In December 2008, I, along with few Chennai Runners, participated in the Singapore Marathon. On returning back from the trip, there was a burning desire in some of us to organise running events of that standard and magnitude. It was this desire that got us into organising long distance running events a.k.a marathons. It would be no exaggeration to say that running events in India have grown in leaps and bounds in terms of organising standards over the past decade and we certainly had our role to play. Today, most running events organised by runners/running clubs have exceptional standards from those of the SDAT or Athletic Federations. With more and more runners participating in events abroad, the bar is raised each year and it has been a constant endeavour for most runner-organisers to improve consistently.
Personally, I prefer to participate only in events where runners take the lead and have complete control over the organisation of the event. I choose to run the Nilgiris Ultra for two reasons – the race organiser was a two-time Boston marathon finisher and that the run was recommended by a runner from Hyderabad who has participated in running events in all continents. I believed that the event would have a certain standard of organisation on par with events of similar stature. Considering that the event was priced at Rs. 5,000, the very basic expectations were a well-stocked aid station and post run refreshments. It would be an understatement to say that the quality of organisation left me shell-shocked!
Most aid stations had nothing more than water, cheap electrolytes and marie biscuits. We were promised with sandwiches in aid stations but was rationed so badly that it was absent in most stations. The aid station brought me memories of SDAT Half-marathon in February 2008 in terms of quality. Post-run, we were given cheap medals and no refreshments except water. My fellow runners from Coimbatore was surprised by lack of basic facilities. Even the simplest of the running events in Coimbatore offer fresh breakfast at the finish and here, they were left high and dry without any refreshments at the finish. When asked about the methodology to measure the route, I was shocked to hear that it was measured using the GPS in mobile phone. The pre-race briefing, held in a plush hotel, was largely concentrated on creating false panic over protests surrounding Jallikattu, which was long over by then.
To top it all, it was the arrogance of the organisers, who were hardly sympathetic, when I raised these issues (including the merit in advertising it as a training run for Comrades marathon!) that left me completely disgusted. I would like to publish an excerpt from his response to me:
In conclusion I have to make this statement loud and clear. Take my advice from a seasoned runner! You are NOT a runner or a walker.
First and foremost: Runners have to have a positive & humble attitude even before they take up the sport of running! You don’t have BOTH.
Above all, you have taken around 12 hours to finish the 70K and we wouldn’t have even let you participate.
Do you know that we were going to have a qualifier for the 70K as 10 hours? This year was your lucky year and a chance that we let people participate without a qualifier. Next year, even if you want to and have a changed heart you CANNOT participate in this race because we will have a qualifier for the 70K as 10 hours.
WE WANT REAL RUNNERS to RUN OUR RACE. So YES ‘Comrades is not as challenging as Nilgiris.’ That is a TRUE statement! Just because it is organized in another country and a bunch of western runners say that it is tough you take it for granted? What a bunch of crock that is? Bunch of Indian runners and seasoned runners are telling you Balaji, Nilgiris Ultra is much tougher and you question that? Get your stats right.
BTW you can’t even get in from next year onwards. You will see a different rating for our race.
The irony of the response was that there were only 4 runners running the 70K and none of them finished under 11 hours. So much for the haughtiness! As far as not allowing me to run, he seems to have to missed the point that I can run the route zillion times for the same cost as it is very much my backyard! After his lessons on humility, the mocking comments on an event as prestigious as Comrades Marathon was certainly unwarranted.
The sad truth is that these organisers will have their way out irrespective of their poor organising skills and arrogance. They know well that Indians are ‘cheap’ and can be easily fooled again and again! During the briefing, a lot was spoken how they are a ‘social enterprise’ albeit with limited social skills, which was nothing more than a anticipatory bail. In short, they are just chasing hot air!