So what did you see on your run today?

I imagine there are cities where you head out for a run, and it’s boring and soul-less, and you don’t see too much to make you laugh or smile.  All pretty dull and same-old-same-old.

Thank the good Lord above that I don’t live in such a city.

Running in New Delhi = seeing something amazing/funny/dotty/beautiful/moving every single day, be it monkeys in the streets, cows on the road, sunrise at India Gate, holy men wandering by, and, on one amazing morning, actually running alongside an elephant.

Yes.

Boring is not a word one would ever use in connection with India.

For me, it’s these morning encounters with Life with a capital L that define so much of what I love about running.

So, to kick off what I hope will be a collaborative effort from all of you, here is this morning’s sighting.  It was a toss up between cows wandering down the street, a sow and 7 teeny tiny piglets trotting ahead of me for about half a km, all super relaxed, and this magnificent chap, below.

I have seen him dancing in the same spot 3 times this week.  (And I know it’s him ‘cos of that distinctive broken feather…)

And always to an audience of one.  Me.

Poor darling really needs to wise up that it’s the peahens he should be dazzling and not someone #outforarun who has #stoppedforaphoto.

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I am hereby throwing open the floor.

Please share with us all what you see on your daily runs?  Whether you are here in India or overseas –  and I am privileged to have so many American readers – I would love to showcase your running moments.

 

Just email me on christineannepemberton@gmail.com.

Where to run in New Delhi : Sanjay Van

The only way to start this post is with “Better late than never”.

Better to have discovered Sanjay Van later, though why it has taken me this long is a complete mystery.

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A huge lovely forest, with monuments and tombs scattered liberally all over the place, & where dogs are allowed to run off leash. Seriously, what’s not to love? Add parking, and a feeling of safety, and I repeat, what’s not to love?

I just ran a half marathon in Sanjay Van on Sunday, and some of us from my running group did a pre-HM recce a couple of days earlier, so I have run there twice in 3 days, and will certainly return there.  Definitely.  And with my dogs.

The forest (“van” means forest in Hindi, and I imagine the Sanjay is for Sanjay Gandhi?) is huge, covering about 10 sq km, and has good road access.

I parked both visits outside the gate on Aruna Asif Ali Marg, and would confidently have said it was safe as houses…Except that one of my running girls, Anita, had her car stolen while we were running on Sunday, so that’s pretty shocking.

Nevertheless (and coming after a car theft, it is a pretty big “nevertheless,” I agree) so – yes – nevertheless, Sanjay Van feels safe, partly because there are so many people there, all out running and walking and cycling and exercising their dogs and doing yoga. The trails are well maintained and well marked with detailed route maps at many spots, in case you get lost – which we did the first time there.

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There are tombs and shrines scattered all over the forest, and water bodies and challenging steep sections…one particular stretch in the final 7km loop on Sunday felt more like Kilimanjaro, to be perfectly honest, but I was pretty tired by then…

There is shade, there were birds (& monkeys at one point), peaceful stray dogs – all very nice.

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Overall, not too much litter, which is a joy, though the garbage right next to a little mosque was heartbreaking.

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One imagines all the polystyrene food-stained plates were from an Iftar dinner…why in God’s name can’t people put their rubbish in a bin? It defeats me. Utterly defeats me.

That whole godliness and cleanliness thing just doesn’t seem to apply most of the time in India.  And that includes hanging plastic bags full of flowers in the trees…I know, I know, the flowers, once offered, shouldn’t touch the ground, but PLEASE, why can’t they just be draped, like that, in the trees?  Minus the non-biodegradable plastic?

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Anyway, back to Sanjay Van, before I start ranting about rubbish and the desperate need to clean up this country.

So yes, apart from these stray patches of revolting rubbish (and, sadly, whatever was clogging up the lake) the forest is pretty clean.

Loos?

Yes, at the DDA hut, but they were locked at 5am on Sunday when I needed it, so can’t speak for their condition.

Parking

Yes, loads outside but remember what happened to poor Anita.

I am very impressed after two visits, and fully intend adding Sanjay Van to my list of running spots in Delhi, mainly because it is such a joy to run in a forest, away from traffic and on a dirt track, not a hard road.  Plus I can take my dogs, though they will hardly help with streamlined running, I suspect.

What else?

Oh yes, there’s a lookout, with a great view over the tree canopy and you can see the Qutb Minar on the horizon, which is pretty fab.

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Ooh, yes, how could I forget?  Sanjay van is supposedly one of the most haunted places in Delhi…must be all those spirits not allowed to sleep in peace, because of all the early morning runners and cyclists and dog walkers pounding past 🙂

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Here is my track log from my half marathon on Sunday. As you can see, lots of space to run amidst lots of forest.

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100 miles + 6 seconds to spare. Senior citizens rock!

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After feeling a complete wuss yesterday in my HM, coming over all tired and wobbly, and then feeling cross with myself all day for such a s-l-o-w time, the story that I am going to share with you just now, came as a complete inspiration.

This is a total feel good story about a lady even older than yours very truly, who made THE most dramatic race finish possible.

Imagine squeaking in with just 6 seconds to spare on the cut-off time for a 100 mile race. (Actually, imagine even running a 100 mile/160km race…)

And imagine being 70 years old and doing it.

Way to go, Ms Swanson.

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And this is no ordinary road race, no siree.  Just look at the race profile.

“The Western States Endurance Run is the world’s oldest 100-mile race — and among its toughest. Runners begin the race in Squaw Valley, Calif., climb more than 18,000 feet and descend nearly 23,000 feet before they reach the finish line in Auburn, Calif.”

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That is seriously challenging by anybody’s standards, and I can’t tell you how proud I feel (as a senior) of a stranger called Gunhild Swanson.

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Makes me want to stop being such a wimp and just get out there and train even harder.

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Here’s the link to the full story.  And to round off this total feel-good story, now watch the goosebump-y moment as Ms Swanson crosses the finish line.

(Ooh look, she’s wearing a hydration backpack.  So that’s the third of my feeble excuses from yesterday just blown out of the water.)

How to cope with hitting that dreaded wall

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At 5 o’clock this morning, in the pre-dawn darkness (& with temperatures of 33C before sunup), I joined an enthusiastic group of runners and volunteers for a half marathon, as well as a 14k and a 7k run through Sanjay Van, a huge forest in south Delhi.  This was a friendly, un-chipped run organised by the Delhi Runners Group, and let me place on record that it was a fantastically well-organised event, with marshals galore and great signage, and food and water, and gorgeous certificates made by the children of the DRG runners – all in all a fantastic feat, and if this running group will have me, I’m in!

Anyway, back to The Wall.

I completed my HM, the last runner back I suspect, with the slowest time ever in my admittedly very short running career.

It would be oh-so-easy to come up with excuses, and they would be along the lines of:

a) it was very humid.  Yes, but it was as humid for everyone else…

b) it was a very up-and-down-y track, whereas I usually train on the flat streets of Lutyens Delhi.  Yes, but it was as just as undulating a course for everyone else…

c) I ran with a backpack and water.  That’s about the only mitigating circumstance I can offer for my slow time.

A bit into the 3rd of the 3 x 7km loops, so at roughly 15/16km I reckon (I made a decision not to keep checking my GPS, and put it in a pocket) I started feeling seriously tired.  At one point I felt faintly nauseous, and I remembered that I had felt exactly the same way in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon last November, and at roughly the same distance.

Back then in ADHM, hoping to give myself an energy boost, I took a slice of salty orange at one of the stations and nearly gagged, losing time in the process.  So when I was offered salt this morning by the cheerful young ladies at the water station, I declined and ran on.

But got wearier and wearier, and ended up running very slowly & walking way too much towards the end.

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It’s easy to take about “hitting the wall” but I need to know more about it –  and, more importantly, how to avoid it.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject, first of all.

And I quote:

“In endurance sports such as cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. Milder instances can be remedied by brief rest and the ingestion of food or drinks containing carbohydrates. The condition can usually be avoided by ensuring that glycogen levels are high when the exercise begins, maintaining glucose levels during exercise by eating or drinking carbohydrate-rich substances, or by reducing exercise intensity.”

 

As I tottered along, I chastised myself for what I had NOT done to prepare properly for these 20.097 km in the heat.

I had NOT put any salt and sugar into my water.

I had NOT packed any raisins or fruit gums in my backpack –  stupid oversight, and lack of adequate preparation, that’s what.

Entirely my own fault.  So one lesson learned the hard way –  prepare properly.  Forgetfulness can cost one dearly.

And, going forward from here, it is clearly paramount to learn to eat on the go.  There was food on offer at the stations we ran past, but since I have hitherto never eaten anything other than raisins as I run, it seemed wise not to experiment during a HM.

Now, feedback time, please.

What I would welcome from those of you who have experience of hitting that dratted wall is this :

– what are the best foods to eat on the go?  In long runs, should one eat regardless of how one feels, and try and avoid ever hitting the wall?  If so, how much and how often?

– plain water vs electrolyte-ified drink – what should the ratio be?  Can/should one drink an elctrolyte-like drink all the time, and skip plain water?

–  should I ditch the backpack?  In my first ever HM, last October, a water station had run out completely, and I have since run in races where there was way less water than there should have been.  So carrying one’s own seems to make sense.  But after seeing today’s fabulous organisation, perhaps there will be no need for a backpack at any future DRG runs.

– any other words of wisdom, please.

And last but not least, anyone from the run this morning – was that rock salt on the tray at the second water station? What does one do – dip finger in and lick?

And here is my truly lovely certificate.

What a class act these kiddos are.

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Where to run in New Delhi – Aravali Biodiversity Park

I live in South Delhi, so the Aravali Biodiversity Park in Vasant Vihar is quite close, but even for people who live a distance away, this is a good place to run (despite the totally unenforced sign at the entrance saying “No jogging”) because you get to run through a jungle, with masses and masses of birdlife, and on a nice well maintained dirt track – a pleasant change from pounding the pavements.

And of course there is no traffic, which is a huge plus.

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Much of the park is fenced off on either side of the main track, with several access gates to sections of the park that are off limits to casual visitors –  I have seen school parties going inside, for nature walks.  But even so, the track is some 2.2km from the gate to where the new TERI campus has come up, so you can do a decent run just there and back, and there is a short loop you can do (you can see it on the track log further down).

Over the months, I have, on several occasions, branched off the main track, to explore the forest, hoping to figure out if this park links up with the park of a similar name in Gurgaon, but –  and I must be frank –  since I run alone, I have never felt entirely comfortable branching off too far from the main track.  There are villages bordering the park –  sadly encroaching on it in places – and although I have run through them, and been greeted with nothing but friendly curiosity, it is safer to stick to the main path.

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There are a couple of small Hindu shrines along the path (as you can see from the photo above) and in the early mornings, there may be a devotee sitting, or doing his yoga quietly.

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Early in the mornings in the summer there are people out walking, there are usually a couple of runners, but no dog walkers, since they are not allowed…through as the photos (above) imply, there are a few stray dogs live there, but they are totally unhassle-y –  they leave walkers and runners well alone.  In the winter, I usually run in the middle of the day, when the sun is nice and warm, and there are days when I have had the park to myself.

Oh, except for a nilgai one day, which was a magical sighting.  He was super cool and relaxed, and watched me watching him until he got bored and wandered off.  Fabulous.

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These days there are more peacocks and peahens in the park than you can shake a stick at, and I have had at least 4 private dancing demos this week alone.  Someone needs to tell this fellow, below, whom I’ve watched strutting his stuff like this 2 days in a row, that he should be performing for a peahen not an old lady out running.
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Parking

In the street outside the entrance gate –  very safe.

Loos

No, not really.

Although in the (locked and fenced off) camp site there are loos and once or twice I have badgered the chowkidar into opening them for me.  But don’t count on it.  Nor on there being water in the loos, sad to report.

Safety

If you stick to the main track, it is perfectly safe.  During the day there are gardeners at work, so it’s not an issue.  As I said, even venturing alone into the forest felt pretty safe, but I would hate to lull any of you into a false sense of security, so suggest you avoid it if you are alone.

Condition of park

Clean.  Stray bits of rubbish (but way, way too much garbage on the track immediately to the right as you enter, that leads to a basti – but you don’t take that track.  Don’t.)

The walkers and runners are always polite to a T, and you do meet interesting people.  For example, just the other morning I had an informative chat with a goatherd about illegal borewells (as one does at 6.30am) while his flock nibbled away.

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The track log, below, starts a little outside the park – in the top right hand corner.  That’s where you will leave you car and enter.  There are a few gentle inclines, as you run, nothing too taxing.  The end of the track is the new campus that I have seen being built over the the years.  I just wish they wouldn’t nibble away at our precious green spaces.  As I said earlier, the condition of the path is good, and it’s nice to run on.  Some sections have tree cover, others don’t, but if you go early enough in the summer, it’s never that hot.

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Here you go, here’s the map from Mr. Google:

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One last word- the name might well say “park” but it is not a park per se.  No benches, no lawns, no flower beds.   You get a pretty good wilderness experience, with peacocks and peahens flying up as you run past them and jungle babblers drowning out your music.

Recommended.  Why would you run through streets when you can run here?

Where to run in New Delhi – the Lodhi Gardens

If you want to run in one of Delhi’s most beautiful spots, running though greenery and past historic monuments galore, then head straight for the beautiful Lodhi Gardens.

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You know that over-used cliché, describing somewhere as an “oasis of greenery” in a city? Well, the Lodhi Gardens really and truly are an oasis of beauty and (relative) calm in this noisy crowded city.

I say “relative” calm, because the Lodhi Gardens are justifiably popular, with people running, walking, dog walking, doing yoga, all enjoying this very special spot.

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There are very few places in this country (& virtually none in this city) where you can truly ever be alone, so it’s hardly fair to expect to be alone in the Lodhi Gardens – but it is wonderful to see so many folks out keeping fit, and taking advantage of such a beautiful place.

To run past 15th century tombs…it truly doesn’t get much better.

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The paths are well laid out, well maintained, and I am convinced that there are more rubbish bins per square metre here than anywhere in Delhi.  There is a corner with exercise equipment.

Loos?

Yes, which for Delhi is a HUGE plus, and more over, they are actually OK to use, and there is often an attendant on duty, so runners take note!

Parking

Yes, at all the entrances to the Gardens – ie the Lodhi Road side, Max Mueller Marg, and the Khan Market side.

Guards in the parking lots, which is good.

Often at the Khan Market side there are free newspapers, early in the mornings – yup, it just keep getting better and better, doesn’t it?

Safety

Not an issue.  People + guards = you feel totally safe there.  I have run many times on my own, at different times of the day, and have never had an uncomfortable moment.

Entrance and parking are both free.

Downside?

Dodging other people on the tracks, but this is one of the best mannered places I know in India, and people happily move to the side.

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But the biggest downside is there is just so much fabulousness all around you that if, like me, you are easily distracted (one of my favourite hashtags on Instagram is #stoppedforaphoto) then you will never clock up fast times in these beautiful gardens. Way too many Kodak moments. But you will see some beautiful things – domes emerging from the wintery mist…that kind of loveliness.  And that is – let’s face it – all part of the running experience.

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(A total #stoppedforaphoto moment)

So, yes, the Lodhi Gardens have to be top of the pops for any Delhi runner.

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Below is a track log from one of our runs in the Lodhi Gardens (8.5km) but as you can see, there were many paths we didn’t take that particular morning, so there is ample scope for even longer runs.

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Oh, sorry, if you feel like a quick snifter and a flutter while you are running – not happening:

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(Thanks to Samiksha, one of my running girls, for pointing these rules out!)

So, do you know your fitness age?

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Having fessed up this morning to a complete stranger that I am a senior citizen, and then, (in order to share the story), to all of you, too, I was chuffed to read the following story online this afternoon – about older athletes having a younger fitness age.

Yaay!  Go wrinklies go!

I had read about the theory of one’s fitness age earlier – but had forgotten all about it…nah, just kidding.  So, yes, I had read an article last year about this concept, and without being remotely scientific (me, not the article, that is) it sort of made sense.

In a nutshell, these studies tell us what we all sort of instinctively know – that exercise is good for us.  That a healthy lifestyle is good for us.  That being active is good for us.  And as we age (well, as I age, not all of you young things) so yes as we age, keeping active is important.

Which is why I was initially confuddled and bemused by the negative reactions I got to my having started running when I turned 60.

From comments about my being ridiculous (oh yes…people can be mean and petty), to remarks starting with “At you age…,” there were indeed times in the early days when I did begin to doubt the wisdom of running “at my age”.  Luckily I started running with an inspirational coach, Dr Rajat Chauhan, who is super cool, has never treated my age as anything remotely important, and who is the one pushing me to run longer and faster.

And then I read reports like this one about the senior olympics and feel vindicated.

Run, wrinklies, run!

Oh yes, that fitness age test.

I did it online and I didn’t really cheat…well, not really…actually, I probably did cheat a bit.  Yeah, must’ve.  Think it might be the waist size and the number of glasses of wine per year where I wasn’t perhaps as truthful as I could have been…

But go on, why don’t you do the fitness age test now?  Here’s the link again.  It is an interesting concept.

“Why do you run at your age?”

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Ah yes.

The brutal honesty of India.

No pussy-footing around.  No gentle questions.  No polite remarks.

Nope.

“Madame, how old are you?” asked the young man who stopped me while I was out running in the Aravali Biodiversity Park this hot July morning.

“Er, why do you want to know my age?” I replied, though knowing it was a pointless delaying tactic.

“Because you look…(and he looked me up and down in an uncreepy way, appraising me, possibly trying to be polite)…you look…fit, but…”

What the heck, I’d be stuck there all day at this rate.

“I am 62”, I replied. (Actually, I’m not quite there yet, but what’s three months amongst strangers?)

“64?” he said, looking taken aback.  “64?”.

To my shame I snapped, “No, not 64. 62.”  Might mean nothing to a youngster, but those are two extra years, buddy.  Two whole years.

“How long have you been running?” he asked, still looking a bit shaken.

“I started when I turned 60” I replied.

“But why? Why did you start running at that age? Why do you run at your age?”

Ah India.  Land of the totally politically incorrect question.

Then he smiled and said, “But you run so fast, and your are so fit.” (Fit was his only English word. Everything else was in in Hindi.)

“I want to run like you. How do I become a runner like you?”

Oh, the temptation to say some thing like “First, young man, put that T shirt back on whilst talking to a senior citizen…” But since he wouldn’t stop talking I never got a word in edge ways…

You run so fast, how do you do it?

how much do you run every day? How much should I run?

What is that in your hand? (Er, a water bottle.)  Oh, should I run with water?

Should I drink water while running?

Should I run on my heels or on my toes? (This last question accompanied by a demonstration.)

Should I look down or look up?

Blimey, the questions didn’t stop, and there was old auntie-ji (as my young running-group-girls call me) answering questions as though she knew the answers.

Still, it was cute to be perceived to be a runner, whilst I still describe myself to everyone else as a total and utter newbie.

Each time I tried to excuse myself and continue with my own run, he would have another question – and, let me say within the context of the dubious reputation Delhi has for women’s safety, he was not in the least creepy or threatening.  Plus it was broad daylight.  Plus I knew I could outrun him!!

It was just that he had an endless string of questions – how long, how fast, breathing – and once he’d established how ancient I am, he kept saying, every few minutes, “aap itni fit hai.”

Eventually I extricated myself, restarted my mapmyrun timer, reswitched my music on and ran off, feeling quite the runner.

Feeling quite old, too, but at least an old runner.

Where to run in New Delhi. Suggested route #1

For those of us who live in New Delhi, or for people visiting this amazing city, there are many places to run, and we shall cover them systematically in a series of blog posts that kicks off today.  They will come complete with route maps and useful info, and  – it goes without saying –  all feedback is welcome.

For a city as hectically crowded and busy as New Delhi, we are fortunate to have such extensive green cover, and this is an important consideration for a runner, given –  no beating about the bush here – our shocking pollution levels.

For a visitor, it makes sense to combine some important landmarks along with their run, and there is nothing more stirring than a run down one of the city’s marquee roads –  Raj Path  – linking the Presidential place, Rashtrapati Bhavan – with the country’s War memorial, India Gate. (These are the two ends of the horizontal track log, below.  India Gate is to the right and Rashtrapati Bhavan to the left).
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If it doesn’t sound too vague, you can get to India Gate by many roads, as you can see from the map, and since all the streets in this pampered part of Delhi housing VIPs and politicians galore, are reasonably well maintained, have tree cover and security (thanks, VIPs) you can pretty much choose any starting point.  If you are driving, parking is a consideration.

For a longer run, park at Nehru Park, where there is ample space.  Otherwise, people park along Raj Path itself.  I have never done this, since I always start my run from around Nehru Park, so can’t tell you first hand what it’s like, but there are enough cars there every morning, so it’s clearly allowed and safe.

 

Recommended time of day

Mornings, definitely.  There is less traffic, less pollution, and the whole vibe around India Gate is way more relaxed than during the day.

The barriers at the bottom of Raisina Hill, leading to Rashtrapti Bhavan, are removed at 8 am, and then you can puff up the hill and get closer for a dekko at the official residence of the President.

Safety

Good.  Loads of cops around – but a word of warning, Indian cops are not given to intervening unnecessarily.  They tend to sit back and watch rather than actively “police”, but by and large you should be safe here.  I’ve had one unpleasant incident in this area (outside the National Museum on Janpath) and the cops did diddly squat, sad to report.

Traffic

Not bad at all, given that this is a gridlocked city for much of the day.

Condition of the road

For Delhi, this part of town (known as Lutyens Delhi) is well maintained.

You get fancy paving stones :

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I generally try and run on the sandy tracks bordering Raj Path (below)

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Scenic score

10/10

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Loos

Hmmm…nope, not really.

In sheer desperation, I have on occasions talked my way into government ministries and a military clinic and the National Museum in the dawn hours, but I wouldn’t bank on that always working.

Downside

There is always always always something happening around India Gate, from changing of the guard to demonstrations to wedding photos, so prepare for a slow time, as you slow down to watch whatever is going on.

But the sightseeing and absorbing the city vibe is all part of the run.

 

The track log (above) is for a 13km run, by the way.

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