Monday, January 21, 2013

Mumbai Marathon: A few suggestions

There is something unique and wonderful about running the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). The event has grown in size steadily over the last 10 years to become a premier event in the world running calendar. The large numbers of people that line up the streets do make it an expressive carnival that Mumbaikars take immense pride in. And the event has grown in terms of the numbers of participants that run the various races that make up the SCMM. These are only a part of what makes the event a riot of colour, noise, participation and an expression of togetherness. 

Since the addition of the Bandra-Worli Sealink the course is also quite wonderful. The many extended flat segments, the 4km Sealink, the run along Queen's Necklace and the gentle inclines make it quite a nice course to run without being either too difficult or too challenging. The good parts more than make up for the stench that a runner is hit with along a few segments of the run. The entire course is closed to traffic and that is a definite plus. The volunteers and organizers are extremely polite and highly focused. 

Although it is a serious run for many people, there is much fun to be had. It is definitely one of the better organised races in India; perhaps even the best. I wrote a blogpost on my own experiences running the SCMM2013 earlier today.

Yet, I do believe that the event must be better organised. Here are a few suggestions I have for the organisers and runners.

Portaloos at the start point:
Five portable toilets (portaloos) for men and five for women at the starting point is just not enough please. There were a few more portaloos along the course as soon as we started the half marathon run, but most runners gather at the start point at least half an hour in advance and do not want to hold their stuff in them for longer than is necessary. The loo queue was way too long in my view. I hate writing this and I'd hate to be the reader of what I am about to write, but after waiting in queue for 15 minutes, the loo I went in to was filled with unpleasant stuff. Why? Because there was no water for the guy(s) that had used the loo before me. So the lack of enough portaloos and the lack of water makes it a massive double fail in my books. Why can't we get this aspect of hygiene right? Ever?

Water station at the start point:
Runners spend nearly half an hour in the holding bay at the start. Few runners got water with them. A water station at the holding bay will not go awry. Runners preparing to move towards the start line need to hydrate properly.

Mark the water stations please:
The Mumbai marathon has plenty of water stations and this is a big plus. However, as a runner I do not know when the next one is going to come up. It should not be too much of a hassle to mark our the water stations clearly with a banner that makes it easily recognisable from at least 100m out. A blue dot that sticks out (say) 3m high will mark the water station out distinctly. Depending on which side of the road the banner is, runners who need the water can then line themselves up to either on the right or the left side of the road as they approach the station. The last thing you want to see is runners cutting across your path from right to left (or the other way) the moment they realise they may just be about to cross a water station.

Crowd management at the finish line:
The finish line has always been chaos central in the SCMM and this keeps getting more and more chaotic with each passing year; simply because the numbers keep increasing. It would be great to see better organisation and better crowd dispersion management controls at the finish line. The absence of portaloos at the finish line was a source of severe disappointment. After having consumed copious amounts of liquid -- a mixture of water and isotonic drinks -- I was hopping around after my finish -- not from pain but from a distinct desire to not have an embarrassing accident. 

Telephone capacity:
This is less to do with the organisers and more to do with the telephone carriers. All runners were desperately trying to contact their family or friends to let them know they were fine; that they had completed. Many of them may have wanted to organise their ride home. Few phones worked. The fact that the telephone companies could not organise additional capacity on the day was a major fail in my books. 

Runner etiquette:
Apart from the BO index (especially near the start line) being insanely high, the main problem I had with my fellow runners was that they'd drop their water bottles in the middle of the road after finishing with it. If you can't find a bin, do fling the bottle to the side of the road and against the pavement. Two reasons mainly. Firstly, this makes it easier for the cleanup operation. But more importantly, it makes for a clearer path for the the slower runners and the elite marathoners who would trod the track later. However, I found many a half-finished water bottle, a half finished orange or assorted rubbish on the road. This was somewhat disappointing behaviour from a cohort that was generally excellently aware, organised and prepared.

Overall, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2013 was excellently organised. I will certainly run more SCMMs in the future. If a few jagged edges are ironed out, I am sure SCMM will be a much better event than it already is.

-- Mohan (@mohank)

Run Mumbai Run

I saw the 18k mark approach me. And yes, that's exactly how it was for me from the 15k mark onwards. I wasn't running; the course ran towards me.

Just as the 18k mark reached me, I glanced to my right to see a man in crutches walk his way along the course. He struggled to place one foot ahead of the other; each step, accompanied by a grimace. Yet he braved the course and trudged along. Occasionally, he would smile at someone in the crowd. But he was largely focused on his own progress, his own work. I am not sure what distance he ran; but, if I were in his shoes and crutches, 100m would have been hard. But this remarkabe man wasn't interested in giving up. He was't there to give up; he was there to complete. He grimaced and smiled his way with extreme determination. I know. I stopped as soon as I saw him, partly in admiration and partly to support him. And I walked alongside him for a while. After a while, I realised that he did not need the support. I did! I acknowledged the presence of a lump in my throat, saluted him and looked ahead at the work I had to do. I had another 3km to go. The course came towards me once again.

At the 19km mark I was once again stunned. I spotted a man with one good leg. From his knee down, his other leg was a graphite rod. He ran along the course in a determined manner. He looked ahead, his gaze fixed on a point some 10m ahead of him. He ran proud; each stride measured, purposeful and filled with determination. I felt privileged to run along with him for about 100m or so at the end of which I saluted this man too, and once again allowed the course to flow towards me.

People like these two remarkable men reaffirm my hope in human endeavour. They stretch the limits of human achievement. They brave pain and achieve their goals through the force of their intense determination.

I was underprepared for the Mumbai Half marathon this year. Among other things, extraordinary work pressures hindered my preparations through much of November and December. But I did compete. Thanks to these two wonderful men, my own battles with my sense of underpreparedness and with the course were rendered hopelessly insignificant in comparison. I was carried to the finish line by these two and by the lovely people of Mumbai. 

"Run Mumbai Run". That was what I heard many spectators, including an old woman, shout as I ran my third Mumbai (half) marathon today. At the 17km mark, I spotted this old lady seated in a plastic chair by the side of the road. She clapped enthusiastically, just as many other Mumbaikars had, to cheer the runners. The old lady must have been about 80 years old; barely able to stand. Yet she braved the chill January air, her family stood around her, and applauded the runners along Peddar Road. And it is people like her that make the Mumbai marathon one of the very best in the world. I have run a few organised long runs. I have never seen such heartfelt participation as I have seen in Mumbai. 

Plenty of kids, youngsters, old men and women lined the streets. Some held trays of biscuits, some a candy tray, others offered peeled oranges. Many just clapped and provided words of encouragement. Along Worli Seaface one man had set up an ad-hoc pain-relief-spray camp. He would spray the weary legs of runners who wanted the relief. When I ran past, there were at least 10 discarded cans of spray around him and his army of helpers. Another man had set up a pain-relief station with ice cubes wrapped in plastic sachets. He applied these instant ice packs on several weary calf muscles.

And then there were the banner holders. I remember one banner held aloft that said, "Have fun on your run. For this is your day in the sun." And there was another one near Peddar Road that cracked me up. A young girl held aloft a poster that read: "Run fast like you have stolen something." Posters like these deflect the attention of amateur runners from their tired legs! The many DJ stations that pumped out music, their words of encouragement and the Navy Band along Queen's Necklace helped too.

The constant applauding, the shouts of encouragement ("keep running there's not far to go") and the chants provided a constant fillip to exhausted legs; they add to the atmosphere and relieve the pain of running. That said, I'm not sure "Fire on the mountain run run run" was an entirely appropriate chant. My backside and legs were already on fire. The last thing I wanted was to run away from an imaginary fire on an imaginary mountain! Every now and then, one of the runners would shout “Ganapathi Bappa” and the few tired runners around him would dredge out a “moriya” in response. 

These lovely people combined to add at least 4km to my weary and underprepared legs. It was a perfect day for running, but it was also a cold day for those that weren't running. But the gorgeous spectators were all there to make the Mumbai Marathon special in the running calendar.

I ran for a worthy cause: Vidya. They do some committed and fantastic work, and provide access to education to the underprivileged. If you are able to, please visit their website and give generously.

Oh, I did complete the half marathon. The finish time was unimportant. On a lovely and a perfect day for running, when many runners scored their personal best times, I scored my personal worst half marathon time of approximately 2 hours and 36 minutes (the official finish times will be released in a fortnight). However, for me, like those two wonderfully committed men, what was important was that I took part. Like those two wonderfully courageous men, it was all about "Run Mumbai Run”.

-- Mohan (@mohank)