Every year, soon after the Mumbai Marathon, the restaurants of South Mumbai get busy catering to families and groups of runners assembled for refreshment and banter after the annual outing.
This January 20, noon, Gaylord restaurant at Churchgate was no exception. The tables outside had their share of people in running gear; similar scene prevailed within. On the restaurant’s upper deck was a large group of runners from India’s North East. It was a group rich in fine timings at TMM. They were from Run Meghalaya, a Shillong based-initiative, regularly sending runners from the north eastern state to participate at leading Indian running events, including the Mumbai Marathon.
In life, you have to be lucky to be talented and financially strong at once. In running too, some of the best talent hails from challenged circumstances. As part of their goals, initiatives like Run Meghalaya persevere to bridge this gap. Those assembled at the restaurant included Darishisha Iangjuh, Kmoin Wahlang, Jefferson Kharnaior, Shaikupar Kharshiing, Swonding Mawlong, Tlanding Wahlang, Geoff Nongrum, David Wahlang, Clementina Lyngdoh, Kresstarjune Pathaw, Habari Warjri and Carolyne Lyngdoh. Four of them were racing at TMM for the first time. Team members were mostly from Shillong (based there); three of them were from Mawkyrwat, the region associated with some of the best runners in Meghalaya. Mawkyrwat’s running culture has been attributed to tough rural lifestyle and organic diet. Mawkyrwat also hosts an annual ultramarathon (Mawkyrwat Ultra) now.
The strongest runner from the Run Meghalaya team was Tlanding Wahlang from Mawkyrwat. At 2019 TMM, he finished second overall in the full marathon for amateurs with timing of 2:40:53. In his age category (40-44 years) he placed first. In 2018 too, Tlanding had finished second in the full marathon for amateurs (Kresstarjune placed third); at that time his timing was tad slower at 2:42:57. According to Habari, Run Meghalaya has recommended Tlanding to authorities in Delhi for potential inclusion in the Indian team for the World Trail Championships scheduled in Portugal.
Another strong performer at 2019 TMM was Darishisha Iangjuh from Shillong. She placed third overall among women in the full marathon for amateurs with timing of 3:21:07. In her age category (18-24 years), she placed second. In 2018, Darishisha had finished first overall among women in the full marathon for amateurs with timing of 3:13:45. “ We are trying for some of our runners to qualify for the elite category,’’ Habari, who is part of the Run Meghalaya management, said. Swonding Mawlong of Mawkyrwat was yet another Meghalaya runner finishing on the podium in Mumbai this year. He placed second in his age category (50-54 years) completing the full marathon in 3:13:44. But the star performer was probably his mother in law, 71 year-old Kmoin Wahlang. The septuagenarian from Mawkyrwat – she is mother of 12 children and grandmother of 30 – finished the full marathon in 4:33:55 with a place on the podium in her age category (70-74 years) to boot. Interestingly her timing is significantly better than podium finishers among men in the corresponding age category.
Race day was challenging for many amateur runners. While the marathon commenced under favorable weather conditions, it suddenly grew warm. Aside from speculation about weather’s impact on performance, there were no specific complaints from the Meghalaya runners on that front. They found the ambiance and crowd support very encouraging. The sight of people voluntarily offering snacks and water along the way was praised. This year, Habari said, some of the team members failed to get adequate rest before the Mumbai Marathon because their travel time got extended. The number of races runners were frequenting was also more; it has likely contributed to slower recovery. The Meghalaya team while more or less maintaining its positions on the podium in Mumbai has probably seen a dip in timing for some of the participants, Habari said.
Although the Mumbai Marathon is India’s biggest, it is a more compact team than usual which heads to Mumbai from Meghalaya. Given the distance from Meghalaya to Mumbai and the fact that some of the state’s gifted runners don’t hail from well to do circumstances with pockets deep enough to afford travel cost, bigger groups typically travel to events in Kolkata and Delhi, some of the team members said. The events next on the team’s radar are the two IDBI Federal Life Insurance marathons in Kolkata and Delhi.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)