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72 but trotting, for health and happiness

Mumbai, Feb. 15: In the long run there are no finish lines.

Among the rows of banners that lined the marathon route from Azad Maidan to the Worli seaface screaming the names of the sponsors, this one rested quietly. It summed up the thousands of runners who trudged in hours after the champs had romped home at the first international marathon in Mumbai.

Top seed Hendrik Ramalaa of South Africa won the marathon, taking 2 hours 15 minutes and 47 seconds. Julius Sugut of Kenya and Lucien Timobo of Tanzania came second and third respectively.

But Jursen Kuhlmey from Germany, 66, a chemist who owns a firm, came just to participate in the marathon. He clocked a modest 4 hours 29 minutes but was more than happy. “This was my 195th race. I took 4 hours 29 minutes, but that’s not the point,” he said. “I have brought two others from Germany. I run a marathon wherever there is one,” he said.

He has been all over the world to run the 42-km stretch. “Last week, I was running among snow. Now in this heat.”

“It’s about being happy and strong and telling yourself that there’s more to life than children, husbands, wives. I can’t give it up because, the day I do, I will grow old,” said Kuhlmey, who glows with health.

As he neared the finishing line, a wiry body bathed in perspiration and dropping off from exhaustion but looking entirely satisfied with his performance, the crowds on both sides of the track kept cheering him. Passers by ran up to him and piped: “Keep up the good work!”

Dr Ashis Roy, 72, the oldest participant in the marathon, clocked 5 hours 40 minutes. “I am happy. I ran slow because it was so hot,” he said. “Only if there was someone to greet me at the finish line.”

That was one complaint the celeb runners didn’t make. As actors Kajol, Rahul Bose, Parizaad and MTV veejays Nikhil Chinappa and Ramona ran, the cameras followed their moves closely. Kajol said she wanted to see how much she could run — and would drop out if she wasn’t up to it.

But the biggest star was Reliance vice-president Anil Ambani. He ran two events – the half marathon (21 km) and the Dream Run (7 km) in decent time — 1 hour 29 minutes 11 seconds and 29 minutes and 10 seconds. But he looked overwhelmed by his own feat as he hugged all his family members passionately and took time to recover. Later, he obliged the media by running again to the finishing line for more photo ops.

His spokesperson called up reporters to announce proudly that their boss had clocked 28 km in less than two hours.

For some of the biggest athletes in the world, too, the event was less about running and more about the feel-good factors generated. Michael Johnson and Mike Powell were there at the start of the Dream Run, but the crowd got too much for them, the organisers said, and they opted out soon after.

The crowd that ran along with them was 15,000-strong. Among them were also some who were not dressed strictly enough — an elderly man dressed like Gandhi, with a stick in his hand.

Maybe he was attempting the Dandi jog. A woman running for an NGO seemed to rise out of a circular wired contraption that resembled no sports gear.

Johnson promised that he wouldn’t mind coming back again to attend.

“A marathon like this is about making people aware about fitness and health. It is also to bring communities together. People like me are brought in to give them the opportunity to run along with a celeb,” he said.

The event, with which Mumbai joined the elite league of New York and London marathons, will be an annual one.

For the real marathonners, too, the event will be an important date in the calendar. Timobo is coming back next year for a marathon in Delhi.

For Ramalaa it was the first marathon win. He said it was great being in Mumbai, but the biggest day of his life was yet to come. It would “if I win the Olympics”, said the soft-spoken 32-year-old who took up long-distance running after he realised that soccer was not working for him.

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