Earler this week, Mumbai and its people felt the chill, quite literally. The night temperatures had reached 13.5, the lowest the mercury levels had dropped here in the last two years. Finally winter-impaired Mumbaikars had a reason to bring out their woollens. With less than seven days to go for the Mumbai Marathon, it meant that close to 100-odd participants from abroad could breathe a tad easier than what they may have expected.
For a majority of the 10 years that it has existed, heat and humidity have been characteristic of the city’s running extravaganza.
As a result, the weather and the temperatures have always had a binding impact on the finish times. It’s not just the runners from overseas who have had to deal with it.
“Running in the heat makes you sweat more. You get dehydrated faster, and you need to take extra water-breaks to avoid cramps. That delays you and makes you add unwanted extra seconds in your overall timing,” explains Lyngkhoi Binning, three-time and defending Indian champion of the Mumbai course.
While Binning will be trying to make it four wins this year, Hugh Jones will be hoping for another safe and competitive race. The former long distance runner has been the race director here for a few years now.
He’s no stranger to India or the climate here. He too believes that the bearing that weather has on marathon races in particular can often get underestimated. He cites the example of the Delhi half marathon.
Climate controls timings
“The 2012 race was organised towards the end of September. The performances were severely depressed compared to what we had in the recent one in December.
People were finishing their races a minute or two quicker than the one in September,” says Jones. “All athletes get influenced because they cannot run as fast in warm conditions compared to when it is cool,” he adds.
Temperatures recorded on past Mumbai Marathon race-days reveal that the 2010 edition was the hottest event so far, with the mercury staying as high as 21.6 degrees and even going up to 35.4.
The results by the Indian athletes reflected the weather as women’s champion Shastri Devi recorded her win at 3:10:03, the slowest recorded timing for an Indian woman winner at the event.
In fact, eight of the top-10 timings set by Indians were recorded at events staged in North Indian cities during the cold winter months, albeit Shivnath Singh set the Indian 2:12:00 record came in the heat of May.
The international elite athletes present at the event claim to have come prepared for the infamous conditions in Mumbai. “There is always a fear when we come to Asian countries,” says John Kelai, the winner of the 2007 and 2008 editions.
No drastic improvements
Despite the cooler climes this time around, not many expect the timings to improve dramatically.
Some experts believe that the last hour of the elite race will see the sun come out and the temperature rise. That could mean that the runners approach the race with a different strategy.
“When Wilson Kipsang broke the world record in Berlin, the starting temperature was 8 degrees and it went up to 13 by the time he finished. Temperatures between eight and 15 degrees is considered ideal for fast timings,” says Rahul Pawar, expert on Indian Athletics.
“But humidity and wind speed play spoilsports in spite of ideal temperatures. Based on various coastal races and historical timings, Mumbai will never produce a world record in marathons,” he adds.