Illustration: Shyam G Menon

This year, close to 45,000 people participated in the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), Asia’s biggest in terms of participation and prize money. A growing marathon, in its fifteenth year amid Indian matrix of population and congestion, the event has its share of fatigue around the edges. Should it keep adding numbers or should it emphasize performance? While reinvigorating the Mumbai marathon is a matter for the organizers to mull over, runners continue to find the event a magnet. For the seasoned, it is an annual pilgrimage. For others, it is a rite of passage. Either way, they arrive. At the end of every edition, a few people find themselves on the podium. We spoke to a mix of runners, elite and amateur, who secured podium finish at 2018 TMM. Those featured: T Gopi, Nitendra Singh Rawat, Thomas Bobby Philip, Sabhajeet Yadav, Bhasker Desai, Vaijayanti Ingawale, Manoj Rane, Pervin Batliwala, K.C.Kothandapani, Simta Sharma, Dnyaneshwar Tidke, Khurshid Mistry and Idris Mohamed. Please scroll down to read what each person had to say.

Prepared Well And Finished First, Still It Could Have Been Better

T Gopi (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Thonakal Gopi: A relatively recent entrant to the marathon, Gopi was a pacer who amazed everyone by finishing second among Indian elite runners at the 2016 Mumbai marathon. The effort had earned the army runner a berth to run the full marathon at the Rio Olympics, which he did completing the discipline in 2:15:25, placing a creditable 25th. In November 2017, Gopi was in the news for winning the Asian Marathon Championship, the first Indian male athlete to do so. On January 21, 2018, at the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM), he placed first in the full marathon under the Indian elite category for men. He covered the 42 km-distance in 2:16:51 tad slower than his 2016 timing of 2:16:15. It was a tight finish with fellow army runner Nitendra Singh Rawat battling him to the line. That evening Gopi spoke to this blog. “ If I compare the outcome of today’s run with how much I practised, then I don’t think it is quite up to the mark. After the Asian Marathon Championship I got only a month or so to prepare. Despite limited time, I prepared well. Compared to that, I feel my performance wasn’t as good as it should have been. It didn’t match my expectations. There were some reasons for it – roughly ten days before reaching Mumbai I had pain in my hamstring and shin bone. There was the change in weather to deal with. Road condition also matters. I am not talking of ups and downs, I am referring to how even the road surface is. All this may have contributed. We had a pacer till around the 32 km-mark. Until the 27th kilometer, the pace was good; we seemed to be on par with the record. But after that for the next five to six kilometers, the pacer became trifle slow. Once he faded, it was only Nitin (Nitendra Singh Rawat) and I. I was leading but I couldn’t push alone. I think Nitin was also in the same position. In that last 10-12 kilometers, the run suffered some loss of quality. Overall therefore, the result wasn’t as I would have liked it to be,’’ Gopi said.

Another Podium But Is Anyone Listening?

Nitendra Singh Rawat (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Nitendra Singh Rawat:  Winner of the Indian elite category at the 2016 edition of the Mumbai marathon, Nitendra Singh Rawat was subsequently unlucky at the Rio Olympics, where injury hampered his performance. He finished 84th in the field. It was a costly injury, for the talented runner – he had set a course record at the 2016 Mumbai marathon – found himself out of the national camp. In early November 2017, when this blog caught up with him, Nitendra was training in Ranikhet, home of the the Indian Army’s Kumaon Regiment, to which he belonged. He was determined to make a comeback. Days later, on November 19, he produced his first major victory in a while, smashing the course record and bagging the title in the men’s Indian elite category at the 2017 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM). Soon afterwards, talking to the media, he said that he had aimed to win the race and prove that he belonged to the national camp. At the 2018 TMM, Nitendra finished a close second to Gopi, completing the full marathon in 2:16:54. A day after the race, he spoke to this blog about his outing at TMM. He said he had been running a full marathon at competitive level after a long time. He also wanted to make sure that he does not injure himself afresh. Repeating a point he had made before the media after the race, he said that chances of chasing the course record would have been brighter if the race had commenced tad early. Late start means the runners are pushing their limits in warm weather. Asked if he was now back in the national camp, Nitendra said that was yet to happen. He had trained for TMM at Ooty, renting his own accommodation and practising with other elite runners. He planned to return to Ooty.

Sub-Three Maintained

Thomas Bobby Philip (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Thomas Bobby Philip: At the 2017 Mumbai marathon, this runner from Bengaluru – running in the 50-55 age category – had finished the full marathon in 2:58:46. This year he improved his timing some more, covering the 42 km-distance in 2:57:17 to place second in his category (50-54 years). The performance notwithstanding, Bobby said that the passage to TMM had been challenging. In mid-October 2017 Bobby was laid low by viral fever. “ It drained me out,’’ he said. Coming up was the New York marathon. He had made all bookings and arrangements to run there. It was too late to back out. Somehow he ran it straining his calves and quads in the process. He finished the New York marathon in 3:13. He took at least two weeks to recover from the effort. “ Overall, I could not prepare well for TMM,’’ he said, adding, “ eventually it was just my mental strength plus a lot of pushing that yielded the improvement in timing by about 90 seconds.’’ If you go through the TMM podium finishes, you will notice that Bobby’s is the last sub-three performance among men securing a place on the podium. In the age categories following his, timings are in the three hour realm and beyond. What should also interest is that his timing is better than at least four podium finishes in age categories noticeably younger than his. Bobby believes that given the improving performances reported by Indian runners, sub-three performances in the amateur category are set to rise. It won’t be a novelty any more. TMM over, Bobby – in a practice he has followed for long – will reduce mileage and focus on intensity to get ready for the TCS 10K in Bengaluru. Thereafter, he will focus on both increased mileage and intensity as the year builds up to the next TMM. These two events are the pivots around which Bobby structures his year in running.

A Seventh Win In The Bag And How!

Sabhajeet Yadav (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Sabhajeet Yadav: Marathon organizers don’t ask him how he reaches the start line. So this year too, the farmer from Dabhiya – winner six times in his age category at the Mumbai marathon – stuck to a practice that has come to be characteristically Sabhajeet. On the trip to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh, his train was terribly late. He reached the city January 19, late at night. He stayed with a friend in Aarey Colony. Next day he collected his bib from the TMM pre-race expo at Bandra-Kurla Complex. That was when Ramavtar Rajbhar of Gorakhpur called. Both men knew each other from previous editions of the Mumbai marathon. According to Sabhajeet, Ramavtar had been a podium finisher in the half marathon some years ago. Their discussion on the phone revolved around a simple topic – what’s the best way to ensure that you are at the start line on time? “ For me, the choice is simple. I come to Mumbai to run the marathon. So the closer you are to the start line, the better it is,’’ Sabhajeet said. Focused on reporting to the race on time and having no desire to be delayed by any of Mumbai’s traffic snarls or rail problems, he has in the past slept at the city’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT). The railway terminus is stone’s throw from the start line of the full marathon. It took no time for the two men to agree that the railway station seemed apt solution for their concerns. Later that day, eve of the race, they met in the vicinity of CSMT; Ramavtar had brought with him one more person, a runner from Sholapur. Making a slight departure from tradition, the three runners slept on the footpath near Azad Maidan. “ You can call it sleep but it wasn’t exactly so,’’ Sabhajeet said smiling. A footpath is rarely quiet. Given other footpath dwellers around, he admitted to being tad worried about his bag containing his belongings, none of it luxury and all pertaining to what he required for the race. According to Sabhajeet, the trio spent the night in a haze of light sleep and talk about running, how race day might be and how to tackle the race. Early morning it was a short hop from footpath to start line. Three hours, 29 minutes and 12 seconds after the full marathon commenced, 62 year-old Sabhajeet Yadav had registered a seventh win in his category, the 60-64 years age group. As he slowly advances in age, Sabhajeet has modified the mix of events he participates in – he now runs more half marathons and a few handpicked full marathons, the latter being typically the full marathons of Mumbai and Bengaluru. Besides the seven podium finishes he has accumulated at the Mumbai marathon, he has had seven podium finishes at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) and three podium finishes at TCS 10K. “ I would like to go for Masters Athletics,’’ he said. Should that ever happen, his wish is to run the classic middle distance disciplines. “ I think my chances are strong there,’’ he said. And what if he qualifies to represent the country in Masters? What if he has to travel abroad? “ I will have to go with others as I don’t speak English and won’t be able to manage alone,’’ Sabhajeet said. Aside from well-wishers like Mumbai based-runner Bhasker Desai, who has stood by him and supported him, Sabhajeet has no sponsors. No manufacturer of running gear, no shoe company, none have come to his assistance despite his collection of podium finishes and a style of running that anyone would applaud. And as said, organizers don’t ask him where he slept or how well. Prize money is important for Sabhajeet. “ We grow wheat. Last year the crop was alright as should be this year for rains were good. But the thing with farming is that much of the produce is consumed at home and earnings from any surplus sold is typically ploughed back into the farm,’’ he said illustrating his financial predicament wherein prize money from running matters. On the morning of January 23, he met this blog for a chat at Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus from where the train he was booked on – Chhapra Express – was due to depart. He had three big bags in his hands; a fourth one – a small rucksack – hung on his shoulder. The big bags had been given to him by people from his part of UP, living in Mumbai. They contained gifts to be reached to families residing in three different villages not far from Dabhiya. “ My bag is this small one,’’ Sabhajeet said pointing to the rucksack. Coffee and conversation later, he walked off to board his train. He was scheduled to return in February for the half marathon in Thane.

A Well Organized Race, No Complaints Whatsoever

Bhasker Desai (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Bhasker Desai: Every year, Bhasker spends much time travelling. He makes it a point to be in Mumbai for the annual marathon. He has been running the Mumbai marathon regularly since 2006 and has among his milestones in running, a clutch of 2-3 podium finishes at the event. He has run at several races abroad. But Mumbai is home. That makes the city’s annual marathon, special. Bhasker hasn’t run the full marathon for almost two years. The full marathon needs dedicated training, something he finds difficult to do as he is always on the move. Preference has been for the half. “ I take every day as it comes’’ Bhasker said, admitting alongside that he likes it when he is rewarded with good timing. At 2018 TMM, he finished first in his category (65-69 years) in the half marathon with timing of 1:50:01. “ I am happy overall. Everything at the race was well organized. I have no complaints whatsoever,’’ Bhasker said.

On Target

Vaijayanti Ingawale (Photo: courtesy Vaijayanti Ingawale / Facebook page)

Vaijayanti Ingawale: This was her second marathon at this event. “ I must say it went off very well for me. So far, I have done three marathons, one of them at Sydney, last year. This time around in Mumbai I was familiar both with my ability and the marathon’s course, as I had run the event in January 2017,’’ Vaijayanti said. Her target was to get a sub 4:20. She was able to do that with correct pacing. “ I don’t use any gadgets. I plan my timing for each 10 km-segment. I progressed fairly well as per plan although there were temptations to surge ahead every time you saw someone familiar overtake you. However I did not push myself. I faced no issues at all and the overall arrangement including hydration was well organized,’’ Vaijayanti said. She won the full marathon in her age category (60-64 years) with timing of 4:19:56. “ This time around I trained very systematically and focused a lot on strengthening. I also rearranged my work hours so that I could devote some time to train,’’ she said. According to her, the Mumbai marathon has its own charm. “ There is so much support and encouragement from people. The course is not a very challenging one. I have participated in runs in Sydney, Hawaii and Malaysia and I must say they are organized quite professionally. In places like Sydney and Hawaii the culture of fitness is very strong. Here, the awareness towards long distance running is increasing slowly. I want to now attempt longer distances. I plan to do a 50 km run at Borivali National Park in February,’’ she said.

Berlin On The Cards

Manoj Rane (Photo: by arrangement)

Manoj Rane: “ For this year’s TMM I trained hard for the three months preceding the event. During this time, I got a personal best timing in the half marathon. I also did all my long runs after 8 AM, logging 350-360 kilometers every month from October to December 2017. I felt TMM was better than the earlier Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in terms of route and hydration. But I did run into a wall of half marathon runners right from Pedder Road till CSMT. That slowed me down. I completed 30 kilometers in 1:56 and was targeting to end the run with timing of 2:45-2:46. But the sharp turns in the last one kilometer made it difficult to maintain the pace. My next runs are the Shirdi Half Marathon and New Delhi Marathon in February. Later this year, in September, I will be attempting the Berlin Marathon. My plan is to attempt Boston Marathon and New York Marathon in 2019,’’ Manoj, who secured second position in the 2018 TMM-full marathon in the age category of 25 to 29 years, said. He completed the distance in 2:47:53.

Satisfied Despite Minor Setback

Pervin Batliwala (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Pervin Batliwala: Sometimes the unexpected strikes. Pervin is a strong runner; veteran of many Mumbai marathons. “ This time I had a problem. Just one week before TMM, I had to be on antibiotics. That left me feeling a bit weak,’’ she said. At 2018 TMM, Pervin finished second in her age category (60-64 years) in the full marathon with timing of 4:21:02. In 2017, when she placed first in her category, she had finished in 4:28:46. “ So its okay,” Pervin said. She had no complaints with race arrangements except for the condition of a stretch of road, which was part of the marathon route. The road at Babulnath, close to where she stays, had been repaired days before the marathon and for some reason its surfacing was left in a poorly finished manner. “ Otherwise, everything was good,’’ she said. Asked about the last stretch of the marathon’s route being changed due to metro work, she said it may have affected some of the elite athletes. But it was most unlikely to make any difference to amateurs. Going ahead, Pervin is due to run the London Marathon in April.

In India, Mumbai Marathon Is Best

K.C. Kothandapani (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

K.C. Kothandapani: Formerly with the Indian Air Force and now among Bengaluru’s best known coaches, Kothandapani finished third in the full marathon in the age group of 60-64 years, at 2018 TMM.  He completed the distance in 3:33:25. “ My run could have been better but for cramps in my left calf muscle at the 20 kilometer-mark. After that it was a struggle. Nevertheless, I was able to achieve my targeted timing of 3:35. In fact, I was able to better it. This time around I did not face the problem of half marathon runners coming in the way of full marathoners. Every year, this is a major issue for marathon runners. This time the organizers had marked a separate lane for marathoners in the last two kilometers. Of course, this must have benefited runners finishing before 3:35 hours. Later they kept the lane free for elite runners. Last year, I did four marathons – Mumbai in January, Tokyo in February, Chicago in October and New York in November. At these destinations, weather and crowd support was extremely favorable. Crowd support is there until the end of the race. In India, Mumbai is the best in terms of support and cheering. This is my eighth outing at the Mumbai marathon. Over these years, competition has increased hugely especially in age categories like 60 to 64 years. Competition among women runners has also gone up. Road quality is not bad though much of the roads that we run on are made of concrete, which is not good for the joints. My next event is the National Masters Meet at Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore. I will be attempting the 5000 meters, 10,000 meters and the 2000 meters-steeple chase in my age category. I had qualified for this during last month’s state Masters’ Meet. Once this is done, I will focus on training for Boston Marathon, which is on April 16, followed by Big Sur Marathon in California, on April 29.

The Expo Changed Her Mind

Simta Sharma (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Simta Sharma: “ I was not planning to run this time. I was recovering from an attack of dengue. But when I went to the expo to collect my bib I changed my mind and decided to attempt the race,’’ Simta said. According to her, the 2018 TMM was a great experience. “ In the first two kilometers, I was running alongside the pack of 9-10 elite women athletes. In the third kilometer I overtook them and it stayed so until the tenth kilometer, when they just flew ahead. I could not keep up with their pace,’’ she said. Simta finished second in her age group (30-34 years) in the half marathon with timing of 1:36:11. “ During my training I did feel the impact of dengue as I was not able to keep my pace up at race-pace levels. Also, during TMM, the fag end of the race was tough for me as I kept getting stitches in my stomach,’’ she said. She found the overall arrangements including hydration quite good. “ Cheering was fantastic. I must have heard my name being called out by supporters and runners at least 25-30 times right from Worli until the end of the race,’’ she said. This is my second Mumbai marathon. The last one was in 2016 when I was pacing a friend. I am quite happy with my timing. For me the running season is over with this event. I will now focus on strength training and 10 kilometer-runs,’’ she said. In 2017, Simta had won the Wipro Chennai Marathon in open category.

Not His Finest Finish But Its Podium Still

Dnyaneshwar Tidke (This photo has been downloaded from Dnyaneshwar’s Facebook page.

Dnyaneshwar Tidke: Although he did not have a strong finish this time, Dnyaneshwar could secure a place on the podium. “ I started cramping at the 17 kilometer-mark. This is the first time I got cramps in my entire running career. Initially, I tried to overlook it by running continuously. I did not want to stop. But the cramps kept getting worse. Until 32 km I was able to maintain my target pace but the last 10 km was tough. I took 45 minutes to finish the last 10 km,’’ Dnyaneshwar said. He finished the 2018 TMM full marathon in third position in his age category (40-44 years) with timing of 2:55:44. “ My practice was good but I suffered a knee injury at the Delhi half marathon. I lost 15-20 days resting after this injury. I was worried that my knee may pose problems but it held up well,’’ he said. Mumbai marathon is an important event for him. “ The problem that I faced in the just ended race was wading through a sea of half marathon runners during the latter part of the course. This time during the final stretch I found many wheelchair participants on the course and I had to make my way through them,’’ he said. Dnyaneshwar has run the Boston marathon twice. “ Overseas, marathons are managed very professionally. Basically, there needs to be integration between the civic body and other authorities to help manage a marathon, which is an important event for any city,’’ he said. Dnyaneshwar’s immediate plan in running is to focus on his training and then pay attention to coaching.

A Good Race But Please Don’t Throw Those Bottles On The Course

Khurshid Mistry (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Khurshid Mistry: “ My run went off very well,’’ Khurshid said. She finished second in her age category (50-54 years) at the 2018 TMM half marathon with timing of 1:54:41. According to her, the 5:40 AM start for half marathon runners was very beneficial for early finishers. “ The arrangements for TMM were superb. All details were attended to very well. This time running was easy, public support along the course was fabulous. Mumbai Road Runners had some cheer zones, which was a very good thing for runners. Also, signs and route indicators were very prominent all over the place. There was not much crowding at start this time around. I enjoyed the run thoroughly and I did not have any problems whatsoever,’’ she said. As much of her training for distance running is done on Mumbai roads Khurshid is quite familiar with the marathon’s route. “ That’s a major advantage for us Mumbaikars. I find the Mumbai marathon course moderately challenging. One has to plan the pace correctly. For half marathon runners, as soon as we start, we get the gradient of the Bandra-Worli sea link. This time around the sea link was well lit up but the distressing fact was that runners were throwing bottles right on the course making running difficult,’’ she said. For now, TMM is her last long distance event. “ I will be shifting to training for sprinting as I have events coming up in March and April,’’ she said.

Podium Again But Date With Full, Missed

Idris Mohamed (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Idris Mohamed: In the 2017 edition of the Mumbai marathon, Idris had finished second in his age category (45-50 years) in the half marathon. For the following year in Mumbai, he had set his eyes on the full marathon, something he wanted to do before he turns 50 in May 2018. Idris is at a running event almost every weekend; half marathons dominate the menu. Scheduling a full marathon in between is tricky because it impacts his running calendar with races back to back. As things played out, he had to settle for yet another half marathon at 2018 TMM. On the bright side, he completed the discipline in 1:22:30, which is a two minute-improvement over his timing in 2017. Once again, he finished second in his category. Speaking to this blog on Republic Day (January 26), some days after TMM, Idris said he was due to run a half marathon in Tirunelveli that weekend and then follow it up with the much awaited full marathon, which now stands reserved for the IDBI Full Marathon in Kolkata. Full done, Idris was slated to participate in the National Masters Meet wherein he will compete in the 800 meters, 1500 meters, 5000 meters and 10,000 meters. Should he make it through, then the next step would be the World Masters Athletics Championship scheduled to be held in Spain. As for his half marathon at 2018 TMM he said, “ I am happy with my performance. Everything went smoothly. Perhaps the only issue was those additional turns towards the end as the route was changed owing to ongoing metro work,’’ he said. Asked about hydration, he said he didn’t face any problems because at his pace in the half marathon, he needs to depend on just two aid stations. Overall, Idris said, he didn’t sense any major difference between the 2017 edition of the Mumbai marathon and its reincarnation as TMM.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)