The weekend’s Mumbai Marathon staged the participation of 39,510 runners competing in various events. The figure itself provides a new record for the highest number of entries received by the organisers, but it’s the popularity itself which might be the event’s undoing.
Tim Hutchins, a former long-distance runner and commentator has often stressed the importance of making sure international athletes leave satisfied from a marathon event. After all, they are the best spokespersons of a particular course when they go back home to Kenya or Ehtiopia or Russia or Belgium. Yet this year’s marathon provided little cheer for the winners.
The problem with “joggers” (as winner Evans Ruto called them) who consisted of slow runners competing in the half-marathon or the amateur full-marathon, required the elite runners to zig-zag their way through the crowd of stragglers. Crucially, the turns – especially the U-turn on the mid-point – saw the inner lanes crowded and needed the elite runners to take longer looping routes, with the athletes coordinator Jos Hermens commenting that winner Ruto might in fact have run 43 kms navigating through the slow-runners.
The consequence of the complication saw the race winner Ruto concede a new course record by a mere 2 seconds, and lose out on a bonus of USD 15,000. In the process, India’s most popular marathon lost whatever glimmer of hope there was to improve the course-timing.
A possible solution to avoid the “joggers” fiasco, may be to start the elite race at an earlier time (they currently start at 7.20 am), but the repurcussions of that move would hinder visibility for the live-telecast.
All the big marathons – London, Berlin and New York – have long segregated their calendars for the marathon and the 21 km half-marathon — the two events at least six months apart, according enough respect to the serious 42 km elite athletes and their needs.
While amounts collected in charity and corporate participation are admirable and point to the inclusive nature of the big run, the Mumbai Marathon need to take the serious runners more seriously.
Shahid is a senior trainee reporter based in Mumbai