Sweating on a cold February morning has its own exhilaration! The Vadodara International Marathon 2012 (VIM) was just such an occasion. VIM may be a half marathon, but it surpassed the Mumbai Marathon in terms of total participants as well as international ones!! Difficult to believe, but that’s what the media reported.
An early assembly meant that even in the early hours of the morning (5:30 AM is technically morning), all roads in Baroda witnessed a one-way peak traffic – towards the Vaccine Institute grounds. But for the darkness, I would have climbed the stairs to my office. Instead, I walked down to the venue in what I supposed was a warm-up (!) to the run.
The crowds started gathering for the race & one was not sure whether the organizers had graduated to handling such a mammoth gathering in only its 3rd year. Fortunately, Baroda has been organizing much larger garba’s since ages & it was smooth as ever. Baroda also has the most disciplined & orderly population in the whole of Gujarat (perhaps, India too) & the credit needs to be shared with the Barodians. One of the exceptions to this orderly way of life (is it because I stayed outside for over 6 years?), I was sure I would have a tough time later in the day having only a week’s practice to build up the reserves. For years, the only exercise I ever did was getting up in the morning!! I had resolved to run the full designated 5 km, having done the 7-km course some years earlier in Mumbai. But I am on the other side of 40 now & hence the doubts.
The race began just as the sky was lighting up & the resolve was put to test. However, all fears were allayed as there were enough participants ahead content on walking that one couldn’t run at a stretch & was forced to stroll along with the crowd. This also made it possible to admire the sideshows that the organizers had put up along the route.
If you wonder how Baroda can host the best garba’s in the world, you should have seen the participants dancing at every music station set up by various schools along the route. While Kolaveri di got its pride of place as the reigning anthem of the nation, the ruling theme was Sport (Chak de & Waka Waka). But the most crowds were at the Bhangra junction. As they say, Singh is King.
Some other kids proved this too. They dressed up as Amar(jit) Akbar Anthony! Poor Amitabh Bachchan, the brand ambassador of Gujarat.
The one performer I respected was the tightrope artist who was undisturbed by the crowds on the road but, in fact, distracted the runners enough to make them stop & watch. Perhaps, he is used to performing for a crowd & this may have been the largest in his career! Bravo, young man! We often fall from the tightropes that we manage in our lives… hopefully, watching your resolve & focus would help the rest of us too.
And also the athletes-turned-impromptu musicians, who exhibited their talent with the musical instruments right there. There was also a group of students running in the memory of one of their friends who lost his life to cancer.
Apart from the throng that had gathered on the route (including the canines) & on the terraces & balconies, the commuters were forced to witness the show at the various circles (called crossroads in other cities). Today, the traffic cops had an easy time manning the circles – there was no honking, no vehicles inching forward when the cop’s back was turned & no one jumping the lights! If they behaved like this all week, life would be so peaceful.
There were other positives too, those often overlooked during the daily routine but an inherent part of the city’s ethos. The life in the city has been disrupted many a times in the past by the violence engineered by vested interests. But today, members of all communities were on the streets supporting Baroda’s “run for progress”. Some local residents had set up booths to provide water to the runners. While the Indian tricolor could be seen at various points.
Then, there was this kid in an oversized official marathon tee (which could very well have been a kurta), unmindful of the fact & contented in running his own race.
What also sets this event apart from the others in other cities is the fact that it is organized & managed by volunteers & NGO’s. The role of the administration/government is limited to approvals/NOC’s, provision of Chief Guest & policing the traffic. The rest is done by a team of volunteers. Hopefully, sometime in the future the local governance too would be handled by the local volunteers.
The participants are also disciplined & well behaved. Gul Panag can always participate in this particular race & she would go back every time with only positive memories.
The negatives? Standing in the cold morning for over an hour to listen to politicians is not the best way to start the day. But it is worse for the homeless, who are removed from their abode on the streets, as it is along the route of the marathon. The organizers should think about providing permanent shelter to the homeless from the revenues generated by the event.
The local government should seriously start working on providing better & wider roads to city. Every year, the race is only going to be bigger & roads need to keep pace. The present roads are not suitable for the amateur/fun run, as the roads are not wide enough to accommodate the participants comfortably.
The serious runners have no option but to stroll behind those in front as they do not find space enough to get ahead. In a place like Delhi, they can at least grope the ladies & get ahead. But Baroda is too civilized to do so!
Alternately, the organizers can look at more routes for different categories of participants (students, females, etc.).
This was only the 3rd edition & like all things associated with Baroda, the VIM too is destined for greater heights. My verdict – thumbs up! Next year, I should be doing the 15-km course.