10 Years on…

Being nostalgic is often seen as a virtue of getting old and best avoided. Despite  depressing on most occasions, largely for the those at the receiving end, and occasionally elating, it does help one to get a perspective. As George Santayana would say, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
Turning the clock ten years back, it was the Sunday that elated and humbled me in equal measure. January 15, 2006 – The day, I first attempted to run a Marathon, rather, The Marathon. During the days leading to the event, I was greeted with a mix of surprise, ridicule, encouragement and sometimes, even false hopes of winning a prize. On looking back, it is fairly obvious that it was a poorly thought out decision to attempt running a full marathon, with very little idea of what is in store. I was only a 5K runner between the Gandhi Statute and Labour Statue on the Marina Beach on a regular basis. It would made sense to register for a Jil-Jil run or at best, a Half-marathon. A mix of vanity and false sense of determination made me choose The Marathon.
The marathon brought in with it, some extravagance into my life which was back then ostentatious and unacceptable. A new shoe for Rs. 3500 for someone who was until then using only a canvas shoe; Air travel to Mumbai, even if costed less than the train ticket in AC compartments, were enough for my parents to blame it all on my newly found wealth – All these for a just ‘a run’ on a Sunday morning made people wonder if it was ever worth it. The registration for the event, luckily, wasn’t among them as it costed only Rs. 200 (Excluding Rs. 100, which was optional for timing chip. I did not miss it as there was no prize for those not wearing it). Thanks to my good friend Prashant, who was also running in the event, for hosting me and sparing the hotel bills!
There is very little to write about the run as such, for there was very little running during the  marathon. Starting at 8:00 AM under the bright sunshine, my race was effectively over in less than a hour. A dodgy knee and the mammoth task ahead left me wondered if I have to continue any further. It was then, the entire effort of undertaking the race dawned on me. From the financial extravagance to the ‘training’ runs and the hype that I managed to build around the event, it was indeed some kind of an ‘effort.’ Quitting was not a choice anymore and I was left with the only option – to walk all the way. I was not carrying any watch and had no idea how long it would take me to the finish. I crossed the timing mat at 14.5K  in 1hr45mins and the money spent on timing chip was justified. Before I reached the next timing point, the mat was being rolled off and taken away despite my desperate requests. A long walk followed through the dust, heat and traffic of Mumbai accompanied by a few other ‘walkers.’
The walk came to an end at 2:45 PM and couple of Samaritans near the VT Station informed me that it used to be the finish point earlier in the day. Proceeded towards the finish tent where one of the volunteer sympathetically reopened the carton box and gave me the medal; more sympathy followed with the volunteer parting a portion of his lunch to me. It did not really dawn on me that I was a marathon finisher and have joined a select few who have managed to accomplish it. The immediate feeling was that of making a fool of oneself and of disappointing a minuscule who had high hopes on me. Somewhere down the line, the accomplishment of finishing the distance slowly sank in me and helped me feel better. The inability to compete in the next two editions despite registering for it, made me realise that the participation is as important as finishing.
It has been a long journey since – many marathons followed, from domestic travel to international, track pants making way for running shorts, extravagance redefined as essentials, more words of encouragement from near and dear (now largely comprised of runners!) – there has been a sea change in running and running events. The first marathon still stands a special moment irrespective of what it turned out to be. Attempting a marathon now with such conditions still looks indomitable. Even if it was frustrating on that day, the memories are still pleasant and worth recollecting. I have run the Mumbai marathon for 4 times subsequently but the resilience shown that day was never to be repeated.

Tour of Tamil Nadu 2015 – Preview

 Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

A week back, my good friend, Srini was looking for someone to replace him in the Tour of Tamil Nadu as he is keeping himself busy with the ‘clean-up’ work in Chennai. The following day, as I was riding to my office, it suddenly stuck me ‘Why not me?’ Within the next 24 hours, most of the formalities were ironed out and I see myself participating in the Tour of Tamil Nadu.

My first experience in the Tour of Tamil Nadu was during the inaugural edition in 2010. The enthusiastic organising team of ‘Vaz’ Vasanth, Rajaram, Venkat, Suresh, Magesh and many others ensured that the tour was memorable and set the tone for the next 4  editions. The Tour was also getting popular forcing them to introduce “process” to select riders. Personally, it was difficult to join them in subsequent years due to participation on ‘Shahid’s Ultra‘ every year.

The present edition of the Tour, starting tomorrow, goes through the northern part of Tamil Nadu and covers some interesting places. Even if there are places I have visited before, there are some routes that I haven’t explored.  A quick snapshot of the places is given below:

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Vellore – I have fond memories of living there between 1987 and 1992 and claim to have witnessed the River Palar in full flow. I revisited the place in 2009 and could recollect some of the places where I grew up. Often referred to as the city of 7 wonders – River without water (Palar, which may have water now due to the recent rains; Temple without God; Fort without King; Hospital without Doctors (reference to CMC); Women without beauty (apologies in advance!); Hill without trees and police without power (reference to Police training college). Of course, there are multiple variants of the above theory.

Yelagiri – My first visit to Yelagiri was in 1992 as a part of the school trip and gave my earliest memory of being on a boat. I had cycled up the hill once in 2009 during my first visit to Sittlingi (more about it later).

Yercaud – In the first edition of ToT, I had to give up the ascend of Yercaud. Later, in 2102, I managed to ride up to the top during one of the TCC weekend rides. The loop road in Yercaud is one of my all time favourite routes for running and we even managed to make an event out of it as the Servarayan Ultra.

Kolli Hills – Krishnakumar Rangachari a.k.a. KRESIDENT conducts his annual ‘Val Vil Ori’ ultramarathon on these beautiful hills. I was there for the inaugural edition in April 2014.

Thuraiyur – This trip must take me to the town for the first time.

Karumandurai – Karumandurai is located very close to Sittlingi, a village that I frequent as a part of my volunteering work with ASHA for education. It is the home of Thulir, an educational resource centre for students from underprivileged backgrounds and well known for Tribal Health Initiative, a renowned hospital. You can read more about my visits to Thulir here – http://www.ashanet.org/projects/project-view.php?p=967 While Sittlingi is located in the valley, Karumandurai is located on the top of the hill and there are no direct roads connecting them. In April 2015, I had cycled all the way to Sittlingi from my home and on second day, I rode up to Karumandurai on the dirt road (actually a stream that has gone dry). Should the Tour organisers permit, I may chalk my route through Sittlingi.

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Ascend to Karumandurai from Sittlingi

Polur – I will be visiting Polur for the first time even if I have heard about it many times.

Fund Raising

Srini had originally planned to use the tour as a part of his fund raising efforts for Haji Public School, a village school up in the Kashmir mountains. Taking his mantle on the tour, I would like to dedicate this ride for his efforts and seek the assistance of readers to help him. You can read more about it here – https://milaap.org/campaigns/forHPSkids

I will try to update on the tour and post a detailed blog after the tour.

Pacing the 5:30 Bus

To be a pacer in a marathon is an unique challenge, for it comes with a great deal of responsibility. You not only run your race but also help someone to run their race. My only experience as a pacer was during the Hyderabad Marathon in 2011, when I and KP tagged along for the 5-hr bus. Thanks to KP, we were able to ensure that the bus reached 2 minutes within the 5-hr mark (a detailed report in KP’s Blog). Four years later, I am all set for a different challenge – pacing the 5:30 Bus and sadly, no KP to help me out with the “Strategic Plan” of pacing. More than the goal of finishing the marathon in 5:30, the real difficulty is in explaining the strategy for the race. As I set to outline my proposed plan, I would also like to draw some lessons from a similar experience – running Comrades in an imaginary 12-hour bus and finishing 2 minutes to spare (the actual 12-hour bus went past me at the 6-hour mark and not to be found again!).

Who can join the 5:30 bus?

My simple answer is anyone who do not intend to finish the run under 5 hours and would like to get the best out of the entry fee they paid. On a more technical note, I would suggest that anyone who can run a half-marathon “comfortably” under 2 hours 40 minutes or “less comfortably” under 2 hours 30 minutes can join the bus to get their sub-5:30 timing for the marathon. Runners who lost their way with the 4:30 Bus or 5:00 Bus are always welcome on the run as long as they don’t wonder why we are running slow!

How do you train for the run?

I would go for something less technical and less mathematical approach. Take the event as a limited overs cricket match – you have to cover 43K (to factor the start line hiccups, GPS faults in route marking and to be on safe side) and you have 330 minutes to cover that distance. In other words, you have to cover 29K at 8 minutes per Km and 14K at 7 minutes per Km. During your training runs, find out yourself how do you feel when you run a Km in 8 minutes and 7 minutes respectively (preferably without music). This will help you to be mentally prepared for the race day. CAUTION: Do remember, you have only one wicket and there is no Duckworth-Lewis method applicable in case of rain!

The Race Day Plan

No matter what you plan or no matter how you train, all that matters is how you react to the challenges on the race day. Training and race-day plans at best helps you to be mentally and physically strong to overcome these challenges. Importantly, always prioritise safety over your goals! Your goals can wait for another day and marathons happen every month. So, make sure you don’t push yourself beyond the limits.

Pacers are normally expected to have their targets set for every Km, factored for aid-station breaks and other contingencies. This approach has its own merits and limitations. However, the objective of running the marathon is not just achieving the goals but also enjoying the run and such pedantry often takes the joy out of running. Losing an extra minute for a photograph with volunteers or dear ones on the run is more enjoyable even if it makes us finish a minute after 5:30!

I normally prefer to set hourly targets and ensuring that they are met at the end of each hour:

Hour 1 – Target 8.5K – 9K

The early morning weather of the Hyderabad, the empty roads and importantly, flat roads, must help us to run better. The humidity is often a challenge and there will always be temptation to run faster. (Average speed – 7 minutes per KM)

Hour 2 – Target 16.5K – 17K

The biggest challenge in the second hour is that the full marathon runners run into the half-marathon crowd. The road is expected to be completely blocked by the “walkers” and we need to find ways to run through them without disturbing them. If you are getting frustrated by the slow runners, do remember you were amongst them, not long ago!

Hour 3 – Target 24.5K – 25K

It is here where you start feeling the ‘hills’ of Hyderabad. For all the “elevation profiles” shared, I don’t think it would matter much impact in this stretch. If you are feeling it, it would be best to slow down and target the 6:00 Hour cut-off.

Hour 4 – Target 32K – 32.5K

This is the phase leading to the proverbial ‘wall’ of marathon. Keeping some “minutes” in hand will be useful at this phase. Walks will start featuring more in our routine.

Hour 5 – Target 39K – 39.5K

Actually, not many really knows what happens here. Let’s leave it for the race day!

The final few Kms

The exuberance of finishing will take you all the way to the finish. The last few Kms are possibly the best stretch of the route under the tree covered avenues of the HCU and the road leading to the stadium. As you enter the stadium, the early finishers of marathon and finishers of Half-marathon will be on their way back home. Some may possibly cheer and some others will give you the typical non-runners look of ‘why are you doing this?’ Ignore! This is your race and you alone is the winner!

Run-Walk

Run-Walk is for me the way to run a marathon or any distance for runners. It is a myth that it slows our running or one cannot achieve their ‘personal bests’ and so on. The key for an efficient run-walk is consistency of application. I normally choose a 4:1 split and maintain it from the 9th minute onwards (the first walk break is avoided as it will cause disturbance to other runners). If we find ourselves having sufficient time, we may slow down to 3:1 and on the hills, we may opt to shuffle between running and walking for a short duration.

Motivational Talks!

Another feature of pacers is that they are responsible to motivate. Now, that’s the challenge I am willing to be up for! If some wants motivation, just record the video and keep! It is difficult to emulate this ‘dude’.

Run for Team ASHA in Bengaluru Marathon

Running a marathon is not just about running the 42.195 Km on the race day. It is more about the training for the event. The discipline required for the training brings out the best in oneself and is the real learning from the endeavour. It is not just about one’s physical ability but more about the mental determination to see oneself through the distance. Training and running marathons have been one of the memorable experiences of my life. I have decided to run the Bengaluru Marathon on October 18, 2015, and this time, it is with a difference. I will be running for Team ASHA – Bangalore.

Asha-Bangalore is a completely volunteer driven group where individuals put in time (without compensation) to support initiatives that help the underprivileged. Asha-Bangalore efforts focus on education, though are not limited to it. Asha ensures that 100% of donations go to support projects. Volunteers of Asha-Bangalore meet all administrative expenses with running the chapter. Currently, we support 6 Projects in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Running marathons and fund-raising through marathon have been a routine feature amongst our volunteers, in USA as well as India.

I have been associated with ASHA for over 6 years and have found it to be more than just a fund-raising organisation. Apart from raising and disbursing funds, we also monitor the activities funded by us. Each of the projects have a ‘Steward,’ who voluntarily spends time with the projects and reports regularly on the activities of the Project. I am currently holding the Stewardship for Thulir – An Education Resource Center for children and young adults at Sittilingi, a tribal village in Dharmapuri District, Tamil Nadu. The goal of Thulir is to provide a place where children are in the presence of adults who can motivate them and provide support for learning, and can access basic learning resources that are not available to them in their homes or schools. My interaction (as well as the previous stewards) with the project, the annual disbursement of grants and the utilisation reports can be found here – http://www.ashanet.org/projects/project-view.php?p=967

Zero-Overheads – Although, we do have to charge for the payment gateway, where applicable and other incidental charges, Overheads incurred by volunteers are never funded out of the donations we receive. The travel and stay expenses incurred on our site visits are usually those of volunteers and there are no meeting expenses – Yes, we meet in Lalbagh, Bengaluru on 1st and 3rd Sundays and meetings are open for everyone to attend (although Lalbagh will still charge you Rs. 10 as entry fee!).

ASHA for Education has been chosen as one of the Charity partners for the upcoming Bengaluru Marathon to be held on October 18, 2015. By registering for the half/full marathon through us, you not only have the joy of finishing the Half/Full Marathon, but also the satisfaction of contributing towards the education of underprivileged children. Contributions to ASHA (after deducting payment gateway charges) are exempt from Income Tax under section 80(G). Register now for Bengaluru Marathon here – http://youtoocanrun.com/races/?ee=288

Feel free to write to me for more details.

Running and Environmentalism

After Religion, if there exists a social group that breeds more hypocrites, it must be Environmentalism. Although, my friend Rajesh does not see much difference between the two as he considers environmentalism as just another new age Religion.

We still do not know where the green brigade stand on iconoclasm, whether they will fight crusades, or create backstories to fill out the mythology. But make no mistake, this is a religion alright. Across national boundaries, never have a group of people been so singularly driven by a single ideology

Environmentalists are everywhere… To begin with, in those places where they can be more visible and attract adequate attention. They find every human activity as a potential threat and at times, they even find the mere existence of humans threatening to the environment. Apparently some scientific study told them that Earth existed before human beings and hence, it should continue to exist even without them. With more people taking up running and participating in running events, it has started becoming an issue of concern for these saviours of Earth. Believe it or not, in the eyes of environmentalists, Running is becoming a major threat to environment and can potentially damage the Earth, giving it only a few days to survive!

Take the example of this scintillating piece of ‘research‘  with this sensational finding…

A new pair of synthetic running shoes typically generates 30lbs of carbon dioxide emissions, the researchers found. That’s an unusually high carbon footprint for a product that does not use electricity, or require sophisticated components. The researchers said it was equivalent to leaving a 100-watt bulb burning for an entire week.

Mind you, if you leave 100-watt bulb burning for an entire week, you will end up writing cr@p research work like above which is more harmful to the society than running!

The major area of moral hazard that environmentalists care for is that of running events. Running events are increasing and the participation in these events are always on rise. Apart from the increased emissions of carbon di oxide, there are two areas of concern for these ‘morally upright,’ ‘socially conscious’ folks.

1. Increased carbon emissions due to increased travel to and from start points of running events as well as morning runs – Yes, but for running events, most people would prefer to lock themselves in their homes on a Sunday morning and pray that the Earth should be protected by evil forces!

2. Increased levels of Garbage – This is a single most sensitive issue for many environmentalists. Even if a runner generates far less per-capita garbage compared to a Saturday night party goer (you might see some of the environmentalists there, as they need a breather from their busy schedule to save the world!), it still matters the most. Potential areas are in the water stations and breakfast areas. Forget the fact that many of them carry loads of water during their training run, they should not be entitled to drink water on a race day from a paper cup as it will end up generating garbage. Also, the post run breakfast must be discarded in favour of runners going back home and preparing their breakfast. I was once advised by a chain-smoking, air-miles chasing, beer-drinking environmentalist that water stations in running events must have re-usable cups that can be cleaned after each runner uses it. Keeping the difficulties (I have once been in such aid station and cleaned a few cups) and hygiene factors aside, such a suggestion coming from a person who employs a maid servant to wash their own tea cup, was ironical, to say the least!

There is no harm in being a environmentalist or preaching about it (if you have people willing to listen to them). I don’t intend to discredit the work of environmentalists in general or the runners who are sincere in their attempts to do their bit for the environment. There are some fine work done by both these groups which indeed serve as a model for rest of us to emulate. It is the so-called ‘environmentalists,’ having to eke out their living by mere preaching, that annoys me the most. One such ‘voluntary’ group managed to squeeze out a sizable amount in terms of TA/DA bills from a running event and another group pulled out after their pitch on ‘run to save the Earth’ on realising that they cannot make money from the event! So much for ‘caring’ about the Earth.

All said and done, someone who runs on the road day-in and day-out is definitely more connected with the environment and aware of the issues than those sitting in comfy air-conditioned rooms and typing pages on “How to Save the Earth for dummies”

Mumbai Marathon

During the run-up to the Mumbai Marathon this year, the Race Director, Hugh Jones said,

“This is where the running movement started in India. People in urban India have taken to street running,’’

Tall claims! Nevertheless, one has to agree with the fact that it is one of the well established running event in India. The Pune International Marathon can claim to be the oldest but has never seen the light of the day in terms of its popularity or number of runners. The Mumbai Marathon is also the only Marathon event in India that is recognised as a ‘Gold Label’ road race by the IAAF, (even if many, including me, do not understand what it means). It registers the highest number of finishers in the full marathon category in this country as one can see from the chart below.Mumbai marathonThere are many aspects to the event that keeps attracting a large number of events – The crowd support, the route through Marine Drive and the sea-link bridge, qualifier for many international events like the Boston Marathon, Comrades marathon and even Olympics;  And there is always the indomitable spirit of Mumbai that adds to the allure of the event. Yet, if there is one question that often lingers in my mind, it is, ‘Having recognised as a world class event, is this the best India can offer?’ Sadly, the answer is “No’ and here’s why,

First, the lack of attention towards the basics. The current edition is the twelfth edition of the event and it still lacks some of the essential requirements. Some of the issues highlighted from this year’s event by my friend, TR Kumar,

1. There was no clear identification of Finish Line  No Celebration, No Cheering as one gets to the finish line. The finish line was a complete fizzle out
2. There were No Clear Water Points after the finish. One needs at least plenty of water stations to hydrate and one had to walk on for ever to find some water
3. It was not clear where Medals and Refreshments were provided. It was a complete mess after the finish
4. There was No Demarcation for Full Marathon Finish (for the Last Two Kms) as was mentioned by the organizers
5. Overcrowding of Half Marathon Participants all along after 35 Kms mark. One had to do zig zag to get past the casual strollers doing Fun Half Marathon
7. Very Long Queues after Finish Line
8. There was a Ramp with Steps to Walk up After Finish to get to the relaxing zone. Was this meant to be a joke to test the endurance of the runners?
9. Medical Tents were not available after the run to get a spray or get some medical attention.
10. No Breakfast Provided at the end of the run. For all the exorbitant money charged for the event, and also the huge sponsors, a simple breakfast was at least welcome.

Most of these issues were present when I ran for the first time in 2006 and also each of the 4 times until 2013. It is sad that the organisers continue to ignore these basics. With more and more runners gaining experience of running quality events abroad, the organisers do not step up their quality of service to match runners’ expectations.

Second, the ever rising entry costs. The entry fee for the marathon has been increasing exponentially, from the paltry Rs.200 in 2006 edition to Rs. 1400 in the current edition as the chart below would show.

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It would be fair to point out that the cost of living in India during that time period was also on the rise, even if not in the same proportion as the cost of entry fee. There has also been increase in the sponsorship for the event which must have taken significant burden of the inflation. Moreover, in my personal experience, there are significant economies of scale in marathon events which leads to less marginal costs for every additional entry and also the benefit of experience in the subsequent events. The flip side to the higher entry fee, as my friend Dr. Ram said “it has become the rich man’s preserve.” It has become prohibitively expensive for vast majority in this country to even dream about the marathon.

Third, the lack of importance for the ‘Marathon.’ Most marathons in India are no more than a ‘Running festival’ with events of all distances, yet titled ‘Marathon.’ Marathon is strictly 42.195K; distance below and above that has its own lexicon and not to be confused with the Marathon. Sadly, there are very initiatives that encourage people to go ahead and try that distance. The most recent Singapore Marathon attracted over 10,900 finishers in the marathon category and the number of finishers in Mumbai did not cross 3000. The organisers seems to be content organising the ‘masala’ runs that fills their coffers and get due media attention through celebrity participation.

Finally, most events in India benchmarks themselves with Mumbai Marathon, which sadly ranks very poor in comparison with international standards. As Gautam Bhatia writes in his piece titled When the second rate sets the standards,

The history of being second rate has been so deeply ground into the Indian psyche; it is now part of the real character of being Indian. There is an implicit mistrust of something that works, does not fall apart, is efficient and is visibly differentiated in its design and presentation.

For all its hype, Mumbai Marathon, for me, is still a second rate event. Where it sets a standard, it only harms the development of running events in India.

Disclaimer: I have been involved in organising many running events. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent the views of my fellow organisers or the events. I undertake to write the blog only because of my present status as a ‘retired’ organiser and also that I have run Mumbai Marathon for 5 times.

Tirunelveli Halwa-Marathon

In the blog for upcoming Chennai Marathon, Ram Viswanathan wrote an interesting post entitled ‘Running Takes You Places.’ Reflecting on the article, I realised that there are many places that running has taken me – both in India as well as outside of it. However, in all these trips, running the marathon has been the primary activity leaving very little time to experience those places. For instance, I have never visited Gateway of India during my five visits to Mumbai for running the marathon. The first edition of South Tamil Nadu (Half) Marathon presented me with an opportunity to visit a place more than just participating in another half-marathon.

Nearing the finish line. Photo by Gopal

Nearing the finish line. Photo by Gopal

Travelling for the purpose for running a half-marathon has not excited me in the past. The two occasions when I have travelled before for a half-marathon were to Auroville in 2008 for the first edition of Auroville Marathon and to Konganapuram in 2011 to run the Mutthu Marathon (strangely ended up in their organising teams in subsequent years). Travelling to Tirunelveli wasn’t exactly in my mind until Srini tempted me with a text message that he has a hotel room booking and a place available for sharing. Also, in his mind was a casual visit to Tirunelveli with marathon as an excuse. With an entry fee of Rs.500 for half-marathon, it prompted me to undertake a trip to Tirunelveli, a place I have never visited before.

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

For the better or for worse, Tirunelveli has become synonymous with one food item – Halwa and the shop that makes the authentic one – Iruttu Kadai. Located close to the Nellaiappar Temple, the shop has an illustrious history featured well in The Hindu magazine, a year ago. The best of our intentions was to pay our obeisance to the Nellaiappar and Gandhimathi Amman first, before indulging in the Halwa. The sight of Iruttu Kadai (which, according to ‘an architect friend’ of mine wasn’t any different from a TASMAC shop) pulled us towards it. It wasn’t a pleasant crowd to deal with and ninety-nine out of hundred times, I would have preferred to forego the benefits over facing the challenge to negotiate with such a crowd. In hindsight, the chaos seemed to be completely unnecessary. An orderly crowd would have ensured that 99% of those who came to buy the halwa would have managed to do so; but, everyone seemed to be gripped in the fear of falling in the remaining 1%. I wasn’t left with much choice between my ever present desire to become civilised versus yielding to the Halwa.

Game on! Ready, steady, go… Barged into the crowd. Showed the men folk that I am the man amongst the men; The long hands came to be put for the best of its uses; my mathematical skills helped me to figure out how I can procure different packets of Halwa for three hundred rupees. In the blink of the eye, three hundred-rupee notes were flashed right in front of the person handing out the halwa. Yelled at the top of my voice ‘1 1kg, 1 half-kg and 3 Rs.10 packet’. I was attacked on all sides but my legs held strong and my will-power to get the Halwa even stronger. I was soon attended to and the victory was nearing…

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

The money was taken and in return came a plastic cover and three small packets in banana leaf. The mission was accomplished!

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Photo by Srini

It was an achievement like none other and the purpose of visiting Tirunelveli has been fulfilled. To celebrate the achievement, we visited the nearby restaurant and enjoyed the Halwa with delicious cups of filter kaapi. It was one of those moments that sometimes makes us feel so grateful for the life we live. The Nellaiappar temple subsequently got its due attention and it was as impressive as the events leading to the temple. You could see a selection of images from Srini’s camera.

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

With the halwa getting its due attention, the half-marathon event was unfortunately pushed to the back burner. The event deserves as much attention as the halwa or possibly even more. The organisers put up an excellent show starting from the pre-race communication to runners. All runners were communicated about their bib number (1041, which was also my number in 2009 Mumbai Marathon) and the collection process through e-mails and text messages. The bib distribution process was simple, efficient and smooth. A good number of volunteers happen to be from Chennai Runners with their hometown being in and around Tirunelveli. It seems to be a norm for everyone in Chennai Runners to don the mantle of organiser or volunteer at some point of time. With familiar faces around, it was like a friendly get-together and the ample space in the venue helped us to make most of it.

With Manu. Photo by Srini

With Manu. Photo by Srini

The race started promptly at 5:30 AM as scheduled. The route was fairly simple – out and back – with no confusions as to where to turn or not. Being an important feeder road, it wasn’t possible for the organisers to obtain a total road closure on the route. The route marshalls and policemen did a good job of regulating the traffic despite the initial hiccups. The aid stations were well stocked with cheerful volunteers staffing the stations. The best part of the event must be the sumptuous post-run breakfast – idlis, pongal, vadai and not to miss out, a serving of Halwa! I feel that every running event needs three basic ingredients – punctuality in start times, well-stocked aid stations (water, electrolytes to start with) and a freshly prepared post-run breakfast. The first edition of the South Tamil Nadu Marathon has essentially got all the three ingredients right and I am sure they would get better with years to come.
The promo tees of the event gave the perfect itinerary for all participants to follow.

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

So, after completing the first two tasks, I and Srini (who unfortunately could not run due to poor health) continued to accomplish the fourth task – ‘Chill at Coutrallam.’ After a tedious journey involving two buses, we reached Coutrallam and headed to the ‘main falls.’ It seemed to be relatively well maintained with strict orders on use of soaps and plastic sachets. However, the behaviour of the crowd was deplorable leaving the limited space under the falls for the ‘fattest’ of the lot. Almost every man out there seems to show the rest of the crowd about the supreme prowess of their masculinity. Given that the battle was for spaces, my slender frame was clearly not made for such a battle. We conceded our defeat and headed back to Tirunelveli and spent the rest of the day at the District Science Centre, which seemed to be an interesting discovery on the tour. The science centre is part of the National Council of Science Museums  and has some interesting science experiments suitable for learning by all ages.

Although the event was an excuse for visiting Tirunelveli, the good work by the organisers and volunteers will ensure that the event will soon attract more people and will find its place along the lines of Halwa, Nellaiappar temple and Coutralam in the annals of Tirunelveli.