With just hours to go for the world’s largest marathon — the TCS New York City Marathon — runners from all over the world have gathered in the Big Apple for the big Sunday run. Joining the thousands who would run on 6 November will be over two dozen Mumbaities, who have been rigorously training for the past few months.
The NYC marathon is the largest marathon in the world, having recorded over 50,000 finishers in 2013. One of the six annual long-distance runs in the world, this 42 km run in the fall spans the city’s five boroughs, five bridges covering the entire Central Park and some of the iconic NY buildings, attracting the best professional runners across the world. This is one marathon adhering to high standards of qualifying and getting in here ain’t easy.
As the global marathon calendar moves from Amsterdam to NYC, the excitement is high. Running in NYC this Sunday will be Vinaya Datar, head of compliance and company secretary, SBI Mutual Fund. Datar started running at the age of 40 and her first Mumbai Marathon (Dream Run) was five years ago. She moved to half and then two full marathons, including Amsterdam. NYC 2016 will be her first and her goal is to complete the race. “I have trained myself well. The regime of diet and exercise to run at this level has been tough. I want to complete the race, but want to be injury-free also. I feel a positive change in myself and this is a challenge for me,” she said.
The rigour of training also means sacrificing social life and friends for all these runners. Twenty nine-year-old Asif Zafar Khan, assistant VP, Human Resources, Citibank, has been waking up at 4.30 am for his run, coming back, rushing to work and sleeping early to repeat the entire schedule all over again. “You have to set your priorities. And once you do that, you get a sense of direction and I love it, even if it means missing out on friends. NYC marathon is a big and I want to finish strong,” he explained.
Training his clients and advising them on diet and the crucial mental set-up, sports therapist Nilesh Shah is already in NYC ahead of the Sunday run. “This is my first international marathon and I’m super excited. All the runners are raring to go and this is such a big day for India as our running culture is growing with each passing marathon,” he told Firstpost from NYC. His health tip to the runners before the Big Day? “The biggest fear for me for all overseas runners, including the ones from India, is that they have all come from hot, humid climate and should protect themselves from cold. Longer warm-ups are essential during the run. I’m happy that all Mumbai runners have done professional training sessions before this big one,” added Shah.
What is making professionals take up running in a big way in Indian cities is a sense of new image and amazing fitness levels that is adding to their overall confidence levels. Businessman Anand Soniminde (37), who will be running his first full marathon in NYC, admits that the real experience is not the race day, but the training. “The NYC race is the pinnacle, but the regime is life changing,” he said. Stating that the sacrifices one has to make to stick to the training is totally worth it, he added, “When people come to know that you are attempting NYC marathon, everything changes. Even your clients look at you differently. It is so motivating, I have never been this fit in my life,” he said.
Back for his second marathon, 41-year-old Chandramohan Mehra, head, marketing, Sony SAB, stated that NYC marathon is an experience to cherish. “I ran it two years ago and it is challenging in terms of five bridges. There is a live band playing, it is a party-like atmosphere with a great supportive crowd. People were congratulating me for completing the marathon throughout my way back to the hotel,” he recalled. Mehra’s wife Sharon, also a runner, is all supportive and this time his 11 year-old-son is also in NYC to see his dad run. “It is a huge education for him to see us working towards our running goals. I see the competitive spirit in him in his school’s track and field events. And more importantly, he understands the value of time, nutrition and focus,” added Mehra.
An important member of the Mumbai gang is 29-year-old Mahim dentist Avanti Sanzigiri, whose brother Ashwin and sister-in-law Sanya have run the NYC marathon. “I knew that if I ever had to run a full marathon, it will be in NYC. My training has been tough. I’m not going to look at the watch, but my personal goal is to finish the run, not crawl at the end. And yes, I want to enjoy the experience of running through NYC,” she told us.
As he walked across Central Park meeting runners on their preparation, sports therapist Nilesh Shah summed it up, “All these runners are doing well in their professional life and now want to challenge themselves on fitness levels. They have trained well. I’m telling them to warm up well, focus on mental strength and enjoy the run. In NYC, Mumbai is showing that it can run and run well to complete this challenging race without any injury.”
Smita Deshmukh is a senior journalist and communications expert based in Mumbai. You can follow her on Twitter @smitadeshmukh