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Keep on running

With the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon just four-and-a-half months away, it's time to reach for the sipper, slip into your training shoes, set your music player on shuffle mode and hit the road. Dhamini Ratnam & Deepti Patwardhan reports.

mumbai Updated: Sep 03, 2010 00:48 IST

With the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon just four-and-a-half months away, it's time to reach for the sipper, slip into your training shoes, set your music player on shuffle mode and hit the road.

Running the marathon, to be held on January 16, 2011, is as much a test of your mental strength as it is of your fitness. If you've found a programme that progressively adds miles and minutes to your running schedule, and a diet that complements your exercise plan, you need to find the perfect running circuit for yourself.

The city, for all its traffic and potholed roads, does throw up some pleasant surprises when it comes to running tracks. We spoke to marathoners to find out where they run.

Aarey Colony > Green signal

For Powai resident Madhumita Dasgupta (40), her Saturday run is akin to three hours of meditation. The research scientist, who runs four days a week in the 8-km concretised loop in her building complex, reserves her long-distance run for the greener environs of Aarey Colony in the company of her group, the Aarey Road Runners. "At Aarey, we run amidst nature. There is no traffic, no disturbance," she said. Dasgupta and her group set out by 6 am and finish between 8.30 am to 9.30 am. They run a 10-km circuit designed by their coach Daniel Vaz (49). Vaz, an Andheri resident, finds this a great place to train for the marathon.

"In the circuit, there is a 1-km-long steep incline, which prepares a runner for the Haji Ali-Peddar Road ‘heartbreak hill' run of the marathon," he said. "When we run two or three loops in the colony, we build endurance and can easily take on any hill run," he added. And the asphalt road, said Dasgupta, is easier on her knees than the concrete track she charts in her building complex.

However, it's not the asphalt that draws Colaba resident R. Sundersan (42) 32 km towards the suburbs on Saturdays. For Sundersan, who runs from Marine Drive to Malabar Hill and Peddar Road every morning, the prospect of running with friends is the draw. "For a long-distance run, it's important to have good company. It keeps you motivated," he said.

Watch out for: The 10-km loop is peppered with landmarks, but no signs or directions. So for a first-time runner, it can get confusing.

Marine Drive > Sea, believe

Mohana Ganesh (52) and Ganesh Krishnan (58) ran their first marathon this year and have begun training for the upcoming one. They run on a 10-km circuit that they have charted thrice a week, but their route — from Sion Hospital to Five Gardens and further to King's Circle — makes them run on the city's roads.

However, for their weekly long-distance run, they head to Marine Drive — like anyone training for the marathon.

The 4-km stretch from National Centre for Performing Arts to Wilson College is the retired couple's favourite route. There's a wide footpath to run on, so they don't have to be wary of traffic. "It's also encouraging to see other runners. It keeps us going," Ganesh added.

Besides, running by the sea is more interesting than running on narrow roads at Sion and King's Circle.

The couple begin their 18-km run from Sion and head down Worli towards Peddar Road and Marine Drive. "We also get some hill training at Babulnath, which builds endurance," she said.

Colaba resident Varun Sharma (26) runs on Marine Drive every evening. "The best thing about Marine Drive is that you are not bound by a closing time. People go as early as 4.30 am, while I sometimes run at 10.30 pm," said the business analyst. Sharma, who is training for the marathon for the first time, also found the distance markings on Marine Drive useful when he began training three months ago. "It helped set my pace and measure my improvement over the weeks," he said.

Watch out for: The pavement gets crowded in the morning and evenings. Further, running on concrete over a prolonged period isn't good on the knees, especially if the runner has a pre-existing joint problem.

Mahalaxmi Racecourse > Galloping along

S. Balasubramanian (43) has participated in every Half Marathon since it was initiated in 2004. He trains all year round with his running group, the Striders. And for the finance professional, Mahalaxmi Racecourse is the place to train.

The group, which Balasubramanian joined in 2008, runs there thrice a week. "I love the racecourse for the sheer expanse of space. You don't even feel like you're in Mumbai amidst all that greenery," said the Parel resident.

The racecourse is open from 5 am to 9 am and from 4 pm to 8 pm and is free for the public.

For Gamdevi resident Abhishek Mangeshikar, who began training for the marathon two months ago, the racecourse was the first choice too. "I used to run on the treadmill earlier, but nothing comes close to the racecourse," he said. Mangeshikar runs four times a week. The rain does little to deter him; he said the monsoon makes the racecourse even more beautiful.

The racecourse is a favourite for several reasons. For one, the smooth mud trail is easier on the joints than asphalt and concrete. The green expanse is ideal for warm-up, cool-down and stretching exercises. Its 2.2-km track is also the ideal length for the distance run.

Watch out for: As runners try to circumvent the puddles that form in the rain, it gets tough to maintain the pace. "During winters, smog covers the track, which makes it tough to catch your breath. I always contract a throat infection when I run there in December," said Balasubramanian. Mangeshikar, who runs in the evenings, said the night lighting at the racecourse is poor.

Joggers' Park > Jewel in Bandra's crown

You only have to go to Bandra's Joggers' Park to understand why it's such a favourite with runners. Situated on shore's edge, surrounded by trees, away from the grime, it is a green haven. "There are few places where you get so much clean air," said Bandra resident Ruhi Meghani (20), a keen basketball player and footballer who trains here regularly.

The main running strip is a mud track, which means less pressure on the joints. While you can train for most part on this, Joggers' Park also offers two pavement tracks. Since the marathon is run on the road, these tracks can help you condition yourself for the harder surface.

A newbie in Mumbai, Anthony Rey from Belgium, who participated in the Brussels 20-km race, also enjoyed his first run round the park. "The track is good, it's not hard on the joints, and it's windy. The good part is that drinking water is available," he said.

The entry fee Re 1 for children and Rs 2 for adults.

Watch out for: The circumference of 400 mt could prove too small.

Some of the regulars said the jogging track has deteriorated over the years.

In the rains, especially the mud track, which remains closed to public for most part, is tricky. The rain washes off the soil and exposes the stones underneath, which could prove dangerous while running. Also, though mostly windy, it can get stuffy on some parts of the track as it is shielded by trees and small constructions.

Juhu beach > Life's a beach

Beaches have always been a hit with fitness novices and star athletes. For former LIC athlete Brinston Miranda, who has been training for the past 25 years, Juhu beach is an 8-km stretch that those training for the marathon would do well to visit in the morning.

Not only do you get to inhale the air before the pollution sets in, you also improve breathing capacity by running against the wind. Running on the beach strengthens leg and calf muscles. "Since it's a soft surface, it's not only easier on the joints but also gets the legs and calves to perform more," said Miranda.

Gym instructor Rajesh Pawar believes the beach it is best place to start building endurance. "Once you are physically there to run the distance, you can try running on the road, maybe once a month, just to get the feel of it," said Pawar. "It's better to train outdoors because a gym has a controlled atmosphere. Running on the beach does not put as much pressure on the joints as the road would."

Watch out for: Not many, if you don't mind the litter. Miranda said it's better to train in the morning rather than the evening. "In the morning, you get only people who are focused on fitness. It's too crowded in the evenings. Also, the tide has just come and gone in the morning so the ground is firmer. In the evening, the sand is a little loose."

Priyadarshini Park > South Mumbai's best track

Priyadarshini Park, also known as PDP, is popular with morning walkers from Malabar Hill. The park has a 500-metre dirt track on which athletics instructor Savio D'Souza (45) runs with his students every evening. "The track is soft and even, and it faces the sea," said D'Souza.

For those running the marathon, PDP offers another option — a 400-metre eight-lane synthetic track.

Besides training there, Praful Uchil visits the track at least once a week with his running club, the Striders.

He finds it useful for interval training, an essential part of the marathon training process, where partial recovery helps build endurance.

"We run 300 metres, then slow down for 100 metres," says Uchil (39). "Since it is a synthetic track, there are no puddles and it's easy on the knees. It's the best racing track in south Mumbai."

The synthetic track is open from 5.30 am to 9 pm.

To train there, you must fill out an application form available at the office inside the garden and furnish a photograph of yourself. Membership fee is Rs 2,700 for three months.

Watch out for: PDP tends to be filled with walkers, so runners might find it difficult to maintain their pace. "The synthetic track was constructed years ago, so it has lost a lot of its bounce," said Uchil. You can't practice long-distance runs there either.