Sunday was the day again. The third Sunday of the year. A day that is eagerly awaited by many runners, professional and otherwise, and enthusiasts like me who get to put their bodies through the 21km grind that is the half-marathon. And although this was my fifth year at the half-marathon, there were butterflies in the tummy. What if I do not improve on my time last year? What if the weather gets too hot ? And worst, what if I cramp up and have to give up? The extra couple of kilos that I gained over the past month did not help either. So, inspite of getting ample rest on Saturday, there was more than a niggle of doubt as I awoke early on Sunday morning and left for Bandra.
The nip in the early morning air atleast partially allayed my fears on the weather. Mumbai is having a good winter and that, I thought, would certainly help. As I reached the starting point, the infectious enthusiasm around cheered me up. As the clock ticked past 6.15am and the starting gun sounded, I was off alongwith nearly 11000 fellow runners !! The first couple of kilometers before we hit the sea link were quite adventurous. BMC had, in its own wisdom, switched off the street lights and since the sun had not yet appeared, it was a unique experience of running in the dark. I almost collided with one of the advertising hoardings. Once we touched the sea link, things became much better. By then, my initial jog had been converted into a brisk walk, alternately looking at my stop watch and the next kilometer post. Following this ‘short jog-brisk walk-short jog’ routine, I managed to reach the 8km mark in 1h02min. At this point, a quick calculation told me that I needed to cover every km in around 9 minutes to have a sub-3 hour finish. It is said that the marathon is run in three parts: the first with the body, the second with the head and the third with the heart. I followed that advice and concentrated on achieving the km-wise objectives. And to my joy, discovered it was working well. As I passed the Worli Sea Face and reached the half way marked well within 1h30min, hopes began to rise. Still, I was mindful of the fact that something needed to kept in the tank for the end, so I kept at the strategy rather than being over-ambitious. The tough incline at Peddar Road and Kemps Corner was negotiated without any substantial decrease in speed. Egged on by the wonderful people that line the Peddar Road every year, ever generous with their water and biscuits, I entered the Marine Drive stretch (17km) at around 2h20min. This is where things have turned tricky in the past. With the morning sunlight growing in intensity, not to mention sheer fatigue, cramps are quite common here. When I reached 19km at 2h36min, I resolved to have a final dash for 1km, and then crawling the final kilometer and a bit if needed. Thankfully no crawling was required, and I arrived at the finish line in 2h53min, 10 minutes better than my best timing. More than that, I was pleasantly surprised to see myself in decent shape after the race (no cramps, no blisters). In hindsight, I could have been 10 minutes faster but then, there is always a next time. All in all, it was a race to remember !!!
A final word on the organization: the marathon was very well organized. Water was available at more places along the route and the Lucozade energy drink was very useful. Thanks to this, and the benign weather, many personal marks were broken. For me, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2011 will always remain special. It was, quite nearly, the perfect race for me.