If I have ever been least prepared for a marathon, it was for this one. Lots of travel, high pollution, and little motivation has left me on sporadic jogs and a long run of 9 miles in the past couple of months. Nevertheless, I signed up for a return trip to the Running and Living Gurgaon Marathon and a Half. I ran last year in the white-out smog and finished 2nd. I hoped this year to just survive.
It was abundantly clear in the first 200m what the result would be. A small man took off to the front and was soon followed by a woman (the only woman in the race) pushing her way up to join him. I trotted with two other men and soon we formed the "lead pack." We stayed this way for a couple of miles and soon, through no fault of our own, another man and I were alone at the front. He had previously run a 4:15 this fall, so I suspected we would not be together long. Try as I could, I could barely make it to the 10.55km turnaround point with him. My knees hurt and my stride was funny going at this slow pace and as much as I wanted the company and fee miles, I had to go ahead on my own.
|The lead pack at 1km|
The first hour of running was interesting. Like last year, this course had no lighting after the first kilometer, so we proceeded forward in pitch blackness. However, unlike last year, we had small torches so we could navigate the speedbumps and the treacherous dirt road sections. Nothing is more difficult than running completely blind on a rutted, rolling, rock-infested dirt road (which made up about 2.2 miles of every 6.5 mile section). With the dawn light now shining, I switched off the light and rolled on, trying not to let my new freedom take me out too hard. We still had 20 miles to go.
After agonizing miles of 8:45 or so I was clipping along closer to the 7:40 and 7:30 mark for most of the next segment. I was heading back against the stream of runners and it looked like a gay pride parade of bibs coming at me. There were five races: ultra, marathon, half, 10k and 5k so I say bibs of dark blue, light blue, yellow, orange, pink, and green. Not sure why. When I hit halfway I split my watch for 1:48 flat, knowing that I had come back from the turnaround much faster than I had gone out. I was 2km ahead of the 2nd place runner at halfway.
Just like the run on the Great Wall in China, I had a lead motorcycle. He stay ahead of us just fine for the most part on the way out, needing me to flash my light at him when he slowed to much and we almost ran up his back. At the 10.55km turn I went back toward home. Eventually he came flying up and got back in front. He occasionally would stop to talk to another motorcyclist or to hang out with a person directing runners at an intersection. I knew the course for the most part but I didn't know one turn. Soon he took off, pulling far ahead and out of sight. After about a mile or so, I came up to him, parked on the side of the road, indulging in a chai tea session with the locals. I carried on and he returned about a mile later. When I wasn't dodging oncoming motorcycles, I was weaving around him. After a few more stops to talk to others, he drove me to the finish. When I turned to head back out for my 2nd loop, he did not rejoin. I suppose the lead bike is only needed for part of the race...
Continuing my controlled run, I went back out again. The air near the finish was atrocious (think grayed-out sky, with streaks of black, and yellow pouring across the road), but further out in the farmlands it was improved, although the sections going past farms that were burning cow manure sure left me wanting. I rolled past barking dogs and herds of cattle, but the interesting sights were the numerous camels being loaded up with huge sacks of grain. My pace slowed on the tumultuous dirt road sections that were being watered by trucks to keep the dust down. While that worked, rivers created patches of mud that mad footing difficult and caked mud in my shoes, weighing me down. With water every 11km, I was left to fend for myself, particularly since the people manning the stations seemed to be there more to keep the table from being stolen as opposed to providing any sort of support for runners. By 21 miles, I was 2.7 miles ahead of the next runner.
I kid you not, this happened: I was running down the dirt road and coming at me was a man on a bike. He was transporting smaller bags of pink cotton candy. These were stuffed in a long, clear plastic sheath. The tube of pink cotton candy was strapped to his back, and extended above his head several feet. If that was not enough, dangling off his handlebars were two, no joke, two huge bags of pink cotton candy. I burst out laughing at the sight of the man riding at me, looking like a giant phallic replica. I literally stopped and looked around, certain that someone was playing a joke on me, filming me for my reaction.
For the last 10k, I grew a bit less comfortable, the slow start and faster finish, dirt road, and lack of training taking its toll on my legs. I checked the watch and made sure I tucked it under 3:30, finishing in 3:28:45. This was one of my slower efforts but it really didn't matter - a win is a win, a marathon is a marathon, and while the time and effort are nothing to write home about, it was still a unique experience. I waited around the finish for about 27 min until a group of three guys strolled in. They were so far behind that the guy took their names down as the top 3 finishers. We all posed for a few pictures and I was awarded a book about a race in a part of India. My phone died, so I was stranded, and I hitched a ride back with the runners up.
This race is my 4th marathon win and each in a different country (USA, China, Canada, India).
|Top 4 with Race Director|
|Top 4 finishers|
I spent the rest of the day at a softball tournament. We finished runner up, 9-7 lead going into the bottom of the 7th, lost 10-9. Heartbreaking. Man, are my legs SORE!