How to win a running race in India (a love letter to Uber)

Recently I was travelling with my girlfriend in India. I checked to see if there were any races we could participate in while away, and it just so happened there was a 10 km “marathon” in Kochi that coincided with our schedule. Although Hanna had some reservations about running on her own, a guarantee that I would run by her side was enough to convince her we should sign up. That, and a reminder that she had a family history of winning running races in India. Her sister had won a 10 km race when living in Ahmedabad 3 years earlier, and we joked that it was her time to carry on the family tradition.

We arrived in Kochi the day before the race, and needed to make our way from Fort Kochi to the central part of the city to register. It was about half an hour from where we were staying (the tourist area Fort Kochi by the beach) to where the race started, the relevance of which will become apparent once we get to race day.

We had no idea the size of the race, we knew it was a charity event to raise awareness and money for elderly care, and was in its second year, but did not have much of an online presence. I could not find any information on what a winning time would be, and the fact that there were no times on the website made more sense once we arrived and registered. The race was not being timed.

The locals seemed excited by our interest in the race, with one of the female race organisers particularly pleased to see Hanna entering. Despite its population, running in India is done by few, and is very male dominated. They told us to arrive at 5 am the next day (the race started at 6) and waved us goodbye.

Registration at the Cochin Run 4 Life
Collecting race packs at registration

We booked a taxi for 5 am the next morning, thinking that arriving half an hour would be sufficient. We got up at 4:40 to get ready, and wetn downstairs just before 5, but come 5 there was no taxi. Huh, 5:05, no taxi, 5:10 no taxi. We start to panic, what other options do we have? I open Uber, one driver is 10 minutes away, let’s get him, booked, ok, phew, that’s fine we’ll still make it. We crouch over the screen, why isn’t his car moving? Why is the estimated time until arrival going up? Panic.

It’s 5.15, no change. We cancel the Uber. Maybe we can get a local taxi from the main street? We leave the hotel and start running. The main street is deserted; the only thing we find open is the police station. Desperate for help we enter, and try to explain our predicament. They have no idea what we are saying, it’s all lost in translation, they tell us there is a bus at 6, we leave angry and frustrated. It’s 5.20 now. We run back to the hotel. We find the hotel reception guy, where is our local taxi?! I open Uber again, there is a driver 10 minutes away, I book him. It's 5.30.

We sit there, sweating, tired and all but defeated, knowing our only hope now is that the race starts late. There is a chance though we think, this is India after all, and nothing is on time. Our Uber arrives, it’s 5.40. Thank you Uber. We our still seriously stressed, the driver is not. The trip seems to take an eternity, but we realize we will arrive just 3 minutes late.

As we pull up in the taxi the gun goes off! We get out of the taxi and just start running, we have bottles of water and food in our hands, and have no idea whether this is our start group, seeing there is a 5 km and a 10 km race. But we look around and see people with the same colour bibs, it’s a miracle, we seem to have made it.

Pumped up on adrenaline we run the first couple of kms fast, around 4:30 min/km. Hanna has asked me to pace her just under 5, so we pull the breaks and settle into a rhythm. The race itself is typically Indian, run along some rubbish laden, pot holed streets, with cars, trucks, rickshaws and cows going passed. There is one nice, well-paved stretch of road along the beach, where we can see the Chinese fishing nets, which are famous in Kochi.

Running the streets of Kochi

Running the streets of Kochi

Running along the beach with Chinese fishing nets in the background

Running along the beach with Chinese fishing nets in the background

We knew we were near the front of the race but were not sure of our exact standing given the debacle at the start. But we didn't think we had seen any women runners in front of us, at least none had passed us. We sweated through the kms in the heavy, south Indian, humid air, keeping our pace just under 5 minutes/km, with a mixture of strange glares, encouraging smiles, and friendly inquisitions from other runners along the way.

Having a friendly chat with a local Indian guy

Having a friendly chat with a local Indian guy

As we neared the final kms we were beginning to think that Hanna might be winning the women’s race, and so I kept an eye behind us to make sure no rivals were going to come and overtake us. As we entered the final metres, there was excitement at the finish line, as they quickly stretched out some red tape for Hanna to run through. She’d done it, she’d won the race! She was swarmed by locals, photographed and congratulated.

At the finish line of the Cochin 10 km race

In the end we think she won by a long way, around 10 minutes, and we stayed around so that she could receive her trophy, and cheque for 10,000 rupees! In her acceptance speech she announced the money would be donated back to the main race charity, which was received with large applause and cheering.

Winner of Run4Life Cochin, Hanna

1,357 photos later, we left the ceremony in as much of a rush as we had arrived, stressed we were going to miss our tour of the Kerala backwaters. And that was that, the most stressful morning ending in the ultimate of results!!

Until next time, happy running.