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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Dashing Docs and some 42 km talk
By: Hemal Ashar

With the Mumbai Marathon to be run on Sunday, MiD DAY takes a quirky look at the twists and turns of a race that has become a part of the fabric of the city

There was much fanfare about the first time ever that runners would run the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in 2010. Photographers too were naturally thrilled because the link would be their Kodak moment.

Imagine a thousand runners on the bridge, the sun just climbing on to the sky, some beams glancing off that water, dappled light and the steel of the bridge glinting all around... it was a prospect that would make shutterbugs salivate in excitement.

Athletes on the Sea Link in last year's Marathon

Talking about salivating, all that runners remember of the Sea Link in 2010 was the dry patch they had to endure because there were no water stations on that stretch.

This time though, organisers promise there would be water stations and energy drink stations on that picturesque patch, so that the half-marathoners (21 km) and full marathoners, (42 km) runners can fortify themselves. Well, like they say, sea-ing is believing.

With every edition, the marathon introduces new twists all necessary as the event grows in stature. This time, for the eighth edition Dr Aashish Contractor of the Asian Heart Institute in Bandra (E) said that there are going to be eight medics on bikes to assist during the race, in addition to ambulances, just in case, ambulances cannot reach the runners caught up in the throng as quickly as bikes would do. Watch out for the dashing docs on two wheels - a la Dhoom. After all, the marathon is all about speed.

I wonder what the anthem for this year's marathon will be. Last year, as the gun went off in the 21-km (half-marathon) event, runners shouted: Aaaalll izzzz well with reference to the popular song from the movie, 3 Idiots. Those who followed the marathon said they heard exhausted 42-km (full marathon) runners pumping themselves up by shouting, all izzzz well near Marine Drive as they neared the finish line, which brings me to what would be the unofficial marathon anthem this time around: Mein Zandu balm hui? Or Sheila Ki Jawaani? Or even the song zor ka jhatka hai dheere se laaga, shaadi ho gayi umar kaid ki sazaa with a twist, 'zor ka jhatka hai dheere se laga, marathon ho gayi 42-km ki sazaa?'

You think it cannot get any tougher than that. With lungs bursting for air and leaden legs you chug along the marathon course, only to come to an incline. In marathon parlance, the inclines or gradients on a course are often known as heartbreak hills because they demand so much from a runner. The Mumbai course has its heartbreak hill too. From Haji Ali all the way to Peddar Road, it is a slow, hard climb. Then of course comes the hill at Babulnath a quick steep incline, demanding a surge from the tired runners. Even elite runner Mubarak Hassan Shami doing his first marathon here asked about the gradient. The marathon is probably the only time in life when one is glad to be, quite literally, "over the hill."

Why has the marathon become so popular? The lure of this event is its simplicity, like they say: Anybody can run. One quotable quote comes from sportswear giant Nike that says, "There are clubs you can't belong to, neighborhoods you can't live in, schools you can't get into, but the roads are always open."

One of the elite athletes to run in Mumbai this year is Richard Yatich who now calls himself Mubarak Hassan Shami, one of those highly talented Kenyan athletes to run for Qatar for big money. Kenya has been in crisis with its formidable long distance runners being wooed by oil-rich Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with fistfuls of cash. Several runners have made the switch, Yatich being one of them. Kenya had to actually start thinking hard how to keep back its athletes as one fleet-footed champion left after the other.

Those who watched the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction, seeing cricketers bought and sold by corporates must read up about how elite athletes are being 'bought' all over the world as men and women with plump purses go athlete shopping. Several Africans are running for the Gulf countries, some for Denmark and yet others for the United States of America (USA). Who can judge them? Those who do not know what it is to be deprived of education because you cannot afford the fees? For the African runners, maybe it is all about selling their 'soles'.

The half-marathoners will start nearly half an hour earlier than last time, this year around with the race beginning at 6.15 am instead of 6.40 am. The obvious advantage is that it would be much cooler earlier in the day, and the organisers are hoping to give the full, elite marathoners a clear field as they run towards the last stretch, which still tends to get a little cluttered with amateur half-marathoners staggering in. While that planning is great, getting to the venue so early is quite tough for runners, especially women who have to at times come in empty trains to CST or Churchgate station. Maybe, the Railway authorities could think about special security in the women's compartment for that day.

While marathoners may be whooping with delight at the prospect of lower temperatures this January, one only has to go back to January 2010 when a similar scenario had unfolded. It seemed perceptibly cooler till race day when there was a cruel twist and on marathon day it turned unusually hot, perhaps the hottest race day in all the editions of the marathon. Weather gods, the runners are praying.

The marathon always brings about memories of Fauja Singh, a UK-based Sikh runner who had started doing marathons when he was 89! He had run full marathons at 93 and over, till his coach Harmandar Singh announced some years ago that Fauja, an icon for the community overseas, had officially retired. A Google search throws up that Fauja is now 99-years-old and according to some Internet reports has started running again. One report said The New York Marathon, it is said has promised him a huge sum if he runs it when he is 100. Whatever the truth, it is unfortunate that Fauja could never make it to Mumbai for the marathon. He is a huge figure in the UK, has collected huge sums for a charity called Bliss and is dubbed as 'Lion of Punjab' by some. Some years ago, Fauja had taken part in the New York Marathon. In New York, however, Fauja was part of a group of Sikhs who used the race to make a statement. They ran to raise awareness about Sikhism. Sikhs have been mistaken for Muslims in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on USA. A Sikh had lost his life after he was shot, allegedly mistaken for a Muslim post 9/11. It has been reported that when Fauja ran, there were shouts of, "Bin laden, Bin Laden" from the crowd though he had refused to comment on this, simply telling a website that he was "not upset" by the comments.


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