The 2017 Hyderabad half-marathon is two days away and guess who’s running. That’s right! I am throwing my hat, legs, and will power into plodding the 21 kilometers from Hussain Sagar Lake to the Gachibowli Stadium—13.1 miles of treacherous, urban Indian roadway in the middle of monsoon, the steamiest, wettest, smelliest time of year. This seems like less of a good idea with each passing day.
History of the Hyderabad Marathon
The Hyderabad marathon was established in 2011 by a couple of Indian runners from the Hyderabad Runners Society (HRS). Like most of the great ideas men have, the HRS and the marathon were inspired by women. Venu Reddy and Ravi Singh—I’ve changed the names to protect their identities and because I’m making most of this up as I go—were sitting at a bar in Madhapur on a 44C summer evening, sweat bleeding from their pores like a squeezed sponge, trying to figure out how to meet attractive, professional women in this city of 8 million people. “What are we going to do, Ravi?” Said Venu. “My mom want’s a grandchild and I have zero prospects.”
Venu and Ravi met a year earlier while residents at a clinic for Hyperhidrosis. It seems the two young men both suffered from excessive sweating, a genetic disorder made worse by India’s persistent oven-like climate. They spent years combating the effects with various deodorants and gallons of Spray-n-Wash to remove unsightly pit stains, but despite the concerted efforts of doctors and Ayurvedic specialists in roadside tents, their sweating continued unabated and they remained single.
“The problem is the sweat,” said Venu. “No woman wants to date a guy with sweaty pits.”
Ravi considered his pits for a moment. They were unsightly. He raised his right arm above his head and ventured a sniff. “Whew,” he mumbled.
Then a thought occurred. What if there was a way to make everyone else sweat as much as us? “We’re going to start a running club!” Ravi yelled. “Then we’ll all be sweaty!”
Well wouldn’t you know it, those two sticky, wet, enterprising Indians were right. They started running with other Indians, and before they knew it they were sweating, meeting sweaty females, and generally sweating their way onto the dating scene. In a few months they were both married to the women of their dreams and raising cute, little Indian babies.
The marathon idea developed a few years later. Seeing their success, Venu and Ravi’s friends wanted in on the marital bliss action. “You know, I think we’ve taken this running club matchmaking thing as far as we can,” said Venu. “The only way to help our friends is to bump up participation exponentially. Why don’t we establish an annual marathon?”
“That is a great idea,” screamed Ravi!
So, on a warm, muggy, monsoon day in 2011 the first Hyderabad Marathon was born—in order to meet single, intelligent, sweaty, health-conscious women.
This Year’s Half-Marathon
There is no reason to run a half-marathon. I don’t have anything to prove. I’m already married and don’t suffer from Hyperhidrosis Disorder. There isn’t even a cash prize for the last finisher. In fact, as I see it there’s no need to run for longer than is necessary to burn the calories added by last night’s beer. Regular readers will no doubt recall times when last night’s beer consumption easily exceeded the half-marathon calorie burn. In mitigation, any consumption of that quantity is not planned to coincide with a half marathon.
I’m running the half-marathon because I said I would. I’m not sure why I said I would run. Drunken egotism, boredom, temporary insanity—the truth is I just don’t know. I can’t remember what possessed me to spend my wife’s hard-earned rupees on a chance to devote two hours on a Sunday morning with 16,000 people in 80 degree heat and 50% humidity in an environment not conducive to outdoor physical activity. I know it’s a lousy answer—but that’s all I’ve got.
What I do know is it’s not going to be fun. The environment, time of day, distance, and people will conspire to make this as difficult and painful as possible. That is why I need a strategy.
A strategy is simply a plan—an outline of techniques necessary to finish what is in this case a half-marathon within a time frame that is not embarrassing. A secondary goal is finishing the race in time for brunch, which coincidentally is scheduled to begin six hours after the race starts, which in turn would be an embarrassing finishing time. The right plan put into practice on race day ensures a tolerable amount of pain in the shortest time period possible.
This is my plan.
The race begins at 6:00 AM on Sunday. It takes 45 minutes to reach the starting line and we need to be there about 30 minutes before the gun. Thankfully, I’m running with three other suckers—um, people, Tory, Patrick, and Kevin—two of whom will share our carpool to the starting line. So even with ‘new math,’ our departure time from the last pick up point is 4:45 AM. The key is being the last pick up point.
At 49 years old, a significant amount of pre-race preparation is required to ensure a successful event. I need to eat a small meal, caffeinate, hydrate, foam roll the appropriate muscles, and most importantly, jettison any excess weight prior to launch. The first four items are usually pretty straightforward: make breakfast, brew coffee, drink water, and roll around on the floor. The fourth and most important item in the list—the sometimes temperamental bowel movement—can’t be rushed.
I realize reading about BMs is probably not what you showed up for today. But anyone over the age of 40, some in their 30s, and a small few in their 20s understand the value, comfort, and well-being a regular BM can have on one’s demeanor. Trust me, the BM is the most important component of preparation.
My plan is to wake by 3:15 AM on race day. In order to maximize the amount of time required to “prepare” for the race, I need to make sure I am the last pick up point. If I am the first person on the list, I’ll have about an hour to “prepare.” However, if I am last on the pick up list, that one hour stretches to 90 minutes—plenty of time for my body to do what it naturally wants to do after breakfast, a liter of water, and a cup of coffee. Yes, I’m talking about the BM again.
First, I volunteer Rawoof—our driver, who is currently being shared with Tory. Rawoof will take me, Patrick and Tory to the starting line. Then I passive-aggressively Jedi mind trick Patrick into volunteering his driver to pick he and I up at the finish line. This leaves Rawoof to take Tory home after the race. Since Rawoof is ending the event at Tory’s house, it makes sense for him to start the pick up process there using Tory’s car. Since we live further from Tory’s house than Patrick does, well Bob’s your uncle! Rob get’s an extra 30 minutes to drop a bit of weight and run at 165 pounds instead of 167. Yes, I’m talking about the BM again.
Next I consider the actual running plan. Normally I subscribe to the Greek army motto: Never leave a buddy’s behind. I realize I just insulted all of my Greek readers. It’s okay, I have Greek friends. I tend to stick with my running mates throughout the effort. By doing so, we can encourage, support, and ultimately ridicule each other into performing better. However, I’ve run with Kevin and Patrick quite a bit during the last three weeks and I’m just not positive the Greek motto is going to work.
Here’s the thing: Patrick, Kevin, and I are three completely different runners. Patrick has long legs. We start at the same pace, but he prefers to take the up hill sections slower, saving himself for the downhill push. Kevin is strong out of the gate, his slight runners frame and streamlined, hairless scalp providing less wind resistance. I don’t think I can maintain that pace over the long term. Another tactic is required. In comes the French army motto.
There is an old joke: How many Frenchman does it take to defend Paris? Nobody knows. The French army motto is, “Their coming! Get out of my way before I run you over!” Yes, I just insulted another nationality—but it’s okay, I’m one-quarter French. In other words, once the crap hits the fan, it’s every man for himself. I have another joke about the French fighting the Irish, but since it requires me to fake both a French and Irish accent, we’ll save it for another time.
So there it is. I’ll start out at a steady Patrick-esque pace with the intention of remaining within the realm of ‘one team, one fight,’ but realize I may need to go just a bit faster on the up hills in order to keep from going completely insane.
You might be wondering where Tory is in all this? The consensus is that Tory is a beast. She is lean, fit, and a natural runner. We were all hoping she would come at this with the same determination Kevin used to prepare for last year’s marathon—Kevin essentially ran it cold. Unfortunately, Tory decided to actually prepare.
My initial plan was to draft her for as much of the race as possible. Since she’s been training, I recalculated my odds of lasting 5 minutes in her wake. I’m saddened to say I believe I have a 3 percent chance of lasting the full 5 minutes. This puts an unforeseen kink in an otherwise perfect strategy. I might need to hobble her.
Pre-race pick up preparation and drafting strategies are only part of the problem. It’s monsoon in India, which brings with it both rain and a plethora of sensory inputs.
Rain is a welcome respite in most places we’ve lived. It falls gently—sometimes violently—washing away the dirt and grime, breathing life into the fauna, and replacing the staleness of dry days with a pleasantly sweet effervescence. Colors become vivid, exploding into beautiful mosaics as car tires hum soothing tunes along rain soaked pavement. Such is not the case in India.
Indian rains come after six months of beautifully dry, warm winters and three months of unbearably hot, arid summers. Nature in India consists of four primary components. First, animals—including people—eat, drink, urinate, and defecate on roads, in fields, on fences, and about buildings. Second, garbage accumulates along roadsides, in vacant lots, and beside buildings. Third, insects—especially flies and mosquitos—procreate, lay eggs in stagnant water and dry, inhospitable hosts, and wait for things to hatch. Fourth, things die.
After a long, hot, dry, bug-free summer comes monsoon. Monsoon adds moisture to a mix begging to be released from the bonds of olfactory imprisonment. Rather than wash away the old, monsoon brings new life to the now moist clumps of feces, piles of trash, random carrion, and previously urine soaked roadways. It emancipates the myriad of pungent, fetid aromas now free to invade and inundate our sensitive neural networks. And the monsoon rains create runoff which form giant petri puddles. The now damp detritus and stagnant mini-ponds make for an inviting breeding ground for the exploding fly and mosquito population. It’s our little slice of paradise.
There is no way to avoid the smells, mosquitos, and Musca domestica—houseflies—and her many cousins. Those are obstacles to battle along the way. But it is possible to drown out the sights and sounds with a decent playlist. Noise cancelling headphones block the sensory route into my conditioned psyche. My carefully selected playlist, a selection of Eminem, Billy Idol, Black Eyed Peas, and U2, not only drowns out the sounds of India, it provides a steady percussional cheering for a moderate yet sustainable pace. Noise-cancelling headphones are blinders for my ears.
It’s Not Over, Yet
Prepared or not, the half-marathon is Sunday. Running it is a foregone conclusion. I have no idea how I’ll perform. Will fatigue overtake me? Will the smells hamstring my efforts? Will I successfully rid myself of the two extra pounds before Rawoof picks me up? Lacking answers, I focus on the run.
When I run I run against myself. Losing doesn’t mean arriving at the finish line behind Kevin, Patrick, or Tory. Deservedly so, I’ll never hear the end of it if that happens. Losing is quitting—walking before my legs fail, stopping while still standing, allowing pain to dictate performance.
There is a zen-like awareness to running—a building toward calm solitude from which I can create, solve, and consider. Even surrounded by the sights, sounds, and putrid smells of a foreign land, people and stress melt away until I am the only person in the race.
Obstacles exist and mitigation plans are in place. There is nothing else but the run. Now I just need to make 16,000 people disappear.
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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is probably planned. Copyright can be found here for my original work.