It was my songs that taught me all the lessons I ever learnt; they showed me secret paths, they brought before my sight many a star on the horizon of my heart
Bruce Fordyce, nine times winner and thirty times finisher of Comrades Marathon, wrote a brilliant piece on the “Arrogance in The Comrades Marathon.” In that article, he quoted Bill Rodgers, 4 time winner of Boston Marathon. After dropping out of 1977 Boston marathon, Bill said
The marathon can always humble you.
Every runner experiences them in some form or other. Normally, in such ‘humbling experiences,’ one always end up looking for excuses and reasons. Sometimes, they are major like lack of adequate water in aid stations, soaring temperatures; and many times, the trivial ones like the bad taste of the energy drink at the aid stations. If there was a humbling experience combined with the lack of excuses, it must be the experience of running the Colombo Marathon on October 2, 2011. It was the first marathon since I registered for Comrades and was quite keen on finishing it with better timings. On finding that the event was certified by AIMS, I thought that it might serve as a qualifier for Comrades.
The idea of running the Colombo marathon was originally proposed by Tiger a.k.a Ramesh, and backed by a host of runners. Eventually, it was left to me, Ram and Neville to battle the full marathon and Andy Gana running the half-marathon. The trip would be fondly remembered for all events other than the actual marathon. With no Visa formalities then, Sri Lanka was obviously the best foreign country that any Indian passport holder could have traveled.
Along with the runners, Ram’s wife Sita also travelled with us and an appropriate headline to announce it would have been ‘Rama and Sita together travel to Lanka for the first time!‘ The marathon starts at Colombo and ends at Negombo, a beautiful coastal town north of Colombo and the route runs along the sea coast.
We reached Colombo on September 30, and stayed at Negombo. The first day was largely spent locating a decent vegetarian restaurant leading to some hilarious consequences. Staying in a beautiful beach resort, we planned to do a relaxed run along the beach, the following morning. Neville and Andy chose to go easy with an extended sleep while Ram and I chose to step out to do a bare-feet run on the patch between the sand and the sea. Unlike the beaches of Chennai, this beach was only a beach and served no other purpose in the morning hours. While I was reluctant to get into the water, Ram (falsely) assured me of his swimming skills and encouraged me to take a plunge. We further tested our photography skills. One of the pictures that I clicked of Ram later found its way to couple of news paper articles on him, thus making me a photojournalist!
Later that day, we went around Colombo, collected our bibs, treated ourselves in ‘authentic’ vegetarian restaurant, some ‘tea’ shopping – all thanks to a wonderful support from the driver, Thilan, assigned to us by the tour operators. His presence proved to be a boon both on that day as well as the next day. The bib collection process was a tedious one as it involved a medical examination. The organisers, also the tour operators, were kind enough to waive the entry fee and also ensure a quick and easy medical examination. It goes without saying that I looked less like an athlete amidst all the athletes who were participating the following day. The doctor couldn’t believe that I am the one who will be participating and need to check on me twice.
The race was set to begin at 6:00 AM on October 2. We left our hotel as early as 4:00 AM as the roads gets congested during the morning hours.
We were amongst the few ‘international’ runners in that event. Although the event has seen many editions before (including one edition cancelled due to a bomb blast), it still lacked some of the basic ingredients of a ‘quality’ running event. All the runners were grouped together irrespective of the distance they are likely to run; The start was delayed by 20 minutes to ensure that photographers get good pictures of the starting line-up; Aid-stations carried nothing other than water and were non-existent beyond certain distance; the route was not cordoned from traffic, atleast within Colombo and many such complaints. The weather made the conditions even worse. At the 24th KM, I almost chose to quit the event and give up. Neville had made some extra preparations for the event. He planned a mobile aid-station in the car that we meant to drop us. He further prepared a few bottles of isotonic which came handy during the event.
With this support, I managed to keep myself going and finished the event in 5 hours 45 minutes.
It was at the finish line, where I came to know about the misfortune that Neville faced during the event. At the 29KM, one of the runners was hit by a speeding motor-cyclist who did not stop to help her. Neville went to her rescue and was hit by another motor-cyclist, who incidentally came forward to help the victim. Despite getting hit badly, Neville asked the motor-cyclist to go to the nearest aid-station and call for an ambulance for the victim. He waited there until the ambulance arrived and ensured that the victim was taken care of. Ignoring his injury, Neville proceeded to finish his run in about 5 hours. Ram had finished his run a few minutes before Neville. On spotting Neville at the finish, he quickly rushed him to hospital to get him treated. Neville came back before the presentation ceremonly with a sling holding his arm. He had suffered severe bruises to his shoulder bone and also on his legs (thankfully wasn’t a fracture), yet managed to hold on to complete the marathon.
Returning to the hotel, Neville calmly remarked, “This is the type of event you need to participate if you are keen on doing the Comrades.” What looked like an inconvenience looked like a challenge for Neville. He had no complaints about the inadequate support during the event, no complaints about the lack of medical service or even about the motor-cyclist who hit him. He just saw them as a challenge and faced them head-on. As the eldest in the group, Ram did have some ‘elderly’ words of advice for him not to attempt something similar in the future.
A marathon is a challenge that one is expected to face by themselves. The support and facilities are only enablers in achieving the target. To expect any facility in a marathon is by itself defeating the challenge. That was the last time I thought about complaining about weather or lack of support/facilities in an event.
Neville continues to inspire me through his ‘Dawn to Dusk’ attempts every year. To know more, do visit his site here – http://www.nevilleendeavours.com/