Mumbai Marathon Race Preview

For most of the Indian amateur runners, there are 2 events which are a staple on their calendar: Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, now known as the Tata Mumbai Marathon.

Even though I was born and raised in Delhi, I spent a lot of time in Mumbai because of my father’s job. And I absolutely love the city and its people. Some of my closest friendships are with people from this city and my mentors, who have the largest hearts that I know live here.
I also love Mumbai because this is the city where I ran my 1st Marathon and 1st Sub 3 Marathon.

This year’s race will be held on 21st January 2018 and because I have always wanted to give back to the running community, I decided to race course preview for the full marathon which should give you an insight on how to approach the race.

Places to live & Weather: As the race starts near Victoria Terminus you are better off living in the surrounding neighbourhood. I generally live in a guest house near the Wankhede stadium and it is a 500 meter walk to the start line.
This also helps as it is near the sea side and I generally show up 4 days before the race to be properly acclimated to the weather. Coming from Delhi, the Mumbai weather is a paradigm shift, especially due to moving from a cold-dry climate to humid, almost-warm conditions. I get some of my shakeout runs on the marine drive.

Pre-race night, I prefer the pasta from Salt Water Café and if you are there, try their Omelette post the race. It is genuinely one of the fluffiest omelettes I have eaten in my life.

Race Route:
The race starts at the Victoria terminus and goes left on Marine drive for about a kilometre or so before you turn back start running in the correct direction. This part of the course is mostly flat, without any elevation. You continue straight down marine drive, till you encounter the 1st climb near Babulnath Temple at around 9k. It lasts for around 200-300 meters and it isn’t a cause of concern especially early in the race.
My approach for the 1st section, during my Sub 3 attempt in 2015 was to hold a steady pace and pull the pace by about 10 seconds per kilometre on the incline. This section, barring the initial rush of the marathon is mostly free from people.

The section from the downhill to the Sea link (which is the half way point) is also pretty flat and has a couple of turns but nothing to worry about. The worry part comes on the Sea link, especially if it is windy. This being a marathon, if you are in the lead pack this stretch feels quite lonely and the crosswinds really hit you as you are quite exposed to the elements. During my 1st attempt, I closed down 21.1k in 1:27 but was badly hit by the winds and this is where the game changed. On my 2nd attempt, I closed down at 1:25 and for a variety of reasons, including training in high resistance conditions, the part didn’t feel that bad.

For me, the race starts once you re-enter the city. All through the race you have people cheering you on like rockstars, which is the one thing I love about the people of Mumbai. They always show up in large numbers to support you and make you feel special. Especially as you enter the city again, near Bandra reclamation, there are so many children all asking for a high-five. Just cheers you up. From there you head down, crossing Shivaji Park and this is the stretch where you meet a traffic jam. Atleast I did. As ace Ironman athlete, Akshay Samel put it “It is like running at Dadar Station during rush-hour”.
This stretch, being the common route for Half marathon and Marathon participants becomes an overlap point. In 2015, this jam hurt me the most because I was so far ahead I crashed into the slowest wave of the Half Marathon runners, dare I say walkers. People who take more than 3 hours and because the roads were not wide and there was no segregation, I just wound up dodging these people from almost 27k to 39k.
The only respite comes when you reach the U turn near the RTO office, not that you need to go there and stand in line. It’s just that there are no half marathon people there. The U turn marks 30k in the race and which means, all you are left now is a recovery run distance you do on the day after your long run. For the record, in 2015 I had reached 30k in 2:03 at an average pace of 4:03/km and I pretty much could have run the entire race at a pace faster than that, but ended up with 4:12/km for the overall time. That’s how bad the rush was.

It is pretty much smooth sailing barring the Dadar station rush from 30k on. Till you reach that dreaded climb on Peddar road! It shows up at 36k, when you are already exhausted and forces you to climb on tired legs. A couple of things:

  •           That climb is steep, yes. And kind-of long. But really isn’t what you call a hill. But then I have been living in Switzerland.
  •           That hill has been there in every edition of the race and that’s the 1st thing people tell you about when you sign up for the race. So, if you show unprepared to run on tired legs for a few hundred meters, it is your fault.

It happened with me in 2014. I was going pretty well, but because I was sick and had not run more than 21k in training, I ended up bonking at 32k and then when it came the time to climb Peddar road, I took some bad advice and walked up the hill. That completely destroys your rhythm. See, walking makes sense if you are doing a vertical kilometre run, where you climb 1000 meters in 2 kms and hills have a 30% gradient. This hill can be dealt with without problems if you are prepared. Like in 2015, when I ran on the wrong side of the road deliberately to avoid the crowds, only to be screamed at by the volunteers. But I genuinely just went up the hill at 4:15/km. Because I was prepared.

And once you roll down, there isn’t much distance left. A mere 5-6k along marine drive, with a lot of music and cheerful people makes you rethink your decisions of never running a marathon again, that you made at 32k. And then once you start to pull in, you experience that euphoria that makes every painful training session worth it. I actually cried in 2015 because I had faced so much negativity going into the race and I really wanted to just shut down the wagging tongues.

I’ve done races all over the world, but the energy you get from the crowds at Mumbai is at another level. Because it is humid and most of the training happens in colder conditions (if you are not coming from Mumbai), acclimation is very important. Ensure that you have enough salts and electrolytes in your body, after all it is 42.2k. And finally, enjoy yourself out there, there are very few races which will give you the joy of running that the Mumbai Marathon can give you.


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