A runner once told me, “The Mumbai Marathon is like an annual pilgrimage that no runner would miss.” I couldn’t argue with that. There is a great adrenaline rush when the Mumbai Marathon is only a few days away, and you’re itching to exhibit your athletic skills. But, is the Mumbai Marathon only about Mumbaikars?
Actually, it’s much more than that just any marathon. And for a runner, whether local or not, it is everything one could ever dream of. So what makes the Mumbai Marathon stand out from those in the other cities? How is it that runners from other Indian cities come to Mumbai to run the marathon, and then, naturally, fall in love with the city?
“The Mumbai Marathon is like a festival,” says Sat Paul Bangarh, a 64-year-old veteran of 45 half-marathons and 8 full-marathons, who hails from Punjab. “I really admire the people of Mumbai. They come out in large numbers and stand in queues to cheer the runners.”
What attracts runners to the Mumbai Marathon year after year? Avik Patel, a software engineer working in Hyderabad is a runner par excellence. He has run in cities like Amravati, Chennai, Bengaluru, Delhi, and of course, Mumbai. In an interview over phone, he tells me how welcoming the city of Mumbai is and the kind of positive imprint the city has left in his heart. Recalling the indomitable spirit of Mumbai, he says, “I was running with the crowd at a good pace for about an hour. Soon, I felt a severe cramp and couldn’t even move. Seeing me in pain, the volunteers ran over and made sure that I was in a condition to run again. But along the sidelines, the crowd was constantly cheering me. It was because of them that I was motivated and was able to finish the marathon.”
Given the climate of Mumbai, participating in marathons in the city seems odd sometimes. What about the punishing Mumbai sun? Hyderabad resident Kiranmai Kondaveeti, 45 and a school teacher by profession has had a personal experience in this regard. Once while running in a marathon in Mumbai with the sun over her head, she says, “I was really tired, and could not keep up my pace. I was dehydrated, and began looking around for a water station that I could boost up myself and begin running again. Then, I saw a little boy running towards me with ice cubes in his hands. It brought tears in my eyes. After using the cubes, I felt relieved enough to start running again.”
In Pune, I was glad to meet Aparna Prabhudesai who has been running the Mumbai Marathon since the last four years. For her, Mumbai is the hub of marathon running in India. I asked her what has been her biggest takeaway from Mumbai’s marathon. She was quick to reply, “The kind of support that you get from this big, busy city is incredible. Whether you run past St Michaels Church, or are running in the south Mumbai area – you have crowds in large numbers supporting cheering for you. Urchins come out of small shanties and offer sweets, toffees, and biscuits.”
Every year, Dinesh Heda, a 46-year-old chartered accountant, makes it a point to fly down to Mumbai from Goa, where he lives, and take part in the marathon. This year, too, he will be leading the marathon as a pace setter. What makes him visit Mumbai for the marathon each year? He tells me, “I have always enjoyed running in Mumbai. The Mumbai Marathon is kind of a social gathering of runners for me. It’s difficult to meet all the runners. You see I have got running friends in Pune, Satara, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Chennai. I might not attend all marathons over there but I surely know that a majority of them will be coming to run for the Mumbai Marathon.”