JITO Marathon – Can it get any worse than this?

Pranay

Once in a while when a slow runner hears “Excuse me, coming through” the unwritten protocol is to step aside and let the faster runner go past. But to have to shout out “EXCUSE ME, EXCUSE ME” non-stop throughout a 5km run is just simply unthinkable.

JITO Marathon was organized to help provide water to the parched and dry lands of Maharashtra that has been enduring hardships under acute drought. In these times, water that is deemed to be a basic necessity of our human lives, has become a symbol of the prevailing dark contrast between rural and urban India. Water has elevated to the levels of luxury for rural India whereas urban India continues with their obscene display of apathy towards this scarce resource.

The cause has been dear to my heart so I promptly registered for JITO Marathon a week before the event.

Race day arrived on 3rd April 2016. We reached well in time to the unexpected sight of a near-empty ground. I was apprehensive about adequate participation. Before long, as the sun ascended gradually on the horizon, a steady stream of runners trickled in and in no time the ground was teeming with people. JITO organizers had brought in school boys and girls to the event to swell the numbers.

My wife and an office colleague were there with me. The colleague brought along his 7 year old daughter who, shortly, would be giving us the scare of our lives.

The anchor on the stage grandly announced that the warm-up for the runners would be a Zumba session. I cringed. These days why does every marathon event have a Zumba session? Years ago I was lured into joining a Salsa dance class by my wife. Try as I might I just couldn’t get the hang of it and my wife had to endure a lot of embarrassment.

The 10K category was flagged off first. 15 minutes later the assemblage of 5K runners were called for. The run began and the crowd of enthusiastic runners was on its way. In any marathon the first few hundred meters sees swathes of runners who then thin out after a while. Strange things began to happen here.

The sight of a water station in the sweltering heat should have brought a feeling of pleasure and relief to us. It didn’t. The school kids snatched glasses from the volunteers, had a few sips and nonchalantly threw away the glasses in all directions. All three water stations were reduced to dumping stations. I have never seen anything like this before. Disgusting really.

The over-crowding remained throughout the route and I had to navigate between slow runners, walkers and people who stopped suddenly. This ordeal just didn’t seem to the end. “Runner coming through” had no effect on the folks ahead of me, as they seemed to be in no mood to relent. I urged, pleaded and sometimes chided but my words were drowned in the sea of juvenile clamor around me.

The last 500 meters were catastrophic. An ugly stretch of cemented road enveloped with wet jute bags came live with chitter-chatter around. Everybody seemed interested in anything but running.

I can forgive JITO organizers for most of their glaring loop holes barring one. Runners have a dream, no matter how tough the race has been, of finishing strong. In the last 100 meters the runner battles fatigue and many other problems. But he/she puts in everything to get to the finish line which is a much cherished moment. JITO ruined it for us.

20 meters inside the finish line the area was blocked and we were asked to queue up for medals! It all seemed so meaningless.

After much jostling around, much to my relief, I received the medal. The relief wasn’t meant to last long as the missus called me from somewhere in the crowd. The anxiety in her voice conveyed to me that all was not well. My colleague’s daughter had wandered off and went missing. A frantic search ensued as we started looking for her amongst the unruly crowd. And just like that, out of nowhere, she walked up to me and exclaimed that she was looking for my wife! Phew! I thanked the gods.

The last part of our nightmarish experience awaited us as we headed for the refreshment stalls. A near riot had broken out with the school boys and girls snatching as much food as they could as if there was no tomorrow. It reminded me of the iconic scene from Bollywood’s Satte Pe Satta in which the seven brothers demonstrate animal behavior with zero manners at the dining table in front of a neatly laid out lunch. The whole ground had been reduced to one big garbage zone. We came back empty handed.

A run organized for such a noble cause left us utterly dejected for the way it went. We certainly have some way to go in civility.

Author – Pranay Singh. Pranay is a running enthusiast from Pune.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Sportsjoy Network.

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