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India running!

India running!

  • 30 Aug, 2014
  • The Hindu

Almost every major Indian city hosts a marathon. A look at the running revolution.
For Rahul Verghese, his own personal journey with running began when he was posted to Chicago in late 2000. He signed up for the city’s marathon the next year. This May, Verghese ran his 50th marathon. He finished the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon in about 11 hours. "This equalled all my 49 marathons put together. Harsh weather and the altitude made it challenging,” he recalls. Now one of PUMA’s running ambassadors, Verghese has brought the marathon to destinations like Rishikesh, Panchkula, Shimla and Alibag through his seven-year-old venture, Running and Living.
For a long time, the health conscious in India focused on walking. Then it was yoga. But how many people across the country would think about running 42.2 km for fun? Apparently quite a few. Today, amateur running is seeing a boom. Nearly every city is hosting an event named after it and runner groups are mushrooming. The rage began with the Procam International initiative to organise the largest marathon in Asia. The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon is now more than 10 years old and has seen registrations increase from year to year, drawing international athletes too. Forty-thousand registrations this year made the event larger than even some world marathon majors.
Gauri Jayaram is a runner and author of Wise Enough to be Foolish, who is eyeing her first fill marathon later in the year. She recently started the Active Holiday Company, a venture that focuses on the adventure travel portfolio outside India, and has exclusive tie-ups with the Virgin London Marathon and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. It ensures that Indian runners can have guaranteed spots in those coveted races. "Our success with London in April has led to signups with us for Chicago and the Antarctica Marathon. People are enquiring about events we don’t even represent, like the races in Paris and Madrid,” she says.
Asked why India is taking to running so much, Verghese says, "For one, the sex appeal of celebrities and business folk who have, in recent years, been highlighted for being fit through running. Then, with each new person that takes to running, there is more chatter about it in offices and homes. The Procam events in Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore have also spread the culture.”
Significantly, women across all age groups and profiles are signing up for races. The Pinkathon race for cancer awareness has catalysed the movement further. In Chennai, where the climate is not quite suitable for running, a Pinkathon race offering distances of 3k, 5k and 10k drew around 6,500 women earlier this year.
"Milind Soman threw us a challenge saying that 5,000 women ran in Bangalore. We promised him we would cross that number in Chennai and we did,” quips Prof. Preeti Aghalayam of IIT-Chennai, one of the ambassadors for Pinkathon in the city. A sprinter in her school years, Aghalayam continued running recreationally. The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon got her racing again 10 years ago. She’s also on the core team that organises the popular Wipro Chennai Marathon every December.
On the growth of running, Aghalayam observes, "When Chennai Runners was set up in 2009, there were hardly any runners. Social media has contributed to people coming out in large numbers. Running groups have made concerted efforts to encourage women to run. It also helps that many core organising committees now have women on board.”
After Mumbai, Procam took endurance running to New Delhi and Bangalore. The last TCS 10k in Bangalore saw over 25,000 runners. "In 2011, the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon was voted the best road running event in the world. The TCS 10k has become the meeting ground for the world’s best track and field athletes and distance runners,” says Vivek B. Singh, Joint MD, Procam International.
Arjuna Award winner and former national champion in long jump and heptathlon, Reeth Abraham, will soon turn 52. She still competes at Masters events and holds the titles for triple jump and long jump. The face of the Bangalore Marathon, (first edition to be held in October), Abraham took to long-distance running recently. "I’m still an amateur when it comes to distances like the half and the full. But I felt proud when I finished my first half. There are a lot of misconceptions that running when you’re in your thirties can hurt your knees or ankles. But if you’ve started in the right way, and you build up gradually, running is for everyone,” she explains. From obscure trail races to ultra-marathons and road events, India has it all. And no distance seems too little or too much.

What they say:

*We wanted to create a running revolution in India. Today, the marathon is the largest charity platform in this country. Our Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore events together raised Rs.4 crores this year.

- Vivek B. Singh, Joint MD, Procam International

* There are training plans available on the Internet, and they come straight from some of the best in the world. There’s no need to look any further.

Rahul Verghese, Founder, Running and Living

* It’s important for women of all ages to take exercise seriously. I know what it takes to keep fit at my age. And it’s a good feeling when people compliment me for looking younger than my years.

Reeth Abraham, former national champion

* Sign up for a race. Find a group to run with. Don’t run every day. Supplement running with cross-training and bodyweight exercises.

Prof. Preeti Aghalayam, Organizing Committee Member, The Wipro Chennai Marathon