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!


  1. Superb writeup. And a very inspirational one.
    Now you have become a celebrity. I hope I would be in Mumbai to run with you in the next event.

  2. Great running and inspiring write up. My pranaams. :-)

  3. Thank you Sir for taking the time to share your experience with us ! This is INSPIRATIONAL !!

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