On one run through Bangalore's Cubbon Park, Pankaj Rai, one of Bangalore's several runners and a senior executive at an IT giant, muses, "Where else can one carry on stimulating conversations with such a diverse set of runners while running at the same time?"
The city of Bangalore will witness the 5th edition of the Midnight Marathon in less than a week from today. Over 7500 participants (as per the organisers) will toe the starting line for various events which include not just the half and full marathons but also other events such as the corporate relay and a unique community relay. What is intriguing is that despite this being the 5th edition of the event, no other city in the country hosts a race of this size at this time of the day although there are now several marathons being hosted in various Indian cities.
Bengaluru and running
Was Bangalore always a running hub?
Runners at the Kanteerava stadium, Sunfeast World 10K, 2009. Bangalore's World 10K race is a Gold Label Road Race, only one of 26 races in the world certified by the International Association of Athletic Federations, IAAF. File pic: Naveen Ningaiah.
Runners for Life (RFL) which is arguably India's largest running community based on publicly available information (on internet group memberships) is Bangalore's very own and is based out of Victoria Layout.
Arvind Bharathi of RFL recounts how the first edition (in 2008) of Urban Stampede - India's largest inter-corporate running race hosted in Bangalore saw 37 companies with barely 300 runners. Its fourth edition in 2011 saw a nearly four-fold increase in participants to 1200 runners from 81 companies.
Similarly the number of participants in Bengaluru's World 10K (originally sponsored by ITC Sunfeast, now sponsored by TCS) has jumped multifold over the last three years to around 8000 participants. 10K stands for 10 kms. In fact the organizers have a tough time fielding queries when nearly 23000 places across events fill up as quickly as they do each year.
Another pic from the Sunfeast World 10k run, 2009. File shot: Naveen Ningaiah.
World 10K is also an International Amatetur Athletic Federations-rated Gold Road Race, a testament to its billing as a premier race for not just ordinary runners but also elite athletes. It is only one of 26 road races worldwide to be recognized as such. IAAF is the governing body for international athlethics events worldwide. (See IAAF's Gold Road Races here.)
So the running community in Bangalore has surely been growing with more than a spring in its step. And this is borne out by the increasing number of participants not just at the TCS World 10k, but also at RFL's other running events: the Bangalore Ultra and even the Kaveri Trail Marathon or KTM. KTM is not even run in Bangalore, and yet the bulk of its participants are from the garden city!
Is Bengaluru just better suited?
This brings us to our next question - Is Bangalore better suited to runners? Is that why the city has so many running events? Athough the city's pleasant climate round the year has been a major factor in persuading its citizens to lace up their shoes and get out, the answer is not straightforward.
Event organisers face challenges in designing attractive city routes and getting traffic control support for the duration of the race. On more than one occasion in the past, participants have had to put up with trucks spewing smoke, running just a few feet away, while simultaneously challenging themselves to get through those miles. This is perhaps a reason why the city which hosted two half marathons in the same year in 2005 now sees just one half marathon at the Midnight Marathon. (A marathon is run for 42.2 kms, and half marathon at 21.1 kms.)
In the absence of an event, avid runners are forced to share the space with vehicles or run at times of the day when traffic density is lower or resort to running on the outskirts of the city. Civic support as perceived by event organisers has been mixed, always although some officials especially those from the police department have come in for some praise for their help.
For example, the Midnight Marathon has been run on a route of 2.5km (lap length) out and back in the past. So the participants would have had to loop the route more than half a dozen times. Certainly India's IT capital can do better to showcase its city to both its residents - a significant portion of whom, never see much of the city beyond their homes and workplaces.
The city's parks have been a strong motivator for so many people who have taken to running. Most runners admit to having started by walking or jogging around the neighbourhood park or at one of the city's two large parks - Cubbon Park or Lalbagh at least a few times before they took to running longer distances.
At last count, over 60% of the 10000 members on RFL's popular email group which includes members from around the country were from Bangalore.
Who is running?
Quite a few runners who took to it a few years ago in Bangalore appear to have begun while they were outside India, studying or working, especially while in the US. But not all.
In fact the city's young population by virtue of it being home to several technology companies among others, seems to have been a major reason for location of events such as the World 10K or the Urban Stampede, a view echoed by Vivek Singh of Procam and Bharathi of RFL. Procam International is one of India's leading sports and leisure management companies and organises the country's three IAAF Gold Label races (Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, Airtel Delhi Half Marathon & TCS World 10K) among other events.
Bangalorean runners Partha Roy, K Sridharan, Naresh Kumar and Prasun Bandhopadhyay, all from Whitefield-Kadugodi, at the Ultra Marathon event 2011. Pic: Runners for Life, Bangalore.
Today's runners are largely those motivated by the occurrence of frequent events both in the city and around the country and who see their friends and colleagues taking to running. Several corporates such as JDA, Mindtree, etc, have running communities - of varying sizes. While some corporates have had one-off events in aid of charitable causes, others have seen events to encourage employees to get healthier. And the tribe of runners has been growing steadily, especially over the past few years.
Naina Lal of Runner Girls India, a running group dedicated to women, is one such runner who has seen this trend. She has been in and out of Bangalore in the past decade before settling down in the city, thus having the unique perspective on the city's running community, across two decades. She observes how in the previous decade one would be hard pressed to find even a single runner on the roads or even in the city's parks. However she admits that the city's running community is so vibrant today that her group of running women has nearly 200 members.
Amongst the city's other interesting groups is the amusingly named BHUKMP named for Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ultra, Kaveri Trail, Mumbai and Puducherry (Auroville) marathons. This informal group is for people, planning to run some or all of the above Marathons either half or full, in a running season. That such a group has over 60 members reflects the vibrancy of Bangalore's running community.
Running community thriving
Runners after a Cubbon Park event. Pic: Partha Roy.
Thus, whether one looks at events or the swelling ranks of running groups of various sorts, the city's running community appears to be thriving. The latest edition of the Midnight Marathon this December 10th offers yet another treat to the city's avid runners. Singh summed it best when he posed, "Where else can you run right round the year?"
Still, more fun could be had if the city decided to support its runners better. After all a city which comes to an unplanned standstill for various political demonstrations can surely stop its traffic for a planned event and let its residents as well as tourists soak in more of its splendor, at least on one day of the year. ⊕