I started running just casually in 2015 but has become a lifestyle since then. Running brings in a lot of positive energy, and there is nothing better than seeing thousands of runners throng to the streets on a weekend morning. Having participated in 10+ Half Marathons and multiple 10k’s, I believe in giving my best in each run and enjoying the event rather than competing with anyone. This blog is dedicated to my first full marathon and every minute that is still etched in my memory. A recap of my first full marathon, it was truly was an experience to remember.
My First Full Marathon: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon
January 15, 2017
Time – 4 AM
The nervousness was palpable and the excitement was building up. As I woke up and got ready in my race gear, the “Will I, Won’t I” thoughts never ceased to cross my mind. Tuning into running the first Full Marathon, no matter how many Half Marathons you have run before, is always the most difficult upgrade. Any runner would vouch for the fact, a Full Marathon (FM) is not just 2x a Half Marathon (HM). It’s more, much more! Physically, mentally, and yeah, even emotionally. Upon reaching CST station, what I witnessed was a wave of blue. Runners from various walks of life were making way for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, the biggest running extravaganza in the country. I just followed everyone without bothering where the start point was since all folks were headed to the same destination!
Just as I tagged behind fellow runners, a sudden realization that I had forgotten to carry my headband broke me into a sweat immediately! While it’s not a requirement and almost 90% of the runners assembled at Azad Maidan were without one, I had personally never run even the HM without it. Freak, I used them even for a 10k! The clock told me it was too late to go back home and get it, so here I was, running my first FM without an important gear, on the backfoot before even starting the race. Time was aplenty before the Marathon kicked off at 05:40, so I spent some time googling on benefits of running without a headband, just to feel better if I find something interesting. Alas! All I stumbled upon were articles on how headband helps runners and detailed benefits of how useful they are! My phone battery showed 85%, so with the thought of having to preserve it for the next 6 hours, I put it back into my pocket and stared at the misery that lied ahead!
Time – 05:30 AM
Announcements were made to approach the start line based on Waves A, B, C & D pre-assigned to runners (classified basis the past records provided by them). Runners simply thronged to the entry gate, and such huge was the crowd that it became impossible to manage them based on the waves, and folks just went past all tiny available spaces to reach the starting point as quickly as possible, which in itself was quite a distance away from within Azad Maidan where runners had gathered! Wave A & B runners gave some unpleasant looks to C & D guys as they made way ahead of them to reach the start line. Mine was Wave C, which meant a tentative completion of the race within 05:35.
I approached the starting line at around 05:50, turned on my Nike Running app and put on my running playlist! The first few kms were a breeze as I made way past the Flora Fountain and the Oberoi hotel to be running on the famed Marine Drive! While having no headband meant frequently wiping the sweat off my head, the enthusiasm of the fellow runners and the volunteers was beyond something that can be put into words! With my past HM experiences, I picked up a water bottle from one of the stalls and regularly kept sipping something to avoid feeling thirsty during the course. We made way past Chowpatty and at the end of 10 kms, were quickly approaching Haji Ali. The 10th km stretch was mainly downhill which made running easier! As I checked my time, I had spent close to 01:02 hrs to complete the 10k, which was per my plan, and well on target for a sub-05:30 completion.
The Haji Ali stretch brought us back to Worli Dairy which was again just next to the seas. This was also the point where the HM runners had commenced their run and we witnessed a plethora of runners on the opposite direction who were headed back to the finish line! At this point, I was highly motivated at being the Full Marathon runner as we cheered each other at all possible junctures.
At 14th km and a time of almost 01:28, we approached the much-anticipated Rajiv Gandhi Sealink. Commuters are not allowed to walk on the Sealink at any point in time, except for the SCMM event which made running through it a memorable moment. At 17th km on the Sealink, runners were already a bit fatigued, and a few of them were seen taking walking breaks, and also clicking selfies on the Sealink. The initial enthusiasm had paved way for realism, and the aid stations were packed with runners scrambling for a drink! I switched off my music and just soaked in the atmosphere, with water all around. Also, the breeze hit the runners from the front, slowing them down a bit. As a runner raced past me at this stage, I pointed to him a sign on the Sealink which read “Do not overtake”. We exchanged smiles and best wishes, and then continued with our journey to the finish line! One more sign read “Speed limit 60 km/hr”. I smiled to myself.
The stretch which I thought would be highly motivating, turned out to be a bit depressing after a point. The sun had come out in full force, and runners were now on their own, with tired legs and reduced motivation even before reaching the halfway mark. It seemed like running through endless water all around. The 21st km which marked the completion of a HM, also saw us face the traffic on the opposite side. The SCMM route is devoid of traffic completely, except at this juncture. This is where the much talked-about spirit of Mumbai came into picture! While near the Siddhivinayak Temple we almost completed around 25k, people had left the comfort of their homes and were on the streets, cheering the runners with their enthusiasm, fruits, biscuits, energy bars, salt, chocolates, sprays and what not! It felt more like a buffet while on the run.
Time – 09:30 AM
Having started the race around 05:50, by this time I had completed around 28 kms. Since I had broken down the race post 25 kms into 3-km zones, I knew I was still on track for a 05:30 finish. I even spotted a 05:15 pacer near me, which made me a bit more confident of a good finish. The elite runners were making their way when they crossed us here, and before I could blink my eye, they were gone. However, different things were in store for me and this is where I hit the wall. My legs refused to move and running was becoming increasingly difficult. The next couple of kilometers were completed using a walk-run strategy, and it took me another 20 mins for 2 kms. By 10 AM, I had completed ~30 kms. The sun was on in it’s full might, and a run-walk strategy seemed to fail too. My short sprints in between were at a 9 km/hr speed, which too hardly lasted few seconds.
It was at this point that the emotional bit took over as I stared at the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) tag which was waiting to be attached to me. To complete the remaining distance even by walking required me to brisk walk at a pace of around 6 km/hr which seemed like a Herculean task. The 05:30 finish was now a distant dream as I now took out my sunglasses and put them on. As stupid as it may sound, the DNF tag made me almost break into tears and that’s where my sunglasses came in handy, to hide the emotions and just continue with the journey. Frequent use of Volini and banana (again, courtesy an excellent Mumbai crowd) and a couple of energy gels just managed to let me walk enough to keep shifting my target to finally targeting just completing the race before the 06:30 cutoff time.
Time – 11 AM
As runners (now walkers) reached Jaslok Hospital on the way back, most of the aid stations wore a deserted look. The HM runners and the faster FM folks had emptied all stalls and water/electrolyte was tough to find. Thanks to Mumbaikars again, water bottles were available from the folks who handed those out to the runners at various places during the route. At 30 minutes past eleven, I still had 3 kms to cover. I wasn’t even sure if I was covering 4 km every hour since the target now was just to complete. A sweep vehicle passed us near Wankhede Stadium, requesting runners to keep to the side as the time had almost run out and the route would now be opened up to traffic. For the first time in a run did I get to witness something like this. It felt terrible. Wading through the traffic we also encountered the Dream Run runners who were ferrying back home after an enjoyable 6k run, and here I was, on my foot for over 6 hours now.
Even while first-time Full Marathon runners were done and having breakfast by now, I still struggled to complete the run. Crawling through the last few kms (rather than finishing strong), I managed to cross the finish line at around 12:08, recording a time of 06:20, reaching just 10 mins before the 06:30 cut off. I ranked 1350 out of 1470 in my category (defined by male runners of a similar age), which meant just a 100-odd runners completed after me. Not the most promising debut by any means, neither something to write home about, but yes! I had completed the run, and now could call myself a marathon runner!!
Though I intend to run my next Full Marathon only in Mumbai next year, at that point of time I was already pumped up to improvise on all the areas that had put me down this time, and aim for a better finish next year. With the running season now scheduled for a lean phase for some time before picking up again in July/August, there is still enough time to introspect and train harder for good and enjoyable runs during the year for the running community. The reflection of the first full marathon in SCMM and the memories would remain etched in memory for a long, very long time.
Aliasgar Poonawala, a Chartered Accountant is currently working in Bangalore.
Ali started running in 2015 and is passionate about running. What started as a hobby is today a passion and a way of life!