This year after the Runbuddies- Great Monsoon Marathon Challenge, Salaj and I were all geared up for the Western Ghats Ultra 50K on 24th December. In fact I registered for the Mumbai Marathon FM only because it would be all tapering after the Ultra 😉. However, the Ultra was postponed, a classic case of Runner proposing and Runbuddies disposing 😂. Fortunately I was informed about the change by Kalyani Tokekar, a runner friend from Pune.
Having put in some serious mileage, I was in no mood to switch gear and allow all that training to just lapse. Tweaking our training schedule a bit, we decided to do the FM at Vasai Virar despite having heard that it’s not exactly the best in terms of Support. After all, if nothing else, it would serve as a practice run for the TMM in January. Later, Pradeep who was originally planning to do the HM joined us for the FM. Talk about Peer pressure 😂.
Sunday morning, Salaj picked me and Paddy at around 4 am. Turns, out we had to go via Thane and pick up Shweta Kapadia; Salaj’s trekker friend doing her HM, who was stranded due to her travel buddy backing out. We quickly picked her and rushed to Virar cutting it real fine. Luckily; thanks to decent roads and sparse traffic, we managed to reach well within time by 5:30 am.
It was good to meet many other Runner buddies at the Starting line-up. Bang on at 6 am we were off and running making our way ahead through the crowd. Running for a bit alongside Comrades Runner Satish Gujaran listening to his latest multicity run was wonderful.
The weather was muggy and hazy making us all sweat profusely right from the very first kilometer courtesy Cyclone Ockhi 😥. Soon, Salaj and I were plodding along together keeping our eyes constantly peeled for water and enerzal. We made sure we were sipping and pouring water on our heads right from the beginning.
The locals and even school children were all out in full force even in the wee hours cheering and clapping making us feel like stars. Thanking them we ran ahead soaking in the joyous atmosphere. At around the 7-8k Mark, saw a youngster in Black fumbling while running. He seemed to be disoriented, probably due to dehydration. Helped the lady volunteer catch hold of him handing over my bottle of water and moved on as he was duly taken care of.
Further on we met Lalit Periwal who was running comfortably whilst playing music. He advised us to breathe deeply through the nose and keep eating and drinking to sustain our energy throughout.
A little ahead, we crossed the flyover cheering other faster FM Runners across as we reached the U-turn. Soon, we crossed the 11K mark where we saw several of the super-fast finishers in the Category finishing in style amongst applause and announcements. Further on, we saw the Half Marathoners on the other side as well. Had a blast greeting and cheering them as we ran in opposite directions. Good to see so many familiar faces; some focused while others were having a ball. After all it’s not every day that you get to run to the sound of live Dhol beats, peppy music blaring from strategically placed loudspeakers, various school kids with placards cheering and giving us high fives and the locals handing out water throughout the Route. The Vasai Virar Half Marathon is one amazing experience 🤗.
Running steadily we made sure we stayed hydrated constantly drinking water, even turning back to stop and drink Enerzal from the cups on offer. Quickly we covered ground and passed the halfway mark thanks to our Chitchat session 😁. That’s when Salaj told me to go ahead as he had cut his foot due to chaffing of his Sandal strap. Spotting an Ambulance just ahead I told him to get a bandage as I moved on.
Accepting some Rock Salt from Lalit Periwal I ran ahead. Ajay Ghose joined me for a bit but I moved on running quickly whilst giving high fives to the little kids on the side 😃. Feeling good, I picked up pace after the 25k Mark overtaking Shibani Gharat and Suresh Pillai. Just ahead, a man was doling out Glucon-D from a huge pack. Gratefully accepting and thanking him I walked for a bit licking the white powder.
I was pleasantly surprised when a grinning Salaj rejoined me after bandaging his foot at about the 26k Mark. We ran together jumping up on to the pavement as a bus transporting the 11k runners to the Venue took a sharp U-turn. Just ahead at one of the water stations, we picked a bottle of Enerzal that the volunteers had filled and ran on. However; at about the 29k mark the dressing slipped off again, and Salaj urged me to go ahead whilst he went easy.
I ran on confidently overtaking a few runners as I went. I was surprised to overtake speedster Shweta Soral at the 32k Mark. Poor girl had a bad case of cramps and was really struggling 😔. Encouraging her, I moved on spotting Neha Lodha and ran quickly to catch up with her. Somehow I didn’t see her and moved towards the flyover as I saw Chitu Shetty running up on to the other side.
Taking the U-turn I ran on to the Flyover making my way up steadily. Soon I reached the top and waving at the Volunteers controlling traffic, made my way running down quickly. By then I was prepared to switch to Self-supported Run mode based on the past feedback. However, I was pleasantly surprised to get Oranges with Salt as well as Enerzal even at about 35k. Volunteers as well as Police were doing their best clapping, cheering and managing traffic as the roads opened.
Further on, I picked up Glucose biscuits from a Volunteer and walked a bit while eating and drinking water. Refreshed, I ran on enjoying the beauty around the Virar village roads. Passing by the pond I met Amit; a Borivali resident working at Glenmark, who was doing his very first FM 😎. At the 38K mark he told me to move ahead as he walked for a bit. Encouraging him to finish strong I ran ahead steadily.
Feeling good; I kept going, determined not to walk now. The HM sign boards didn’t make it any easier as I kept reading them calculating the distance ahead. Overtaking a few more runners I ran on finally reaching the 40k mark. Urging myself on, I ran thinking I had to just take the next right to the Finish Line. Obviously we had to go a little further to finish our FM. Running past Milan Rai and Ishu Budhrani who had another bad case of cramps, I saw the Runner ahead scream loudly. Asking if he was ok I ran and took the final U-turn. Heading back towards the final turn to the Finish line, the earlier runner told me he too had cramps 😑.
Encouraging him that it was just about the last kilometer, I moved towards the final turn. Catching sight of the 4:30 pacer walking ahead I felt I had a chance to get my PB. I picked up my pace as I saw the Clock waving to Arjun Virdi. With a last burst of speed I crossed the Finish Line all smiles as Photographer Michael Dsouza captured the moment perfectly 😊. Yes, I had managed to get my PB of 4:27:28; marginal though it was, finishing 5th in Women. Definitely, an event I will do again; totally Value for Money, of course with plenty of scope for improvement.