In the early morning thou wouldst call me from my sleep like my
own comrade and lead me running from glade to glade
In March 2011, Amit Sheth came to Chennai to launch his book ‘Dare to Run‘ and followed it with his participation in the 5th anniversary of Chennai Runners. He gave an impressive talk about his running adventures and running the Comrades Marathon, for which he happens to be the Event Ambassador in India. Towards the end of his talk, Amit threw open the question, ‘Who amongst you are running the Comrades in 2012?’ The first two enthusiastic hands that went up were those of Karthik Padmanabhan (KP) and Ramani (Sir). KP, fully charged up after the speech (as well as receiving a ‘precious’ gift from Amit), turned around and asked me to put up my hand. It was an awkward moment and I did not much of a choice but to raise my hand to ensure that KP’s rising spirits must not be dampened. Running a Comrades was never on my plans, as I would never be inclined to travel all the way to South Africa and end up getting picked up by a bus midway through the run. After getting back home that evening, I made sure that I make an announcement through the poor man’s PR channel a.k.a. Facebook©®™, “KP and Ramani will run the 2012 Comrades Marathon.” The registration for 2012 comrades marathon were to begin in September 2011 and I was reasonably sure that most would forget about the promises before September.
I had registered for the Hyderabad Marathon in August 2011 (where again, we meet Amit)! This was a marathon with a difference for me. Along with KP, I had agreed to drive the 5-hour bus. A pace setter or a driver of a pace bus is normally an experienced marathon runner who assures the fellow runners that he/she will complete the marathon in 5 hours. They are usually expected to finish the marathon between 4 hours 58 minutes and 5 hours (Gun time and not chip time). First time runners can tag along or be along these pace setters to ensure that they achieve a sub-5 marathon. Normally, runners with a personal best timing below 4 hours 30 minutes and have consistently run (say, about 10 marathons) under 5 hours attempt to be pace setters. KP and I did not fulfill any requirements that normally pacers would possess. After initially agreeing to be the pacers, we went to confuse the organisers by pulling out from the pacers team and joining back alternatively. The organisers tolerated these confusion and still rewarded us with a beautiful red shirt to wear on the race day.
A well-written detailed report on the marathon is available on KP’s blog – http://smokingrunners.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/aug-28-2011-hyderabad-marathon/ A combination of good weather, excellent support, and some luck helped me and KP cross the finish line in 4 hours 56 minutes. The time restrictions did pose a challenge that I haven’t experienced since the Tamil exams during my school days. At every hour and after every kilometer marker, you would need to reconcile you pace to check if you are well within the comfort zone. Contrary to my own expectations, it looked pretty comfortable throughout the race that we would finish it well within the time. There were a few nervy moments but nothing seem to deter us from finishing under 5 hours. Running looked easy with good company and I was lucky to have KP besides me that day.
Personally, I was buoyed by the continued ‘success’ that I was enjoying in my adventures in endurance. It started with the Shahid’s Ultra in December 2010 followed by the cycling Tour of Tamil Nadu, which I managed to complete about 90% of the distance (including the ascendance of Ooty and Kodai); Auroville Marathon 2011, where I tried to combine running a marathon with my organising duties, and Hyderabad Marathon 2011. The marathon was on August 28 and registrations for Comrades begin on September 1. Assuming KP would keep up his promise made to Amit, I decided to take the first step towards Comrades Marathon 2012.
On the auspicious Vinayaka Chaturthi day, the registration for comrades was formally done… Only to realise later that KP had no plans to keep up his promise in 2012! Ramani, who was on a marathon running streak around that time, also backed out. It was finally left to Ram to offer some solace to me. He registered for the comrades marathon. If not during the run, he would sure offer a great company on the tour and I got much more than what I expected from him!