When a friend encouraged me to register for the Bangalore Ultra—the city’s first such event, I was told—I was sceptical and slightly worried. Would I be able to run 26km with just three weeks of practice, never having run before? After a few practice runs of around 7-8km during those three weeks, I boarded a bus at Cubbon Park in the wee hours of 16 December 2007. At the venue, around 200 other runners of various age groups were raring to go.
Organized by the Runners for Life (RFL)—a group comprising professionals, housewives, senior citizens and children—the annual Bangalore Ultra is a unique event in Bangalore’s cultural/social calendar. The city isn’t exactly known for marathons, just as Mumbai is. Nor has there been a serious culture of running, although you’re likely to bump into joggers of all ages on the streets. But RFL is changing things. The different categories open at the Bangalore Ultra were the 26km, 52km and 78km runs and, rather alarmingly, one old gentleman was courageous enough to attempt going all the way—the 104km run.
RFL began in March 2005, and its first marathon was held the same month with a small group of 60 runners. It spread the word and, today, there are more than 900 members. RFL organizes one or two long runs every month.
I have known Arvind Bharathi, one of the founding members of RFL, for more than a year, and he said the Ultra was an eye-opener for him, “We weren’t sure of the response to the event, considering we kept the registration charge at Rs1,000. But we were surprised, and even had to turn some people back.” I was pleasantly surprised when the 26km race at the Bangalore Ultra was flagged off by Dinesh Kumar, 71, against his doctor’s advice. “Celebrity runners get much more media coverage than ordinary citizens. Look at Dr Rajat Chauhan, who ran 100.6km in 11 hours and 25 minutes, or Nischal Pai, who ran 78km at the Bangalore Ultra. Nobody knows about them,” Kumar says.
Chauhan, who attempted the 104km run and finished with a remarkable 100.6km, is an ideal marathon runner because of his passion for, and dedication to, the sport. “The doc”, as he is fondly called by fellow runners, manages a hectic professional life as head of the department of sports medicine at Manipal University. He also set a record by doing a half marathon almost every day in the month of October as preparation for the Ultra.
This year, many professionals also participated in it. Bhasker Sharma, an IT professional closely associated with the group, agrees that running as a sport and as a fitness regime is gaining popularity in the city. “It has picked up significantly over the last five years or so, thanks to the Internet, the Mumbai marathon and RFL.” But corporate sponsorship is yet to come by. Companies such as Procam, which organizes the Mumbai marathon, have not looked at the Bangalore Ultra.
Though Bharathi believes that RFL needs to organize many more shorter and frequent runs to encourage more Bangaloreans to run and to make the marathon an event for, and by, the city, the mood is already upbeat and contagious. RFL is looking at expanding to other cities of Karnataka. As Kumar, the star of the Bangalore Ultra says, “All the parks might be available, but if I didn’t train my mind to do it, it wouldn’t have happened.”
For information on Runners for Life, log on to groups.google.com/group/runnersforlife-bangalore.
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