Running with Indians

On 30th December 2012 by Rachael Woolston

I thought I got up early to run. But here in Mumbai, Sunday runs start between 5 – 5.30am even in their winter when the days are cooler.

It was pitch black and balmy as I set off for a 32km run, from Nariman’s Point out to the Mumbai suburbs of  Worli, Parel, Dadar and the upcoming trendy area of Bandra, home to the city’s trendy set.

My guide for the run was  Roshni Rai, an Indian Gurkha from Kalimpong in the Himalayas, who appears to have single-handedly lit the torch paper for women’s running in Mumbai (more on this  later).

In fact, it is clear that a running revolution is underfoot in the city. Nariman’s Point was rammed with big running groups, predominantly men, all setting off for their long training run in preparation for the Mumbai marathon in a few weeks.

I was looking forward to seeing more of the city, outside the tourist area of Colaba. And the run started off pleasantly enough, under the cover of darkness, the full moon bouncing silver off the still calm  water of Back Bay.

But as we headed out to the suburbs, bypassing Chowpatty Beach before heading through Worli, Parel, Dadar and the upcoming area of Bandra, it became clear that  there are no hidden secret pockets of beauty known only to locals. And you better get used to running on the roads.

There are footpaths but the kerbs are so steep, it is easier to run on the road. Besides, in the dark you run the risk of stepping on someone sleeping on the pavement, or having to hurdle a banana seller.

But what Mumbai lacks in beauty (and there is beauty from Hindu temples to local cricket teams playing at sun rise, and stunning architecture to the flash of colour evident everywhere from fruit stalls to saris) is more than made up for by the sheer friendliness of the Indian running community.

Everyone says hello, if not stops to chat or invites you over for a banana stall refreshment stop. And of a city of over 20 million people, everyone in the running community knows each other.

At the end of the run, by which time my throat was in danger of closing up due to the dust and grime, everyone met for breakfast at what insider’s know as the runner’s restaurant,  Stadium.

The breakfast of choice? A two egg omelette laden with big chunks of hot green chili (I struggled to speak at one point) with a buttered sweet roll, washed down with sweet, milky coffee.

I breakfasted with Roshi, and husband and wife, Sunil and Sangeetha Shetty. Both in their late forties, Sunil took up running to lose weight.

Fast forward six years and the couple run together, and have just completed their first ultra, a 75k run in Bangalore.

From my cursory chat with many of the Indian runners I met today, this seems to be the done thing here. Forget sticking to 10k or even marathons. Ultra marathons are go.

I left Rosni and the Shetty’s to wind their way back through the traffic to their home in the suburbs. Next time we meet, it will be on the start line of the Mumbai Marathon.

20 days and counting. But first, some ‘hill’ training in the Himalayas in a week’s time. Fresh air!

 

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