The first big hurdle in the training for the full marathon presented itself as the inaugural Bromo Marathon this Sunday,and what a mountain sized hurdle it was!
Three hours from the city of Surabaya, Mount Bromo is THE iconic Indonesian volcano in East Java. A toughie with an awesome reputation, it took out a whole mountain thousands of years ago, leaving a sunken crater and a massive apocalyptic sea of ash in its wake. Not content with this pre historic tantrum, it continues to harass the towering mountains surrounding it, by blasting out clouds of sulphur all the time. A real bad boy this one.
It also happens to be Aarti and my favourite Indonesian weekend location. The sunrise is breathtaking and so is the rolling sea of mist which magically whites out visibility and reinstates it in a matter of minutes. So as soon as Mani told us about a marathon being organised there, we were all for it. Aarti provided all the enthusiasm and took care of the logistics, Mani and I signed up for the 21 and our madcap pal Venu, probably while in a haze of smoke and beer went for the full marathon.
We drove all night from Surabaya for the usual sunrise tour and trek up frothing Bromo, post which we headed to the village to check out the run details. Immediately impressive was the manner in which the organisers had garnered local support for this charity run. Throughout the day we met enthusiastic supporters and in the evening were treated to the traditional song and dance hit parade performed with gusto.
The ‘what was I thinking’ moment arrived on studying the course -we had to climb right up that huge mountain and then plummet immediately back down. 21km of circling mountain roads and cobbled paths with a truly insane straight-up-to-heaven vertical dirt track of 5km thrown in between. My experience of monstrous inclines in Jakarta being limited to speed breakers, the only humour was provided by the thought of Venu having to do it twice !
Race day dawned with beautiful cool weather and after hugging Aarti for a bit of luck, we were off!
The first few kms were full of long inclines and being well aware of my limitations, I crawled most of the time using the few patches of level ground to speed up.It was hard going till we hit the 5km mark and then it was each man for himself in a sudden exhilarating free fall of 3km.
Of course we paid for the descent with a U at the base and headed straight back up for a 3km reverse climb. And then came the real deal – a 5 km brutal dirt track inclined solely to remind middle aged men of all they had lost. We in turn, gave up any pretence of dignity and wheezed on.
At regular intervals, however, we were greeted by cheering squads handing out water and bananas and at the 15km mark there was even a fully functional shower awaiting us.That, and some regular chit chat on the way was enough to get our spirits up and at 2400 metres, some absolutely smashing views of the volcanic landscape made it all worth it.
And then the final 5km vertical descent started and what a terrific rush it was. It felt like freedom and I was truly glad to be alive.
My final time was 3 hours 1 minute which I later learnt was good enough for a106th finish of 370 odd runners. Mani, being the accomplished runner that he is, finished way ahead at 25th with Venu thankfully stopping at the 21km mark as well with a time just behind Mani’s. Aarti also had a blast hiring an ojek (motorcycle taxi) to cart her and her big camera around. The next day, my happiness increased to read that the top placed female athlete who finished 24th overall just ahead of Mani was an Indian too.
We rounded off the experience by polishing off the last of Aarti’s home made chocolate cake and headed home, thrilled at having lived to tell the tale.
photos courtesy Aarti Garde