City marathons are a total different beast from trails and ultras, and the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon offers a unique chance to see the Island city from streets that are usually teeming with black-and-yellow taxis, cars, bullock carts and the odd Bombayite.  Between Victoria Terminus, Marine Drive, Chowpatty Beach, Haji Ali Dargah and the Sea Link bridge, the route takes in a load of great sights and locations – despite there being a little bit of re-tracing your steps.

Living in Mumbai, this has become my local race and the only city / road marathon I’ve taken part in for ages.  This year was my third year in a row at the race – so I felt it was a good time to do a wee write up.

By Thomas Watson

Mumbai Marathon Pros:

  • A city marathon in one of the world’s truly unique cities – great way to see the sights of Mumbai.
  • Very well supported and managed.
  • Fairly flat, relatively cool and a very ‘doable’ marathon – nothing too challenging.

Mumbai Marathon Cons:

  • The final part of the route is shared with the half-marathon, meaning you may get tangled up with some of the slower half-marathoners (though this situation has improved in recent years)
  • Toilets along the way didn’t have any…supplies (hand sanitiser or toilet paper).
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Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) – the world’s busiest train station, and the location of the race start and finish line.

Mumbai Marathon Race Setup & Info

The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon takes over the entire south of Bombay (the old part of town) on the third Sunday in January every year.  Several events are held simultaneously – marathon, half marathon, dream run – all centred around the town’s iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus), the busiest train station in the world (mercifully quieter on Sundays…).

The terrain is sealed black-top road for almost the whole race, with some short sections of lock-block style bricks.

routemap

The Mumbai Marathon Route

Temperature

The full-length marathon starts at 05:40hrs on statistically the coolest weekend of the year – it’s around 17 °C at the start line, and only starts to warm up two hours later when the sun rises – so the race is a lot cooler than you might assume.

Hills

With South Bombay consisting mainly of reclaimed ground, you won’t be surprised to hear it’s mainly flat.  There is one real hill – Peddar Road, between Chowpatty Beach and Haji Ali Dargah – which is roughly 1km up then 1km down, but you must cross it on the way out (around the 8km mark) and on the way back (around the 37km mark).  There’s a slow gradient when you get on and off the Sea Link bridge, but otherwise this one’s nice and flat.

Traffic & Logistics

Anyone who’s seen Bombay on a regular day will appreciate how busy and chaotic the roads can be – so it’s a testament to the organisers that the streets are completely empty come race day.  All roads are closed and strictly policed, all parked cars are gone and (I’m guessing) someone has gone round and moved all the scooters and bikes onto the pavements.

In terms of getting to the start line (Azad Maidan – feet from where Rudyard Kipling grew up), it’s actually not that hard despite all the closed roads.  Both Churchgate and VT train stations are within five minutes walk, alternatively you can come by car – just stick to the east side of town from Worli onwards as the half-marathon starts on the western-facing Worli Seafront – and attracts a load of traffic.  Alternatively, there’s loads of nice hotels in the Fort / Colaba / Marine Drive area, all within walking distance.

Similarly at the end of the race, taxi’s can be hard to come by unless you walk a good distance from Azad Maidan.

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Bandra – Worli Sea Link Bridge, looking south

Support

The race is ridiculously well supported, with water roughly every kilometre, then orange juice and other random supplies at various stops.  You’ll find plenty of residents along the course coming out to support you, often with biscuits and bananas and orange segments.  The two things I brought with me were salts and gels – which are not provided at any aid stations.

Besides nutrition, there’s loads of toilet stops and police line the entire route.  I saw a few medics on stand-by along the way too.

When you run along Marine Drive (both times) the boulevard is full of bandstands with performers, musicians and marching bands – pretty awesome. And from around the half-way point, you’ll find the route is lined with spectators cheering you on the rest of the way.

Mumbai Marathon Course Description

The organisers have done a decent job of plotting a course through Mumbai, taking in a lot of the most iconic sites.   Starting at V.T. in the Fort area, you take in the classic Bombay sights like Flora Fountain, Marine Drive, Chowpatty Beach and Haji Ali in the far south of the city, before running along the scenic Worli Seaface and onto the iconic Sea Link Suspension bridge (completed in 2008), which links the south of the city with the northern, more recent suburbs.

After the sea link you head east, then turn back and start heading south again, hugging the coast line.  This section (right after the half-way point) is fun as you run past a big fishing community, and all the villagers are out spurring you on.  From there, you take one of the main trunk roads south again until you’re back at Worli Seaface – after a quick loop in the course, you run past the entrance to the Sea Link bridge and then start retracing your steps back to the start line.

These last 8 or 9km are the same roads you covered on the way out (slightly shorter on the way back as you miss out Nariman Point).  Despite this, it’s not bad – on the way out you are running in the dark, on the way back the sun is out and the streets are lined with supporters.

The most notorious feature of the Mumbai Marathon route is when you hit the Peddar Road hill on the way back – it comes in around the 36km mark, just when your legs are giving way – and usually just as the heat of the day is starting to get to you.  Fortunately, the local residents come out en masse to cheer you up the last, slow climb – then it’s a quick downhill before hitting Chowpatty Beach again.

The final 3km along Marine Drive and back into Victoria Terminus are a crazy circus of supporters, dancers, photographers and everyone else – you might find yourself weaving between back-of-the-pack half-marathoners here, but they’re not usually too much an obstacle.

The race ends right where it started, outside the famous train station.  By the time you get back, expect hordes of happy half-marathoners, camera crews, supporters, fun run participants – it’s a total carnival atmosphere.  Grab a beer and soak it in.

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Haji Ali mosque – accessed by a tidal causeway

My Run

Since I don’t do many regular marathons I always struggle with picking a pace.  When I got to the start line this year I decided to try and get a PB of under 3hrs 30mins, given I was in better shape than I had been in previous years.  I really hadn’t put in the miles during training, but thought I might as well push myself and see how I can go – I can handle crashing half-way through a race.  Using a friend’s advice, I upped my gel intake to one every 40 minutes and this carried me through – I kept a good eye on my Garmin and managed to maintain a steady pace with even splits throughout.

I ran in Nike Free Flyknit 3.0’s, shoes that I hadn’t done more than 10km in prior to the race.  In the past I’ve been a bit of a shoe snob in terms of judging brands and picking the right shoe for a race – this time, I decided to deliberately throw out my old approach and just run in these off-the-shelf shoes (that happened to be really comfortable).  They are a fairly minimal shoe (the most minimal one Nike makes, I think) but I’ve run marathons in lighter shoes before, so felt ready for it.

In the end they worked a treat, with no sore spots or complaints other than a couple of minor blisters which I only discovered when I took the shoes off.  The Flyknit’s probably aren’t designed for marathons, but then they worked well – I’d wear them again for one day road events.

I wore the Garmin Forerunner 110 – my go-to marathon watch.  The battery life seems to last just over 4hrs in GPS mode, and it tells me the basics – pace and total distance.

I also took an iPod shuffle, thinking I’d use it from around the half-way point.  Instead, the crowds cheering and chatting with other runners kept me going.

3years

Me at the Mumbai Marathon in 2014, 2015 and 2016

Final Time: 3hrs 27min 59sec

I ran the Mumbai Marathon supporting Reality Gives – an NGO which focusses on the Dharavi slum area, and run the best tours in town!

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