The Mumbai Marathon, officially now known as the Tata Mumbai Marathon, played a crucial role in establishing a running culture in India. With 18 editions to its name, it was my third time, having previously participated in the half marathon category in 2019 and 2020. The 2020 edition is special for me, as this is when I felt I have the pace to attempt a full marathon distance with proper training.
Prior to the pandemic, I had run 35KMs at the Tata Ultra Marathon in Lonavla, which served as a stepping stone to start training for longer distances. Good training blocks during the latter half of the pandemic further fuelled my desire to run a marathon, with my personal preference being the Tata Mumbai Marathon due to its excellent organization, enthusiastic crowd support, and importantly my personal connection to the city.
Marathon Previous Best: None
Half Marathon Previous Best: 1:33:04
|Good||Sub 3h:45m||5:20 min/km||Yes|
|Happy||Sub 3h:40m||5:12 min/km||Yes|
|Target||Sub 3h:30m||4:59 min/km||Yes|
|Delight||Sub 3h:20m||4:44 min/km||No|
From the time I registered and decided to run, I had 14 weeks to train. Since this is my first marathon, I tried to be as structured as possible. My first question was what pace should I aim for and the paces I should train on.
The first thing I did before I started the training is to run a 5K time trial. This gave me an objective insight into where I stand with my current running fitness. I could finish the time trial with a time of 21:08 minutes (4:14 min/KM), and that defined my initial training paces for the next few months.
I had already been training for the Mumbai Half Marathon, but I ended up running a 10K instead as an official pacer (my first). However, this training helped me to build the necessary base. Due to this, I was able to skip the base build and train for speed endurance right away.
My weekly training plan is four days of running and three days of rest/cross-training, which is a good balance of running and recovery. Couple of days were devoted to strength training on the non-running days. The running days were initially structured to include two speed workouts, one focusing on interval training and the other on tempo training, and a long run on the weekend.
Post week 5, the run mix has changed, added a mid-week medium-distance run and also uphill repeats to build on the running strength. I had an easy schedule in between to accommodate three half marathon races which were to simulate racing and also to check the progress I’ve made.
|Speed||Pace-focused Runs||Long Runs|
|5K WU + 5x1.6km(@Half Marathon pace)/2min + 5K CD||Easy running of 5k + 8K at Marathon pace||30 KM (10K easy, 10k moderate,10K marathon pace)|
|3K + 10K Threshold + 2K||3K WU+ 10K Marathon Pace + 3K CD||36K Easy|
The first of the planned half marathon was in Mangalore, with tougher weather and a tougher course as well, because of elevations. The plan was to run at 85-90% effort to make sure I have enough left to recover and continue training. Aye, I aced it under 100 minutes, another first.
Two weeks down the line, I ran WNC Navy Half Marathon in Mumbai. I used this race as an opprotunity to simulate the marathon since the course is exactly the same as Tata Mumbai Marathon. I had made sure to replicate all the race day prep like coffee before the run, gel intake, hydration plan, shoes, etc. I had my personal best, and this time by 5 mins, which means I clocked the half marathon below 95 minutes. This was not the plan, but the weather and the race day excitement made me go for it, and absolutely loved it.
Post this, the long runs in my schedule got longer, over 25KMs. The final half-marathon race was the Vasai Virar Marathon, this was more of a training run with a slightly longer than usual warm-up run and an added cool-down run. I ran this with my friend’s (shoutout to Tejas Patel) Insta360 camera. Finished the race with a negative split.
The 10th week into my training schedule was especially tough as the weather in Mumbai got hot and humid. I genuinely had to give up on a speed workout mid-way. This served as a valuable lesson to always train based on effort rather than pace. Coincidentally, the same week was also the toughest in the entire training schedule, with a planned successive run of a 10K Tempo Paced Run and a 32KM long run at marathon pace the next day. This was done to simulate the fatigue during the latter kilometers during the race.
I trained with Fast&Up Gels (Lime and Chocolate Bourbon flavors) and also used the Reload effervescent energy drink (Lime and Lemon flavor). My reasons to choose Fast&Up are primarily the affordability, and then their support of our running club. Little did I know during this time that I will be added to their influencer-based Fast&Up Fit Squad around the same time. So, that’s the disclosure!
Three weeks before the race, I planned my longest long run of 36KMs, which felt strong, especially at the finish. Despite the challenges, I felt that I had a smart and well-executed training plan for my debut marathon.
I started the tapering phase immediately after the 36KMs long run, and this was planned for three weeks. I reduced the mileage but maintained the intensity through the taper. It was only during this phase that I could correctly judge my marathon pace and was more confident.
Over the last few days, I incorporated Dal Khichdi into my regular meals as a substitute for my usual diet. This decision was made because Dal Khichdi is an easily digestible and rich source of carbohydrates, which provide energy for the race. The day before the marathon, around lunchtime, I drank beetroot juice (with advice from Suneelkumar Koyi), which was known to increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles, hence enhancing cardiovascular capacity during the race.
I visited the marathon expo twice, once with my work colleagues and then with my running group, Tilaknagar Running Club. The second trip to the expo was a celebration. It was a picnic for us, the group that I train day-in-day-out with. This is when I actually collected my BIB, and damn, the anxiety started right there. Nervousness was seen pretty much on my face. It was that time, I had decided, ‘joh hoga, dekha jayega’ (will face what may come).
We are team GeeksOnFeet right? My Garmin predicted a finish time of somewhere around 3:22, whereas, Runalyze.com (love the marathon shape feature) had also predicated an optimum marathon time of around 3:22 with a resulting prognosis around 3:40. I was happy to clock in anywhere under 3:30, so had set a time goal of 3:30 finish time in Garmin. Deep in my heart, I was aiming for 3:20, but the plan was to stick to what I know would make me happy on my debut.
As a pre-race snack, I had a cup of coffee and half a banana. This choice was made because the caffeine in coffee is a natural stimulant, which can help to improve focus, alertness and reaction time. The banana, on the other hand, is a rich source of carbohydrates and potassium, which provide energy and help to maintain muscle function and hydration during the race.
The race start was at 5:15 am, and four of us (Anthony Sir, Ravikant, Thyagaraj, and me) decided to carpool and reach the start point, the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT). We reached early by 4:15 am to avoid any parking issues. From there, we managed to reach the assembly point in another 20 minutes, courtesy of using the washroom at the CSMT station. The baggage and (once again to be safe) washroom took another 15 minutes. We all managed a bit of warm-up too.
The conditions for running in Mumbai were optimal, as the temperature was at its minimum of 18°C. I was in the “A” corral, so I was set for a comfortable start. I kept my nerves under control by reminding myself of all the hard work I had put into training. Took one gel (Fast&Up Non-Caffeine Lime) about 5 mins before the start. I bowed down to the start line (which reminded me of the exams days prayer), replied to someone’s chant on Ganpati Bappa Mourya, and pressed the start on my Garmin.
Started the first KM a little easy, averaging at 4:54 and the plan was to stick to this pace till the end of the 5th KM. I ended up picking pace right from the 2nd KM, but a comfortable one all the way till the 9th KM. I was soaking in all the breeze the sea offered. Approaching the 3rd KM mark, I met Coach Girish Bindra and ran with him for about a KM, until he nudged me move on at my pace strategy. Our running group (Tilaknagar Running Club) had two hydration points, with the first one at about 6 KMs. It’s so nice when your own give you a shoutout understanding you have a bigger game to play. ‘Good going Karthik anna’ is still echoing in my ears. Approaching the 9KM mark, as I was trying to pull out the second gel (non-caffeinated) from my shorts, our fellow GeeksonFeet runner Kartik Iyer (K Iyer) went past me, giving me a pat.
Avg Pace: 4:42 min/km; Avg HR: 168; Avg Cadence: 194; Avg Stride Length: 1.09m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 0m/5m
Let’s call it the other side of the heart-break hill. It’s time to climb the Peddar Road hill for about 1.5KMs starting from the 10th KM. This is where I chose to stride with K Iyer. I was also putting my experience, having run this course plenty of times. Remember he checking if I was trying sub 3:20 and since I said no, he made sure to remind me I smartly pace the race. It was like the pep-talk I needed at the start line. Time for steep downhill, which I paced with caution. Once I was back on the flat, I realised it was time to pace cautiously, the game is yet to begin. I had intentionally planned to run the first 10 miles (16KMs) a little comfortably. It is the Worli stretch is where I started seeing my half-marathon friends chasing their finish line. I was envious of them, as they are already finished 80% of the race by this time. I wanted a bit of distraction, and the best way was to check out for friends coming from the other side and cheer them. A lot of them gave me a shoutout, thanks to all of them!
Avg Pace: 4:44 min/km; Avg HR: 173; Avg Cadence: 194; Avg Stride Length: 1.09m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 39m/36m
Enter the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, the most picturesque 4KMs stretch in the entire course. I tried keeping the momentum I had in Worli, but the paces were dropping. That’s when I realize, damn, I’m running the elevation segment of the sea link. It was thrilling to cheer up a few of our very own runners from the other end at this stretch, Srinidhi and Shweta, both of them training for this race for ages (I can say). The moment you no longer see runners from the other end is when the magnificent structure of the cable-stayed bridge comes into view.
This was also the time I took my third non-caffeinated gel. You hear your strides, the waves underneath, and one’s breath, but what mesmerizes you is the coming of dawn on the Mumbai skyline. This always makes me realize why I pace up when all I want to do is enjoy the once-a-year sun-rise view. Hey, this is my goal race, and this was the beginning of the planned second part of the race.
I got my paces back by the 20th KM mark, courtesy of the decline. I was averaging around 4:46 km/min until then on this segment. The sea link loop had the hydration station of one of the finest running groups in Mumbai, You Inspire Run Club. Shoutout to them for cheering me and all of the runners, not once, but twice in this loop. From there, I was exiting the sea link, which was a further decline, and hence the momentum stayed on. Took my first caffeinated gel here, my fourth one for the race. The idea was to overcome the psychological barrier, as it is an absolutely different territory from here on.
Avg Pace: 4:37 min/km; Avg HR: 173; Avg Cadence: 193; Avg Stride Length: 1.12m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 27m/30m
Little did I know that I would be catching up with the best of the runners here. My data may not seem exciting, but I had my best segment the entire race. I met Coach Gautam Pothineni exactly at the 25KM mark, which is also the starting point of the half-marathon race. Running through the short red carpet had a vibe still present of all runners who started their journey from there. As he puts it across in his blog, we both ended up latching to the same sponge for some crazy reason. We are runners, come on! We share, and we care!
I’m sorry Coach Gautam, somehow I felt your cadence was dropping at that point and that’s where I got reconnected with Kartik Iyer (who was probably 100 mts ahead of me at that point). Absolutely agree with the way Gautam puts it. K Iyer was running like a metronome. He was running in a form and a pace and would like to stick to, so I quickly chased him down, eventually ending up exchanging a lot of hydration, and words, but more importantly, he guided me very swiftly in all possible languages we speak and understand. I felt full of energy running with him and certainly look forward to future opportunities. His company for me lasted for more than 6KMs, which was also the part of the course, that my everyday work commute through Shivaji Park, Siddhivinayak Temple (yes, I prayed there), and Prabhadevi. The crowd support in Shivaji park and the kids wanting to high-five approaching Worli was energizing. I took my fifth gel at about 29KM mark, a non-caffeinated one. I was averaging close to 4:40 min/km pace at this segment, the best segment for me, both in numbers and in experience.
Avg Pace: 4:40 min/km; Avg HR: 174; Avg Cadence: 191; Avg Stride Length: 1.12m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 9m/14m
I was looking forward to this segment, or to be honest, the first KM of this segment. My running group’s second hydration station was placed right at Worli Dairy. I absolutely enjoyed running through that hydration point, where I sprayed water on them like champagne.
I’ll fall short of words to thank them, from recording pictures and videos of our runners to hydrating over 20,000 runners, and this gratitude note extends to all the volunteers involved.
It was also right here, my thigh muscles started experiencing mild cramps. I kept running and asked K Iyer to carry on. He was splendid, musical and there’s no way I would catch him up from here on. I kept going, got a water bottle right before Nehru Planetarium, poured it on my head (kept a little for gel), met three of our senior runners from our running group doing their half marathon, cheered them, and approached Haji Ali. Took my second caffeinated gel a kilometer before the approaching Peddar Road climb. A big shoutout to Praful Jagrecha, another runner from Chembur, who was cheering us at Haji Ali. He ran with me, gave me a coke, made me drink as much as I want, and wished me a strong finish. Guess what? I took my first walk break right before Peddar Road Hill, which lasted for not even 10 secs. I thought it was a smart move, to take a deep breath, and focus on just holding on until the Babulnath Temple. Just looked down, focused on every stride, left-right-left-right, somehow I reached the top of the hill. All these with a mild cramp on both the thighs and now right calf muscles also wanted to give up.
Avg Pace: 5:12 min/km; Avg HR: 170; Avg Cadence: 187; Avg Stride Length: 1.03m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 35m/42m
The segment that I call the home run having run three half-marathons in this course did not really feel one for me this time. Is this what they call hitting the wall? I don’t know. I was full of energy, but cramps were bothering me. Took another gel at the 38KM mark, the last one, in the hope to finish strong. I won’t say I did a walk-run here, but the last 4 KMs were squat-run-squat-run, and kept going that way until the finish line. By this time, I felt that the cramps completely took over me.
Asics Running Club Mumbai had a water station approaching the 39KM mark and another shoutout to Manoj Shetty for yet another coke. This time he gave me a 250ml bottle and I checked if I can take it all the way. Thankfully, he agreed. At about 40th KM, I promised myself never ever to race a marathon. Having only known strong finishes so far, this was a heartbreaking moment for me. Thankfully, time was still on my side to finish under my target. I remember trying to stretch my right quad and that completely blocked my legs for about 10 secs. Since then, I did not try anything new and reactivated squat-run mode. I was approaching the finish line now. Full of energy, but fully cramped! Posed to finish @ 3:27:49, averaging at 4:56 min/km (officially).
Avg Pace: 5:50 min/km; Avg HR: 161; Avg Cadence: 177; Avg Stride Length: 0.97m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 25m/17m
Congratulated myself for finally becoming a marathoner. Took me five years to be here. It would have been more delightful have I had a stronger finish. But you know what? It was the marathon, and distance is respected for reason, and probably this is one of them. The marathon really humbles one, was the biggest lesson I learnt firsthand. Have I had a stronger finish, I might have underrated the marathon distance forever. This is just the beginning. Sincerely thankful for the humbling experience, and when I look back at things, I’m absolutely happy with what I have achieved.
Avg Pace: 4:53 min/km; Avg HR:170; Avg Cadence: 190; Avg Stride Length: 1.08m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 135m/135m
Instead of dwelling on any shortcomings during the race, I am determined to improve for next year. My pacing and fueling were solid, but I want to further improve my running form. I also want to put a stronger emphasis on strength, flexibility, and mobility. My training plan for next year includes dedicating 4 months to each distance, starting with 10K, progressing to a half marathon, and finally building up to the full marathon. On a personal note, there is some unfinished business in 10Ks. ;)
I was full of emotions once I crossed the finish line. But guess what? The running world is full of amazing people and I’m blessed to have them around. K Iyer, at the finish line, was full of praises for my debut. I was then waiting for my school friend Ravikant Shettigar, who aced his debut marathon under 3:45. The first thing we did was to congratulate each other on becoming the marathoner and immediately click a picture together, having started our running journey together five years ago.
My WhatsApp was full of messages, from my colleagues, management, Team GeeksOnFeet, and the Twitter Running community. Amazing folks like Suneel, Sandeep Varma, Pratik, Ameya, and Swati to name a few have always been supportive. Personally thankful to Suneel for all the detailed advice approaching race day.
Collected the medal, and then the much-anticipated call from Aravind Yarra, can call him my coach, my mentor, who congratulated me focusing on how I aced my debut marathon. Aravind deserves the biggest credit for helping me with a smart training strategy. As much as I’m a contributor for GeeksOnFeet, I’m a reader first and the platform’s information has really helped me with deep knowledge about running. Thankful to Coach Girish Bindra, Tamilarasan Rajan and his team at You Inspire Run Club for being helpful in the journey. The last, but biggest thanks go to my running group Tilaknagar Running Club (TNRC), and to name the folks who have always motivated me - Jesudas, Thyagaraj, Seema, Anthony Sir, Ravikant, Jithin, Sayli, Srinidhi, Tejas, Gayatri, Aaditi and the big family I could not name here.
Looking forward to next, as Kipchoge says “Marathon is life. And life is where you progress”.
Karthik is a business analyst by profession and a long-time volunteer contributor to Wikipedia. Apart from his enthusiasm for running and photography, advancements in mobile & wearable technology are of utmost interest to him. He is a co-founder of the Mumbai-based Tilaknagar Running Club.
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