Sunday, 8 December 2013

Margazhi Utsavam of the running kind

This year due to insufficient practice for her and probable clash of an official function, we almost were to miss it. As a compromise we decided to take the later train to Chennai with half a day in Bangalore. Bala and his family stepped in to take care of us and Bala helped with the logistics of correcting errors in registration (In my own absent minded way I had registered twice in my Daughter’s name!) and collecting our running kits for us.


After a leisurely and sumptuous breakfast and lunch at my brother-in-law’s, we set off for the train journey from Bangalore to Chennai. My daughter agreed to travel second class in Brindavan Express to humour me. I have had very fond memories of travel by Brindavan of my childhood days of non-stop eating and looking out of the window. Our seats were nearer the toilets and despite cleaning before start, it was stinking. I just hoped with the breeze of the moving train, things would get better.  The train got very crowded as the compartment was overtaken by commuters, sadly many of them Railway staff, who were returning after half day work on Saturday. We had a Gujrati couple with two young kids for company on the other side. They were indulging in non-stop eating and we were amazed at the young kid’s performance. Hearty meal at home meant no luck for the pantry staff with us. I really admired their patience and persistence in weaving through the crowded aisles tempting the prospective customers in their distinctive sales pitch. Tribute to our self control railway got revenue of one cup of tea from the two of us (age and the fear of interfering with the digestive system before the run next day kept us sober!). In between all this, the brave TTE was able to check the tickets and at least clear the reserved seats off the commuters. Bulk of the crowd got down at Bangarpet and we breathed a sigh of relief. I mechanically impressed my daughter with my knowledge of the section prompting her with the next station and the timing (I have been an officer of this division for almost 5 years even if a decade back!). The train was running to time and the brief stoppages at the stations were a relief from the scenery and some change in our companions.

The kid took a nap from his exertions of non stop hogging and woke up to further bouts of raiding the pantries of the Brindavan Express. His appreciation of the Railway catering warmed the cockles my railway heart. After running perfectly, the train lost at the entrance to Chennai station and we were worried about getting the MRTS connection to Bala’s place. Bala had been all through the afternoon and keeping track of our progress and we were afraid of disturbing them too late in the night. After an agonizing half an hour’s wait at Park station, where we were assured by the waiting crowd of regulars that a train would come andeeing Murphy’s law in operation (nearly three trains in the opposite direction and many more on the adjoining suburban line) we got the last service. I alerted Bala two stations before and he reached in time to pick us up on his bike (not wanting to disturb Prabhu, his trusted driver, from his Sunday afternoon off). We rode triples on the bike with our

luggage and Bala likened the trip to the scooter ride of film ‘Swades’. We polished off quite a few idlis for dinner, smilingly served by Shanti. Bala updated us on his bib-distribution adventures during the day. He was not running and the entire family, including Prabhu, were volunteering in the next days run. Hats off to the family and their spirit of service! The kids had slept and we also turned in early setting alarm for 3 AM to meet the 4 AM start prescribed by Bala. I had forgotten my spinning wheel at Bangalore, which i spin while consuming morning green tea before the run for hydration. I was feeling superstitious about the run due to this. We got ready and dropped by Prabhu to the nearest point from where we had to walk about half a Km, the gravelly and scuffed up road to the CPT ground, the start point this year, were testing my soles. I was feeling a little apprehensive as this could be the finishing stretch of the run too!

Leavinf my daughter to wait for her later start of half marathon, I reached the start point. The party on stage, ably assisted by Bala, were working up the runners into a frenzy after the trainer had put us through warm up routine. Met lot of runner friends and meeting with Parag from Pune who is a good artist and barefoot runner was special. I was not feeling much excitement and was going through the motions. I was hopeful that the running in the group would get me going! The humidity was tempting me to prepone doing the Gandhi act of taking off my top shirt at the start itself (Ram Sir did his bit by egging me on!). I desisted, but, the shirt came off in the first km itself. On my way back after the turning we crossed the waiting HM runners. I tried to spot my daughter, but, did not spot her. She later told me that someone was telling her about my strange attire and barefoot running feats and that he sees me at all major events. She trumped him by saying that she was my daughter. It’s a great feeling to be a hero to your daughter (My Daddy strongest!). The movement and gap between runners eased the suffocation, but, just a bit. A brief spell of drizzle did give a good relief, I remember calling it the ‘Amma Neer’. A much bigger and heavier shower awaited us later. The rain made it very pleasant to run. The people in shoes had problems of wet wear, I was once thankful for my bare feet. I could run splashing in the puddles! My unconventional attire and bare feet were as usual getting the, by now, familiar reactions. I remember a bunch of Ayyappa devotees giving me a rousing catcall taking me as their own. I told them don’t mock my passion or else I would be provoked to mock their faith, to each his own. I saw a clock outside a church near KM8 show 51 mts past five, I was unusually slow.  By now I was feeding off the energy from passing of cheers and high fives from spectators and colleague runners. Running on Marina particularly on the rain swept morning was a divine experience. I had the company of Surya Nandhan Raj, who gave me silent company and paced me beautifully. We ran together for about the first half and it was a wonderful experience. One incident stands out in the run on Marina, on my way back a yound girl came from the opposite side with her hand raised asking me to give her a high five! This can only happen with people high on endorphins, imagine a young girl giving a high five to a middle aged half naked man on Marina on a busy Sunday in our own Singara Chennai! She looked like the girl in the Cadbury Ad and seemed full of spirits, hope she had a good run. I got lot of return cheer and high fives from runners in the opposite direction. I saw my daughter running strongly in the opposite direction and we exchanged a loud cheer! But, I seemed to be running very mechanically and not exerting myself, maybe, the novelty of the Chennai marathon is wearing off for me.

            Argument much like the famous Coffee-Toffee frequently happen between me and colleague runners about my being the Hubli Passenger or an Express. In their eagerness to praise my speed they call me the Express (not that I am really Express pace, more like Balwinder Sandhu!), but, for me, my calling myself Passenger is not about speed alone. To me a Passenger symbolizes more of what I believe running means to me. A Passenger is for enjoying the journey than about reaching the destination faster, takes all along and does not overawe the common man with jazzy exterior!

Running further, I met Anandan, who was part of the organizing team of our Navagraha Ottam on one of the streets. He recognized me and I thanked him as I had met him in person first time after his kindly act of restoring me my glasses!

I crossed a lot of aid stations and even at the cost of appearing rude, I did not want to break my rhythm, I refused drinks as I was not thirsty. The smiles of the volunteers was quite another thing, they seemed to put back the spring in the steps. I had not once looked at my mobile to see the time, that was my challenge! I slowly started picking off runners ahead of me one by one particularly at the aid stations, it always gives you a kick to overtake! One cyclist volunteer approached me to ask if I needed Volini, he stayed on with me for the rest of my run and was a great company. He cleared the way for me and kept asking me if I needed anything. I was made to feel like an elite runner with my own dedicated support buddy, THANK YOU ASHOK! I missed him at the finish point and could not even thank him. Outside IIT before entering it, we crossed the 10K run participants on the other side. I got a loud cheer, I think my dress or lack of it did it again, I gamely waved back at them. The rain ravaged roads inside the IIT was quite harsh on my soles and I had to run very gingerly. I was feeling like a Ferrari stuck in city traffic, not being able to accelerate. Even though there was Sun induced sweating, there was a feeling of not being able to push the pace. The volunteers were very cheerful and welcoming and I had a few drinks at two of the aid stations to mix with hem more than for a drink. Gatorade was a bad idea, should have stuck to my plain water. I met Ravi and Srikumar in one of the aid stations,but, did not stop there or drinks. Heard that Sri has got an injury and would not be running for a few months. Hope he gets well soon, will be missing him in Nilgiri run, was looking forward to run with him again after the Navagraha run.I kept sucking on orange drops and chewing green for salivation. I was able to accelerate a bit on the cobbled road outside IIT and that part of the run was satisfying. I finished the run in 3 hour 50 minutes and 59 seconds, timing not as good as the previous edition, but maybe, the humid weather was the culprit.Met my daughter who looked in pain, she seemed to have twisted her foot and cramped herself in the last 3 Kms of her run after having a good run for the first 18K, TOUGH LUCK. She still did a creditable 3 hr, what could it have been without the cramp. Better luck next time, great show with the amount of training she had put in! The stretching with Bala’s recommendation for jumping the queue seemed to have eased her pain. I waited patiently for my turn for stretching.


Meanwhile, she informed me that nothing was kosher for the vegan me in the refreshment pack except of an orange which she had thoughtfully saved from her pack for me. I still took my pack and after taking the orange gave the balance to the young girl who was smilingly serving all runners without herself having had breakfast. I said it last year and will repeat for emphasis, Chennai should switch to a more local breakfast like Pongal/Vadai like Auroville, if possible ghee being kept separate to spare the vegans like me. Got my turn for stretching and after Arun, my physio’s attention, I was as good as new. After Shanti and krishna got free of their volunteering duties and had had their breakfast, we reached home. It was good to interact with Shreya and Krishna (they had slept off the previous day when we reached and were sleeping when we left in the morning!). We had a hot water bath and Shanti dished up a wonderful Pulao with Papad and Salad for a sumptuous lunch. My plans for testing Amma’s canteen would have to wait for my next trip!

The return journey was spent resting the body. The train seemed to be full of runners returning from marathon. Everybody seemed to be complaining about the weather and having got poorer time than the previous edition. Made my daughter and me feel better. We had a wonderful exchange about diet, injuries. Feels good to see so many youngsters take to running in a big way. Compared to them we were quite indisciplined in our youth. I see no reason why we can’t lick lifestyle diseases by taking to running. I have got a few of the companions as facebook friends now.

A very hurried visit and an insipid run, but, looking forward to the Nilgiri 100K Ultra in two weeks!


  1. all the best for the Nilgiri run, Sir! Hope Shweta is better now!

  2. Superb narration. Felt like traveled along with you. Congrats sir.