing Kilometer mark.

Now a brief diversion to narrate my journey into Khadi gear. I have been trying to assimilate my other passion of spinning and Gandhi into my running. I was also concerned at the hefty sums I used to pay for running shorts (organizers of various races are kind enough in giving us a top after every run!) I collaborated with my local tailor and showed him my running shorts and top to get a design for khadi shorts and top. I copied the head gear of Jagdish Damania. The head gear was a square piece of cloth with tags at each of the four corners. The side which falls on the neck protects it from sun burn. About the top and short I was cautioned about the drag they would become after they get wet in a rain and also the abrasions they may cause. I used the gear for my daily run and found it to be convenient. When my brother came down to Hubli last, he mentioned one day about how he ran top-less and how exhilarating it was. I also used to meet a middle aged man of my vintage who also used to be top less while returning from his morning run. That gave me the courage to go top less. Initially I used to go top less after going about 3 K from my house (warm up was one reason and avoiding known people another!), but, when I found I was accepted, I ran back top less even inside my colony. Running top less makes heat transfer and ventilation very efficient for most part of the body and avoids abrasive contact with cloth. The head gear absorbs sweat and ensures that it does not run into the eyes in addition to protecting from Sun and rain on the bald pate of mine. I also found that my diffidence in switching over to Khadi or going top less was more in my mind than any real concerns of decency. I started meeting people in the eye and won the battle in my heart and mind.

Now that I have got into my digression mode, let me also introduce a character, ‘Kareena’ who has been part of my running lore on Dailymile. I introduced this name for the clouds in one of my daily long run as I set thinking about the teasing behavior of the clouds and they finally sometimes obliging me with some rain. I was reminded of the popular lemonade Ad where actress Kareena used to tease and make a budding cricketer practice hard before rewarding him with lemonade at the end of the session.

Avnish kept ribbing me asking me to invoke Kareena considering the humid weather. Even in the previous AHM, the day before the race was rainy and wet while the race day was sunny and dry. I invoked Kareena with all fervor and after a few Km’s detected some small rain drops. Rains really made running easy and the cool ground was also easier on the barefoot. With increasing rain, runners were feeling the discomfort of the wet shoes. I saw Bobby overtaking us after the Khairatabad flyover, he was running in his zone and I did not get a response from him. Barring a few stretches where there were pebbles on the road, the road was very nice for running barefoot. I cannot but borrow the phrase used by Barefoot Ted who said of Mumbai road’s that they were like a baby’s bum. My term for the smooth roads has been closer home example used by Laloo for Bihar roads of Hema Malini’s cheeks.

My brother and Avnish were running alongside and my brother having exhausted topics for discussion had put on music. I ran looking at the buildings and a few early morning walkers. We were eating up the kilometers and mercifully the rain and absence of Sun were kind to the runners. Good thing about my run was that I did not walk any of the flyovers till then and did not stop for water. I kept thinking about how my daughter would be faring in her first HM. Rain came in a downpour and running became more enjoyable. Kids on the road connected with the sheer joy on our faces while running in the rain. Before long the dreaded ISB flyover arrived. I told my running partners, I think Avnish and my brother that this was the last bastion and if we came off it unscathed the HM was for our asking. The pebbles on the road started bothering me and I climbed on the sidewalk where the designer tiles had protrusions which gave my feet a free acupressure treatment. When the protrusions got painful I jumped back to the road. We were now looking for the entrance to the Hyderabad University campus. I was dreading the dirt stretch and what it would do to my bare feet. Thanks for the rain, the roads inside the campus were swept clean. The crowd was very sparse, I came to know later that we were competing for their affections and cheer with India seniors pummeling NZ cricket team into submission and India Juniors beating traditional rivals Aussies in India’s religion cricket. Few faithfuls who had come to cheer us included the Gurkha guards (who were staying back despite the threats to them) who came out of their shelter to greet you without minding their dress getting drenched. I and Avnish stopped for a water break where I drank one full bottle of Gatorade and drenched my head in cold water to cool down the CPU. The stretch for about a kilometer after KM37 was bad on the soles. It was now like home stretch and Avnish had surged ahead (after asking me if he should wait for me). I told him to go ahead and followed his shining pate, soon we were exiting the HU campus. I remember telling the students at the gate that I would see them next year.

Now I was on the stretch which would take me to the entrance to the Gachi Bowli stadium. These last few kilometers went in a breeze and Avnish was maintaining a constant gap with me. Finally the entrance to the stadium was visible, it was as welcome as the Swarga Vaasal( gates to the heaven, as the Perumal temple’s entrance are called on Vaikuntha Ekadasi). The cheering crowds bring out the reserve energy we never knew existed in each one of us. I took time to tell a few of  the runners who were walking their last stretch to run the last 50-100m as that would give such a good feeling. As I was entering the last 200m, doing a Usain Bolt, I heard my daughter’s voice calling me. It was such a coincidence, my daughter finishing her HM as I was my FM. We ran a few meters hand in hand, I proudly announcing my daughter to the crowd and fellow runners. I could not resist taking off in the last hundred meters to the finish line. My wife was late, I think she had under-estimated my daughter’s and my pace or the Hyderabad traffic. She was not there to see me and my daughter finishing. My brother finished a few minutes after me. My brother-in-law had clocked a creditable 2:38 for his maiden HM. Many people came to cheer us and I basked in the wonderful feeling even forgetting to catch a drink or stretch my limbs. My wife came and we had family photographs. A bunch of school kids had come to popularize tree planting and asked me to plant two saplings. I was given two saplings, but, the guard refused me to take it inside the stadium. I went back and surrendered it to the kid saying that I would collect it when I finally go after refreshments. It was nice to find the girl holding on to the sapling for me and giving it to me when I came out after more than half an hour. The tragedy of this sapling was that I finally forgot it on the rack in my compartment on my return train journey.

As for timing, with Kareena softening the ravages of ageing by one more year, I finished in 4:14 against 4:12 of last year. A nice experience seeing two in the family getting hooked on to the sport! Onward to the Dandi run...