I went into the 10km run at the Bengaluru Midnight Marathon on Saturday feeling excited and nervous at the same time. I was glad to not be running in the oppressive humidity of Mumbai for a change. However, underprepared and with a half marathon in Mumbai just over a month away, I had no idea how I would fare.
Since it was my first night race, I didn't have a frame of reference for what the experience would be like. But I did expect it to be similar to running the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in 2015 -- a combination of cool weather and a flat route creating favourable circumstances for runners to break their personal records.
Although I came nowhere close to achieving a personal record (PR), the event did turn out as expected in some ways, and not so much in a few others.
The entire energy and crowd support was effectively concentrated at the start line, where a live band at one end of the venue and a dhol-playing band at the other, along with a mass stretching session and the buzz from sponsor stalls lined along the start, all served to get the adrenaline pumping and the blood flowing.
The first couple of kilometres were hardly enjoyable but, to be fair, they rarely are in any major city marathon, be it in Boston or Berlin, in New Delhi or New York. When hundreds of runners -- or thousands, as in most cases -- stream through a road, it's bound to get crowded, with waves of faster runners having to weave in and out of traffic jams that are inevitably created when participants of all ages, speeds and running strategies are packed together.
Pacing, at least for me, is one of the more difficult aspects of long-distance running. One's natural pace may not always be the ideal speed for a particular race, since the distance being run and whether or not it's the first time that distance is being attempted are also factors. Pacing is a task of constant feedback -- one that requires more concentration than one might imagine. This task feels a little more difficult at the start of the race, when it's easy to get carried away trying to keep pace with the faster runners or get stuck behind the slower ones. The speed is hardly ever just right.
Because only one side of the road -- two lanes' width -- was blocked for the event and the route doubled back on itself, much of the event consisted of running on a one-lane-wide tarmac. This meant that it took longer for the field to thin out than I might have expected, but by the time it finally did and I'd hit wider sections of the route, I'd settled into a comfortable rhythm, my breathing falling satisfyingly into sync with my feet. I was in autopilot mode as my train of thought meandered from station to station, occasionally being jolted back to reality when I realised I'd forgotten to breathe (yes, it happens).
My peaceful reverie was permanently broken when I realised I was running towards where I'd started from. It had only been about 30 minutes, so I'd definitely not completed 10km yet. Which could only mean one thing.
"The first couple of kilometres were hardly enjoyable but, to be fair, they rarely are in any major city marathon... When hundreds of runners -- or thousands, as in most cases -- stream through a road, it's bound to get crowded."
I detest laps. I find them to be a monotonous, mentally exhausting way of covering long distances. There's something demoralising about approaching the end of a lap and the start of the next; your brain tells you this is where your race ends, yet you have to force yourself to do it all over again, as if you're running a race twice rather than just moving on to the next section of the same one.
Still, grudgingly accepting my fate, I was a few metres from the 5km turnaround point when an Ethiopian runner suddenly dashed past me to finish his 10km. Forcing myself to ignore the deflating feeling that followed, I tried to focus on my second lap, motivated by the desire to get the run over with and secretly hoping to fall back into the aforementioned rhythm in which running feels effortless.
A few minutes later, a fellow runner pulled alongside me, and even after a few hundred metres, we continued to keep pace with each other. That's when the possibility of a symbiotic partnership of sorts dawned on me. Staying with that runner helped me maintain a steady pace and it seemed like the feeling was mutual. Romanticised as it might sound, there was a feeling of kinship to it, two runners sticking alongside each other, with no words said, helping each other, in a way, to the finish. So much so, that my second half felt faster than the first. It was easily the highlight of my run.
After my post-run stretching and refuelling, I wondered if I'd want to come back to the Bengaluru Midnight Marathon. The event was not perfect. Personal distaste for laps aside, the route was narrow in parts, with safety risks such as a few speed breakers and uneven sections of road exacerbated by the nighttime conditions. Due to the number and range of events held, traffic needs to be shut down for 12 hours, because of which it's unlikely the race will be moved closer to the centre of the city and with more participants accommodated, as race director Gul Mohamed Akbar admitted.
"I was a few metres from the 5km turnaround point when an Ethiopian runner suddenly dashed past me to finish his 10km. Forcing myself to ignore the deflating feeling that followed, I tried to focus on my second lap."
However, there's no denying that it's also a unique event with plenty of energy and a sense of community to it, judging by the range of participants, from children to elderly citizens, present. For a relatively easy, confidence-boosting 10km run and a good time, I would return.
Would I run the half marathon or the marathon at midnight in Bengaluru, though? That would probably depend on my preparation and the route.
Curious to know the route, I hung around till the start of the half marathon and marathon, which were flagged off by Akbar. "Half marathon runners will run four loops, full marathon participants will run eight," he said.
Perhaps, but not quite yet.