Mumbai Marathon – A festival to celebrate life

Mumbai Marathon

Morning chills, fog and body’s protest against getting out of bed, winter is here!!! Since my childhood, I have had memories associated with winter. Be it wrapping myself in the blankets, nice hot cutting chai, warming myself up near campfire while returning from morning walks in my childhood, soaking in warm sunshine in hostel grounds on lazy Sunday mornings when in college, late night hangouts with friends with thick jackets as only defense against cold wind, traveling from Pune to Shirdi at 4.30 in the morning at 6o C, layering up knee length woolen socks over 120 denier tights in London’s cold, dark mornings; warm breeze while eneering any super store in London or feeling hot chocolate warming me all the way from mouth to stomach. Life is all about these feelings, experiences and memories. What I hadnt realised was there were new additions to this list in recent years, until this morning.

I had stayed up late last night, hanging out with a friend in an impromptu plan, and had decided not to wake up early, ditching my morning walk. I was so resolute of sleeping till late that I had put an alarm for 8.30 am. I was woken up by the maid early morning as usual, and was happy to go back to sleep unlike other mornings, when arrival of maid mean only 30 minutes of more sleep. What surprised me though that my body refused to go back to sleep. While I was all prepared to sleep till late, resolute not to feel guilty ditching my morning dose of exercise, my body actually wanted it. After futile attempts for few more minutes, I finally decided to give up and listen to my body. I got ready and left for the morning walk. The view of lake, mountains and sound of chirping birds greeted me with bright smile. Without conscious thinking, I started jogging slowly, with a thought somewhere deep down inside me – ‘Mumbai Marathon is just a month away’. I was pleasantly surprised. I dont claim to be a half or full marathoner or even a short run pro, I have been going for a dream run in Mumbai marathon, only for last 2 years. And yet now it seems to have become a part of me, a part of my winter memories. With that reminder, my mind flooded with all the memories associated with Mumbai Marathon. First time I heard about it about 9-10 years ago, when I read about it in the newspaper. I was a lazy, couch potato then. Waking up early, going for walks or runs, and being present for the run at 6 am in the January cold, sounded like a fairy land to me, a place where I would wish to visit, but would never visit in reality.

Three years ago, after returning to Mumbai, I was looking for options. Options to live my life, options to do something different I will enjoy, something I will look forward to, something which will motivate me to continue my healthy habits (which I had picked up after hard efforts), something where I will get to see, meet new interesting people. It was a random morning in June or July, and I was feeling nostalgic and blue. I was missing London as usual and was dragging myself to go to office. While traveling to office a thought came to me in a lightening flash, how about Mumbai Marathon. I vaguely remembered that it happens sometime in winter. I didnt know when does the registration start nor what were the categories (of distances) or entry criteria. As soon as I reached office, I sat down to find about it more, before the daily rut pulls me down towards the pit. It had 3 categories – 42 kms (beyond my dreams), 21 kms (yeah, maybe in few years time) and dream run 6 kms (this sounds like me). Bingo!! I was bang on time. The registrations for Dream run were opening next day 10 am. My decision to register was very easy & instant. Wish my journey to the day was as smooth and instant as the decision. I was ready next morning, sharp at 10 with all the necessary details and registered as soon as it opened. I was thrilled when I received a mail few day later, confirming my participation.

Then started a struggle, struggle with myself. I had never run in my life, least of all not even in a school race. I had hardly played any sports. All I had with me were couple of walk experiences done in UK and a bit of treadmill walks done in gym (that too in recent years). As the day neared my struggle with myself increased without any solid action. I kept telling myself that I must practice, I should at least be able to finish (vivid pictures of me giving up half way cluttered my mind), I should have enough stamina to run for 6 kms (I couldnt even run 100m at a stretch by December) and many more more self doubts. By the time December ended, I was full of dread, self loathing and despair. I wanted to run the marathon, I was accepted as a participant, I had 6 months in my hand and I had done nothing. I had made my mind to skip it that year, and try again next year.

10 days before the run, Anita mami (Aunty in law) called me check my progress. She was running half marathon herself, and was excited to know that I had registered for the dream run. I told her about my decision and she laughed it off. She talked me through all the possibilities, what if I cant complete? ‘So what? many people give it up after 3-4 kms’, ‘what if I cant run?’ ‘You cant run anyway, as it is so crowded. You can barely walk. Most of the dream runners walk instead of running. Myself I switch between walking and running, as I cant run for 21 kms at a stretch’, ‘I dont have stamina?’ ‘Just aim to finish it, no matter at what speed, that what I target for too.’, she had answer to every question. Seeing my mind incline towards attending it, she put last stroke to the nail ‘You promise to come for the run and I am giving you nice running Tshirt and short for the day’. Thats it, very rarely somebody manages to convince me to do something my stubborn mind refuses to do, she had nailed it. Two days before the run I was trying the new Tshirt and short she gave me (with a threat to take it back if I dont show up on the day).

Previous evening delivered a new set of butterflies to my stomach. I was so stressed that I had my old friend – chronic pain stomach visiting me by the dinner time. Stress had been the biggest attraction point for it in past, and probably this time too, it was the only possible reason. And there came my next angel, my husband announced that I was going to show up, no matter how intense my pain was. He is usually very caring, and melts down at slightest pain to me, but this time he was very stubborn ‘We are going and that is final. I dont mind even if you reach there and dont participate, just stand there and watch as long as you can, but we are at least reaching the venue’. We caught the Mumbai local early morning and it was unusually crowded (with most of the people going for Marathon) for that time of Sunday. There were many corporate groups, planning to hang out at Nariman point after the run. There was a lady with her 2 year old son, she was running with her husband, with her son in a baby carrier! She said that she had done it previous year too, when her son was only 11 months old, and he had enjoyed it thoroughly. Most of the crowd around me was going for the dream run and I met many people who were just as common as me, who had no past experience in marathon or running, who didnt even intend to finish, but were going just for the fun part of it. By the time I reached CST, many of my fears were gone, I think that what they call Mumbai spirit or Marathon spirit. Whatever you call it, I was determined to walk as long as I can, even with the pain in my stomach. With the crowd, their flow, constant chitchat around me, all the stages put up playing music, all the celebrities cheering, I didnt even realise how much I had walked. The first milestone sign I noticed was that of 3 kms. I had completed 3 kms without much efforts. It became easier for me with every step. Though my speed was very slow and the last patch of climbing up the flyover was tiring, there were many more like me. Enjoying the environment, the present moment without caring much about the end point, having fun and taking breaks wherever they wished to, without a care in the world.

I did it! I finished the race!! It took me more than 2.5 hours but who cares. I was not there to beat someone, or to set a new record. I was there for myself, to beat over my fear, anxiety; to tread on a new path I hadnt explored; to enjoy the moment without caring about the end result. Isnt life the same? We worry too much about the end goals, missing all the fun on way to reaching that goal. Is that where all the emptiness comes from after reaching a goal, if you forgot to enjoy that journey. You had a goal, you achieved it, and now that you have achieved it you dont have anything else to do, nor memories to look back and cherish.

Second year of Mumbai marathon was a piece of cake for me, right from registration to finishing it. This time I was more determined to enjoy it as much as possible, be it stopping to take pictures of the celebrities, or stopping at every DJ and dancing like crazy, be it participating in a flash mob, be it shouting out aloud ‘Yamdev we love you’ to the guy dresses up as ‘Yam’, or be it indulging myself in a sumptuous meal to after completing, to celebrate.

This morning made me realise that now there are new additions to my list of winter memories. Winter means Mumbai Marathon, Kala Ghoda Festival, ‘A homage to Abbaji’, and many more activities which make me forget the mechanical ways of this city, forget the melancholy and nostalgia I still carry in a corner of my heart. Mumbai marathon has become a symbol for me, a symbol of my win over my fears, a win over my struggle with myself, symbol that there are many angels in my life like Anita mami and my beloved hubby to encourage and support me, its a celebration of life. I cant say for sure about any other festivals, but Mumbai Marathon is one special festival close to my heart.

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