'Run easy,run to the beat of your heart' said the tag line on the bib of the 3rd Auroville marathon held on 14th February and that was exactly what I did! The course, the atmosphere, the ensthusiastic volunteers etc resulted in a wonderful race day experience once again this year - exceeding the high expectations of the event that I and many other runners had. I completed my 26th Full marthon(including 3 ultras) comfortably in under 4:36 within my target time of 4:40 without pushing too hard. Over 24 hours after the run I feel that I am well on the way to recovery - the recovery seems much faster say compared to my Mumbai run 4 weeks ago probably because I run at much slower pace and also because most of the route was not as hard as an asphalted road . When I set my running goals for 2010 I had anyway decided that I will push hard in SCMM 2010 and Hyderabad marathon and take it easy and enjoy the scenery and the runs at Auroville and Bangalore Ultra. In the days leading up to the Auroville run I even toyed with the idea of switching from FM to HM after I heard about the 48 hours run as part of Strides of Hope. As soon as I learnt about this event, on an impulse, I felt that with no pressure of pace and timing I should try and run as much as possible between 12 and 24 hours as part of this event just to test my limits of endurance. However, I finally decided to stay with the FM at Auroville - somehow I am not motivated to travel out of town to run anything less than a FM.
Since the Auroville run was on a long weekend (12th Friday being Maha Shivaratri) I had originally planned to drive to Pondy on 12th morning with my wife and do a bit of sightseeing in the area. I had booked a room in the Center Guesthouse in the centre of Auroville - same place where I stayed last year. However, due to my wife and son falling sick earlier in the week I had to change my plans and ended up take a ride in Pankaj's Red Dragon on Saturday 13th morning. Other than this change of plans I had a pretty cool week in the run up to the race – maybe because I was not targeting any aggressive time target and had decided to take it easy and enjoy the trail and the race I felt less pressure and stress.
Left home at about 6:15 am and joined Pankaj and co in Koramangla. Others in the car were Ashok Nath, Sonit Chadha and Wing Commander Vinod. We had a great time during the drive to Pondy though we ended up driving about 80km more than we should have. The highly energetic and enthusiastic fighter pilot was asked a lot of questions by the rest of us which he answered very patiently. There were several cars full of runners going to Pondy that morning. Some of us stopped at Kamat Uphaar just before Krishnagiri for breakfast and later at Krishna Grand near Vellore for a comfort break and tea/coffee. We reached Hotel Ginger in Pondy just before 3 nearly 8 hours after leaving Koramangla.
visitor's center in Auroville to collect the bib. The collection of the bib and bagage tag(no bag or T-shirt/torch up front this time) took less than 5 minutes. Meant a number of runners from Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai. While a bunch of Bangalore runners went to the Auroville beach I decided to hand around in the visitor's area talking to other fellow runners. It was really nice - I enjoyed the camraderie and the interactions thoroughly. Runners in T-shirts of Hyderabad runners, Chennai runners, Runners for Life showed the increasing popularity of running in the country. Around 645PM the pasta dinner was served. The food was good but it was not adequate for most runners. The choice was to eat either lasagne or pasta with salad. It would have been nice to have had both. I felt so hungry that I bought and ate two chocolate brownies. A video tape of last year's race was playing on a large screen in the courtyard. After dinner I walked back , in pitch darkness, to the Center guesthouse and located my room after a bit of an anxious time. I shared the room with Jaideep Pegu another Bangalore runner.
I went to bed by 9:45and though the room was comfortable it took me a while to sleep and as always I woke up on my own at 3:15am a few minutes before the alarm went off. Jaideep and I left the room a little after 4:15am and walked the 2 Kms to the start point , that is, Certitude. Along the way we met with Ram Viswanathan - veteran runner and founder of Chennai runners group and Ram Prasad Dasari - also a Chennai runner now living in Bangalore. When we reached the start point at Certitude around 4:40 am it was already buzzing with lots of runners - greeting each other, warming up. I checked in my bag at the baggage counter, signed in the sign-up sheet and collected my torch. Just after we got there an anchor started announcements in a baritone voice egging on the runners to get ready for the race. He kicked off the race a couple of minutes after 5.
Maitri Mandir in booth loops - all my photos in the next post. The pictures here are borrowed from others. Around the 35Km mark I met Amrita who was tiring and asked me to go ahead. I reached the 37Km mark after 4 hours of running(while in Mumbai I made it at least 30 minutes earlier). The road stretch after the last aid station at 39Km was challenging due to the heat and fatigue setting here. It was around here that I overtook Ram from Chennai. It is sense of relief to enter th trail again. This part of the route did not have distance markers - having those would definitely motivate tiring runners. I ran this stretch alone and as I made the turn for the final stretch of 400m or so like last year there was a cyclist escorting each runner into the gate of certitude. And from the gate Balaji(one of the organisers of the event and a marathoner himself) took over. He paced each runner to the finish point accompanied by loud cheering from the bystanders - spectators and runners who had completed their run. And not to forget the anchor who was welcoming each finisher with the same energy and enthusiasm with which he had flagged the runners off several hours earlier. I finished with my Garmin showing 4:35:03- average pace of 6:34 - as per my goal. This time a medal was given to each runner at the finish point. Talking to the runners there I concluded that there was'nt a single runner who did not enjoy the trail, the hospitality of the organisers and volunteers and have a great time that day. There are very races in India about which one can say this. And this with no sponsors and very reasonable cost to runners. Kudos to Aurovillans and the organisers. No wonder the event has grown from barely 150 runners in its 1st edition to over 800 this year.
I had pongal and vada breakfast(the queue for Dosas was too long!), collected my T-shirt , chatted with several runners and then went back to my guesthouse. After a quick shower I checked out of the room . Rishi and gang picked me up and we went back to Pondicherry for lunch. We had lunch at a place called Rendezvous. The food was very good but service was pathetic felt more so because we were all extremely hungry. We left for Bangalore around 3PM and amazingly Pankaj drove pretty much non-stop and got us to Koramangla a little after 8PM. I will never be able to run like this after running a full marathon though of course I was significantly less tired compared to the run in Mumbai. I got home by 9PM after a wonderful weekend resolving yet again that I will come back year after year to participate in this event!!