For over a decade, the third Sunday of January had been an important day to me and thousands of other runners: a day that would be the Polestar for our training calendars. We would begin our training with that day in mind, the day of the Tata Mumbai Marathon. It was India’s last big race in 2020 before the covid-19 pandemic struck, and, until the Omicron wave hit India, there was hope that the race would return in 2022. But the new wave is here already and it wasn’t business as usual for runners on the third Sunday of January this year either.
The Tata Mumbai Marathon is not merely a race, it is an emotion, a milestone and even a life changing moment in the lives of many. It certainly was the third Sunday of January back in 2009 that changed my life. Participating in it derailed my newsroom-Press Club-wake-up-(often) hungover-at-noon routine as a desk hand at the Hindustan Times. It was like a bucket of cold water in the face, there was no gentle hand-holding or any warning.
I had signed up for the race after a friend who had run the race in 2008 told me that I’d enjoy it. I had played football, hockey, basketball and cricket all through school, college and university; and despite not having played sport (except on PS2) for a few years due to the irregular and long working hours, I thought I’d be able to do it. After all, I used to be sporty.
After some novice guidance from my local Gold’s Gym trainer and tips foraged off the internet, I ran the half marathon at the 2009 edition. It was my first ever long-distance run. The first 11km were easy. The next 10km were hell. I could feel pain in areas of my limbs that I didn’t even know existed. After a point, I couldn’t even bend my leg at the knees without a shooting pain. I completed the race but for the next three weeks I was in hell. I couldn’t sit without holding on to the chair; and then getting out of the chair was a task. I walked slowly and gingerly, wincing in pain at every step, and climbing up or down a flight of stairs was akin to third-degree torture. Instead of giving up on it, I resolved to tackle the race again next year and promised myself to never be in such pain ever again.
So in 2010, I was back running the same race. This time I was able to run a fair bit faster and the pain appeared only during the final 5km. The post-race pain lasted a lot less too. And then I was back in 2011, running much better and faster and I didn’t even have to stop. There was barely any post-race pain this time and I found myself looking forward to the next year’s race. In your thirties, the physical wins that come thick and fast in your student days become very rare. This was a win and it made me feel good. It was a booster for my confidence. This was evidence that I was kind of fit and that this wasn’t just a mere notion in my head. It did wonders for me physically. I lost a fair bit of the beer belly and along with it the usual Press Club routine too.
I became a lot more interested and invested in fitness and by 2012 I was doing CrossFit with Shivoham in Mumbai—all in my pursuit of getting better at running. I ran my first full marathon that year. Over time, I picked up new interests and new sports. I bought a bike and still cycle when I can. I have dabbled in yoga, hiking, climbing, Pilates (don’t enjoy it), Olympic lifting (fun, but the squat snatch is difficult), calisthenics (very challenging and fun) and downhill biking (thrilling and dangerous). I struggled with surfing, enjoyed cross country skiing and learned new ways to use my butt to come to a halt while skiing. These days I am enjoying calisthenics, CrossFit and football.
Running also gave me a reason beyond social media posts and tourist attractions to travel the world. I might have not run a race since the full marathon in Brighton in 2018, but I haven’t stopped running. I enjoy the spur-of-the-moment 5-10km runs whenever I feel like and am much happier for it. I probably already had the aptitude and love for physical activity and sports, but it was my first half marathon race set me on the course to discover it.
That third Sunday of January in 2009 when I ran my first half marathon changed my life forever. I still drink, I do love the boozy post-race parties but I enjoy exercising just as much as a good Old Fashioned.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.