Kamlya Joma Bhagat , January 18. 2016 (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Kamlya Joma Bhagat (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

On the road opposite the bus depot in Panvel is a small restaurant called Visava.

During weekends, it is a well known meeting place for hikers headed to the nearby hills; a round of tea and snacks here is routine before boarding a bus to the drop off point for a hike. It was the day after the 2016 Mumbai Marathon aka Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). We were in Visava, tucking into hot misal paav, discussing a piece of news that the staff and students of Namdev Bua Khutarikar Vidyalaya, a school in Taloja, were yet to know. For that matter, except runners in Panvel, nobody around probably knew what the school’s PT teacher had achieved the day before.

On Sunday, thanks to fellow runners who enrolled him for the event, Kamlya Joma Bhagat had run his first half marathon at SCMM. Not only had he not run at the event previously – SCMM is India’s biggest marathon and it’s richest in terms of prize money – he had also not seen it as a spectator. Panvel is slightly less than 50 km from South Mumbai, where much of the SCMM action is. Hailing from poor circumstances, Kamlya lived in Fanaswadi, a small village some distance from Panvel. His house when we visited him in the summer of 2015, was little better than a hut, composed of one room and a sit-out. Life had been tough. He ran despite the struggle and often, to address it, for races have prize money. Although 50 km is not a great distance, SCMM was peripheral to Kamlya’s predicament. Running is universal. But running events are typically in cities. Events are accessible for a registration fee; then there is the cost entailed in physically accessing the venue, staying in distant towns and cities. Most runners take this expense for granted. These days urban India has money. People regularly travel around running at various events. But what if – urban or rural – you don’t have that kind of money? “ This was my first time at SCMM. Others got me registered to run at the event, so I went,’’ Kamlya said of the 2016 edition (for more on Kamlya please see https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/half-or-full-thats-the-question/). From time to time, he has been supported by fellow runners; names mentioned in this regard included Chetan Gusani, Bijay Nair, Philip Earis and Dnyaneshwar Tidke.

Having been a runner since his high school and college days and having participated in some races, Kamlya knew that on a good day he could finish in the top 20 lot at an event. In fact, a couple of months earlier at the Bengaluru (Bangalore) Marathon, he had finished fifth in his age category in the half marathon. A regular runner averaging anywhere between 5-15km on his daily practice runs, Kamlya can run a half marathon at short notice. According to him, he is by nature a runner who is comfortable at speed; he has to consciously remind himself to run slowly when training. And because that is a conscious reminder, the moment he forgets it and drifts to comfort zone, he finds himself moving fast. That’s how Kamlya became a half marathon specialist. He wants to try running and finishing the full marathon. But not yet. He does not want focus on the full harming his ability in the half. Kamlya didn’t train specifically for the SCMM. There was nothing like months and weeks of preparation. “ With the SCMM in mind, I trained for two weeks, that’s all. Of that, during the second week, I trained only three days. The remaining days I rested,’’ he said.

Fanaswadi, June 2015 (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

Fanaswadi (Photo: Latha Venkatraman)

On January 17, 2016, he left his house in Fanaswadi at 1 AM to reach Panvel and travel with other runners from there to Worli in central Mumbai, the starting point of the half marathon. Worli is close to the sea. Commencing there, the half marathon route goes over the Worli Sea Link – a beautiful bridge across a stretch of sea with SCMM being the only time of the year runners get to be on it – toward South Mumbai and the iconic CST Railway Terminus, near which the run concludes. “ I ran the first ten kilometres very well. Then I had to slow down a bit,’’ Kamlya said. Race details for bib number 18252 show that the first 5.5 km went by in 18:25 minutes; the 10.5 km mark was touched in 36:26 with an average speed of 17.3 kmph.

Grounded by injury and second time unlucky at running my first SCMM, I was walking toward Marine Drive early Sunday morning, when the first of the half marathon runners whizzed past near Ambassador Hotel. I took a couple of photos of the runners and then gave up for the sun hadn’t risen yet and my small camera wasn’t suited for photography in dim light; its flash was also too weak to throw a strong beam that far. I remember wondering: is Kamlya running this time? There was a point therein when I thought I saw him go by. Then I said: not sure if that is him. Kamlya said he concluded his race with a strong feeling that he had probably lived up to what he expected – a finish in the top 20. He left South Mumbai thinking so, no more, no less. Later that evening in Panvel, his friends broke the news: he had topped his age category (30-35 years) in the half marathon at SCMM with a finishing time (chip time) of 1:16:56. Event results show that he was first in his age category and 14th in a half marathon field of 11,805 finishers; 14th again among 9782 male finishers.

Kamlya said he is reluctant to talk about his milestones in running. For this reason, as of Monday, his colleagues and students at the school hadn’t been informed of what their PT teacher accomplished. “ I haven’t told them. I don’t like talking of these things myself. If others who appreciate running notice it and talk about it, that’s different, ’’ he said. “ Have you seen the earlier article we wrote about you?’’ I asked Kamlya. “ No, ’’ he said, “ I have no Internet.’’

 (The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article has inputs from Latha Venkatraman.)