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Thursday, January 18, 2007

PF Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, 2007 at Phoenix


It was sometime in late October,2006, Viji and Bala enthusiastically mentioned to us that they have registered themselves for participating in a Marathon to be held in January,2007 at Phoenix. The Marathon, we were told, was being organized by P F Chang and Rock ‘n’ Roll to mobilize funds for some noble medical research programs. It did trouble me initially because firstly I knew that they were never so fitness freaks to undertake any great physically stressful activities. Secondly, Viji was just recovering from the after-effects of the medically terminated pregnancy. To add to their woes, during their visit to India during September/October, both had a taste of the polluted air and water over there and some food contamination and they both were sick even as they were returning to Phoenix. However, they assured us that everything is going to be ok, their health is fine and that they are going to assiduously practice long walks regularly in the next couple of months to improve their physical and psychological fitness for the marathon. We were told, the full marathon is a 26.2 miles run and the half-marathon is a 13.1 miles walk. The half-marathon was to be completed within a maximum of four hours to be eligible to receive a certificate.

We arrived in Phoenix on 17th Dec,2006 from Chicago. During the weekend following our arrival, we had the first taste of their preparations for the marathon. They had heavier than usual breakfast and we set out to a nearby park. The park had a long and circuitous walking-trail and in the center a fairly large lake. The park and lake were very beautiful. Three rounds of this walking-trail would make 2 miles and as such they have to make a little more than 18 rounds to cover 12 miles and depending on the time they take, they have to make finer adjustments to their pace in the marathon Lakshmi and Me took nearly twenty minutes to complete even one go. One of Bala’s friend and his wife too joined that day’s marathon practice. Viji, Bala and his friends completed the entire 18 rounds in a little over three and half hours and that was fairly close to what they are expected to do in the half-marathon. We were told that right from the time they registered themselves for the marathon, they had been vigorously practicing. Great! I thought, regardless of the outcome of the marathon, their participation is going to give them a useful and productive routine to go for regular walk and keep themselves physically fit. It was no doubt a worthy effort.

The participation in the marathon was not free. The fee required to register was seventy- five US dollars per person for the half-marathon and one hundred and twenty dollars for the full marathon.

In between, they had an opportunity to test their own fitness again. There is a mountain peak named Squa Peak in Phoenix and they went for this hill trek. Rajamani, Girija and Sriram, and Prakash who were eventually with us at Phoenix from Chicago to enjoy the Christmas vacations, joined this hill trek. This was an arduous trek, as I understand and predictably Lakshmi and me kept ourselves out; we had food to cook at home for everyone. However, Girija decided to cut back on the full trek, sensibly, of course. Others had reached the peak. Predictably, I was really amazed at the tenacity and will power of Rajamani who too made it to the top; though, I was told that however after reaching the peak, he felt physically fully exhausted. Anyhow, he managed to stay there and return back safely feeling full of enthusiasm for having made it. Rajamani and his family returned back during the first week of Jan itself as Sriram’s college was then re-opening for the next semester.

So, we grew confident that Viji and Bala, would after all, make the marathon as they appeared to be fit.

The D-day came. It was January 14th, 2007, a Sunday, – the day for the marathon. Couple of days before, Viji and Bala had gone to collect their marathon-kit. The kit contained, among other things, a six-by-six inches cloth with their registration number printed on it, a t-shirt with the half-marathon logo, a timer sensor, called the “champion-chip”, to be worn inside their shoes, information on the route for the half-marathon, and car parking, details of the entertainment programs en-route etc. The instructions were precise.

On the day prior to marathon, they told us that they felt as though they were just about to face an examination (reminiscent of their school and college days). They told us of the butterfly in their stomach. They were full of excitement and expectations about the day to follow.

The previous week, Lakshmi had read from weather reports that it was going to be very cold on 13th, 14th and 15th Jan. We did not really realize at that time how cold it was going to be on the D-day eventually, when the day dawned.

We woke up at five in the morning. We took shower. Both Viji and Bala had breakfast to half-fill their stomach. They were saying that plenty of refreshments would be available for them during the marathon, if they wanted to. Lakshmi and me packed some Uppuma as breakfast for us. We set out for the great marathon. Both Viji and Bala had several layers of dresses/sweaters. It was biting cold outside. Aided by the map, we reached the ‘orange’ parking lot near the destination. Luckily, we could locate a comfortable parking slot immediately.

It was around 7:25 a.m. We came down from the parking level to the ground. A long line of people had already formed waiting to get board the buses that will take them to starting point, Arizona Capitol. The finishing point was close to the Sun Devil Stadium and that was not far from the place we parked. We were all virtually shivering in the cold as we stood in the line. When their turn came, they boarded the bus and rode off. Waving hands, we prayed to Bhagawan to help them complete the marathon successfully.

We went back to the car in the parking lot. We were loath to the idea of exploring nearby areas in that biting cold. We just sat inside the car for about one and half hours. In between we finished our tasty breakfast. It was dark and not enough lights were there. I closed my eyes and was listening to some music. Lakshmi too must have dozed off for some time, I presume. In fact, we did more preparations on how we will spend our time even as the marathon was on and so we had some books, cassettes, audio CDs. I even had a small notebook to write notes. All these were packed neatly in my backpack, without realizing that the marathon event was going to be a great thriller and fun and we would hardly be requiring any of these to spend our time.

Noticing bright sunshine at around 9.15 or so, we stepped out of the car. Outside was less cold now. We slowly walked towards the finishing point near the stadium. Waves of people too were moving towards the stadium. As we arrived close to the finishing point, we saw thousands of people already assembled there and cheering up the marathon runners who were just making it to the destination. At the time when we reached, the runner who was the fourth to make marathon was just there.

So, I assumed, after all, we were not very late then for the events. T.V camera crew on mounted platforms and on ground at the finishing point were shooting pictures and beaming them on the huge electronic screen for everyone to watch. In loud voices, the commentators were reeling out their commentaries and galvanizing the crowd to cheer the runners with all its might.

The first to finish the 26.2 miles marathon run, as I understood later, was the 25 years old Terefe Yae, an Ethiopian and he bagged the US dollars twenty thousands prize money and he made the marathon run in 2 hours, 14 minutes and 13 seconds won only by a margin of 3 seconds over fellow Ethiopian Fikadu Degefu, aged 34. Many of the front- runners were from the African American communities and I could see thousands more of them witnessing the run and cheering up their runners. I understood later that many of them from distant countries do participate in the marathon either as a trial for Olympics and other international marathon runs or for the huge prize money. I also understood later that when the marathon kicked off at 7.40 a.m, the temperature at the Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, the 5th busiest airport in the world, was 29 degrees. No wonder, we were shivering and freezing that morning and so, thousands of runners and other spectators.

The area around the finishing line was full of gaiety, cheer and fun. Wherever I turned, I saw only heads moving over the area like waves. There were several tents, put up for the benefit of the participants to re-energize themselves on the marathon route and at the finishing point. The organizers surely, must have worked for several days and nights in the preceding months before this event to make all preparations. Many facilities included for the crowd too. I was very much impressed by the disciplinary manner in which the spectators conducted themselves even as they were exhibiting all their passionate enthusiasm in their loud cheering, whistling, clapping, jumping, filming, shaking hands, waving raised placards and posters, encouraging their family and friends who were running. Anywhere else in the world, the whole place would have been a scene of utter rubbish thrown all over, but not here. The ground and surroundings were still neat and clean and the air still fresh. Mobile restrooms were kept in several spots to help people ease themselves without any discomfort so that place does not turn filthy.

Adanech Zekiros (Ethiopia)(2:31:43) ended the three-year women’s reign of Shitaye Gemechu 2004(2:31:33). We were there at that time, though we did not know her name at that time. Gemechu, 2:31:43 was the second fastest by a woman, but slower than Gemechu, the women runner who gamely hung in the top four through the first half of the marathon before being taken to a Scottsdale hospital suffering from dehydration and hypothermia. The wheel-chair course record fell to Tyler Byers of Reston, Va in 1:57:28. He is a University of Arizona graduate who also won here in 2005 and set a course record at 2006.I happened to read about this in the next day newspapers.

After hanging around the marathon finishing point for some time, we moved slowly to the half-marathon finishing point. Around that time, the first to complete the half-marathon had already started reaching there. The half-marathon participants were released in batches of thousand or so, starting at 8.30 a.m., to avoid too much crowding. I came to know that Northern Arizona University student Morten Bostrum, a native of Finland, and perhaps used to the cold, won in 1:06:33. That is the best time since 2004 when some top American ran here to prepare for the Olympic Marathon Trials. This place was much more crowded than the full marathon. We could see people of different ages energetically reaching the goal post. Astonishingly, we could see people who were virtually in sixties and seventies making the half marathon- even people with potbellies - and so also people in their teens. Americans seem to have phenomenal energy and enthusiasm for such events, as I could see in their faces. They were boisterously jumping around everywhere. Many small children were there standing in line close to the periphery, either waving off their placards and posters or shaking hands with successful participants.

We moved slowly in the opposite direction to the marathon and eventually entered Mill Avenue, a notable market place. The marathon was progressing from another direction. A couple of coffee shops and restaurants that were open were full of people. At several junctions, there were musical bands that sent out the right reverberations in that chilly atmosphere. We were roaming around Mill Avenue for some time, had some coffee, strolled around a bookshop, bought a book (that one thing which I cannot resist, whenever I am in a book store) and gradually returned back to the marathon finishing line. In the mean time, Viji had already called me over cell phone to inform us that probably they will finish the half marathon in another about an hour.

As we neared the finishing point, even we were excited to watch Viji and Bala running towards the goal post. I was urging Lakshmi to get faster on her foot, so that we don’t miss them. I did not know at that time that we were already late to reach the observation posts at the finishing point.

We stood on a viewing stand near the finishing point, keenly watching the crowd, taking lots of pictures and looking beyond to find out whether we can spot Viji and Bala in the crowd. No, we could not. It appears that Viji had called us over the cell phone several times to inform that they have already made to the finishing point, but in the din and noise, I did not get the cell ringing. Eventually, she caught us and we rushed back to meet them.

There, they were. They had completed the half marathon well in time. They were presented with a medal and – shall I call it – a plastic shawl as a celebration of their success. Lakshmi was in tears that she missed them near the finishing point. We were very happy about them completing the half marathon and so, they were too. They were very too excited about their accomplishment, as I could see on their faces. They had managed it and I thank Bhagawan for that.

In conclusion, this marathon gave substantial boost to the morale of Viji and Bala. This event is an exemplary sample for human spirit and its endeavor to accomplish, tenacity in times of challenges, and its response to the collective needs of society. The marathon had targeted to collect US dollars 5.8 million towards 13 charities for serious medical researches and was a great effort to contribute in no small measure to ease some of mankind’s problems. More than 37000 runners have braved the morning freezing temperatures to make this possible and more than that number have cheered these achievers, without which the event could have missed much of the warmth and enthusiasm.

January 18th, 2007


  1. Namah Shivaya L and N ji ji. It was nice to see Viji with her husband, and to read ur write up on the marathon. Viji has always been a 'I Can. I Must. I Will'.....on the marathons she has run so far in life.She is an inspiration! Congrats to them from us.Am sure she will be blessed with a 'darling' soon.Namah Shivaya.......Shankar/Sharada

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  3. I just read your post about the Rock and Roll Marathon earlier this year. I ran the half that day too and I love to read race reports. You did a great job telling about the day. Thank you. I'll have to suggest to my readers that they read this post. Tell your friends a belated congratulations.