The Virgin Money London Marathon is held during the holiday season in April, and The Active Holiday Company helps many Indians to tick it off their bucket lists.
Amit Sheth, a businessman, says that when he and his runner wife Neepa want to schedule a holiday, they first google races around the world. They've run through Tokyo, South Africa, Ireland, France and Italy. It's also how they enjoyed the scenic lanes in Rome. "Marathons in these cities make sure the track runs through the sights. In Tokyo, we ran through all the main landmarks along with 40,000 people. It was incredible," says Sheth, who is in his mid-40s and has authored 'Dare to Run'.
Running for urban Indians is more than just a fad now. It has become a lifestyle choice so ingrained that enthusiasts, mostly young professionals, are sightseeing 'on the run'. Travel companies and hotels are also offering special 'running holidays' which focus on the race, but extend into a vacation as well.
While city marathons like those in Mumbai and Delhi remain the most popular, there are several other niche runs outside cities. Sangla and Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, Satara in Maharashtra, Corbett National Park and Goa are boutique race destinations, which also have holiday potential. "Year on year there has definitely been more interest in these races," says Rahul Verghese, who has run races in almost 40 countries and is founder of Running and Living, a pioneering running group in India. He arranges races around Corbett Tiger Reserve, Sangla, Rishikesh and Shimla and says the success of these out-station races can depend on how great the location is, accessibility and time commitment from participants. Corbett, a popular family holiday spot, saw over 400 participants race this year, while Sangla, a nine-day trail run, had about 50 runners.
"Even if only one family member is interested in running, their family can come along for the holiday. There are allied things to do in most of these places - hiking in Sangla, river rafting in Rishikesh and jungle safaris in Corbett," says Verghese, who has tied up with Himachal Tourism for discounts and packages for these races.
The family holiday atmosphere is enabling for some runners. Shruti Saxena, a consultant with Fortis hospital in Delhi who regularly participates in out-station runs, can take her eight-year-old son along because her friends' families will babysit when she is out running. "Since runs are always on Sundays, I can add days and have an extended weekend getaway. I feel less guilty about taking leave because the focus is on the run," says Saxena, who takes over five weekend trips a year.
Running holidayers have piqued the interest of travel companies, who are tailoring breaks for them, which can be extended to additional destinations. Subhash Motwani, an avid marathoner and director of niche vacation company Compact Travels, says there is a growing interest in such holidays from fellow runners. Motwani says that Indians can be spotted running almost every marathon across the world and tourism boards abroad are recognizing this. "In Switzerland, Indians always go to Interlaken. But other regional tourism towns also want the Indian tourist and they are looking at the running market," says Motwani, whose company launched its first running holiday this year with the Basel marathon in Switzerland, a three-night, four-day tour priced at 870 Swiss francs.
Adventure travel companies are even representing big races from across the world in India. Bangalore-based The Active Holiday Company (AHC) is the official representative of the London marathon (part of the Big 5 Races) in India. Their base package for three nights costs 749 pounds per person, including airfare, twin-sharing accommodation and race-related arrangements. "The London race is in the holiday season in April and many Indians want to tick it off their bucket lists. About 40% opted for additional touring, some to Scotland and others to the rest of UK," says Gauri Jayaram, veteran marathoner and AHC founder.
Next year, the Great Wall of China run, Istanbul race and Athens classic marathon are destinations these operators will market. Jayaram, whose company has focused on foreign races, is also planning Indian packages in mid-2014, since races in exotic Indian locations are becoming popular. Travel experts say Indians are taking running very seriously. "Soon, the Indian tourist won't be known only for hopping on and off buses," says Motwani.