Thursday, 5 September 2013

Another Roller Coaster ride

I don’t know why Hyderabad Marathon reminds me about school re-opening after the summer vacations. About a few weeks before the event, the long break in the running season after the curtains fall on Auroville, the running alone gets boring and becomes increasingly difficult to maintain running discipline. Then there is the anticipation of comparing notes with other runners. Not to undermine the other attractions of the AHM, the fact that it’s a first of the season after a long break after Auroville does contribute to its popularity.

            There was a minor scare of my not being granted station leave for the weekend, thanks to a chivalrous lady colleague sacrificing her being home for the weekend, accompanied by my trusted aide and abettor (read wife), we boarded the train at 4 PM on Friday. This time my daughter and brother had backed off, the former due to her exams and poor training and the latter because of his professional engagements. My brother-in-law, Sudarshan, just one HM old from last years HM at the same venue was there to give company.

            The journey was quite uneventful, but, for a family who joined us at Bellary. The child was repeatedly asking for her Nanima and the mother was patiently replying the child in a heavily accented English and chaste Telugu alternately. We were treated to bedtime  stories of the Monkey and the Crocodile and the Lion and the Mouse. The patience of the lady and her skill in diverting the child without getting angry really stayed in my mind. I was able to see the child only the next day at the Begumpet station. Rest of the journey was uninterrupted hogging, the star this time was the Dates and Banana Vegan cake and a close cousin of Thepla (Methi parathas). Train reached on time at Begumpet, the journey from Lingampalli onwards was torturous with frequent stoppages, our hearts went out to our daughter thinking of the ordeal she must be having in visiting us.

            This time I had not sought help for local transport from my railway colleagues and I was not upto getting fleeced by the local auto/taxi-wallahs. My wife concurred and the long wait for the MMTS train to Secunderabad started. The enquiry counter had a cardboard with message that next MMTS to Secunderabad at 6:30. It was a pleasant sight to find morning walkers on the platform at Begumpet fully dressed with sneakers and all. Indian Railways could think of introducing a monthly ticket for walkers. The MMTS arrived at 6:50, not before the Sun had greeted us at 6:30 sizing me up for the next day’s encounter. I knew I would be no match to the Sun on the dreaded flyovers in the AHM, I sent out a silent wish to Kareena (for the uninitiated, the reference to Kareena symbolizes clouds referring to a lemonade advertisement where she teases the sportsman to perform better and rewards him with a cool drink in the end) to come to our rescue the next day. We reached Secunderabad and did a long trudge to the rest-house, I was trusting my memory and wife was dreading if I get it wrong. We had a date with our daughter at Alankrita for the breakfast. We had to tie up with my bro-in-law (Sudarshan, who was running the HM the next day) and go with his family for the breakfast. My daughter, not on Carbo-loading the previous day, had already given me two calls to find out if I had started. She reached the joint and was waiting for us. The breakfast was fabulous (at Rs. 180/- it better be) and my daughter guided us with the air of a regular and gave me expert advice on proscribed items in keeping with my Vegan vrata! We stayed till the breakfast closing hours, 11 AM.

            Breakfast done and dusted, daughter got back to college for her exam-preparation and we started for bib-collection. On the way, Sudarshan dropped his wife and daughter home and us at the Expo. He collected his bib and left for office, promising to return in 3-4 hours. We were left to socialize and bask in peers praise. This is the best part of the event for me. I love spending time with runners (I don’t mind the handsome praise, deserved or not!). Exchanged notes with Bib-Bala and Selvanayagan Sir for the plans for the Navagraha run (a 4 day run to cover all navagraha sthalas during the end of September). Met Roshni and her band of runners, they are so humble and respectful! Loved reminiscing about the Pedong run. Met Venkatramani Pitchumani (my Vegan guru), who was busy briefing his pacers. Bhupendrasingh (Dandi run mate) was to be driving the 5:30 bus. There were comfortable chairs and clean urinals. They had priced drinking water at Rs. 30/- per bottle (the Gandhian in me preferred to dehydrate, wife brought a bottle which I studiously avoided). My wife, however, said that foodstuff was reasonably priced compared to the previous year’s venue (I must caution that our definition of reasonable vary widely like the different poverty line estimates of the GoI!). I was cursing myself for not bringing water from home.

            We returned home by 5 PM and I was enquiring about how to reach the Vegan dinner venue, we kept talking over boiled salted groundnuts (we had picked this up on our way back from Alankrita from a road-side vendor) and it was too late for leaving for dinner. After a sumptuous ldinner of Rice, Sambar and vegetable at our genial hosts, we made a plan for transport by Dot-cabs the next day. The first vehicle was to drop me at the start point at 4:30 AM and my wife to her cousin’s place before picking him up for his later HM start. Another vehicle was booked to pick up my wife for the finish point and take us back home after the run. This seemed the most economical transport option (I was reminded of the travelling salesman problem which we studied in OR!). We took a bus to the station and walked to the rest house. We told the attendant of the early vacation next day. He was not impressed with my marathon boast!

            Plan was to turn in early. I was tossing and turning and got two official calls, I don’t know when I slept. I woke up befor the 2 AM alarm and got the hot water for green tea going. I had an extended spinning session. My wife woke at 3:30 and started packing. I managed to tuck in two bananas, two Chiku (sappota from our garden in Hubli) and some green tea. I went easy on the hydration this time, knowing that there would be aid stations every 2K (more so because of the request from the organizers not to pee on the way, two urinals for the FM is miserly!). I tucked in the green tea leaves and a Date in my mouth and put one in my pocket for the road. Now the usual tension time started, whether the vehicle will come in time, will he find the place? Not to mention the lurking fear of my wife having to travel alone from the start point to her cousin’s place! The rest house vacated, we waited for the taxi. My wife fed the rest house stray a Nutri choice biscuit and we earned a few more vigorous wags of its tail. The driver was middle aged and I made small conversation about his routine. I told in his hearing that I would guide my wife on phone till she reaches home (I felt quite bad about having done all this in retrospect!). After getting down at the NTR memorial, I called my wife and she did not pick her phone and I panicked. I then rang the driver and asked him to ask my wife to call me. To cut the long story short, she reached safely.

I met a lot of friends, my different attire attracting people to me in droves. I met Delhi Rommel, Kripa Sagar, the Bib-Bala, Selva Sir. On meeting the Pune runners, I told them that I would visit Pune in November, by which time my brother would have reached there and that we should plan a long run then. I met Romel’s young daughter who was bright and early and all excited about her 5K run. I joined the long queue outside the urinals, only two each for the ladies and Gents. I met my friend Srinath Nagappa there. Bladder emptied, I returned to the group following the Marathon Jockey’s attempts at waking up the runners. The Bangalore team of runners was training separately, now they would start qualifying for sharing special status with the elite runners, considering the number of podium finishes they end up with. The biggest cheer went for the 159 runners from the Nat’l Police Academy.

            The run started with a muted and curtailed countdown from 5. I stood behind the pack in the front to avoid being stamped on my bare feet. I tried to get some cheering going. The breeze from the lake and the smooth road was very pleasant. The second half of the circumambulation around the lake was harsh on the soles and it was dark too. I took off my top and was greeted with a loud cheer for it. I was running strongly and completed the loop before the HM started, meant, there was a good crowd to cheer us when I crossed the start point.

            Soon I was climbing the first of the many flyovers this route is notorious for. Somehow, the tempo was not there and there was not much of chatter among the runners, or so I felt. The volunteers at the aid stations were very helpful and gave me a rousing welcome. Presently the HM speed demons, Bobby and KcPani Sir crossed me. It was nice to run along with them for some time. I must mention the good time I shared while running along and exchanging notes with Dharmendra Kumar.

            There was no sign of rain and the sweat had become condensed indicating need for hydration, but, I was going easy on fluid intake considering the lack of Urinals enroute. I had the company of the Police academy trainer for the most difficult stretch, the flyover at KM28 followed by the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) campus. We had interesting discussion on how keen the probationers are under the guidance of his boss who is an avid runner himself. This is the toughest stretch and becomes more difficult because there very few people to cheer. It was at KM 31 that he pointed out that we are on course for a sub-4 as we had done 31KM in 2:51. I had seen experienced the course earlier and kept my fingers and toes crossed. The Sun was up and the soles were screaming. The thighs were threatening to go on a strike. I just wanted to finish with a smile and strongly. The line up of girls and boys with their teacher conducting their symphony of clapping for the runners was very heart warming.

            Previous day I had read that the CM of AP had directed the municipal authorities to fill up potholes. Fill up they seem to have done with a vengeance, there was more tar coated jelly scattered around the pothole than in it. Only a barefoot runner knows how painful it becomes to negotiate a road with scattered jelly. In fact it is easier to negotiate a pothole even if it means changing course frequently. In this case the way to hell was definitely paved with good intentions by the CM/AP. The dreaded route inside the HCU campus which was a katcha road last time had a freshly laid tar-road, but, as I said earlier, a freshly laid tar road is quite painful. Coming as it did between KM 30 and 38, it was the toughest on my soles and I had to take lot of walking breaks. The guards and students were very enthusiastic in their cheering.
I find the run inside the stadium to be the best part, the runners having finished HM and faster FM finishers really give a rousing welcome to the finishers. I finished strongly, but, my legs were really hurting. I was told I finished in 4:03, I could not see the time on the mobile due to the glare. My wife had again missed my grand entry. I seem to be faster than the Dot-cab in Hyderabad traffic. Her ambition of taking my photo on the home stretch will have to wait one more year.

This marathon reminds of a visit to Tirupati in many ways, the last straw on the camels back is the organizers expecting the finishers to climb the steps to get the snacks. I sincerely suggest that the organizers could consider keeping the snack counters along with where drinks counters are presently there, unless, it is some rite of passage to qualify for the Tirupati laddoo!  After all the effort, I found that except the fruit juice, there wasn’t anything which I could have had from that snack box to fit my Vegan regimen. However tired one gets after AHM, before one leaves the stadium, we make a silent promise to come back next year. The timings which came two days later showed that I had finished in 4:04:19. Maybe, I have to come next year and crack the 4 hour barrier.

A good Sambar rice meal after a hot water bath was what the doctor ordered. For two hours after that I was dead to the world, the various aches and pains were gone when I woke up. Now I can understand why people who do manual labour need no sleeping pill and sleep like a baby! We left early for the station to discount for the reduced frequency of buses on Sunday evening and in case the T-stir affected MMTS running should disrupt our travel plan. Heavy downpour enroute meant wife and self had to do a Nargis-Raj Kapoor scene on the way from the bus stand to the Secunderabad station. We immediately got a MMTS to Kacheguda which meant a solid one hour plus at Kacheguda station. We used the time sitting on a bench eating groundnuts and drying ourself. I guess romantic outings have a new meaning post 50!
Watch out for the Hubli passenger’s exploits on the Navagraha run during last week of September!