Mumbai Marathon 2018: Elite runners unhappy with 'amateurs', curves on course and 'hidden water stations'

As Amane Gobena sat at the post-race press conference on Sunday after having won the women’s full marathon event at the Tata Mumbai Marathon, she was asked whether she would be coming back next time around to defend her title and take another shot at breaking the course record.

“At this point, it is difficult to say whether I will be back,” said Gobena, who won Sunday’s event with a timing of 2:25:49, nearly a minute off the course record of 2:24:33.

Gobena, who was also the oldest runner in the international elite women’s field, did not divulge the reason for her decision to not come back. But there was a point during Sunday’s race when the thought of going for the course record had crossed her mind.

 Mumbai Marathon 2018: Elite runners unhappy with amateurs, curves on course and hidden water stations

Mumbai Marathon runners at Bandra-Worli Sea Link on Sunday. PTI

“It was a difficult race. I’m happy I won. There were a lot of people (amateur marathon runners) on the road. It was also actually difficult for me to get water from the water station. If these things are improved, it’s possible to run even faster on this course,” Gobena said before adding that she had missed the water stations at the 5km, 15km and 30km mark. The Ethiopian runner said the water station had been too hard to spot at some places.

“I had prepared very well for the race. Till 25km, we (her and Bornes Kitur, who finished second clocking 2:28:48) were together. But after that, I knew I was going to win. At one point, I even thought of going for the course record. But there were many people on the course and the temperature was rising. That’s why after 35km I couldn’t go faster. It got difficult for me to focus on the race at the end,” said Gobena, who was the fastest runner in the women’s elite field with a personal best of 2:21:51, achieved at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon.

For elite marathon runners, rhythm is as critical as concentration is to a chess grandmaster. Things like weaving around crowds to avoid running into them or looking for a water station should be the last thing on their minds.

Yet, with the Mumbai Marathon organisers having decided to flag off the amateur marathon runners at 5.40 am and the elite event at 7.10 am, many of those running for the joy of being part of the race were often seen impeding the runners. On a few occasions, amateur runners were seen running along side elite marathoners waving to the TV cameras which are designated to focus on the lead pack.

Additionally, many runners — like Rio Olympians Gopi T and Nitendra Singh Rawat, who finished first and second in the Indian elite men’s category — said simply starting the elite men’s race an hour early would eliminate the heat factor and could lead to better race timings across the field.

An elite athletes’ coordinator told Firstpost that runners’ rhythm can be easily disrupted when they have to contend with distractions such as casual runners. He pointed out that if the course of the marathon is cluttered with people, the leading runners have it slightly easy since an entourage of vehicles including bike carrying the cameraperson, the media bus and the timing car, clear the casual runners. But for the rest of the pursuing pack, it will be a Herculean task to mount an attack on the lead runners especially since they have to contend with the amateur runners on their own at times.

Such incidents are not new to the Mumbai Marathon. In 2014, Evans Ruto had missed breaking the course record by one second. The Kenyan also missed out on a whopping $15,000 bonus, being offered by the organisers for breaking the course record. After the event, he had complained that he had been impeded by amateur ‘joggers’.

Usually, the elite runners run into the amateurs by the 35km mark. This time around, the runners complained, they were running past “joggers” as early as the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.

Gobena and Kitur were part of a tight pack of five women’s elite runners until the 21km mark, including Shuko Genemo (who finished third), Birke Debele (fourth) and Kuftu Tahir (fifth). Six kilometres later, Gobena and Bornes had pulled away from the pack. Gobena made her move after the 30km mark, when Kitur slowed down for water, accelerating and eventually finishing nearly three minutes ahead of the latter.

For Kitur, the race also got increasingly tricky at the fag end due to the changes to the course necessitated by the construction of the Mumbai Metro.

“There were a lot of corners at the end of the race, particularly the last three kilometres, so going fast was difficult at the end of the race,” Kitur said.

For the men’s race, there was also an issue with the pacemakers.

“The problem were the pacemakers. They did not push enough. The first pacemaker dropped from the lead pack around 15 kms, the second one dropped around 25km mark. The third one dropped around 28 kms,” said Joshua Kipkorir, who finished third in the elite men’s event.

Ahead of Sunday’s race, many of the elite marathoners had predicted course records to fall by the wayside.

Sunday came and went, with the course records standing their ground firmly.

Updated Date: Jan 21, 2018 20:44:12 IST