Yep. It's officially done with. The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. I am losing track of the number of times I have lined up at the start line. Every single year since 2005. Yeah. This is my third time running the full marathon here, and perhaps I have learnt a trick or two?
I still haven't figured out how best to get to the damned starting line (or back). This time was better, for sure on the way in, but only 'cause I had company. On the way back though, I really sucked and we had to walk several kilometers to get to a hot shower. And I would have gotten hopelessly lost (7 years living in Mumbai; countless times running SCMM; notwithstanding) if not for Hari and his innate sense of direction.
Long story cut short over there - a new personal best - am very happy with it.
Ramesh told us the plan, and I mentally made up my mind to stick to it till 30km. The plan called for restraint in the first 3 kms - very important for me as I tend to get too hyper enthu and run too fast in my hurry to get out of the crowd. 4-21 km was just coasting, picking up the pace a tad after 10km. Hari, Ramesh and I did great with our pacing - taking turns to pull each other back or forward. The first three hours of the run were really very enjoyable, weather was great, company awesome, we were in super spirits.
As the 30km mark neared, my mind, as usual was starting to be a bit murky. I told myself to go on till 32kms on Ramesh plan and then worry about what to do in the last 10. I could feel myself fading and occasionally falling behind him. I lost track of Hari at some stage and didn't (as usual) have the energy to turn my head back (yeah I know, it's weird but it happens often).
The "slog" kms started soon. At Pedder Road, I was sure I couldn't stick to plan (run up gently, no walk). Ramesh stopped at a water point. I couldn't. My mind wanted to get the incline done with and then hit up a water point. But I lost Ramesh in the process. I walked a few steps when I realised that. I even turned back a bit and spied his white shirt. Then I couldn't any more. I was on the bridge and on my own.
My hip started bothering me soon after. The hip pain migrated down to my knee after that. I didn't dare look at my legs - I remember once seeing a popping out muscle in my calf (or something). I fished out my little sachet of Volini and rubbed it on. And took a walk break. That helped and I chugged on forward, resolutely.
"No thanks Sweetheart" I kept saying to the kids offering biscuits (Ugh). I smiled bravely at people clapping for me, when I could. Most of the time though I had my head down. I was within goal in terms of time and knew all I had to do was continue forward. Still, I was very relieved to see another Chennai Runner t-shirt and recognise Nandu out of the corner of my eye.
I let him direct me for the rest of the 4 kms then. I ran when he said run, and took walk breaks when he said so. He set little targets and I just grunted my assent. I was suffering, no doubt, and he kept saying, we can do 4:30, which I didn't understand because my watch told me 4:25 was attainable. But the neurons didn't fire exactly (he was in Corral A and started earlier than I did, in Corral B) so I said yes.
Soon we were 100m from finish and I could see the arch. The detritus of the several thousands of runners ahead of us was there - all along the second half of the route in terms of bottles and stuff of course - but also in the bored looks of the audience. "Time to sprint" said Nandu. "Go ahead" I said. The final sprint is my thing, and I did, but not as fast as him, but yes, the best I could.
I was happy to see the race clock at 4:28 & change, which meant that I had finished in 4:24. I remembered to switch off the timer on my watch. I was glad to have Nandu to take along with me to the medical tent (as a ritual) for some electrolyte. I picked up some ice to somehow shove on to my hip which was hurting. And we went inside and looked for the medals stand.
I was in a bit of haze for the next 5-10 mins. I told myself to calm down. That this is how getting to a PB feels like (difficult, not impossible). I was irritated at being given my finisher medal in a plastic bag. Annoyed at all the trash in Azad Maidan (an increasingly big worry for me). I plonked down and waited for the rest of the gang to show up and find me...