4 hrs 45 min 12 secs. That’s the total time I took to complete the regulation distance (42.195km) of Mumbai Marathon 2010. It was the 3rd full marathon I participated in & successfully completed. The time was 13 min shy from my personal best (Silicon Valley Marathon in 2002). I was 7 years younger, weather was near-perfect and the race organization was flawless so perhaps not an apples-to-apples comparison. Compared to my disastrous performance at the Kaveri Trail Marathon in Sep 2009, I suppose I did pretty well in shaving 30min. But is this the right way to evaluate my ‘performance’? Is running marathons merely about constantly exceeding your PB (personal best) times? No and no.

2009 was the year where I clocked the most running miles ever in my life – 1100 kilometers. During the last 5 months of 2009, my Garmin Forerunner 305 and RunningAhead tell me that I ran 740 km. Mikc Clothier (my 1st marathon coach) would have been proud with the way I stuck to my running plan. Sure – I could have added interval running and weight training to my regimen but heck.. I’m not claiming perfect preparation. In the end, I’d rate my preparation for SCMM2010 a solid B(+). The reason I didn’t give myself an A(-) is because of the final (taper) week.

The final 2 weeks before race day (aka “taper”) are arguably more important than the prior 2-3 months where runners cram in progressively higher weekly miles. The taper weeks are all about allowing the body to recover from the series of weekend long runs, drastically reduce the number and duration of the scheduled runs, stick to a well-accustomed-to-body diet, take extra care in hydration, and tuck in a LOT of hours of sleep. It’s almost akin to fattening the pig before the slaughter. In fact, most runners gain some weight during the taper weeks making them feel distinctly uncomfortable and anxious.

While there’s no mention in marathon training manuals about trans-atlantic business trips and falling sick, it’s safe to assume that they are clear NO-NO’s during the final 2 taper weeks. Alas! Fate dealt me a tough set of cards when a business trip got scheduled in the final week. 3 days in Las Vegas and 4 days in San Francisco would get me to Mumbai in the wee hours of 16th morning – approximately 27 hours before the race start. A different person may have weighed the odds and concluded that there was too much risk in attempting to run on 17th morning. But I’m a delayed binding kinda-guy so I didn’t abort plans to be in Mumbai on marathon weekend.

Week before race day

Las Vegas is my least favorite American city. Too flashy & artificial for my liking and, most importantly, after you get accustomed to a decade of mostly smoking-free public areas in Northern California, it feels suffocating here. Anyway, I wasn’t here for sightseeing. I had come to attend several business meetings and check out the latest technology trends at CES 2010. By the morning of Jan 10, I was back in familiar territory — San Francisco. I needed to run the final 16k taper run so changed into my running gear shortly after I reached the hotel. At 11am, it was still quite foggy and the air was nippy so I dashed back to my room and put on an extra layer. Since I’d stayed at this hotel during my previous two trips, the running route was already figured out. Headed down Nob Hill towards Embarcadero, then turned right at the water front and keep running for 8k which took me past the ball park — I turned around the Cirque de Soleil encampment. I didn’t have any target pace for this taper run so I started fast, then gradually slowed and finished 16k at a 6:02 min/km average which, coincidentally, was my target pace for Mumbai. The 2km steep climb back to the top of Nob Hill was satisfying (I was thankful for wearing that extra layer). The rest of the day passed uneventfully with no grim foreboding of the week ahead.

Sometime on Monday evening, I developed an itchy feeling in the throat which gradually turned into a mild sore throat. No panic yet! Increased my fluid consumption significantly (juices, tea, even the ghastly chamomile kind which I normally avoid). Started gargling every few hours also. I’m usually not renowned for such proactive measures but this was a special week after all. Tuesday morning rolled around and mild coughing had begun and the sore throat had gotten worse. Still no sign of a cold and that gave me a great deal of hope. The hope started getting dashed by Tuesday evening when my voice went nasal. I spent Tuesday & Wednesday evenings at my sister’s place in Cupertino and she plied me with liberal and regular doses of miriyala kashayam (the family’s age-old answer to stop the common cold in its tracks). On Wednesday evening, I headed to Santana Row in San Jose for dinner with buddies/classmates from BIT Mesra. On the way out, I dashed off a quick pessimistic email to my marathon training buddies — something on the lines of my prospects of running at Mumbai are looking bleak. The food and conversation at Maggiano’s was excellent and, after hearing me complain about my throat, my friends suggested a cognac would do a world of good. Since I’d sworn off spirits since Aug ’08, I hesitated a bit but then acquiesced because… after all it was a special week and I needed a multi-pronged strategy to quell the barbaric germs. I returned to my sister’s place with a fresh dose of good vibes, downed more miriyala kashayam, and read some very encouraging emails from Shantanu and Meher. Game still on! I woke up Thursday morning feeling quite rested but with a finely progressed cold. Realized belatedly that my biggest blunder during the final taper week was that, far from increasing my sleep average, I had reduced it to a measly 5 hrs.

24 hours before race start

Under normal conditions, I use Afrin (a nasal spray) a few hours before the plane starts the descent and it almost always works. When I have a cold, all bets are off. Both the descents (to Frankfurt Airport & Mumbai Airport) were highly painful experiences where I felt my brains would explode through my ears. As I waited at the baggage claim area, dazed and confused (but no longer in pain) is how I’d describe my condition. Got into a prepaid taxi and woke up my dear friend Dheeraj (it was ~ 3am) who gave directions and I reached his Powai flat by 4am. Slept for 7 uninterrupted hours, skipped breakfast and had a delicious early lunch with the Vasishths. Then took stock of my situation.

  • Cold: much better but needed periodic bouts of nose blowing.
  • Throat: still sore but vastly improved.
  • Cough: still nagging though subdued. The cough syrup I had picked up from Rite-Aid (DelSym) was a complete dud. Damn! why didn’t I pick up the tried & tested Benedryl?

Dheeraj (my dear friend from Bokaro Xaviers days) examined me with a bemused look. The top question on everyone’s minds (including me) was whether I would run tomorrow. Maybe he saw my determined & stubborn look and thus decided not to lead with “Are you NUTS to even think about running?” We were discussing whether I should see a doctor. I was cagey since it would be a tad bit inconvenient if the doctor were to ‘strongly recommend’ that I not run. D convinced me that it was an excellent idea (I think he was afraid that my wife would come after him if something bad were to happen to me). So off we went to the nearby doctor’s office. A very quick examination by the lady doctor (who was also accompanied by her 5 year old son – since it was a Saturday et al you know) and the verdict was “bacterial infection”. Not really a surprise but I asked her if I could start the antibiotics course the next day (after the marathon). Her reaction was the biggest surprise. She said “by all means, run the marathon. You just have an infection, a cold and a lingering cough. You run the marathon with your legs, right?” She said I must have 2 doses of antibiotics, cough syrup as needed, and for good measure, she threw in a Paracetamol to be taken at night so I’d wake up ‘fresh’. Oh yeah, lady! My kinda doctor! You can imagine what this doctor’s visit did to my spirits.

Watched a bit of the India vs. Bangladesh cricket match, had an animated discussion on religion, spirituality and atheism with D and C (D’s wife). It was the second time I was hearing “Once you finish reading Richard Dawkins, you will become an atheist”. A paperback edition of Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” traveled back to Bangalore with me (courtesy D). Who said atheists aren’t evangelists? 🙂

Early sumptuous dinner with D & C and I hit the bed at 9:30pm. Tossed and turned… 1 hour later.. tossed and turned…1 hour later… finally slept.

Race day morning

I had kept alarms for 5 different times but woke up at the first beep itself. Nervous energy – can you tell? Took a cab to Ghatkopar station at 5am. The place was bustling like a Sunday marketplace. Rupees 7 ticket to VT station in 2nd class – can you believe that? There still are some things in India that have defied inflation! The train was full but managed to find a seat. Spotted several fellow runners including a large group of half-marathon runners that got off at Dadar station. Reached VT by 5:45am and gradually met up with most of the Bangalore runners in front of the baggage counter in Azad Maidan. The most important person I met before race start was Shantanu — who had picked up my bib and timing chip the previous day (thanks again Shantanu! you saved me 2-3 valuable hours on Saturday). The usual banter and nervous anticipation as the race start time of 6:45am slowly approached.

Considering how wordy this post has already gotten (and how long it took to get this far), I’ll finish the highlights of my actual running in a subsequent post.

(Feb 14 Update: race day ‘report’ covered in Running the Course – Mumbai Marathon 2010)