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Mumbai Marathon 2018

Run, Mumbai, run! - gearing up for the 2018 marathon

Fun, fitness and fund-raising come together at the country’s most iconic sporting event, the Mumbai Marathon

January 15, 2018 10:31 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 08:13 am IST - Mumbai

On Sunday, before the sun even rises, 46,000 people will be running along the streets of south Mumbai.

Some will lope along in graceful mile-eating strides, breathing easily; others will half-walk half-run, sweating even in the cool January night air. They will wear all manner of running gear — and some decidedly unconventional attire too: one woman intends to run in a sari; last year, monks ran in saffron dhotis and kurtas; some will wear attention-grabbing fancy-dress.

2018 is the 15th year of the Mumbai Marathon, India’s biggest road-running event. (It also marks a change in name: after 14 years, Standard Chartered has now given way as title sponsor to the house of Tata, which has signed a 10-year deal with promoters Procam International.) With one of the biggest purses in Asia ($405,000 this year), it attracts some of the fastest in the world. Ethiopia’s Mulu Seboka and Dinknesh Mekasha and Kenya’s John Kelai have won in the past. This year, Solomon Deksisa and Chele Dechasa of Ethiopia and Samuel Mwaniki of Kenya are expected to lead the men’s event; the women’s field includes defending champ Bornes Kitur of Kenya, and Amane Gobena and Shuko Genemo of Ethiopia.

It has also made a difference for serious Indian distance runners, who compete for separate prize money and a bonus for course records. It also gives them the opportunity to run alongside elite international runners, helping them improve their performances: Ram Singh’s time in the 2012 race made him the first Indian marathoner to qualify for the Olympics, and he ran in London ; and Nitendra Singh Rawat, Kheta Ram and Gopi T. ran here in 2016 and qualified for Rio.

More than a race

The event is, and was from the start, much more than a competition for prizes.


Only a small set of participants run for medals and prize money. The vast majority are here to compete just with themselves, and yes, to have some fun too. The race brings in thousands of amateurs from all over India — around 25% of registrants are from outside Mumbai — making it arguably the most iconic race in the country.

Who are all these people anyway?

You’ll see entertainers rub shoulders with bureaucrats, politicians sharing tips with lawyers, and big business shows up in large numbers. They prepare all year round just for this race. Many have also got the bug here, and travel to other parts of India and the world to run marathons.

Procam itself has also gone places: the company now also runs the Delhi Half-Marathon, the Kolkata 25K and the Bengaluru 10K. Their journey started in 2003, when the founders, brothers Anil and Vivek Singh, were in London and happened to watch the London Marathon. They decided then to organise a similar international format race — a traffic-free race route, stations, aid stations, timing chips and certificates and medals for completion — in Mumbai, their home town. They had run big shows before, promoting international squash tournaments and WWE events, but this was far bigger. It took time to get the city government, Navy, and Mumbai Police to see the big picture, but their support was crucial, as was recognition from the Athletics Federation of India and Association of International Marathons and Distance Races. But a year later, everything was in place and the first race was run.

It’s personal

Himanshu Vinchhi thinks of the Mumbai Marathon as a life-changing experience. He was 24 when he signed up for the half distance run in 2004. “I was a changed man by the time I finished the run. I felt like I had achieved something phenomenal and it made me really happy. It has become an annual pilgrimage for me.” He will run his 12th Mumbai Marathon this year.

Yash Muthiyan credits the event with physically changing him. He was 15 and 105 kg when he lumbered through the Dream Run in 2008. Two years later, he ran his first half, and two years after that, the full distance. And he weighs a trim 68 kg now. “Mumbai Marathon is special to me,” he says. “Running has helped me achieve a healthier state of mind while creating some beautiful memories and friendships.”

Kartik Iyer, 29, does not remember a time when Mumbai didn’t run. He was 18 when he signed up for the half in 2007, simply because he thought it was a cool thing to do. “The experience was delightful and I wanted to relive it. I have met a lot of runners while training. All of them had started running with a goal to run this event, like every runner I know from Mumbai. I can’t imagine my city without the Marathon.”

What brings in enthusiasts from other cities?

“I get to meet my running buddies from across India and at times even from abroad,” says Shrijesh B., 42, who is coming in from Kolkata. “It is the holy grail of running in India. Now that one needs to qualify makes it even more appealing.”

“We runners owe it to this race for bringing about a change in a country where running was never considered a sport,” said Gurgaon-based Sundreysh Sarup, 47, who will be running his third MM this year.

Running a revolution

Vivek Singh says the race has put India on the global map of distance running, and it regularly features in lists of the top marathons of the world. He also says it has fundamentally changed India’s attitude: “It has encouraged our society to have a more sporting mindset, sparked a health and fitness revolution and spawned more than 700 road races annually. Amateur running is today the fastest growing sporting activity in India.” This revolution, if one indulges these claims, is not just because city-dwellers got more fitness-conscious. Two other interlinked factors played a role in popularising the event: the fund-raising component and the large participation from corporate India, and Procam can certainly take credit for both.

In India Inc., as liberalisation and globalisation opened India up to the world, more and more senior executives pursuing demanding corporate goals also took other examples from their counterparts abroad, seeking healthier lifestyles. Tata Sons Chairman N. Chandrasekaran isn’t the only running top-shot: you’ll see Anil Ambani, Sudhanshu Vats, CEO of Viacom18, Vighnesh Shahane, CEO of IDBI Federal, Nirav Mehta, MD of Morgan Stanley, Ishmeet Singh, country manager for Mattel Toys, Gagan Banga, CEO of India Bulls, among a host of other business leaders rubbing shoulders with the rank and file. Many of them got their first taste of distance running here and now are also seen at marquee races across the world.

“It’s been a prime running event in Mumbai for years,” Mr. Mehta says. “It’s refreshing to be running with over 40,000 people.” Mr. Singh of Mattel says that the Mumbai event was his first road race, and now his favourite part is, after finishing the half, to run with his 14-year-old daughter in the Dream Run.

“It was the first international-format marathon to be held in India,” Mr. Vats says. “And in a way, it set standards for marathon running in the country. It created and fuelled a sense of improving personal fitness achievements and gave people a chance to make a difference to other’s lives.” Viacom18’s Donate a Mile programme, he says, has 30 or more employees running to support education for underprivileged children through Akanksha Foundation.

Similar support has come from Anand Mahindra, who has run for Nanhi Kali, a Mahindra inititiative, the Godrej Group, which encourages employees to donate salary for privilege leave to NGOs, and real estate major Nirmal Lifestyle, which has been one of the highest fund-raisers.

Fund-raising has been part of its genetic code from the start, and the money raised has grown along with the participation. “Mumbai Marathon is the largest charity-raising platform in the country,” says Vivek Singh.

The social impact also played a role in Tata stepping up to sponsor. Ravi Viswanathan, CMO of TCS, says, “Over the years, we partnered with many marathons around the world. Like other marathons, the Mumbai Marathon helps us to increase our engagement with the community, raise funds for charity, as well as create societal awareness to promote health and fitness in the community.”

It isn’t just the suit-boot types with causes.Pooja Golia, 38 and a homemaker, has run the half twice, for the Care Foundation, started by her sister-in-law Anju Jain, who lost her battle with cancer four years ago. “I ran with 700-plus volunteers for the Anybody Can Jump initiative of Care Foundation. The funds raised go towards providing vocational training to women, medical aid to those who need it, and to adopt kids for education. The Mumbai Marathon is a great way to highlight causes we believe in and to reach out to people who want to make a difference but don’t know how to.”Ajay Kelkar, 53, Mumbai-based founder of Hansa Cequity, supports Antarang. “31% of India’s 422 million young adults are completely disconnected; they are not in education, employment of vocational training. That’s the problem we are working on. It’s not so much raising funds as it is to create awareness that I run.”

The United Way, the philanthropy partner, handles the charities. Individuals and corporate teams can choose from the list of NGOs it works with  — focussed on six categories: education, health, environment, income, public safety and social inclusion — or indicate one they want to raise funds for. Donations can be made in four ways: charity bibs, which have to raise a minimum amount set by the NGOs; corporate teams which pick a cause or non-profit to support (supplemented with employee fund raising); individuals setting up web pages for funds; and direct donation to NGO pages. Depending on the amount raised and the form of payment, United Way keeps from 0% to 4% of the funds raised.

Celebrating Mumbai

The third Sunday of January is now an intrinsic part of the city’s calendar, a celebration of the city as much as an athletic endeavour.

Chinmay Sengupta, 57, COO of ICICI Foundation, calls it an annual carnival: “Family members gather along the route, cheering and feeding the hungry souls.” Even being effortlessly overtaken by the elite runners is a joy, he says, a breathtaking spectacle. “The rainbow of the Mumbai Marathon never fails to dazzle.” Sitaram Meena, 40, Joint Commissioner of Income Tax in Surat, calls the organising of the event and the enthusiastic support of Mumbaikars along the route very special. “The spirit of Mumbai Marathon is unbeatable and unique.”

Not just families of runners line the route: you will find a wide cross-section of the city cheering, with posters, trumpets and whistles, and water, glucose, chocolates, fruits and pain-relief sprays for the runners.

Runners recall with gratitude the crowd egging them on when they were tiring, that it felt like they were carried to the finish line with just the applause and support of the audience.

Will you be there to help?

Related: How to make a marathon ( )

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