Mumbai Marathon

During the run-up to the Mumbai Marathon this year, the Race Director, Hugh Jones said,

“This is where the running movement started in India. People in urban India have taken to street running,’’

Tall claims! Nevertheless, one has to agree with the fact that it is one of the well established running event in India. The Pune International Marathon can claim to be the oldest but has never seen the light of the day in terms of its popularity or number of runners. The Mumbai Marathon is also the only Marathon event in India that is recognised as a ‘Gold Label’ road race by the IAAF, (even if many, including me, do not understand what it means). It registers the highest number of finishers in the full marathon category in this country as one can see from the chart below.Mumbai marathonThere are many aspects to the event that keeps attracting a large number of events – The crowd support, the route through Marine Drive and the sea-link bridge, qualifier for many international events like the Boston Marathon, Comrades marathon and even Olympics;  And there is always the indomitable spirit of Mumbai that adds to the allure of the event. Yet, if there is one question that often lingers in my mind, it is, ‘Having recognised as a world class event, is this the best India can offer?’ Sadly, the answer is “No’ and here’s why,

First, the lack of attention towards the basics. The current edition is the twelfth edition of the event and it still lacks some of the essential requirements. Some of the issues highlighted from this year’s event by my friend, TR Kumar,

1. There was no clear identification of Finish Line  No Celebration, No Cheering as one gets to the finish line. The finish line was a complete fizzle out
2. There were No Clear Water Points after the finish. One needs at least plenty of water stations to hydrate and one had to walk on for ever to find some water
3. It was not clear where Medals and Refreshments were provided. It was a complete mess after the finish
4. There was No Demarcation for Full Marathon Finish (for the Last Two Kms) as was mentioned by the organizers
5. Overcrowding of Half Marathon Participants all along after 35 Kms mark. One had to do zig zag to get past the casual strollers doing Fun Half Marathon
7. Very Long Queues after Finish Line
8. There was a Ramp with Steps to Walk up After Finish to get to the relaxing zone. Was this meant to be a joke to test the endurance of the runners?
9. Medical Tents were not available after the run to get a spray or get some medical attention.
10. No Breakfast Provided at the end of the run. For all the exorbitant money charged for the event, and also the huge sponsors, a simple breakfast was at least welcome.

Most of these issues were present when I ran for the first time in 2006 and also each of the 4 times until 2013. It is sad that the organisers continue to ignore these basics. With more and more runners gaining experience of running quality events abroad, the organisers do not step up their quality of service to match runners’ expectations.

Second, the ever rising entry costs. The entry fee for the marathon has been increasing exponentially, from the paltry Rs.200 in 2006 edition to Rs. 1400 in the current edition as the chart below would show.

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It would be fair to point out that the cost of living in India during that time period was also on the rise, even if not in the same proportion as the cost of entry fee. There has also been increase in the sponsorship for the event which must have taken significant burden of the inflation. Moreover, in my personal experience, there are significant economies of scale in marathon events which leads to less marginal costs for every additional entry and also the benefit of experience in the subsequent events. The flip side to the higher entry fee, as my friend Dr. Ram said “it has become the rich man’s preserve.” It has become prohibitively expensive for vast majority in this country to even dream about the marathon.

Third, the lack of importance for the ‘Marathon.’ Most marathons in India are no more than a ‘Running festival’ with events of all distances, yet titled ‘Marathon.’ Marathon is strictly 42.195K; distance below and above that has its own lexicon and not to be confused with the Marathon. Sadly, there are very initiatives that encourage people to go ahead and try that distance. The most recent Singapore Marathon attracted over 10,900 finishers in the marathon category and the number of finishers in Mumbai did not cross 3000. The organisers seems to be content organising the ‘masala’ runs that fills their coffers and get due media attention through celebrity participation.

Finally, most events in India benchmarks themselves with Mumbai Marathon, which sadly ranks very poor in comparison with international standards. As Gautam Bhatia writes in his piece titled When the second rate sets the standards,

The history of being second rate has been so deeply ground into the Indian psyche; it is now part of the real character of being Indian. There is an implicit mistrust of something that works, does not fall apart, is efficient and is visibly differentiated in its design and presentation.

For all its hype, Mumbai Marathon, for me, is still a second rate event. Where it sets a standard, it only harms the development of running events in India.

Disclaimer: I have been involved in organising many running events. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent the views of my fellow organisers or the events. I undertake to write the blog only because of my present status as a ‘retired’ organiser and also that I have run Mumbai Marathon for 5 times.

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