Wednesday, February 17, 2016

And Bapus ran on a cold winter morning...

What will you do if you go for a run (part of a series of running posts for the blog), take a wrong turn & end up running half the distance you planned, on a route that had not much of interest, where you did not bump into anyone interesting enough to stop & chat with, and end up with that demoralizing feel of an unfinished task? Well, I will write about it despite there being not much! As you know, we salespersons can talk forever on no topic whatsoever. So, here comes my experience of the Rajkot Half Marathon (24th Jan, 2016) held in the heart of Bapudom, or Kathiawad if you so prefer. (To the ignorant, Bapus are the coolest community anywhere. But be warned, one doesn’t ever mess with a Bapu.)

To begin with, why did I land up in Rajkot? Well, I missed Ahmedabad owing to illness & decided to make up with Rajkot HM. And yes, catching up with Jyotin Kalaria, a dear friend (nicknamed Bapu for being a Kathiawadi), was what made me drive to Rajkot after 2 practically sleepless nights. There are 3 routes to reach Rajkot from Baroda –Baroda-Ahmedabad-Bagodara-Rajkot (around 325 km), Baroda-Vasad-Borsad-Bagodara-Rajkot (around 285 km), Baroda-Sindhrot-Borsad-Bagodara-Rajkot (around 280 km). The route through Ahmedabad is longer but a good road all the way through. Borsad to Bhagodra stretch (around 80 km) is a road that has been left unfinished, for we saw no signs of any construction activity on the way though there is enough evidence of the road being widened & flyovers under construction. If you take on this portion during daylight hours, you can still save on time compared to going all the way to Ahmedabad Ring Road (which is always congested). We went via Vasad & returned via Sindhrot & I recommend traveling via Sindhrot which is a newly surfaced & less trafficked route.

Rajkot, on first visit, appears to be a good city. Even in the peak rush hour traffic one can simply drive through as if on a major highway. After a missed turn & an additional 30 km drive, we reached Jyotin’s place in good time. Depositing wife & kid at home, I went out to meet him near his office which was quite close by (less than a kilometer). Now I know why the Rajkotians can afford their Baporias (afternoon naps, which are a religion in Rajkot). 

Post-dinner, we again moved out to have a feel of the town (this time with the wives in tow). We stopped at Galaxy Pan, where I tried out the famous Fire Paan. The Paan is the normal meetha paan (or as you may order). They put 4 cloves over it & put these on fire. The still alight paan is put into your mouth, which is quite scary the first time round (if you have never witnessed this yourself earlier). Of course, the biggest risk is your moustache getting burnt in the process, so the angle of your face becomes very important. You see, I always have some helpful advice for you (there’s more near the end)!!

Rajkot had prepared well for its maiden Marathon. Jyotin appreciated the clever move by the local admin to have an early start which would make it easy to manage the typical Rajkot traffic. I wasn’t so sure whether the Bapus can be so “managed”, but my experience the next day belied my fears on this account.

We (Jyotin & Kush (his kid), both doing the 5K, and I) got ready later than I would have wished & left for the venue on his Bike. He was informed by his office colleagues, who were also running, about the roads being closed for traffic for the HM. It was cold & chilly, and it helped I was the pillion. Nearing the venue, there was a big traffic jam. Half the city was going to the venue, while the other half was going in the opposite direction (maybe to get their 1st dose of Gathia, a snack that Rajkotians can eat any time of the day) & there was only one half of the road available for vehicular movement (other being dedicated for the runners). It took some time, but we made our way to the venue. Perhaps, the bapus were not in their elements so early in the morning, or maybe they were too focused to get to their favorite Gathia joint. A saurashtrian’s love for Gathias is such that I feel this region should be called Gathiawad.

Rajkot Half Marathon was organized by the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) & the Rajkot City Police (RCP). The administration, ably led by Municipal Commissioner Vijay Nehra, had put all its resources to make this event a success. This was very well publicized with hoardings & posters all over the town (something I did not find at Nasik). There were water points & aid stations practically every 2 km or so. The locals lined up the entire route cheering the runners. They also had separate start & end points for the 5K runners & 10K/HM runners. This helped to decongest the more serious, timed events. The police were all over the place & the traffic was very well managed. I did not see any restless traffic waiting at crossroads for runners to pass (as one sees in Ahmedabad). Had it not been so, the police would have had the toughest time of their lives, because an agitated Bapu is someone to be avoided at all costs. Ask the Brits, who had to relinquish the jewel in their crown because of an angry Bapu!

They also got a lot of support from the local population. All along the route, schools & organisations had put up temporary stages to cheer the runners by way of music, dance, and some acrobatics too. It seems to me these kids performing on the sidelines would sweat less if they run the HM. They have to be on their feet throughout the event. But they had their Commissioner as the role model, who ran the full 21K (seen in the pic along with the Brand Ambassador, Cheteshwar Pujara). If our politicians also make it a habit to run at such events, we would not only get fitter leaders but also better roads.

One of the objectives of the event was to create awareness about cleanliness. Most of the posters lining up the route were on cleanliness. After the Prime Minister’s call for #SwachhBharat, there has been a visible change in the way local administrations have been going about promoting cleanliness. But the Rajkot Marathon was not all about words. If there were posters all over, there were also volunteers near hydration points collecting empty water bottles (as in the pic here). Great work, RMC!!

But this one caught the eye. There was this poster, placed against a streetlight, talking about making Rajkot a Litter Free city. Looking up, I saw another poster for a real estate project. it said “Dream City, Gateway to Heaven”. I do not know if this was intentional or a coincidence. But, a litter-free city would be anyone’s dream city. And not just a gateway, but heaven in itself.

I was running faster than normal & feeling very pleased about it. This was probably to it being a cold morning that made it comfortable to run on the road. Moreover, I had started out with the first bunch of runners & escaped the crowding & the jostling at the beginning of the run. I also had to stop often to take pictures of all those witty posters that the organisers had put up. At one such point, where some school kids were standing with placards, I stopped to read & take picture. The cop posted there asked me to continue running as I would come in the way of oncoming runners. This bugged me no end. With the whole road width available why would the runners bump into me? I was also surprised at this cop persisting with his duty, who probably deduced I was an outsider as I was speaking Hindi. But a brief exchange of words convince him that I was a Gujarati by birth & domicile, even if not a Kathiawadi. This ended up with the cop minding his post, leaving me free to do what I pleased.

Now, to the posters that were put up along the route to motivate the runners. Some of these were (my thoughts in brackets, italicized):

Running is Gift (i.e. Every child is gifted, but we discard/misplace the gift as we grow older.)
Marathon is Science (They shouldn’t have put this up, it will turn off a lot of students.)
Two Legs move the Soul (If this dictum catches up, peddlers of spiritualism would be soon out of business. I hope it does!)
Run Fast, Run Far (This was at the 3K mark. But I can do only one, not both.)
Run Fast, Run Slow, Run Far, Run Close (This was at the 4K mark. We finally got a choice & I am beginning to love it.)
When your Legs get tired, run with your Heart (Friendly advise at the 4.5K mark, much before the mind turns off.)
Dare to Go the Distance (That’s what we all were here for, isn’t it?)
Run with your Heart, not with your Legs (Nearing the end, do we have a choice?)
Forget the Miles, Just Remember the Glory (When it all ends, it’s the miles that add to the glory.)
It doesn’t get Easier, You just get Stronger (Apt for the 19K mark, where it was put up.)

This one I loved the most! 

Now, back to running. After around some 12-13 kilometres, I found I was running at a pace that was way beyond my capabilities. I realized this when a couple of African runners overtook me. Being overtaken is quite normal, as the leading pack of Full Marathoners always finishes earlier than I do my Half Marathon. But there was no FM distance at Rajkot, nor did I have a significant advantage of an early start. And I suddenly realized (by the Bib colour) that all runners around me were dong the 10K. Some mental arithmetic convinced me that I had goofed up & was now doing only the 10K. (Later, after I had finished my run & looking for a clue in the pics I had taken, I realized where I had taken the wrong turn). This dampened the spirit & I started looking out for volunteers who would be able to tell me how I could rectify the error (or, how far back would I have to go to resume my HM). I didn’t find any. All I could see were traffic cops & onlookers.

From here onwards it was a mix of emotions. Disappointment at missing out on another HM finish. Anger for being so stupid. Wonder at how/where/why I erred so. Frustration for being unable to locate a volunteer. Disappointment at not doing a HM in the month. But I had to finish the run, whatever the distance I ended up doing & I continued. An optimistic thought persisted – maybe the HM was two loops of 10K. After another turn, I found myself in the midst of a big crowd of runners. It was a big crowd consisting of the 5K & 10K participants. We were near the end point. Volunteers (cops again) guided me (the HM runner) to my route. It was an empty stretch I landed up in. I tried to convince myself that the HM was really two loops & I was still on the right track. Alas, I did not even get enough time for this. I ended up inside the sports ground, where I came up against this last poster. This one pierced my heart. I had run but found myself at the finish point of the wrong distance.

Now for some gyan (I warned you in the beginning) on why/how this happened & can be avoided:
  • One should be clear about the route, especially in a new town. The organisers did not keep the route map in my kit. I did not also go through route put up on the website. I thought I will just follow other runners, but ended up with the wrong set.
  • One should be at the venue in good time before the race starts. Maybe, the organisers would have important announcements to make & one shouldn’t miss that. Apart from the route, there may be other important things they would like to point out.
  • There should be volunteers to guide runners at important junctions. There was none at Surat. My wife tells me, at the Spice Coast Marathon (Kochi), they had volunteers separating the 5K & 10K runners.
  • And finally, when there are multiple events, opt for the longer distance. Imagine running a 10K & ending up doing a HM!

To cut a short story shorter, I was one of the earliest finishers. Post-run, Rajkot provides not only the mandatory fruits & water, but also milk & green tea to the runners. After a bit of coordination issues, I managed to join Jyotin & we reached back home. While having the standard Rajkot breakfast (of course, Gathia), I received this SMS. Wow, I need to print & frame this! Later, we again went to Galaxy Pan & I had another flaming paan, this time with more confidence (as can be seen in the video below). The medal, sadly, stayed in the pocket. The Soda Chhaas (another specialty of Rajkot) will have to wait till I complete this HM.

Pic credit:


  1. Nice blog Ashish... especially liked the thoughts you had on the poster one liners. Keep up the good work Ashish!

    1. Thanks! Your encouraging words are great help!!

  2. @Dims
    This one made me think I must run a Half at my birthplace.. Added to the bucket list.
    Loved this as much as the spice coast post. Bravo!

    1. Why not? Let's get the whole group out there in Rajkot next year.

  3. Good post, Dims. Write one on Vadodara Marathon! :-)


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