I raced my scooty on the deserted 100 feet road. The air was extremely chill and my scarf failed to protect my ears. I drove towards the designated pick-up point, parked my vehicle and got into the school bus which was the transportation that would take me to the venue. I watched in wonder the different shades of the dawn sky that changed every few seconds on the East Coast Road. My co-passengers were chatting away and exchanging info.
The bus turned into the road leading to Auroville. It is an experimental township based on the teachings of Aurobindo & Mother. It is around 10 kms from Pondy town and around 8 kms from Pondicherry Engineering College. Auroville was conceived as an Universal city and is based on the vision of Sri Aurobindo & Mother. It was started in 1968 and currently has around 2500 permanent residents from around 40 countries.
As the bus neared the Visitor’s Center of Auroville, I could hear music and cheering. The place was abuzz with people. I handed over my handbag over at the luggage tent and joined the crowd.
People were stretching out their muscles to fast music ! We were getting ready for the Auroville Marathon 2011. This was the 4th edition of the event started in 2008 to commemorate the 40th year of the founding of Auroville.
I had signed up for the 10 K run. The full and half marathoners had already started off on their races at 5 & 6 in the morning respectively. We must have been around 500 people at the start line. The mood was ecstatic and we were rearing to go. One of the volunteers led us off from the start line.
In the beginning people were almost tripping over one another, due to enthusiasm and energy ! But pretty soon the crowd spread out and each one was finding his or her own pace. The sun was just rising and the air was clean and fresh.
The Auroville Marathon is a Trail marathon. It is one of the best nature trail marathons in India. The marathon route is entirely though the Auroville forest on forest trails and dirt roads. It runs through sporadically placed residences and other cottage industries like jewellery making and decorative metal workshops.
I had done no particular training nor followed a strict training schedule for this marathon. I walk in the beach for 3 or 4 days a week and thats about it ! But I had tried to increase my jogging duration and reduce the walking span for a month, though not entirely successful with this plan.
I had not set a stipulated finishing time for myself in this marathon. I knew this was a nature trail and had decided to enjoy walking though this forest and reach the finishing line on my own two feet instead of being carried on a stretcher ! This was my game plan for the marathon !! Pretty good plan, right 😉 ??!!
At the start of the race, my enthusiasm coupled with the energy of the scores of my co-runners at the start line had given me the momentum to run the first 2 kms with ease ! I sighted the golden globe-Matri Mandir-shining enroute. Matri Mandir is a meditation area and is called ‘The Soul of Auroville’. The entire township radiates from this centre point architecturally and spiritually.
There was a band of local musicians playing just percussions. The beats were lively and energetic, the intention of which, I suspect, was to make the marathoners to rev up their gears and propel forward ! This raw music blended well with the environs and did not seem out of place or loud and garish.
After I noticed the 2 km mark , I was on the lookout for the ‘aid stations’ that were promised at every 3 kms. I still had a km to go to earn my few sips of water ! I slowed down to conserve energy and to click pictures. It was a beautiful morning and I could see the sun’s rays trickling in through the trees and foliage.
Atlast I reached the first aid station. It was well staffed and stocked with water, electrolytes, lemon juice, biscuits, bananas and peanut chiklis. There was also a manned first aid table. The volunteers handed these out and some runners who were time conscious grabbed these on the go, while some like me took this as an opportunity to rest for a minute or two !
The organizers of the Auroville marathon do not go in for corporate sponsors and depend on volunteers and the registration fee of Rs. 300 per person. Inspite of this, it was an extremely well organized and well manned event.
Deeper into the trail, we ran into runners of the full marathon and half marathon as we crossed paths at some points in our respective routes. The different coloured bibs made the identification easy.
As the marathon progressed, the forest thickened and the crowd thinned. At some stretches, I was alone with nature. The silence of the trees was interspersed with the call of the birds and the buzz of the insects. The sunlight bathed the vibrant red sand in a stream of golden light. It was magical.
Some runners had come as a contingent from different parts of India – Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Kolkata, etc. There were some people from other countries, probably visiting India and enjoying a forest run while here. Ofcourse there were some Pondicherrians too.
Some were in groups and some had brought along their families and friends to cheer them. I had come alone. No one (yet) knew that I was running my first marathon today. A few of my co-runners spoke a word or two with me on the run. Some jogged a few metres with me. But mostly I ran at my own pace, alone. A Marathon is probably a microcosm of one’s life.
The Auroville forest is made of blazing red earth. It is a tropical dry evergreen forest. Bougenvillas of different hues like tints of pink, white, yellow, etc hang from the walls of the eco houses. Senthoora poo, cashew nut trees, badam trees, palm trees, casaurina trees and lots of thorny bushes provided cover from the sun.
Residents of Auroville and the nearby village of Kuyilapalayam and other hamlets around Auroville were out doing their daily chores; vending in bicycles, travelling in bikes, tending to a garden, feeding a cow or playing with a dog ! A few were having a picnic breakfast and waving at the marathoners. Volunteers in bicycles cycled by and motivated us in the last 1 km.
I was enjoying my walk/run and did not really feel the exhaustion. The environment was much too beautiful for me to think of my body’s tiredness right then. I had not really trained for my first marathon. So I did not really know whether I would complete the full distance.
Alas, I could hear the beats of the rustic drums again. Perhaps I was closer to my destination !
Sure enough a volunteer at the next turn called out that I had just about 300-400 metres to the finish line. On hearing this, I slowed down (not that I was sprinting at Usain Bolt’s speed at any point during my marathon !!) ! I took a few pictures and just savoured the moment. Even though I have visited Auroville many times in the past, these parts of the township are not normally in the visitor’s circuit. Walking is the best way to get intimate with a place and truly understand the spirit of any city or place.
I checked my watch for the first time during the run and the needles indicated 8.30 a.m. I had taken 90 minutes to cover 10 K (well, 300 m short of that). After a few minutes I resumed my run and just around the corner a huge crowd had gathered to applaud those who had successfully completed the marathon.
There was big cheering at the ‘Start Line’. There was a huge crowd at the ‘Finish Line’. But the run was done alone. A cheer crowd waved out from here and there. Yes, Marathon is a Microcosm of Life !
The ‘Start Line’ and ‘Finish Line’ are common for all categories of marathons (Full, Half, 10K, 5K), though the lengths travelled and routes taken are different. Yes, ‘Start Lines’ and ‘Finish Lines’ are great Levellers. Just as Birth and Death are indeed Great Levellers. Yes, Marathon is a Microcosm of Life !
I crossed the finish line and collected my T-Shirt – a reward for successfully completing my run. There was a long line of people waiting for a hot and sumptuous breakfast of Pongal, vadai, chutney, sambhar and coffee ! Aah, the 10 kms run was indeed worth it ! Half-marathoners were easily identified by the bigger servings on their plates ! Well, the full marathoners would probably dive into the utensils directly given their state of hunger and exhaustion after running 42 kms !
I had not checked my clock thoughout my run. Duing the very last leg, I checked my watch when I was 300 metes from the finish line. It was 8.30 a.m , exactly 1.5 hrs since I started. And this was the timing I told my friend. But the electronic timing certificate e-mailed by the organizers yesterday show my run timing as 1 hr & 42 mins ! Well, I had failed to take into account the bonus minutes I had used for enjoying the very last leg of my journey. We think we have completed our duration/distance when a few extra months or metres are thrown our way ! Aah, these marathons !
I’m hooked on to running now ! Well, right this moment all I’m hooked on to is Volini !! With my adventurous spirit soaring I could well be on my way to become Volini’s Brand Ambassadress !! Nope my friends, the mention of the above name is not a ‘product placement strategy’ ; it is but a cautious effort to avoid any ‘knee re-placement surgery’ in the distant future !!
I’m very thankful for the wonderful opportunity and experience.