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.

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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!

IMG_3449

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.