Monday, October 20, 2014

The marathon is about the city...not just the runners

Marathons matter. They aren't just about world records and Kenyan runners running faster than supercars (although let's face it, it's inspiring to watch elites scorch the roads). For the most part, they are expressions of how ordinary people  push towards something that they would have never thought possible. Folk who have battled severe illness, or taken up running to stay healthy or even because they wanted to do something with their lives to somehow matter. Folk like me. We never win the big races but we work hard to do the best that we can. We don't get the glory but we are part of the bigger community that's willing to push itself beyond the possible. We love torturing ourselves for the sake of elusive PBs. Our toenails fall off...our feet blister. We sweat. We bleed. And it's all worth it on race day.

I cried while running the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. Am embarrassed to admit it but I couldn't help myself. I reached the 8k mark and looked at the masses that had gathered to cheer me along. I choked up. I was overwhelmed. And this little kid who could not have been more than 7 years old screamed - keep running didi! And for a few moments, my sweat was mingled with tears. This kid was cheering me along. Little me who kills herself to be just an average runner. Who might never win any big races. To whom glory means an extra slice of pizza. Mumbaikars really wanted us runners to feel special. They made me feel special.They were proud of their city. They were proud of the thousands who showed up to run. They wanted to make sure every one of us had the best experience of our lives. And honestly, most of us did.

Yesterday I ran a race that I had been looking forward to months - the Bengaluru Marathon. It's my race. I started running in this city. It's my home. And it was a great privilege for me to run here. I wanted to be part of the city's history. However one thing I didn't count on was people who were stuck in traffic actually trying to harm the runners.

The traffic police was at every turn trying to ensure the roads were safe and free for marathoners but motorists became hooligans and were yelling at the cops. We could hear them yelling. We could hear them shouting. We heard the abuses. And we also saw them blatantly break the rules, push past the cops and start riding the streets where runners were running. They were honking their horns and pushing us out of our own roads as the cops helplessly tried to do their best. Runners then had to take it upon themselves to ensure their own safety and the safety of others who were running as well.

Am sure there are lessons to be learnt for the organisers, the cops and the runners too. But there are bigger lessons to be learnt for the city itself. We are part of this city. This is our run. This is our pride. We should want runners to go back to their cities and feel jealous of us. We should want every runner to have done their best.  Our goal shouldn't be to run them over but to carry them to the finish line. Ordinary people coming together to become part of something extraordinary.

Of course I want to thank all those who did come out to the streets to cheer us along the way. The kid who was gleefully giving high-fives to hundreds of runners who went past him. The uncle who doubled back during his own race to give me oranges because I looked like I was going to pass out. My friend who wouldn't leave my side as I struggled through illness during the race. The army men who applauded us. The volunteers who ensured the aid stations were perfectly packed. And of course the thousands of runners who joined me to run their bests.

Marathons matter. Not just for the elites who run so fast and hard that they are no more than a blur whizzing past us mere mortals. But for the runners who beat odds to just show up for race day. And they should matter to the city too.