Thursday, 28 August 2014

The 12 hour stadium run at Kanteerva stadium on 3rd August

There was an emptiness in the last few days after the 12 hour stadium run, much like the emptiness one feels after all the relatives and friends leave after a marriage. Though I had posted a few lines immediately after coming back to Hubli, decided to write again after the cud-chewing the event went through during my morning run today. When Dharmendra called me about a month back for participating in this event, I gave an unconditional Yes, running and without entry fee, (Neki aur pooch pooch as they say!). He had asked me to come a day earlier to socialize with other participants, and, I was eagerly looking forward to it. Fate willed otherwise, my daughter's convocation was fixed a day earlier and that too in the evening, if this was not the horns of dilemma, I don't know one. There is something between Hyderabad and flight, I had to take a flight to reach the start of Navagraha Ottam, the last time I was in Hyderabad. This time it was tighter still, the convocation started at 4:15 PM and the flight (last one to Bengaluru) was at 8:40 PM. The medal and degree distribution finished at 5:15 PM and i was fretting and fuming during the President's long winded address. The event got over at 5:30 PM, and I hopped into a waiting cab and rushed off to the airport after a giving a hurried hug to daughter. I made it in time for the flight (maybe, I could have spent another half an hour with wife and daughter!). My wife was to follow me to Bangalore by the night train. The flight left before time and deposited me at the airport at 9:30 PM. I got an Airport Express bus which reached me to the Richmond circle at 11:15 PM. Theis service is excellent, the conductor doubles up for guide and valise and it is all for a sum of Rs. 220/- only (compare this to upward of Rs. 2000/- I had to dish out in Hyderabad!). I walked into the hotel at 11:30 PM and was overwhelmed by the opulence and grandiosity, I have been used to Railway Rest houses for stay before events. I was thinking it must be costing the organisers a bomb! I refused my single room and moved into Bib-Bala's room. I twisted and turned in the soft bed and huge pillows for I don't know how long ( the loud music from the dance floor did not help. I was reminded of the scene in the Silent movie 'Pushpak' where the hero Kamal Hassan is not able to sleep in the Hotel room!). Woke up at 3:30 AM and after a few cups of hot tea and a decent spinning session on my charkha, I was ready for the run. Bala also got ready and we were at the lobby at 4:45 AM. There I met the other runners, Sunil Shetty (who has run 100K with wife!), Lihas TrivediAravind Kumar (fresh from Comrades success), Raj (who is attempting the audacious 10,000K run!) and others. This was the first time I was seeing Arun Bhardwaj in person, he looked much smaller than I had an imagined him to be. I was yet to meet the legendaryMilind Soman. After a slight delay we were at the stadium, The run started at 6:05 AM. The atmosphere was electric and the weather perfect. Met Milind, who immediately put me at ease and asked me if the track would be barefoot friendly. He also switched to barefoot. He made easy conversation every time we crossed. I fixed up with him to remain fresh till my wife arrived as I had promised her a photo with Milind to impress her friends (She walked to a hero's welcome from her friends, when she stepped out for the morning walk today!). Her train was late and she could come only at 4 PM! Though the weather was nice and the course barefoot friendly, it was a challenge to run in circles, the mind could never relax nor pick up speed as we had to turn every 100m. The crowd and volunteer support and constant egging on by colleague runners kept me in good spirits. The race director Nagaraj Adiga watched over each one of us as a concerned mother hen, pulling us out for b'fast and mandatory medical check ups. Ramaswamy Narayanan ran with me for quite some time and as usual pepped me up with high praise. The crowd was warming up to my unusual dress and gave me a loud cheer whenever i crossed them. The security guards and Anju Kp who was taking photos at the other end cheered us on the other half. All was well till 2:15 PM when I sensed my calf muscle tightening on my right leg just as I was finishing my 169th lap. I decided to pull out after half a lap for stretches where mats were laid out. I made it to the place and lay down on the mat and my trusted aide Joshua who had been crewing me for the last half an hour or so. I could barely sit and we were not able to find a physio, the Doctor came from the Medical tent and asked me to come to the medical hut. I summoned all my reserves and walked to the tent, once I lay down on the bed, both my legs froze and I experienced my first severe cramps of my running career. Both my calves and thighs were rock solid and I had excruciating pain. Sukesh Amin was brought to the next bed on a stretcher, he was having severe cramps and had passed out at the finish line. His thigh was double the size and looked like would tear out of the skin. Meanwhile,Kavitha Kanaparthi, appeared from nowhere and took charge of me. She kept massaging both my legs and got enough salt and liquids into me in the next 45 minutes to one hour. But, every time I tried to fold my leg, it use to cramp up at the calves. I was getting desperate, my wife was about to come and I didn't want to meet her on the hospital bed. I was also feeling miserable that after so much efforts to take part in the event , I did not want it to end like this. Kavita kept patiently tending to me and the next time I tried getting up, I could! She asked me to walk for a lap and run thereafter if I could. I took a few ginger steps on the track and was welcomed with a loud cheer from the crowd. I was feeling like Anil Kumble coming out to bowl with his jaws in a plaster cast! I ran slowly and felt good, Kavita had done a miracle (my brother, a doctor and a runner, tells me I must be the first recorded case of running after severe cramps in both legs). I had lost count of the laps and time, I was now really running for the joy of it. The crowd was delirious and I had the booster shot of seeing my wife after every 400m. Children were running alongside, waving pom-poms, doing cartwheels. Rain gods got kind and blessed us with a few showers. Jagdish Damania also seemed to have a bad case of cramps in one of his legs and was bravely walking, his wife and friend were giving him company and they were cheering me every time I crossed. I don't remember the names of all the people who cheered me, but, I sincerely believe that the second innings was possible solely due to their encouragement. I finished strongly at 6:05 PM( Technically, it was not 12 hours for me, I must have missed close to one and a half hour to cramps!) and arrived to a thunderous applause from the crowds! I have been on seventh heaven since then for the last few days and it will require all my reserves to regain my humility. We were planning to return to my brother-in-laws place after the run, but, both Nagaraj Adiga and Dharmenra insisted and wife and self went back to the hotel for dinner and spent the night ( Icing on the cake for self and wife!) there. The organisers, crowds and the volunteers made it an unforgettable experience for me. KudosBengaluru Marathon!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Visit to the abode of the clouds

 A run in the hills was long overdue with my good friend Gerald having invited me for the run last year, which I had to miss as I could not get sufficient leave from work. This year when the date was announced and it coincided with my being temporarily laid off work for being excess in the Cadre, I gave a serious thought to it and was even able to convince my wife to make it a pilgrimage plus running tour. The maiden Sohra marathon on the 17th July got me salivating! The ambitious plan was to do Kali temple, Kamakhya temple, Shillong run and visit Puri Jagannath on the way back, but, as they say we can only propose. Looking at more than ten days of travel, the wet weather my wife backed out. The need to be back in Chennai on 20th meant I would have to spend more time on trains than on the terra firma. I was thinking of giving it a miss when Dharmendra’s exhortation that the scenic beauty of the place would be worth it did the trick.


I spent a few days on the Indian Railways site planning the trip with the idea of leaving by the last available train and reaching Chennai on 20th. The plan looked like an Ultra of a train journey for a marathon in Sohra. On Sunday the 13th July, after a farewell run on my highway and taking leave of Biscuit and wife, loaded with food to last me till the return, I left for the station to catch Amravati Express which was to take me to Kolkata my first base in 35 hours. My friends Akhil and Samaresh were alerted in Kolkata. Notices were out on the Internet to give me a running break at Kolkata on the 15th. While I had enough food for the sole, I had only a copy of Bible to nourish my soul in the following week.


While waiting at the crowded Hubli station platform for the delayed train, I made way for some elderly ladies to sit and was rewarded with friendly smiles for the same. They were part of a big group and had lots of luggage. There was much banter and planning for boarding the train by the leaders of that group. The train arrived and the group had berths in my bay, I having managed a side upper berth for privacy and an assured window seat. They settled and tried drawing me into their conversation, I gathered that they were on a pilgrimage to visit the Shakti Peetham at Pithapuram. Now, this was home ground for me, I had spent the last month or so in that constituency and more importantly run past the temple most mornings! I gave them all the details including the short train stoppage and distance to the temple, etc.  Out came their big utensils and as if the entire coach was turned into a marriage hall during lunch, I was offered tasty Dalia Upma with choicest accompaniments of Bhujia, Chutney powder and pickles. I resisted for formality sake and on being pressed once accepted gratefully. My lunch will have to wait for dinner time! The constant leg pulling and camaraderie and tempting the diabetes with endless cups of Coffee/Tea by the group was reminding me of our family get to-gethers of yore which the now nuclear and single child generation are missing. The train was unusually less crowded.

            Train reached Guntakal station in the evening, the members of the family got down for a stretch or more to bravado amongst themselves as to who would get on back the last. What was conspicuous on the station was that vendors were selling Samosas wrapped in plastic thereby generating lot of plastic waste, i had a very environment friendly experience in one other station on the same journey!


I also had to get down at Samalkot station which is the serving station for the temple town to hand over two books on Gandhi, from an old Gandhian, which I had borrowed while on Election duty there, which my trusted Liasion officer and now a good friend agreed to collect. The train reached half an hour late and we had a long leave taking. The Vizianagaram station was very spick and span and with wide platforms. It is interesting how the background and people change during the course of a long journey. Travel in the Sleeper coach brings this alive, the AC passengers all seem similar and any case you miss the sounds and the scenery is muted from behind the double glasses.


We entered Orissa much to the delight of my co-passenger, who has been working as a mechanic in Belgaum since he was 17. He celebrated his entry to his home state with a local dish which looked close to Dahi Bhalle with boiled potatoes. The passage of time was reflected in the rising stench from the toilets and the queue near the charging point with anxious people with mobile phones. I used the remaining charge on my mobile to send message to my hosts in Kolkata and my wife of the dying phone and went to sleep.


The more I travel in Sleeper class the more I feel that the most important amenity for a passenger today is more charging points nearer their seats after a cleaner toilet of course! The charging points have become the community tap/wells of the modern India. The tap fights have been replaced with charging right fights! Two young girls were performing acrobatics and before I could debate whether I should give money or discourage they were gone. I was only touched by the confidence of the young girls on their own cheerfully going about their business. I don’t know how many Nadia Comaneci are hidden in our countryside waiting to be mined. The train sped past Pundi station, the extra large Battary room (emphasis mine!), I don’t know when it was inspected last. When the train passed Baleshwar (Mauled into Balasore by the English!), I remembered my earlier blog about the need for restoring the place to its old name.


The train reached on time at Kharagpur station (famous for being station of the alma mater of stormy petrel of Indian politics, the AAP president!), on the station I saw a mobile stall selling Poori Bhaji, the guy prepared it on the go and did roaring business in the 20 minutes the train stayed there, the food was served on newspaper and leaf pattal, very eco-friendly, all for a princely sum of Rs. 20/-. I was reminded of similar scenes on Kanpur station where we used to have a plate of Poori/Chole Bhature for Rs. 2/-. I resisted the temptation and stuck to my rations. A lesson in eco friendliness for our Guntakal friends!


The train was  half an hour late when it left Kharagpur, the near full moon and train tearing down reminded me of the romantic scene of Shivaji, Padmini from the famous Tamil movie of yesteryears ‘Thillana Mohanambal’, only my Mohanambal was more than two thousand kilometers away with my mobile out of charge! Another hour or so spent at Santragachi meant the train reached Howrah at 11:30 PM, more than an hour late. There was a message for me in this which I did not realize till too late. I easily found the rest house and was in bed before midnight. When my mobile came to life after IV feed for sometime, I saw message from Akhil dada, my host for my Kolkota visit informing me of my Room No. Must repeat our earlier association, we had last departed at Palghar station where he (with his newly wedded wife) and yours truly were detrained by a zealous TTE on our journey to join our postings at Rajkot and Bhavnagar respectively about 25 years back. Maybe, the germ of Gandhi got into me at Palghar station (we were thrown out for not having a confirmed seat!).


Must confess here that my ‘Run Pe Charcha’ mission fashioned after our PM’s ‘Chai Pe Charcha’ to bond with runners failed at Kolkota as despite much publicity on facebook I could not get any company for a run. I understand my friend Kripa Sagar is attempting a run in Kolkota in her mission to spread awareness about Smoking, here’s wishing her good response!


Got in touch with him the next day and refusing his offer of sending a vehicle for me to reach his office, walked across to the ferry station reminiscent of our probation days. The ferry tickets have now become Rs. 5/- (same size and quality of recycled paper, gone up from Rs. 2/- in 25 years!). Tried to get a place to stand near the bow and feel like Leonardo of Titanic!


We waited for another batchmate to arrive and went to see the Hyderi Manzil, the place where the Mahatma stayed during the Kolkota riots around Independence time. The memory of Sir Richard Attenborough’s movie of this episode where Om Puri comes with a knife to confess his having killed a small child and Gandhi’s solution for him was rekindled at the site. We all posed for photographs and I spun on my charkha at the venue. My visit and stop over at Kolkota was successful for this visit alone. After a sumptuous lunch with colleagues and a heavier dinner parcel (courtesy Akhil’s wife!) I was off to the station to catch my train to Guwahati ( this time in a Car!). The station was full of slush thanks to a heavy downpour. I also got the taste of a new method of charging at the Railway rest house at Howrah, Since I had checked in a little before midnight the previous day, I was charged for two days (princely sum of Rs. 100/- per day), had I known, I would have spent some time in the Matron’s room and saved myself 100 bucks!


The route from Howrah to Guwahati was very scenic with paddy and Jute cultivation on either side of the track and children playing football in wet fields. The train was on time at Guwahati, after a bath and change, I was escorted to the famous Kamakhya temple. The pujari there was a staff of the Railway office and I got a good darshan. The tell tale red streams of blood indicating slaughter reminded me the Gandhi’s comment on his visit here. Nothing has changed in the people’s heart inspite of the Mahatma’s intervention to stop the cruelty. Hope the ruling deity drives some sense into the devotees!


After an argument with my good friend about my wanting to take public transport instead of a car to Shillong, I left behind an angry friend, but, my principles intact. The driver who came to drop me to the bus stand suggested Private Tata Sumo’s, I settled for the State Transport bus. The bus was very comfortable with twin seats and ample leg room and space for luggage on top (all this for Rs. 110/-). The crew picked up lot of passengers enroute, who were not given a ticket (the MTC must take note of this leakage of revenue!). My companion on the bus, Shri S K Dey (to be pronounced as ‘They’ and not ‘Day’) was very informative and guided me on how to reach the Rest house at Shillong. He gave me a running commentary which was very informative all through the journey. The Bus stopped enroute for a break for passengers, the toilet was dirty which is not new for such stops, but, there was a person sitting to collect Rs. 2/- for the use of urinal. I argued with him as there was sign saying it was Pay and Use. I was told that local fruits, viz., Bananas and Pineapple are best brought there as they are costly both at Guwahati and Shillong. I made a mental note to do so on my return journey (fate had other plans!).


I spent some time and a decent walk of over a Km to find the rest house. The people were very helpful and that the people are conversant in Hindi and English made the job easy. The rest house attendant, Kishan, a young boy was very helpful. I was treated to a good fare of Rice, Dal and Mixed vegetables, a perfect vegan carbo-loading food for the next day’s run. The rest house is regal and worth a separate visit with family. I retired early because I had to reach the start point at Police Bazaar early the next day.


At 3:45 AM, I started for the Police bazaar, I spent my time taking photographs of the Tirot Singh Memorial (I realized the 17th July, date of the run was his martyrdom day!), other public buildings on the way to Police Bazaar. I spent some time locating a Pee point, near the bus stand.

Promptly at 5 AM, a crowd gathered outside the Reliance Trendz shop, the bib-collection point. The scene was like an Army recruitment centre with crowd overflowing. I located Gerald’s brother and got special treatment. The arrangements were excellent, the runners were to be taken to the start point in buses, each bus had a volunteer who marked the bus No. in the runners bibs. I was taken in by the enthusiasm of the runners, I remember two girls flagging down our bus after seeing the Marathon banner on it and asking Gerald to be allowed to participate, he readily obliged! The enthusiasm for the run was infectious. I was contrasting this with the no-show I got at Kolkota the previous day!


A short ceremony at the start point with an enthusiastic Radio jockey compeering the show was nice. Even the speech by a local MLA was very short and to the point. Had a photograph with Gerald’s wife and kid and many other runners. They welcomed me very enthusiastically. I was asked to speak and not having prepared for it, spoke from what came from my heart, the prevalence of smoking among youth! I hope they take the advice seriously, coming as it does from an Ex-smoker who has gone that path!


The run started about half an hour late at 7:30 AM. Gerald cautioned me about the strip tease act of mine saying that the rains in the hills are very cold. I was looking forward a full run in the rain. The markings were in Miles, the first was flat and it was a mild drizzle as we crossed the majestic building of the Eastern Air Command and the Mukem village. I don’t remember when the rain started coming in sheets, the winding roads and sharp bends were a little tough for me to negotiate for me in the rain. The shirt came off at Mile 3, was greeted with a lot of jeers and some cheers for the bare-chested baba running in the rain. Passing vehicles had people peeping out to wow me. At one place some youngsters playing in the rain joined me in the run and got their photograph taken with me. I was really impressed with the stamina staying power of lots of the runners. Some of them were running in full dress with backpack. I decided to run slow and steady.


At some points, the cloud cover descended and I was literally running in the clouds (is this why the State is called Megha-laya!), I was tempted to sing ‘Aaj main Oopar, Aasman neeche!. I was drenched and felt cold, my fingers freezing. I even thought of putting back my shirt on. The first ten miles were a steady climb on heavily banked curved roads was a challenge for the Hubli Passenger. The rest of the terrain was level and though some parts of the roads were badly scuffed up, it got easier. My only satisfaction was that I never walked and every time I crossed some youngster, I earned their grudging respect and admiration. That to me is the best award for a runner an appreciation from the peers! A word for the volunteers, though there was no permanent shelter for them they were braving the weather sometimes without even an umbrella. The volunteers on bicycle were thoroughly drenched, but, cheerful all along. As I invented on this run, for hydration you just needed to stick your tongue out! I christened it as my way of Rain Water Harvesting.


I finished strong in the end and I found to my surprise that I had taken 5 hours 3 minutes and 27 seconds, not bad for the gradient and curves in heavy rain. I was pampered at the finish point by lots of young volunteers. The District Commissioner, a 2004 batch officer and his SDM a 2009 officer showed lot of enthusiasm in running, even the DC’s wife joined for some distance. There was food and musical entertainment for everyone, lots of people came up to get photographed with me. I felt like a minor celebrity.


I now started getting worried about reaching Guwahati by night for the return journey next day morning, another Ultra of 48 hours by train to Chennai. Gerald’s brother and his friend were kind to forego the festivities and drop me back in their vehicle after a hurried lunch. I got a shock at the bust stop when I was told that the next bus is only at 7 AM the next day (holiday for Tirot Singh anniversary!) I panicked, then I was guided to take a Sumo!


I was squeezed into the back where three people were already seated with their baggage. The fare was Rs. 170/- (bus fare was Rs. 110/-). The lack of sleep and the after effects of the run were telling on me now. The next three hours were a harrowing time, till we were dumped near the bus stand at 7 PM. The driver was able to locate me (my cell phone battery was dead!) and I reached the rest house by 7:45 PM. After a nice bath, I reached my friend’s place for dinner. His wife had stacked sumptuous dinner on the table to which I did ample justice. His two Labrador pets, Cheetah and Honey (she became a good friend!) were a bonus to me.


I was to board the train at Kamakhya station, where the train was to stop only for two minutes. There was no announcement till 6:45 AM and there were no coach indication boards or announcement of train formation. People had to run long distance to get to their coaches, I made it to my coach in time. My companions were an aged heart patient going to CMC Vellore and some college students going to Kancheepuram. I found rampant sale of recycled water bottles on the entire route. The Pantry staff and accompanying staff are mute spectators. Next day morning, I tried getting to the charging point, but, the crowd was too much for my finer nature. My next communication to wife would only be after reaching the rest house at Chennai the next day (hope she understands!). I was struck by the variety in the food sold by the locals and the standard fare peddled by the Pantry. The rate difference was also very much. A biryani sold by locals Rs. 40 to 60/- (Egg/Fish/Chicken Biryani) against our starting price of Rs. 90/-. The Pantry staff were manfully trying to peddle their fare. I fact before the train reached Vishakapatnam in the evening, the Pantry dropped their rates to match the market rate ( I was surprised at the dynamic pricing!), I was told that the train will be flooded with excellent biriyani at Vishakapatnam after which Railway fare will not sell! My lesson from this and earlier trips in Sleeper class is that our catering is way off the mark and does not understand the real needs of the travelling public. We should have our probationers to travel length and breadth in Sleeper class to empathise with the travelling public so that we can deliver real passenger amenities.


The train reached about an hour late to Chennai. I was able to put in a run on the Marina where I met a few runners and felt good. The afternoon journey to Hubli was comfortable and I had nice company of a family with two small kids.

The five hours of run in the hills amidst clouds with a steady rain was like consecrating Lord Shiva (I am Vishwanathan, his namesake!) and at the end of it I was clean and pure and did not even require a wash. Even hydration was not required as it was a case of water- water everywhere and lots of it to drink, it just needed sticking your tongue out! All this for a registration fee of Rs. 100/- with personalized care from Gerald and his family was priceless. A must go for all runners, where a vacation in the hills can be combined with soul enriching run in the hills. Looking forward to the next edition with my better half in tow! This exercise of getting this experience on paper took me very long and I still don't believe that the written word can do justice to the experience of running in the clouds in the rain!



Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Celebrating Independence Mumbai style

The scene the Medical camp at the holding area of the SPMC Mumbai 12 hour Ultra, time a little before the finish time of 5 PM, a young lady Doctor who has been cheering for me every time I finished a loop (initially 11 KM and reduced to 4 KM after 4 PM) checked my vital statistics, recorded on the slip BP 124/64 and said you are perfectly normal and good for another 12 hours! Pranav are you listening, the Hubli Passenger is fit for a 24 hour run, is the SPMC ready?

I was sounded about this event which was to be a 12 hour road run on Independence Day with runners from across the country running together for 12 hours to demystify and promote running by Pranav a few month’s back. He again elaborated it during our run together when I was there in July 3rd week. It all looked very ambitious to arrange such an event in Mumbai on I Day and that too bilkul muft-muft-muft for the runners. The Gandhi in me was not complaining.

I needed to be away from work for a day before and half a day after the run at the minimum, coming after a month’s leave, I was feeling awkward about broaching it with the Boss. Finally, I got a grudging approval followed by disapproval just the day before the travel. The reluctance, I understand, was due to the fact that the trip would require absence from the official I Day function in office. I took my chance and decided to exercise my independence in celebrating Independence Day praying for the best. The jury is still out!
I was very eager to meet runners from the Bengaluru 12 hour run there and scores of runners from rest of the country and most of all the enthusiastic Mumbai runners, some of whom are my close facebook and dailymile friends. The idea of a large number of runners running in concert for 12 hours, I imagined the scene would be line the Thyagaraja Aradhna festival where singers get together to sing. With no target of distance or prize money, I was sure, the selfless running would surely invoke the running God.

I was at the station on 14th morning to board the train to Mumbai,I was loaded with lots of foodstuff (my wife overdid knowing that she was not coming to oversee my feeding!). I kept my bag next to me and was waiting; a young dishelved beggar lady came, pointed to the banana bunch kept in my bag and asked for it. I gave her one, she kept showing the bunch and I could not understand what she wanted. I told her by sign language to take it or leave it. She mumbled something angrily and returned the proffered banana back to me much to the amusement of people around me. I took it back sheepishly. When I started for boarding the train and crossed the lady again, feeling guilty with the weight of the bag of foodstuff I was carrying, I went to her and offere two bananas. She gave a very sad look and refused to take them. That look haunted me all through the journey and back and particularly when the volunteers at the run plied me with all that I wanted to eat/drink during the run.

The train had a big crowd of pilgrims who were going to a place near Anand in Gujarat for a religious function. Their catering arrangements were on a gala scale and the Pantry car staff and my overstuffed food bag looked Spartan in its comparison. The heavy oil in their food and fried stuff gave me nightmares. It was rumoured that asked about the oilseed production crisis in India, the then PM Shri Morarji Desai had famously remarked that if the oil left in the plates after eating in his state could be recycled, India would become self sufficient in Oil. Another thing which struck me was when people eat from a common plate, they tend to overeat. Is this what is the ‘Tragedy of Commons’ in the Economics!

People in my bay, after exhausting business, politics showed interest in my charkha I was carrying and a long discussion on the father of nation ensued. I had my lunch and spent the afternoon resting. Evening at Pune, my brother came to meet with, you guessed right, more food! I had an early dinner and waited for Kalyan station. Just before 10 PM I alighted at Pune and took a slow local to CST. I was before the reception desk at 11.30 PM. The guy at the desk remembered me as the runner who comes for Mumbai marathon and enquired on the purpose of visit this time. I impressed him with the statement that I planned to run for 12 hours the next day. He also remembered that we were given a rat infested room last time and told me that I would get a pest free room this time (This seemed a good idea to charge a premium for pest free rooms/berths!). I was to catch the 4:05 local for Dadar next day. I got two hours fitful sleep before Alarm went off at 2 AM. After a spinning session followed by a long hot water bath, I ate the left over three bananas (the lady should have taken them, poor thing!). I was ready at 3:30 AM. I decided to wear Pajama Kurta over my running dress as I feared that my running shorts and top and the Ajmal Kasab kind back pack and the charkha looking like the gun case of the movie Hey Ram, I would attract the attention of the heavy Independence Day security arrangement. I got into the train and established contact with Dharmendra to meet at Dadar. At 4:45 AM, Dharmendra, Jeetu Sir and self were at the holding area, I rushed through the formalities of stripping my Pajama/Kurta, getting bib and putting it on and depositing my luggage. Meanwhile, Indira Ghosh was getting the runners to stretch and warm up. We had a spirited rendering of National Anthem and without too much formalities, the run began promptly at 5 AM. Dharam and self ran together from the beginning. I had told one reporter (I later came to know she was Priya!) that I would give her a byte sometime during the day after she runs at least a kilometer with me. She really earned the byte after doing the run with mike in hand much to the amusement of volunteers at the aid station. Pranav and his friend on scooter were escorting us and we felt like the elite runners of SCMM! It started drizzling slightly and I handed my mobile to Pranav, I was to see in at 6 PM in the evening only. It was really a timeless run, but for the few times when I asked the runner accompanying me to tell me the time.

I stripped my top after the Siddivinayak temple, silently praying for a cramp free run (My severe cramping at Bengaluru run and consequent lay off from the run for more than an hour was on my mind!). I also pledged to drink water and take salts/banana right from the beginning, I had solemnly promised this to my wife and Kavita (who had resuscitated me from cramps in Bengaluru!). Volunteers were manning each road intersection to guide and regulate traffic. They looked bright and cheerful even so early in the morning. The first aid station arrived and they were ready with all their wares and enthusiastically called out to us for some refreshments. I thought of starting fuelling after the first loop. There was a bad stretch of about 300 meters after the first aid station. I started worrying how bad it would get after some loops and when Sun comes down beating. Dharam in his usual style reiterated his mantra of ‘one step at a time’. In our enthusiasm, we crossed the turnaround point and did about 500m extra to the U turn near the flyover.
                We came back to the starting point to a rousing welcome. A lady at the entrance was forcing chocolates on every runner, did have to tell her that I don’t take chocolates. The Medical camp was well organized and a report was made out recording the Weight, BP and Pulse. The services of Physios was also offered. The food tent offered, more than the variety the love and affection of the volunteers offering food and drinks. I came to know later that these were manned by Volunteers who were themselves runners of SPMC or their family members. It was too early to eat, I set off for the second loop. We met Raj (who is attempting 10000K run in 4 months) and Milind Soman (who was setting him off on his first leg of the run) on the way. I wished him well and promised him company in the southern leg from Chennai to Madurai. As I write this, he is cruising towards Bharuch today. I really missed being with him in his start of the momentous run!
                I must mention here the story of Jaggery here and why each one of us runners felt like Son-in-Laws during the run. When I refused a lot of what was offered at the aid station after taking water, the gentle host asked me what he could get me, I, having run out of the dates I was chewing on asked if they would have jiggery. His face fell and brightened immediately and he said he would get it for me. I told him not to bother and carried on with my run. By the time I reached the half-way mark after crossing another aid station in between, I was offered Jaggery, and the person said it was specially for me, I felt like crying with happiness. Such pampering of runners!, this event would flourish with or without sponsors, God bless the organizers. After this every aid station kept forcing Jaggery on me all through the day. Dharmendra and I crossed two statues of R K Laxman’s now familiar ‘Common Man’ on the beach road. I felt like taking a photo with him, but, decided to do it later. Nikunj did me the honours in one of the later loops and I would treasure those photos! There was a strong head wind on the beach road, and I was looking forward to the assistance on the way back.
                The steady high-fives from various runners I tried to recognize from their profile photos on Facebook and Dailymile kept me in good spirits. The onlookers cheered and sometimes jeered at my strange outfit. I knew from experience of running in other places that I would have them all cheering before the evening. The children on the beach were the first to join me for short distances for the run. I realized during the day that they are quite aware of six-packs and wanted to run to get one like me. I asked them to run, eat home-made food and avoid junk to get 6-packs. Now I started to follow Kavita’s advice sincerely and took water with salts, dates and jiggery at each stop. The best variation on offer was slices of watermelons liberally spiked with salt.
                Sun turned on the heat by the time I was into my third loop, I had not kept track of time till now meant I was thoroughly enjoying it. My body was responding well and the bad stretch of the road had not been too harsh on my soles. I had to wait for the heat factor to be factored in! I kept drinking water at every aid station and consuming bananas to ward off the dreaded C word (I remember having mentioned in one of the aid station that for us runners Cramps are an enemy like the dreaded Voldemort which should not be named!). The specialist services of cold sponge compress and water spray was a welcome innovation. In between all this, the constant encouragement of fellow runners the fervor of I Day captured by some running with the tricolor kept me in good cheer. I felt confident of running the full quota today.
                Sunil Shetty, cheered me whenever he crossed me and the eternal host guided me about rest stops and reminded to have something to eat, I did not miss not being able to visit them at their home. I finished my third loop and after refusing politely to the chocolate offered by the smiling lady at the gate arrived to a now familiar scream from the young lady doctor. My vital parameters were good, I resumed for my fourth loop after some refreshments and cooling my soles on the ice slabs (I would have iced my calves and thighs had I seen Indira’s and Kavin’s act earlier!).
                The Sun was now beating down hard (had I overstayed the famed Mumbai hospitality!) and it was sucking out fluids faster than I could deliver to the body, I even thought of covering my upper body for reducing the evaporation, but, the cooling effect of the evaporation was the only saving grace. I kept waging the losing battle of delivering water to by parched body. At the half-way mark when I stopped for a leak, I found that I passed only a trickle of thick yellowish fluid. I got worried and took an extended break at hydrating and feeding myself. I also took this opportunity to tell the volunteers to segregate the watermelon waste from paper and plastic waste. I also fed watermelon skin to the goat tied nearby much to the amusement of the goat’s owner lady (She had told me that her goat would not eat it and I proved her wrong!), I asked a young volunteer to feed them to the goats.
                After the completion of the fourth lap, I surrendered my battered body to the care of the caring physiotherapists. To his credit, he made my stiff legs as good as new and offered me to do them up after each lap. I told him that I would come after two loops when I take the lunch break. The physiotherapists were (not to undervalue the volunteers and Doctors) were the one single reason I was able to run so strong the whole day in this event.
I had jiggery, water and tucked a few pieces of dates and set off for my fifth loop. Pranav asked me to take one of the youngster’s along.  I enjoyed his company and was able to indulge in my wish of a photograph with the R K Laxman’s Aam Aadmi. The volunteers’ enroute and particularly who were manning the road intersections alone to me were the stars; they kept doing the regulating of traffic and runners with a wide smile and a word of cheer for the runner. To the credit of the Mumbaikar drivers, they were very sportive and patiently let us pass.
                The sixth loop was the most tiring on the body and I was literally feeling the heat, ingesting any amount of water was able to produce sweat to have any cooling effect. I remember having told the volunteers and passing runners to pray for rain. I even threatened to perform rain dance if it didn’t rain by my next return there.  The small slum section was slowly sitting up to notice my repeatedly passing them since morning, the jeers turned to queuing up for watching me, the new entrants in the audience who tried to heckle me were shushed by the seniors with a short history of my performance. This was partly my medal for the run. The kids were now joining me in large numbers on the beach road section. Two bus loads of police personnel and trailing motorcycle riders cheered me. A open bus with I Day revelers cheered me and asked me to pose for a snap. All this reduced the monotony and impact of sun to some extent. It was with great relief that I entered the holding area for the sixth time. The lady at the entrance (with the chocolate) gave me just a smile this time. I had lot of salt laced lime juice and energy drinks and submitted myself to the care of the physiotherapist, who had a tougher time straightening me out. The Doctor and my cheerleader had this time also pronounced me fit to run. I had a Spartan lunch of two Idlis pampered by lots of volunteers.
                I was cornered every time with requests for photos by volunteers and cheering people, I remember having told them that if I had charged even Rs. 5/- per photo, I would be a rich man by evening ( note my words and this would come to haunt me later in the evening!). Every loop I had somebody wanting to run with me, this time the angels feared to start where this old fool was planning to rush out in the Sun. I had promised myself a stretching after every loop now and set off confidently. Somewhere in the back of my mind was my lack of sense of direction and I was afraid of getting lost.
                There is only one turning in the whole route and I missed it, I got the sense of it surprisingly from my soles. As I mentioned earlier, there is a bad stretch of road after the turning, and this time having been pampered by a good road longer, the doubt started! I saw the board announcing Cassmira institute which I don’t seem to have seen earlier. I asked the shopkeepers and the thin attendance on the roads, they were not aware of any marathon. Then one boy said that the intersection is about 200m behind. I walked back and was pleased to find my favourite aid station. This detour spoiled my rhythm and even the antics of my partner who joined me from the aid station (he did a few good jigs!) for ensuring that I don’t lose my way again failed to enthuse me. The children had now swelled and in fact complained that they were not getting enough cheers and were getting overshadowed by my strange dress or lack of it. I finished the rest of the loop without any untoward issue.
                I had a leisurely break and a relaxed stretch before starting for the next loop. I was pleasantly surprised when Sayuri eased alongside like a well oiled Ferrari to accompany me. I told her to have regard to the old man and go easy on the accelerator. We had a nice run with she never making me feel inadequate. As a bonus I got lots of waves from her friends enroute. The weather also eased with the wind turning less hot. The best part was the loop length was shortened and we had to turn back at the first turn itself (no bad stretch for my soles!), but, I felt bad at not having been able to say bye to the last two aid station volunteers and the beach kids. She hustled me a bit and tried to get in as many Kms for me before the 5 PM curfew. This was the first run, I must confess, that I neither kept track of the kilometers run or the time elapsed. I used to give a big smile at the repeated question on the distance run! I did two more short loops before 5 PM. In the first half of the last loop, I was accompanied by Sh. Suresh Pillai and on return we had showers and a few runners joined me bare-chested. We finished fittingly with a big group with a big flag for backdrop with 4 minutes to go for 5 PM with a loud cheer.
                I have nothing against a target distance or speed being pursued ,but, I have found that for best results each step has to be enjoyed without bothering about the final tally or outcome. Application of this realisation was my biggest gain in this event.
                The final twist in the tail was that my return reservation was not confirmed and I had to disturb my colleague on a holiday to move things to get me accommodated in AC-3 tier (a climbdown for the Gandhian from his preferred Sleeper class travel, not to mention additional outgo of Rs. 700/-). Wish I had collected the threatened money for the group photos!

                I am not naming anybody except Pranav, who had pestered me to join this event while giving my vote of thanks. I realize what I would have missed had I given it a miss. His able team of Volunteers, Doctors, Physios and the SPMC runners made the day unforgettable. Thank you all for making it a special Independence Day for me. I have only one regret, Pranav, I could not get the promised Vada Pav of Kirti College, anyway there is always a next time. I wish many more ventures to the spirited club SPMC and request them to make me a standing invitee!