Delhi Half Marathon

I bet that phrase caught your attention. Those of you who are acquainted with me know I am not a runner. But the MSF team wanted to participate in the event, so I signed up with them to do the 6km run. However, during the application process, I had to give my age. I was diverted to the Senior Citizens 4km walk/jog. I asked to switch, but this was denied by the organisers. This meant I could not join the team, unfortunately. And I had to get up at an hour earlier than the others at 5:30am to get to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Perhaps they think old people don’t need as much sleep.

One of the benefits of being a Senior Citizen is that I got two running shirts. My official yellow “Shiv Naresh” (Slazenger logo) polyester, polo-style running shirt and a white MSF team running shirt (“MSF goes the extra mile”). The yellow shirt was sponsored by “harmony celebrate age” (on the front) and “Widex” high definition hearing, (the) World’s No.1 in digital deaf aids (on the back). Perhaps next year the sponsor should be suppliers of incontinence products.

The holding tent for Senior Citizens, where they could have a nice lie down before starting

No one uses the term “grey-haired”. Instead senior citizens are known as “silvers”. The documentation stressed that “silvers” would not be able to participate in the race if they were not in the holding marquee by 7:30am. I got to the JLN Stadium Metro station before 7am and in ten minutes I was at the gate. But it was the wrong gate. I needed gate 5, about a kilometre away around the circumference of the stadium. I was directed to walk anti-clockwise and after five minutes my route was blocked by a stream of 35,000 half marathon runners pouring out of the stadium. Together with some fellow silvers and a few “differently abled” runners, we waited until 7:40 when the police finally allowed us to cross the route in front of some serious stragglers who were walking after covering less than 500 metres.

Queue for coffee and biscuits

We jogged around to the marquee and, of course, this being India, we were able to walk directly into the holding area despite being late. There was even time for a paper cup of coffee and a biscuit. Silvers are just as bad as other age groups in India when it comes to queuing. People were barging in and pushing me away from the refreshments table. A line monitor saw me and told me to go to the back of the queue. I protested my innocence and the chief pusher behind me bore witness on my behalf, so I kept my place.

Every time I saw someone queue jumping ahead of me, I sneakily alerted the line monitor. He shouted and blustered, but the silvers took absolutely no notice at all. When a tray of biscuits appeared on the table, it was emptied in seconds as silvers grabbed handfuls and stuffed them in their pockets. I found a paper cup of milky, sweet coffee which had been left on the table and drank it.

Defibrillator and silvers eating upma after participating

The medical tent had beds, a defibrillator, some phlebotomy equipment, a glucometer and a sphygmomanometer. It was filled with large ladies wrapped in shawls, sitting on beds, drinking coffee and eating biscuits. Luckily, no one was taking finger prick tests for blood glucose. A sign from Max HealthCare stated that anyone with chronic heart disease or heart failure, asthma or chronic lung disease or who had a chest infection within the past 15 days should not run, but cheer on the others from the sidelines. This was because of the recent poor air quality (“prevailing climatic conditions”).

There were also some medical centres en route, as well as additional urinals, presumably for silvers with prostate problems. But some chaps were caught short after the coffee and biscuits and needed to water the hedgerow.

Watering the bushes

I imagined that the holding area would be where silvers could stretch or jog to get warmed up. Instead, there were rows of chilly-looking silvers sitting on fold away chairs in front of a disc jockey who was playing rap and house. But when he put on some Bangra music, that really got the audience going. The front rows rose up and started dancing.


At 7:55am, we were told to move to the starting gate. To get there, we had to pass through two metal detectors at security. Some people tried to avoid the crush by walking around the detectors, but the police would not allow this. No one was checking people who set off the alarm when they passed through the metal detectors, so it was all rather unnecessary.

Sounding the alarm by blowing in a conch shell

A few male silvers asked me to pose with them for photographs. I had been taking so many photos that I couldn’t refuse. Official photographers were working the crowd, too. There was boom with a video camera filming the start. As the only foreign silver, I stuck out like a sore thumb, so I guess I will feature in the movie.

I have given serious thought to disguising my grey hair by dyeing it orange.

I trotted down the road leading out of the stadium, weaving between grannies and grandpas. When I reached the main dual carriageway, our side of the road was divided into two lanes. Coming towards us were the “differently abled” participants who had set off half an hour before. Most of them had a helper, usually a parent. They waved and smiled for my camera.


I rejoined the jog and stopped at a stage with two drummers and two dancers, wearing fans on their turbans. Several photographs later and I was even further behind the leading silvers. We passed the Sai Baba Temple and yet another disc jockey playing Indian cover versions of Western pop hits from 30 years ago. Then we turned left along Lodi Road where we found some Indian cheerleaders, complete with pompoms, dancing and encouraging us to keep going. I took some more photographs of silvers already on their way back. Everyone was smiling and happy. It really was a joyous occasion.

On the way back, there was a disorderly queue, well, a mob, really, at the medical station. There were several more urinals and I saw a group of runners who had decided to have a sit down at a bus stop. I started chatting with a man aged about 80 who told me that he was a retired general who served with the  Rajputana Rifles. We swapped stories about the Prime Minister in power when I first visited India in 1978, Morarji Desai, as we marched at military pace through the finishing line.

Back at the marquee, I joined the queue for breakfast. This was a South Indian dish called upma, made with creamed wheat and served with a mildly spicy sauce. I chatted with a former bank manager about demonetisation and he told me what a great thing this would be for the nation.

I tried to find the rest of the MSF group, but failed. There was yet another stage, this time with Rajasthani drummers and female dancers with heavy blue eye shadow. I guess that this is what a nautch girl might look like. She would dance with you and pose for photographs if you put money between her fingers.

I walked out of the stadium and watched some of the serious half marathon runners coming to the end of their run. Almost all of them looked pained, but some were still able to check WhatsApp on their smart phones.


By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.


  1. Fascinating piece. Thank you. But it seemed to end rather abruptly. How did you feel after finishing? How did you feel the next day? Was it entirely beneficial? It seems to have been a great event. If there was one here in Leicester, run in the same cheerful, positive spirit, I’d certainly have a crack at it! If my history of heart failure didn’t get in my way. I loved the chats you had on the way. I got a lot from reading this. Especially about the music and the dancers – and the “queues”!

    1. Philip, I thought the piece was too long and my feeling is that people prefer short chunks of writing. I ought to do a bit more polishing, I agree. But I do have a day job!

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