Bringing Diversity in Running

On February 23, 2020, 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery went for a run in the Satilla Shores, an upper class locality in Glynn County, Georgia, United States of America. In the process, he entered an under-construction site and spent some time inspecting it without causing any damage. Alarmed by the presence of a stranger in that area, the neighbours chased him and eventually killed him. His crime – A black person jogging in a largely white neighbourhood.

It was one of the many racial crimes that happen in United States. But, this time, it raised a question – Did the crime occur because it was unusual to see a black person go for a run? In her column for New York Times, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela wrote,

Running has been a pastime marketed primarily to white people ever since “the jogging craze” was born in the lily-white Oregon track and field world of the late 1960s. Black people have not only been excluded from the sport — one survey by Running USA found under 10 percent of frequent runners identify as African-American — they’ve also been relentlessly depicted as a threat to legitimate, white joggers. The most apparently egalitarian exercise of all, running, is anything but — especially when it comes to race.

The lack of representation of black runners in long distance running should come as a surprise for many outside the US, especially in a sport dominated by the likes of Kenyans and Ethiopians. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes in this article, that blacks are under-represented in most sports with the exception of basketball. The last known racially discriminative practices in long distance running can be traced to the Comrades Marathon in South Africa which allowed black athletes from 1975 onwards; and apartheid itself being dismantled only in the early 1990s.

Mitchell S. Jackson, in his Pulitzer Prize winning article, “Twelve Minutes and a Life” asks some simple questions to ponder about.

Peoples, I invite you to ask yourself, just what is a runner’s world? Ask yourself who deserves to run? Who has the right? Ask who’s a runner? What’s their so-called race? Their gender? Their class? Ask yourself where do they live, where do they run? Where can’t they live and run? Ask what are the sanctions for asserting their right to live and run—shit—to exist in the world. Ask why? Ask why? Ask why?

These questions are not only applicable to runners in United States, but everywhere, including India. Recreational running in India is only about two decades old, and has relatively been free from the shackles of casteist society, as only would like to assume so. From my personal experience, Running Groups have been the ‘most open’ social group that I have ever been part of – in comparison to family, school, college, workplace, and others. The characteristics of open group,

  • Open to people of all age groups and gender.
  • No discrimination based on race, religion, caste, or economic status.
  • No discussions on physical characteristics or body shaming.
  • No restrictions on clothing or footwear; and runners are rarely judged based on what they wear. You can see runners sporting clothes dyed in every colour in a spectrum!
  • No entry/exit formalities.
  • Consideration for the weakest – In most group runs, the last runner is rarely left alone.
  • No hierarchy

The concept of diversity is rarely discussed, as one would easily assume that running groups would easily be an effective sample of the population. If I use three attributes to categorise runners – gender, religion, and caste – I feel that it is not the case. While it is not possible to verify my assertion  on caste or religion due to lack of data, under representation of woman can be explained through data from running events, if we assume that participation in events to be a proxy for regular runners. Anecdotally, I would assume that many women runners participate in events more than regular runs. 

Participation of Woman Runners

Most running events in India offer equal prize money for men and women participants and entry fee/process also remains same for all genders. If I use the finisher data from Mumbai Marathon over the last decade as a sample, it is very clear that the % of woman runners have been stagnating at around 7.5% for the full marathon and about 18.7% for the half-marathon. The positive side to the data is that the number of woman participants are increasing in the same rate as men participants. It is still disproportionate to gender balance in India (sex ratio of 943 for 1000 males; Much higher in developed states though)

In comparison with international events, 33% and 44% of the total finishers in Berlin Marathon 2022 and New York Marathon 2022, were women runners. Further, New York Marathon has introduced third gender as a category. There are plenty of reasons for this disparity and it needs a more nuanced and detailed discussion.

I am using Gender only as an example to highlight the lack of diversity. The same applies to religion or caste or urban-rural divide when it comes to diversity, but the evidences can only be anecdotal. The issue remains the same. Mere absence of discrimination does not automatically imply inclusivity or diversity. There need to be a willing and conscious application of affirmative actions to ensure diversity.

Affirmative Actions

In November 2020, Runners World organised an informative discussion between four runners from diverse backgrounds “to Make Running More Diverse” and arrived at four simple ways.

  • Focus on changing the system
  • Adequate representation in media
  • Influential runners using their voice to highlight the issue
  • Running clubs to strive for inclusivity.

Recreational running is still in its nascent stages in India and some of the issues discussed in the article above may not be relevant in Indian context. However, it certainly gives some orientation to think through the issue.

Firstly, we need to recognise the lack of diversity and the need for it. While the first part is easier, the second part present some challenges. Running is an individual sport and one can happily pursue it without being concerned about this issue. More over, there are many critical areas where we lack diversity. Hence, it is unlikely that issue will even be considered as a starter in many forums and groups.

Bengaluru based Runners’ High, started by Santhosh in 2009, have always focused on inclusivity since its inception. Although not an ‘open group’, as runners pay training fee to be a part of the group, Santhosh has successfully integrated his work with schools for underprivileged with the group. When asked how he managed to do it, Santhosh said,

“I don’t see Philanthropy distinct or as a separate stream of activity in our community. It is in line with our philosophy of none any lesser, none any better. Once admitted in our programs, there is no difference between paid or unpaid runners.”

Over the years, Santhosh has been instrumental in getting many children from underprivileged backgrounds to take up to running; and now some of the children from earlier years are leading the training for the younger ones.

Second, promotion campaigns for running events is a good opportunity for showcasing diversity. Unfortunately, most events use stock photos that largely contains photographs of runners outside India. The natural inclination for most Indians is to use pictures of models from caucasian ethnicity. In addition, use of image correction softwares results in using images of non-existent runners with flawless body shapes. After all, what’s the point of using images of runners who don’t resemble any closer to the target audience?

Third, creating forums and ‘safe spaces’ for interaction and engagement of runners from under represented groups. Although running groups as such can be a safe space for interaction and expression, it would certainly help people to reach out to someone ‘like them’ before integrating with the larger group. One such initiative that I have been aware of is the Chennai Runners Women Ambassador’s program, which facilitates woman runners to reach out to those already running with different groups. 

Finally, the responsibility remains with every individual to rise up to the occasion. Recreational running is relatively a new social activity and is certainly not mandated to carry the regressive ills of the society from the past. While it is easier to blame elsewhere for the lack of diversity, it is still important for everyone to reflect it on themselves. I don’t hesitate to say that there is lack of diversity among those I choose to run with; even if they are more heterogenous compared to my acquaintances before running. The onus is still on me to use running as an instrument to know more about the ‘other.’ Over the years, I have always found widespread acceptance in many places as a runner. It is up to me to reflect on what I can and have to give back through running. As Eliud Kipchoge once said, 

“A running world is a healthy world. A running world is a wealthy world. A running world is a peaceful world. A running world is a joyful world.”

Eliud Kipchoge

I would like to thank Santhosh and Ram Viswanathan for kindly accepting to review and provide feedback. The opinions expressed in the article remains with me.

Sportswashing Running Events

The Indian Premier League or IPL, unleashed a new era of crass commercialisation of sports in India. As the late Mike Marquesse wrote in 2010,

…the IPL faithfully mirrors the dark side of the neoliberal dream and the true cost of unleashing the private sector.

– Mike Marqusee

Among the various things that were commercialised, includes hijacking the independence of the television commentary. Every time a player hits over the boundary ropes, commentators were asked to call it as ‘XXX Maximum’, XXX being the name of the company that has provided money for the coverage. A friend of mine remarked, “the day the audience in the stands starts shouting for ‘XXX Maximum’, I shall stop watching IPL.” I am not sure if that day has already come or is it waiting to happen any time sooner.

Cricket in India is neither new to sponsorships nor rampant commercialisation. The much heralded 1996 Cricket world cup was sponsored by a tobacco brand, and the team India sported its logo on their shirts until the government banned sponsorship by cigarette brands. (It is a different story that the subsequent sponsors weren’t any holy cows either). More so, cricket isn’t the only sport to suffer the unseen damages caused by an unholy confluence of greed, money, and power. The unholy confluence is legitimised through sponsorship of sports events, in the pretext of boosting the earning potential of players, usually the top 1% of the players.

The excesses of commercialisation eventually makes everyone uncomfortable. In a recent interview about his upcoming book ‘The People’s Game’, football player Gary Neville, well aware of his tainted popularity as a player, highlights the dangers of the private equity firms taking over football clubs and damage it could cause to the game of football. Even the game of Golf, an elite sport that often epitomised the aspirations of elite societies, now feels uncomfortable with the inflow of money from Saudi Arabia. The current furore, however, is largely restricted to money from undesirable sources, rather than money itself. This situation is currently described as Sportswashing, which Amnesty International define as,  –

where states guilty of human rights abuses invest heavily in sports clubs and events in order to rehabilitate their reputations

– Definition of Sportswashing by Amnesty International

Sportswashing is not a new concept in any way – Hitler did not organise the 1936 Olympics for the love of sport or BCCI were not organising tournaments in Sharjah in the 1980s and 90s to promote cricket in the middle east. All sports have their own share of unholy sponsors, politicians peddling as administrators, betting – illegal and otherwise, match fixing and other forms of murkiness for time immemorial. Towards the end of the book, ‘War minus The Shooting’, Mike Marqusee, tired of watching the rampant commercialisation of cricket during the 1996 World cup, wrote,

“At this point, having spent ten weeks following the World Cup and its aftermath, I thought that if I heard one more businessman,  bureaucrat or politician announce that he was only in it for ‘the love of the game’, I would puke.”

Coming to long distance running events or marathons, as they are called in India, they are relatively a new sports event with eclectic participation. Unlike other sports where the revenue is generated from spectators, directly or indirectly, in Marathons, the participants provide the major chunk of revenue. So, it begs a simple question – do we need someone else to pay for our participation? If so, why? While it seems obvious to organise events based on runner’s contributions, the inevitability of accepting sponsorship is often taken for granted. Events like Auroville Marathon, Anand Yana (Disclosure: I have been personally involved with these events) exist without any major sponsorship or benevolence from a single entity or individual.

The presence of sponsorship is certain to bring some benefits to the event as a whole, if not for runners individually; Be it the presence of celebrities to garner attention, electronic timing systems, widespread advertisements, covering for unforeseen expenses, and many others. They have brought in financial stability in some instances, and at times, enhances the credibility of the event. However, if they were to translate into benefits for runners, it must be visible in the form of stable or reduced entry fees. On the other hand, entry fees in Running events have always been on the rise. The entry fee for Mumbai Marathon has risen up from Rs. 200 in 2006 to Rs. 2500 in 2020 (retained at same levels for 2023). 

To be fair, the kind of sponsors that running events typically attract – mainly financial services and technology firms – have been so far less controversial. On many occasions, I have seen friends who dutifully refer the events along with the sponsors name, even if they are not obliged to – TWCM, TMM, AHM, etc. While the presence of real estate firms has been a little uncomfortable, they have not been embarrassing, for no one can ascertain their life span. It is almost impossible to answer as who can be an ‘acceptable’ sponsor and who cannot be.

The New Delhi Half-marathon is one of the oldest running events in India. The winners of the past editions includes the likes of Eliud Kipchoge and Lelisa Desisa. Since its inception, it was sponsored by telecom companies and despite frequent cries of scandals in telecom industry, the presence of these companies did not test the moral compass of participants.

This year, the title sponsor of the event, to be held on October 16th, is Vedanta Resources – A company with concerns about reputation in and outside India – Whether it was about their plans for an open cast mine bauxite in the tribal heartland of Niyamgiri or  accusations of tax evasion in the copper mines in Zambia, the company has an uncomfortable history. More recently, the protests against their copper smelting plant at Tuticorin costed 13 lives before the plant was shut down. There have also been accusations of human rights violations and safety concerns over death of minors.  

Those running in the event definitely don’t represent the sponsor or endorse their activities in any way. Runners pay the entry fee (a princely amount of Rs. 2100) and participate in the event. They cannot be blamed for the sponsorship agreement signed by the organisers. Apart from displaying the sponsor’s name in the running bibs, medals, and event tees, which ironically are paid for by the runners, there are very little compulsions of engagement with the sponsors. 

The question lingers though – whether abstinence from participating in such events can be a statement on its own? It may not be recognised or appreciated by all, when done at a personal level. For instance, not many would remember cricket player Tom Cartwright and his contribution in standing up against apartheid. I consider running as a privilege and I wish to use the privilege for better purposes. As an individual, I may not be able to force organisers to choose appropriate sponsors. It can be left to the moral compass of the participants to make the right choices.

The final word goes to my friend who made this cheeky remark,

“I’ve  never considered running Delhi because of pollution. The title sponsor looks apt if you look at it that way.”

A Scorecard for the year

Recently, users of Strava, a popular app among fitness enthusiasts, would have received a barrage of statistics in the form of ‘Year in Sport’. The aggregate data comprising no. of activities, time spent, kilometres covered, ‘kudos’ received, etc., is presented as a comprehensive summary of the year bygone. While the objective may be noble, the interpretation can be a little hazy. For instance, it compares the metrics of this year with those of previous year. Given the way the year went, it is obvious that most would be disappointed about the lower number in 2021 compared to 2020. Then, numbers aren’t everything. As a Union Minister once said,

Maths never helped Einstein discover Gravity.

I want to help runners (as well as those engaged in other fitness activities) with a ‘feel-good’ scorecard to measure their activities during the year and stay positive for the year(s) to come. Let’s admit, at some point of time during the year, everyone felt lucky just to be alive, let alone pursue some fitness activity. More so, we have a generation of students who have been declared ‘all pass’ for the last two years. So, why let kids have all the fun?

This is a very simple questionnaire where you can give 1-point for each accomplishment and none if not accomplished during the year. Further, I have added some bonus points as additional tokens of appreciation for extra(ordinary) efforts.

Qn. 1 – Did you run regularly?

Ignoring the mandatory quarantine period or recovery time from COVID, if you consider yourself to be fairly regular in your runs during the year, you deserve a point for that. Fairly regular is a subjective term and depends from person to person. If you have attempted to run at least once a week, it can be considered as fairly regular, for I am sure you will be in the top 1% of the population taking those efforts. One point for the starters.

Qn. 2 – Were you kind to yourself?

Times are tough and frustrations can make it worse. It can be frustrating when not being able to run for a while. On resumption, many tend to over do and get injured. If you have been able to keep your head over shoulders, and stayed injury free throughout the year, yours is the one point.

Qn. 3 – Did you try learning more about fitness, health (other than COVID), and wellness?

Efforts towards education and enriching oneself by listening to podcasts (you can checkout my recommendations), reading inspiring/heartening articles, watching videos that adds positivity, or taking up a good book on running, should certainly be rewarded. Such initiatives merits one point, if not an academic degree. Unfortunately, education through WhatsApp University finds no appreciation; although half-a-point can be given if you have debunked any of those myths. 

Qn. 4 – Did you run with a group?

Participating in group runs motivates oneself and the group they run with. Given the way the pandemic unfolded, most running clubs started scaling down group runs during the year. You deserve a point, if you participated in a group runs whenever they resumed.

Qn. 5 – Did you run with a new buddy?

These are times when everyone looks at their neighbour as a potential carrier of virus, or a super-spreader. If you got over the mental block and ran with a new runner during the year, you have certainly taken a step towards normalcy. One point for that!

Qn. 6 – Did you participate in a running event?

Running events were scarce during the year. In the limited time frame when the pandemic looked under control, few organisers braved to organise the event with COVID-related protocols and other safety measures. While it did rise the cost of these events, it certainly gave hope that running events will come back sooner. You get a point if you have participated in at least one running event during the event just to encourage the organisers. (Note – “Virtual events” don’t count)

Qn. 7 – Were you a conscious consumer?

This was a tough year on the economic front too. Many lost their livelihoods, and those who had jobs saw their disposable income reduced. In these times, it is certainly prudent to avoid unnecessary indulgence in exotic gadgets or swanky outfits. You deserve one point for demonstrating modesty. 

Qn. 8 – Did you try pushing your boundaries?

Any fitness routine is about stepping outside the comfort zone. If you have tried a new activity, a new routine, ran for a cause, or simply, discovered a new running route during the year, it deserves recognition. Pushing boundaries is not about overdoing or going extreme for the sake of it. It is more about getting the mental block out while being aware of physical limitations.

Qn. 9 – Did you make efforts in changing your food habits for good?

If you were able to regulate your eating habits or avoid junk foods, you have certainly taken the first step. It is indeed a complex subject with myriad opinions, confusing facts, and guilt feeling engulfing every meal. You can give yourself one point if you have made any conscious effort to improve your eating habits, however trivial it may appear.

Qn. 10 – Did you practice socially responsible behaviour? 

The biggest challenge of the pandemic is bringing in socially responsible behaviour, be it sporting masks or not visiting crowded spaces or not spreading rumours on vaccination. Runners are generally very disciplined, given the rigour that the activity demands over the years. Being socially responsible is the first step towards getting out of the pandemic and it is time to reward you with another point.

Even if you haven’t scored enough points above, you are still eligible for bonus points below.

10 Bonus Points

If you didn’t bother about the statistics from Strava or have not installed any tracking apps; if you never worried about commonly accepted evaluation of your fitness activities, give yourself ten points. You know why you do what you do. You enjoy running and that alone matters for you. You deserve 10 points more than anyone else.

10 ‘Additional’ Bonus Points

If you were never into any fitness activities, and still wanted to read this blog out of sheer curiosity, I certainly owe you ten points. You have made a beginning and I am sure you will take up running very soon. Ten points for the curiosity and the first step towards a healthy new year!

That should ensure points on everyone’s scorecard. Wishing everyone a Happy and Healthy 2022!

Rethinking Running Events – Part 3 – Virtual Events

One alternative to running events that has become popular in recent times has been the Virtual Events, where participants run on their own and connect with each other through a platform – an app or a website. Though there are no clear definition of what can be called as virtual event, I would keep the definition open to any event that is called a running event but are not held physically at any location. In my earlier post, I suggested that the recent trend of virtual events is not likely to effectively replace the running events regardless of their increasing presence and popularity. However, I do feel that they have potential to be a separate category of event altogether and find an audience of its own if they can offer some meaningful way of engaging with each other.

To start with, the concept of virtual event is not something new that came out of the COVID crisis. The first time I heard about such concept was when astronaut Sunita Williams ran the 2007 Boston Marathon in space. The Hundred Days of Running, a movement that started formally in 2015, has been organising virtual events for a while, and their flagship event attracts more than 10,000 runners annually in each of the last two years. The most important development in virtual events over the past decade has been the rising popularity of Strava – an app that combined the features of GPS watches and social media. In an excellent piece, titled “Kudos, leaderboards, QOMs: how fitness app Strava became a religion” Rose George summarised it well,

Perhaps the golden years of this clever, uncommercial app being available for free are numbered. But Strava is still a beacon of positivity among the bile and manipulation of other social media. Trolling is rare and usually only takes the form of excessive kudos from randoms – and what’s wrong with that?

The growth story of Strava has lessons in it for many of the organisers to find ways to make their event popular and carve out their niche in the increasingly crowded space of virtual events. During my recent conversation with P. Venkatraman, who started the movement ‘You Too Can Run’ and also created a registration portal by the same name, he classified the organisers of virtual events in four categories – 

  1. Promoted as a temporary event in place of existing event. This was followed by organisers of Berlin, New York, London etc.,
  2. Promoted by current event organisers as a new offering. New York Road Runners, organisers of New York Marathon, are regularly organising such events through Strava for free.
  3. Promoted as a business proposition or as a means to raise funds for charitable causes. 
  4. Online challenges offered for free/pay – The Hundred Days of Running challenge is one such example. Ajay’s Goals.fit helps many clubs to organise similar challenges. 

Regardless of who organises it, there is certainly some value in these virtual events, if viewed separately from physical event. I would like to explore some of the areas where these events can help in the cause of running and help runners get together.

Think Different

Renowned Design Guru Mario Garcia, in a podcast, highlighted the changing dynamics in the media world.

“65% of newsrooms in the world still come to work everyday to plan a printed edition, but 80% of the people are reading content on other platforms. It’s like, you own a restaurant, and you lay out the table cloth, the flowers, and candles every evening, and everybody comes to pick up the food in takeaway.”

It does not help to organise a virtual event while planning it like a ‘physical event’ and assuming that runners would be attracted to virtual event in the same way, they are attracted to the physical event. There is a need to create a totally different ecosystem and get users to adopt the ecosystem. In some instances, there could be a totally different set of audience that these events can cater to.

Purpose of the Event

It is rather too easy for anyone with business acumen to start a virtual event, for it practically costs nothing to start one. Every rupee earned through registration is a gain and there would be a host of ‘entrepreneurial’ folks keen to enter this space. On the day, when Berlin Marathon was supposed to be held, there were at least half-a-dozen ‘Virtual Berlin marathons’ in addition to the event organisers’ virtual event. 

One easy way to stand out of this mess is to identify a cause or purpose for the event (certainly, not in memory of those who never ran!). Virtual events can certainly be a fund raiser for many causes. It is also a way for people to show their support for a cause by more than just donating money. In other instances, it can just be an act to show support for each other in these troubled times. As one study points out, staying at home for long can make one socially awkward and virtual events can help people to step out (with precautions) and stay active.

Entry fee

For events that are organised for raising funds for a cause, the answer is fairly simple. Their audience will certainly pay what is being asked for as they are likely to believe in the cause and the organisers. Events that are organised for commercial purposes need to find out what they offer before they decide on pricing. Presently, Strava hosts many virtual events for free of cost. They offer easy registration, good back-end support to capture data accurately, provide excellent leader boards and rankings (for subscribers, it is more), and offer a ‘e-badge’ to brag about; not to miss out those ‘kudos’ and words of encouragement from your followers. Similarly, Garmin has come up with Garmin Sports to promote such events. Most virtual events that I checked out, do not even offer anything more than what Strava offers for free. There are events that offer medals and t-shirt for the fee. Such events resembles an e-commerce activity than a running event, as participants are not even obliged to run to receive them. 

Innovations

Virtual events have a chance to innovate and try new areas to get their audience engaged. SCC Events, the organisers of Berlin Marathon, organised the 20139 Run – How far can you run in 2 Hours 1 minute and 39 seconds, a timing that corresponds to the record set by Eluid Kipchoge for the marathon in 2018? They provided the participants an app, in which the run was tracked accompanied by music and commentary mimicking a real event in the process. My friends in Coimbatore Cycling launched a new challenge to riders to visit 20 spots around the city which was well received. One way to get them popular is try innovative ways of engaging people. There is absolutely no need to get events to replicate the distances of physical events like 5K, 10K, etc., The ‘Segments’ feature in strava is certainly one unique way of organising events, subject to risks though.

Data Protection

As a popular saying goes, “If you are offered something for free, you are the product.” There are plenty of issues in Virtual events when it comes to privacy and data trading. Not many runners would be aware of what they are signing up for and how their data could be used or misused. Strava, for instance, sells ‘anonymised’ data for commercial as well as non-commercial purposes. This relates to data on locations where people ride or run often. Recently, they offered to provide town planners with information on where cyclists ride often in their town and plan cycling routes accordingly. It is important that organisers are transparent about how the user data would be used in events to build trust with participants.

Building a Virtual Community

The success or failure of virtual events depend on how well they can build the communities that would eventually translate for real. During the recent lockdown, I found solace through my Strava connecting with my friends across the globe – from Manivannan in USA to Manish in Australia. It certainly helped us to keep encouraging each other and move forward. The binding is strong because we knew each other from the past and hope to meet and run sometime in the future too. For sure, no one would be interested in running with bots. 

The Limitations

Finally, however good the concept and execution turn out to be, virtual events just cannot replace the existing running events. To start with, the lack of human connect would make it an imperfect substitute. The joy of running with hundreds and thousands can never be replaced by an illusion of running with millions and billions. The carnival-like atmosphere and the crowd support are irreplaceable. As I wrote in one of my earlier blogs, history is rarely made in empty arenas. 

Second, virtual events make it necessary for every runner to rely on some gadget or platform. It certainly misses out many runners who aren’t tech savvy or cannot afford to be in expensive platforms. 

Third, no matter the quality of technology or the GPS receptions, technological glitches are bound to happen and it can frustrate runners. I had difficulties with the Berlin Marathon app and it was frustrating to get your head around it at the start. It was difficult to save the run giving some nervy moments. For others, it could mean battery running out or lack of GPS reception.

Fourth, data can be manipulated. From simple hacks like riding a bicycle to editing the file, any of the information can be manipulated by runners in virtual event.

Lastly, there are inherent dangers in virtual run like risks arising out of accidents, over exertion, and irresponsible behaviour. Not very long ago, many landed in trouble playing the Pokemon Go and there has been instances of death due to chasing segments in Strava. 

In conclusion, there are some merits in virtual event being a genre by itself. Success of such events will depend on how well it is integrated with physical events and become more egalitarian. As I see, NYRR is active in this space and extending the benefits of virtual events to physical events. During the virtual New York Marathon, about 1000 participants who registered with fee were guaranteed a spot in the NY Marathon 2021 or 2022. It would be a challenge to keep the audience engaged as it is rather too easy for the audience to suffer from ‘event fatigue’ rather easily, and may stop showing interest soon. Similar to the use of apps, the success of these events depend on the ‘stickiness’ – between the participant and organisers, and also between the participants themselves with the new platform.

Rethinking Running Events – Part 2

Katherine Switzer, the first women finisher of Boston Marathon, once said,

“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

These are strange times when we are not only losing faith in human nature but also, marathons. Among the major events, it started with the cancellation of mass start in Tokyo Marathon, thus limiting the field only for few elite runners. Rest of the world major marathons – Boston, London (organised elite-only event), Berlin, Chicago, and New York have been cancelled for this year. Two Oceans marathon was cancelled and Comrades marathon was postponed first, before getting cancelled leading to plenty of outrage from runners. Closer home, Hyderabad Marathon, which would celebrated its 10th edition (and my own 9th edition!), opened up for registration and was then cancelled.

Apart from these major ones, there are plenty of small running events and even the niche ones like UTMB, that have been cancelled this year. Other major sporting events like Tokyo Olympics, football leagues, Wimbledon, F1 Races, Euro 2020 and others that were either cancelled or postponed,  found their way back and were organised with the help of ‘Bio-Secure Bubbles’. While these events, largely relying on TV audiences, can be organised with no or fewer audiences, Running events cannot be organised in similar fashion as it is the crowd that makes the event. Events like Nike Breaking-2 or INEOS 1:59 or even the elite-only London Marathon are unlikely to be a regular event.

I spoke to Ajay, Founder of Go Heritage Runs, about what holds for running events in the future. Ajay, also a runner, started Go Heritage Runs in 2014 to promote running in exotic places and bring a new dimension to running events. His other initiative is ‘Runcation’ where he takes people to destinations filled with scenic beauty and historical importance and organises fun runs in such locations. One example is that of Ankor Wat in Cambodia.  Although his events are non-competitive and not even timed, they are very popular with the runners. I have run Go Heritage Run at Ooty in 2018 and can vouch for its speciality.

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Ajay in action during Go Heritage Run at Lovedale Campus in 2018

In good times, we start by asking how did it all start. Unfortunately, I have to start by asking how did it all end, for now?

In February, we organised the Go Heritage Runs at  Khajuraho and Pachmarchi. When we returned back from khajuraho, the scare was already there and we knew that sooner or later, we have to pull the plug. We had already announced the registrations for Pench National Park Run and placed orders for medals and T-shirts. We initially postponed the event; but realised that we have no choice but to cancel the event. The registrations for other events were immediately put on hold and we decided not to organise any event till the end of this year. Also, given the uncertainty, we cannot give any promises on resuming events.

What were the alternatives did you contemplate in the absence of running events

Like many other events, we too joined the ‘Virtual Runs’ bandwagon. But, getting paid registrations for Virtual events looked difficult. Although our USP has always been travel to heritage locations, wanted to use virtual events to promote heritage of these destinations. We had already started working on the app Goals.fit and we thought it will be the best time to launch the app. Registration was through the app and the initial events were offered for free.

Tell us about Goals.fit – How did you start and the response?

(Disclosure – I am an user of Goals.Fit and hosted few challenges for Coimbatore Cycling)

I started work on Goals.fit quite sometime back. It so happened that the current crisis presented an opportunity to launch the app formally. We are seeing adoption by people who wish to take part as well as those organising virtual challenges. It is still a work in progress and we hope to provide more exciting features for the users and organisers. 
The app is certainly one way to reach to a wider audience and we believe that we can reach out to users globally.

As the Government has started opening up various activities, do you foresee resumption of Running events anytime sooner? If so, when?

Firstly, we have to admit that it is not a priority for anyone other than runners. Even among those professionally engaged in Running events, running makes up a small part of their services and they are more interested in resumption of other events. I feel that most people will get adjusted with the absence of running events. We are seeing people who run even full marathons without any formal events.
Also, I don’t see Government pro-actively giving permissions for running events. We have to wait for a longer time to see things settle down.

Given that some of your events are organised with smaller groups in less crowded spaces, do you foresee resuming those events?

In the current circumstances, when most of the information about the COVID-19 looks hazy, it is difficult for us to take any call. It is certainly a risk-return trade-off for runners in attending running events. There is certainly a risk of contraction of virus through running events, even if one can argue that it is less riskier than visiting a super market or attending a marriage. But the perceived returns in other activities is much higher than attending running events.
Moreover, it is difficult to establish and enforce protocols and procedures for participants in such events. While many of them are no-brainer initiatives like wearing a mask during gathering or reducing interaction time with others, we will not be able to enforce them.
Of course, the stigma of the event being called a ‘super spreader’ will dissuade even the most passionate organiser to stay from organising events. 

I am sure your revenue streams have taken a huge hit. Given that Goals.fit is in early stage, it will be a while for it to start earning for you. How do you plan to sustain this initiative during this pandemic and beyond?

Presently, it is tough for us like many other businesses and activities. Moving forward, we do have an agreement with Madhya Pradesh Tourism, where we organise seven of our events, for a longer period. Whenever we can resume events, we will be able to organise them in Madhya Pradesh with their support. 
We have plans for resuming Runcation soon. Because the group is small, it is easy to enforce protocols and bring in discipline. Since, some of the locations are outside India, we are confident that our partners will also adhere to the protocols. 

Finally, can you see light at the end of the tunnel?

We have to stay optimistic. The one good outcome of this crisis is that people have started paying attention to their health. You can see that there are many people taking up to cycling and running these days. Hopefully, people will see meeting outdoors as the way forward and running is certainly one way to do it.
In terms of Running events, traditional events need to certainly undergo changes to keep with time. It is good to see major events like New York or London going virtual to attract a bigger audience. They have enough resources to come up with innovative ideas to promote running beyond events. 

In short, the road back to normalcy certainly looks bleak for running events more than any other economic or social activity. It depends on multiple factors and people – from runners to various other stakeholders. More than event organisers or runners, it is the community that should feel the need for such events. May El-Khalil, the founder of Beirut Marathon, in her TED talk, said,

We spoke one common language to each other, and that was from one human to another. Once that trust was built, everybody wanted to be part of the marathon to show the world the true colours of Lebanon and the Lebanese and their desire to live in peace and harmony. 

The importance of organising marathons is definitely lot more than before. As people isolate themselves due the pandemic, they also risk becoming secluded  which furthers social divisions and increases fragmentations. Running is certainly one way to bring the community together and with right measures in place, it can be a win-win for everyone involved.

Rethinking Running Events

Disclaimer:

  1. The views below does not reflect those of the events or their organisers that I have been associated with or likely to be involved in future.
  2. The views conveyed below are in no way sacrosanct and is amenable for suggestions from others.

Among the various disruptions due to COVID-19, includes Running events which carry  a significant risk of transmission. The prevailing guidelines issued for various other activities are certainly difficult, if not impossible, to be followed in running events. While it is still unclear on when they will be allowed to be resumed, one can be sure that at some point of time, it has to be resumed. As RK Narayan writes in one of his short stories, “for even diseases must end someday.

Over the years, the significance of a running event has extended beyond the few recreational runners who started organising them for fun, to event organisers, sponsors, host cities, television and media, and importantly, charitable institutions, for whom marathons presents an opportunity to raise funds. In 2019 London Marathon, those running for charity raised £66.4 million for various charitable institutions. As the events got bigger, they also bring in a few unpleasant traits – crass commercialisation, prohibitively exorbitant entry fee, winner-takes-it-all approach bringing in the negative side of competitive sports, disassociation with community leading to constant friction with non-participants, and damage to environment. In addition to the above criticisms, organising a running event now also carry the risk of being categorised as a ‘Super spreader’ of COVID-19, should any of the participant get infected. In an attempt to find a way out through the current pandemic, it could be useful to have an overall rethink on the way running events are organised and the purpose they serve could be more useful.

Running and COVID

To start with, Running events should not be organised in conflicts with the current guidelines issued by Government or medical authorities relating to COVID. Debates ranging from the existence of virus to the validity of steps undertaken exist in all spheres of society. We don’t need a running events to be used as a platform for testing the different hypothesis proposed. Whether the virus is for real or not (given the lack of trust among some sections of the society), the symptoms, including death, are for real. In simple terms, there is no need for a running event like the Adria Tour organised by few tennis players. Any adverse incident not only jeopardise that event but will soon extend to all running events. It could take the form of unwarranted intervention by government authorities or poorly drafted guidelines that are not possible to be adhered to.

“Virtual” events aren’t a solution

The recent trend of virtual events are never going to be a meaningful alternative. With technological advancements, it could evolve into a new category of event in itself; but the disregard for human connect would never make them a substitute for existing events. Established brands like New York Marathon and others are using the route to either cash-in their popularity or keep their community intact to retain continuity. A similar opportunity does not exist for all organisers. The reliance on technology is huge and many times, it will make those selling t-shirts and medals masquerade as event organisers. Incidents of malpractices and technical errors can also frustrate runners. Further, there is every possibility of alienating runners who are not technologically savvy, which is certainly not a requirement for running. On the positive side, it does help to build the community and keep them together during these times. Such efforts can only fructify if it presents hope to be a physical event soon.

Connect with Runners… again!

Once events grow in stature, many organisers start distancing themselves from the runners. The trend of ever increasing entry fee despite the increase in sponsorships is a case in point.  Unlike entry fees, sponsorship amounts are not likely to be paid upfront. While sponsorship amounts are contractual and paid on the fulfilment of obligations, most events retain entry fee even if the event is cancelled. This is not to say that everything about sponsorship is bad for the event and should be avoided at all. Events need to look for committed sponsors who are in it for a long duration. It certainly starts with the stake holders of the sponsoring organisation being active runners.

Winners don’t take it all

Not every event needs to have a single winner. The craze to see a handful of winners among the multitude of runners is a burden on the organisers. The energies devoted to the care of these few elite runners can be deployed on caring many other runners. The compulsion of deciding the winner makes mass start mandatory which in current situation needs to be avoided. Another recent trend of awarding prizes according to different age groups can be done away with. There are embarrassing situations like no prize winners in a certain age group or a fourth placed finisher in a higher age group is faster than the top-3 from a lower age group. It promotes mediocrity and ‘event shopping’ by desperate prize winners.

Involve the community

The benefits from running events must extend beyond the apparent stakeholders – runners, organisers, sponsors – to the overall community. While there are tangible benefits through tourism, emphasis must be made on the intangible benefits that the community derives by hosting a running event. When asked about what she feels proud about the Comrades marathon, Cheryl Winn, who won in 1982, replied,

“It showed the country what it could and should be.”

Running events present a wonderful spectacle of harmonious and peaceful congregation of diverse set of people. Running events can certainly learn from the various temple festivals in India that involves all communities.

Small is Beautiful

In times like these, small-scale running events involving a few hundred runners from the local community organised in their local area can present a viable alternative. The Park Run, started in The United Kingdom, is an ideal model for many running clubs to follow. It is heartening to note that they are likely to be resumed by end-October 2020 with adequate precautions. It will also help monitor the spread of the infection as most runners are likely to be living within the locality.

Promote Sustainability

Major events are becoming unsustainable from the environment perspective, despite their efforts in recycling. Apart from use of single-use plastic, many events provide inferior quality t-shirts, goodies, and needless extravaganze that is hardly connected to running. This is certainly a time to rethink on many such practices and eliminate some of them.

To summarise:

  1. Work with existing regulations and not challenge them.
  2. Don’t rely on virtual events as a long term solution
  3. Focus more on runners
  4. Prioritise participants over winners
  5. Involve the community as a whole
  6. Downsize if required
  7. Promote sustainability

We always have a choice to wait for change or make/be the change. Most runners that I am aware have been change-makers in various spheres of life. While I am certain that it will not be late before running events are back, I wish it returns back with a difference.  It should certainly present the society a way forward in conduct of public events. In 2009, Mumbai Marathon was the major event for Mumbai after the infamous terrorist attacks in November 2008. It presented a chance for people to come together again and move forward. Running events present an opportunity to help the society move from COVID.

Humans of Marathon – Latha Srinivasan

Sometime after the age of fifty, there comes a moment called as retirement which brings curtains down on most lives. On many occasions, not doing anything is most sought out. There are a few who go on to defy the convention and lead the way for the rest. 

By the age of fifty-eight, Latha Srinivasan had accomplished almost everything that one would expected from her – a corporate career with Unit Trust of India, bringing up two sons, caring for the aged in the family, becoming a grandmother, and a settled retired life at Coimbatore. However, she was not ready to call it quit. A trained dancer in Bharatnatyam, Mohiniattam, and Kuchipudi in her younger days, she was always eager to learn something new throughout her life, mostly in the field of arts. During the months of July and August 2018, she was reading articles in Metro Plus about the upcoming Coimbatore Marathon and thought to herself if she can give it a chance.

She joined her neighbourhood running club, the Sai Baba Colony chapter of the Coimbatore Runners and introduced herself into running. She was immediately attracted to the warm welcome of the fellow runners who seemed to believe in her almost instantaneously. Her first run was a marathon in itself – a cautious start, gasping for breadth after running few metres, and very soon, she started having second thoughts on whether she is right to pursue this. All her fears were soon dissuaded by the encouraging words from Karthikeyan Padmanabhan, co-founder of Coimbatore runners, “If you can train well for the next two months regularly, you can do the 10 Km run.” Over the next two months, mornings were never the same as it was a new routine with new friends, and the discovering the runner in her. She went on to finish the 10K Run at the Coimbatore Marathon in 01:40:41, in less than two months of starting to run.

Buoyed by the strong finish, she confidently registered for the Half-marathon at Cochin along with few of her friends. The half-marathon was tougher than what she expected. With weather conditions not as favourable as Coimbatore, it poised plenty of challenges and she managed to finish it in 03:36:46. What surprised her though was the recognition of a second place in her age category. “It was a telling moment that I too am a runner” says Latha on her pivotal moment.

In January this year, she started training under coach Narayanan who helped her with strengthening her muscles and improving her speed. During the months of April-August, she challenged herself to do the 100 Days of Running and accomplished it by running the maximum distance among women in Coimbatore, who took up the challenge. In the course of the 100 days, she also clocked an impressive time of 2:42:57 for the half-marathon distance at an event in Bangalore. It was then she thought to herself that she should challenge the distance of full marathon. For inspiration and guidance, there was Venkatesan Rangaswami, who ran his first marathon at an age of seventy one. “His relentless commitment towards running a full marathon inspired me to give it a try.”

She set her sights on the Spice Coast marathon to be held on December 1, 2019 and started training towards the event. Rain or shine, she ensured that she met her training calendar religiously. The heavy rains on the day before the event increased the humidity levels during the race. She was cautious about it and conserved her energy for a strong finish in a time of 06:11:43.  The presence of her husband, sons, and not to miss her fellow runners, who have been waiting for more than 2 hours after their event, at the finish line, made the finish memorable for more than one reason. It was not only the end of marathon but a journey of transformation into an athlete. 

Winning prizes or accolades was never her objective to take up running. When told about Masters Athletics events, she first hesitated to participate as she was not keen on competing. However, it was the simple pleasure being recognised as an athlete and running alongside many other stalwarts that prompted her to participate in the events. She participated in the 5000m event and finished it impressively at 32 minutes winning the first prize in her age group!

She has since won three gold medals in the district-level competitions and two medals in the state-level competitions. She is also excited about the opportunity to represent Tamil Nadu in the national athletics meet to be held in Manipur in February 2020.

On looking back, she retains her humility by saying, “all that I wanted for myself is to be physically fit enough to do my daily chores and not be dependent on others. I am certainly glad about the friends across different ages, that I have made during this time.” She also credits her family for their wonderful support. Although the running bug hasn’t yet caught up with them, their support has been immense. Her son gifted her a Garmin watch and got her into the world of gadgets and meticulous data keeping of her runs. Running has certainly added a new dimension to her life and she sets her sights higher next year by wanting to travel around India for marathons in other cities, and possibly outside of it very sooner. As George Bernard Shaw once said,

We do not stop playing because we grow old: we grow old because we stop playing.

 

An edited version of the article was published in The Hindu – Metroplus on December 17, 2019 along with Haripriya’s experience of running her first marathon – https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/latha-srinivasan-and-haripriya-r-from-coimbatore-complete-their-first-full-marathon/article30318112.ece

Being the Berlin Legend

A marathon in a city like Berlin cannot be anything but “legendary” – Yes, that’s the theme of the event and the organisers did some brilliant promotions to reinforce. Check this promotional video,

The event holds a special place among runners for being the ‘fastest course.’ Suresh Seshadri, a participant in this year’s edition, wrote an excellent piece for the The Hindu ahead of last year’s event.

“the combination of a flat, fast course, a pack of top-flight pacers and ideal autumn weather has ensured that the event is now regarded as the undisputed WR marathon race. Its claim to fame cemented by the fact that the last six successive world records for the distance, for men, have been set on the course”

World Record progession
Source: Runner’s World

Last year, Eluid Kipchoge set the fastest time ever by clocking 2:01:39 and certainly, the expectations were higher this year. I must have watched his finish a zillion times over the past one year and through him, I tried to visualise my own finish!

Kipchoge had to pull out of the event this year due to his committments with the potentially record-breaking attempt to run a marathon under 2 hours (which he did so). His absence this year was filled by the presence of Kenenisa Bekele, the world record holder for 5,000m and 10,000m events. He justified his presence by clocking an impressive 2:01:41, the second fastest timing and he was followed by Birhanu Legese who clocked 2:02:48, the fourth fastest timing of all times.

Check out the list of the 10 fastest maratons on “Record-eligible” courses as reported by Runner’s World on October 20, 2019,

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My entry to Berlin marathon was through lottery and I was over the moon when I found that I have managed to secure entry to the event, as I have failed in every other lottery to the world marathon majors. Having secured entry to the event, it was up to me to make it special. The preparations for the event started much earlier. My first priority was to do ‘something different’ to my routine and ventured to add Yoga to my routine since January. Ably guided by Prashanth, Yoga helped me to improve my breathing. The training routine was disrupted in June due to freak cycling accident and did not have the mental grit to bounce back quickly. I started my long runs in August and after finishing Hyderabad Marathon (for the 8th time) in 4:31:26, I decided that my realistic target for the event would be 4:15.

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I reached Dresden, Germany a week before the marathon and my good friend Padmanava was there at the station to receive me. I hired a bike the following day at Dresden and set out to ride towards Prague. I reached Sezemice, near Teplice on Monday, stayed overnight in a quiet hotel, and rode from there to Prague on Tuesday. After going around in Prague on Wednesday, I returned back to Dresden by train. The route was scenic with some challenging climbs and the highlight was crossing the border into Czech Republic with no checks.

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After staying another day at Dresden to enjoy the exemplary hospitality and tour of Dresden by Paddy, I proceeded to Berlin on the Friday, September 27. The city was warming up for the marathon weekend. The pre-marathon event expo was held at the now-defunct Tempelhof airport, one of the oldest airports in the world. The vast airport suddenly looked small when filled with runners waiting to collect their race numbers. The added attraction in shopping, largely related to running, from fancy clothing to accessories and nutritional products, represented a running festival.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2e4f.jpgOn Saturday, there was a ‘Breakfast Run’ organised from the Charlottenburg Palace to the Olympic Stadium — two iconic monuments with plenty of history. Running into the Olympic stadium, stories of 1936 Olympics and memories of the 2006 World Cup final flashed in my mind. It was in this stadium that Jesse Owens won the gold medal for the long jump in the 1936 Olympics beating Luz Long — a story that is a great example of sportsmanship. It was also the same stadium where the legend Zinedine Zidane bowed out in an unceremonious manner. So, when I met someone by name ‘Marco’ from Italy, I couldn’t resist enacting the sequence from 2006 World Cup!

 

It was also fun to bump into Chennai Runner, Vilva on the run, whom I was meeting after ages.

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Getting 44,000 runners to run through the streets was no easy task. Runners were grouped in four categories and the start times ranged from 9:10 am for the elites to 10:10 am for the back-of-the-pack, where I duly took my place. Before the race, I decided not to wear my watch to track timing/distance. I started using tracking device from December 2016 and it has helped me in focusing my training runs well. This was a race where I had mentally prepared to give my best and I certainly don’t need a watch to tell me that I am running at my best. I had prepared for this event for the preceding 9 months, and decided that it would be best for me to run my heart out. From the gun shot, I made sure that I ran every minute of the race. 

After running about 10 Km, largely jostling for space, it started raining and there was some challenge in an otherwise “fast marathon”. It must be noted that by then, Bekele and other lead runners had finished their respective races. The rain was certainly not a deterrent for runners as most were busy living their long cherished dreams.

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What was surprising though, was the unflinching support from the volunteers who didn’t move from their positions, until the last one went past them. The equally admirable crowd didn’t relent either and cheerfully supported the runners through the route. Lively music bands were stationed across the route playing vibrant music.

Timing mats were placed at every 5K point and at the half-marathon. I could vaguely guess my timing for the intermediate split based on the time displayed. For instance, I knew that I completed my half-marathon at around 2 hours and was slowing down after that. The rains weren’t giving up and neither did my spirit. I continued pushing towards my best to see how far I can stretch myself. Naturally exhausted after the 30th KM, I was looking for some external motivation to see through the remaining distance. Before the event, Ashok, from Pillar Pacers informed me that he would be waiting at the 39th KM point. His presence at the 39th KM provided me with huge respite, when I saw him waiting in the rain and cheering for me. He also clicked a picture, which was certainly priceless!

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The marathon route goes through some of the landmarks of Berlin including the Victory Column, German Chancellery, The Friedrichstadt-Palast, prominent art galleries and museums, Bundestrat, and finally, the Brandenburg Gate appearing between 41 and 42 Km points. Running through the Gate (Built in the 18th century to commemorate peace, it was closed for 28 years following the division of Germany), was something that I have been dreaming about ever since I won the lottery to participate, and the last kilometre was certainly my fastest!

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Did I mention that the current marathon route passes through the landmarks of the erstwhile East and West Berlin signifying a unified spirit. In the first Marathon after the Wall came down, it was Uta Pippig, from East Germany, who won the race in the women’s category. Listen to her recollecting those wonderful moments,

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A euphoric finish was rewarded by a wonderfully designed medal — one side featuring the important landmarks of Berlin and the other side the a relatively unknown Lutz Derkow. Lutz Derkow was one of the earliest employees of the organisation and worked for the event for over 30 years before passing away earlier this year. It was a tribute to him.

That evening, as I departed from Berlin, there were the finishers in the airport proudly sporting their finisher tees and medals all the way to their flights — the Berlin legends! I knew my finish timing only when I got my medal engraved. More than calling it a ‘Personal Best’ for being the fastest time that I have clocked for that distance, I would call it a ‘Personal Best’ purely for my efforts. Although, my 32nd marathon, this was one event that I would consider best in terms of planning and execution. The hype around the event was certainly worth every bit of it and I am proud to say “Ich bin ein Berliner

Do check out the highlights of the event in this official video,

An edited version of this blog was published in The Hindu – Metroplus on October 11, 2019 – https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/a-first-person-account-of-running-in-the-berlin-marathon/article29639975.ece

Berlin Marathon

Run the Marathon of your Life

Emil Zatopek is often credited to have said,

“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”

Andrew Johnston, a business faculty member, explains in a popular TEDx talk on how he taught his students the fundamentals of Business by making them train and run a marathon. The course titled ‘Change through Challenge’ has since become very popular in community colleges in USA. Most runners would vouch that the lessons learned during training and running a marathon can easily be applied in facing many other challenges.

While experience for runners may vary from person to person, one can be certain everyone will have something to learn in the process. Unlike other challenges in life, this is one where you alone would be the judge to measure the success or failure.  Here are a few steps to get started:

Choose the Race – The first step is to choose an event that you wish to run. If you are in Coimbatore, the choice is made easier with the annual Coimbatore Marathon held on the first Sunday of October. Some runners plan their marathons along with their business or personal travels by finding events closer to their destinations. Personally, the choice was made easier for me as I was lucky to win a lottery at the Berlin Marathon to be held in September.

Training Plan – While there are plethora of plans of available on the Internet, the best one would be the one you make, for yourself. Prepare a plan that balances your personal and professional commitments along with the running schedules. The first step would be to block the dates on which you are needed the most for other activities. The next step would be to line up your long runs – the maximum being 80% of the race distance three weeks ahead of the event. Then, spot the gaps and fill-in the mid-week runs which includes a variety of sprints and slow runs. Finally, top it with adequate rests, stretches and strengthening workouts. You can view my training plan for Berlin here..

Travel Plan – If you run is outside your home town, it is best to plan for travel and stay well in advance. Find your hotel rooms close to the event venue to get the best out of the run. If travelling outside India, it is important to get your visas well in advance.

Spread your ideas  –  It is best to speak out to your friends about the run, training plans, and your  periodic progress. Seeking opinions from diverse audience enhances your planning and reinforces your conviction to accomplish your goal. Through social media, one can expect motivation and help from unknown quarters too. If you intend to run for a cause, it gives a wonderful opportunity to speak about it too.

The Group – Even if your run is going to be all about you, it is important to have a group in which you find the strength to see through the distance. Coimbatore Runners actively supports runners planning to run the Coimbatore Marathon with their training needs, encouragement and motivation from their experience. Each runner undergoes his or her own experience and it is important to learn not only from your experience, but also others. The support from running groups often extend to assistance in planning the trip as well as stay arrangements. Of course, they are the best to celebrate with, once the race is accomplished.

Intermittent Targets – As a part of your training plan, assign a few intermittent milestones to measure your progress as well as reward yourself. If you are planning to run a marathon, the 30K runs or the fastest 10K during the training phase can be a milestone that deserves to be celebrated.

Live the Journey – To ensure that the event counts for, the best way to live through it. It is important not to see running events as an examination or a mundane ritual. This is a challenge that you have set for yourself and start looking to make changes in your routines to help you accomplish it. Every training run is an experience by itself and a step towards the finish.

Visualise the finish – Visualising the finish, either by watching videos of the past editions of the event or through a picture of the finish line. I have the picture of Brandenburg Gate, through which one finish the Berlin Marathon, on my work desktop.

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Photo courtesy: Getty Images

It is a powerful tool to help us keep focused on what we wish to accomplish and relish when we actually accomplish. At times, the thought of seeing yourself at the finish line with the medal and celebrating with your near and dear will take you through the tough phases of training.
When you reach the start line, remember that you have run most of the journey and race is only an icing on the cake. As Albert Salazar, winner of the New York Marathon in 1982, said,

“When you cross the finish line, no matter how slow or how fast, it will change your life forever.”

An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu – Metroplus on May 27, 2019 under the title “Run the marathon of your life”

https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/steps-to-get-started-for-a-marathon/article27260490.ece

Mind your running Ps and Qs

What makes a good running event? Is it the organisers and the arrangements? The city? The objective or the cause for which the event is conducted? All these certainly contribute a long way in enhancing the quality of a running event. Ultimately, it is all about the runners. It is the runners who can make or break the event. A running event is an occasion for everyone to share their special moment that celebrates the efforts put in over days and months together. It is this common objective that binds runners together and make running events one of the finest examples of peaceful congregation. While adhering to the stated rules and regulations of the event is a fundamental requisite, there are some additional steps that runners can take to make the event better for themselves and others who participate in the event.

At the start line:

  • Most running events have corrals at the start point and runners are grouped based on their past timings. If not, line up yourself in the right position based on your target for the event. Not every one running the event is aiming for the prize positions and hence, need not start at the gun time. Race timing, provided with the help of RFID chip, help in capturing your time from the time you start the event.
  • If you have a warm-up routine, find a quiet place to exercise without disturbing other runners.
  • Listen to the instructions of the race officials ahead of the event. If there are any last minute route diversions, it will help you to be aware of it.

On the route:

  • Your running bibs or numbers must always be pinned to the front of your shirt. This helps in race marshalls to track your progress and respond quickly in case of emergencies. The route is entirely reserved only for runners sporting the running bib.
  • Follow the directions provided by the race officials as to which side of the road to be used for running. Remember that the road is shared by runners from different events and there needs to be adequate place for everyone. If no instructions is provided, keep to the extreme left of the road.
  • Avoid overtaking on narrow  or crowded roads unless necessary. In such cases, call out to the runner in the front well ahead in advance to make way for you. Also, make sure you leave plenty of room before you move across in front of them.
  • Do not stop or slow down during the race for any reason. If you would like to stop for taking a walk break, raise your hand to indicate you are slowing down. It helps the runner behind you to Look for the runners behind you and make sure you don’t disturb them. If you would like to communicate to them, raise your hand to indicate that you are stopping.
  • Do not walk or run in groups of more than two or three. Walking in larger groups obstructs other participants. Also, avoid walking in the middle of the road.
  • According to the rules of IAAF and many other event organisers ban the use of headphones/earphones. If not mentioned, it is advisable to avoid them. If you still like to use them, keep the volume low so that hear the instructions from officials and runners behind you.

Aid Stations / Water stations

  • Always choose the farthest point to collect your glass of water/sports drink or any of the refreshments provided. Once collected, leave the station immediately.
  • If the aid stations look crowded, wait for your turn to pick up your requirements. Use the time to relax and recharge yourself.
  • Try to use the waste bins to dispose the cups or other waste. It helps to keep the route clean for other runners as well as the city post event.
  • Thank the volunteers, for it makes the experience pleasant for everyone involved.

Finish line / Finish area

  • Once you finish the race, do not stop immediately. Keep walking till you bring your body to normal heart rate.
  • Crowding at finish area must be avoided as it affects the functioning of race officials and medical teams to handle emergency. Once you cross the finish area, do not visit the area again as it also affects your event timing.
  • Most finish areas are designed for unitary flow of the crowd. Follow the directions provided at the venue for breakfast, medals and exit.
  • Medical emergencies
  • In case you find someone in trouble, call out the nearest volunteer and inform them. Do not try to attend them on your own (unless you are trained for it) or offer them any assistance. Volunteers are generally briefed on how to handle emergency and they can get in action quickly.
  • Adhere to advice of volunteers and medical personnel when asked to quit the event.

Running events are the perfect avenues to celebrate human spirit of oneness and the joy of coming together. It can only get better if each help others and everyone runs together. Make the event special for you and for everyone.

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An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu, Metro Plus, October 3, 2018