The first time Rukmini Dahanukar crossed the finish line, she had tears in her eyes. Today, the serial marathon runner finds it tougher to cross the starting line. For, she says, once she has done that, the next 42km would be simple.
Pushing limits: Marathon runner Rukmini Dahanukar will also attempt the triathlon. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Unlike most of Mumbai, the 36-year-old Dahanukar does not merely sprint after a departing local train but runs for the sheer challenge and pleasure of it. She started five years ago, enthused by the sight of people jogging in the US. Since her first half marathon in 2004, she has participated in several, in India and abroad, and is constantly looking for new challenges.
This year, the self-employed entrepreneur who runs a brand identity and design communications firm, Nirmiti, will test her widening aspirations in three endurance events—the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon on 17 January, the India International Triathlon in Goa on 14 February and the Mumbai Cyclothon on 21 February. While the Mumbai Marathon is into its seventh edition, the other two events are being held for the first time.
The full marathon is a 42km run, the triathlon will offer an Olympic distance race (1.5km swim/40km on cycle/10km run) and a more extreme race (1.5km swim/60km on cycle/11km run), while the Cyclothon will include a 100km race for international competitors.
Mumbai, traditionally, does not host too many international events, except cricket, because of a lack of international standard infrastructure, which makes the induction of two new global events here this year unusual. Indians have traditionally excelled in sports that are not too frenetic—such as cricket, chess and cue sports, with periodic exceptions in badminton, tennis and hockey. Mumbai is also not a city that encourages running, with its hot and humid weather, lack of open spaces, heavy, chaotic traffic and bad roads.
People like Girish Mallya, who has been running competitively for the last eight years and has participated in marathons in Bangalore and Singapore, among other places, are therefore surprised at the sudden spurt of outdoor events in and around Mumbai.
“I am constantly disappointed with the culture of running in Mumbai, unlike, say, in Bangalore. I don’t see a single soul running for eight months a year,” says the 34-year-old digital publisher.
The explanation for the new events lies perhaps in the success of the marathon that started in 2004. There were fewer than 800 marathon runners and 4,000 half-marathon runners in the first year, according to Procam International Ltd, the promoters of the event. In the 2010 edition, there will be 3,500 full marathoners and 11,000 in the half. The prize money too has increased to $310,000 (approx. Rs1.45 crore) from $210,000. Procam has also been organizing the Delhi half marathon for the last five years and the Bangalore 10km run over the last two years.
The marathon’s success also stems from the enthusiasm among locals and administrative support that has made it an annual highlight in Mumbai’s diary. While the event has its critics, most people who spoke to this newspaper admitted the marathon had set an admirable example, as a mass participation competition and fundraiser.
Both Chandradev Bhagat, CEO, Greymatter Entertainment, the company that is promoting the India International Triathlon, and Akil Khan, chairman of ID Health and Fitness Ltd, which is jointly organizing the Mumbai Cyclothon, agree but their reason for holding these events, they say, is to promote health and fitness.
The cyclothon is a Rs12 crore event, while the triathlon will cost between Rs3 crore and Rs3.5 crore. Again, the Mumbai Marathon set the precedent for a successful business model. “It was a quite a struggle in the earlier years and still the earnings are not spectacular by any stretch of imagination. But marathons are a long-term game and things are definitely getting better each year,” says Vivek Singh, joint managing director of Procam International.
While accepting the obvious shortcomings of a city like Mumbai, the Indian cricket team’s former physiotherapist John Gloster, who is now with the Rajasthan Royals team in the Indian Premier League (IPL), says the city is a good venue because “people here are accepting of new things”. “Look at the reception the Formula One car got. The success of the marathon over the years has meant people here have open minds to new sports and challenges,” says Gloster, who is working with Khan on the cyclothon.
Athletics Federation of India working president Adille Sumariwala adds that the interest is due to the large percentage of people in the age group of 18-35 and their “mind shift to look good and fit. This young group is mobile, travels and has understood that the best way to relieve stress is to participate. This could not have happened 10 years ago, just like the IPL. The timing is now right.”
Most people this author spoke to agreed that the growing number of events do signify a trend, pushed by personal interests and profits. But a cultural change in mindset to running regularly will take some time coming since most Indian metropolitan cities are not conducive to jogging or biking, unless a person is chasing a train or a bus, of course.