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Leave no man behind: Here’s how Mumbai is embracing running clubs

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Dec 09, 2016 16:11 IST
Poorva Joshi
Ahead of the city marathon in January, we take a look at the prominent groups in the city.

Ahead of the city marathon in January, we take a look at the prominent groups in the city. (Photo: Shutterstock)

It’s 7am on a chilly Saturday morning. The sun is not out yet. We are on Marine Drive, opposite the Police Gymkhana, surrounded by people engaged in their daily routine: meditation, dog walking, and jogging. Some are even asleep on the stone benches at the promenade.

We spot 10 people running in a cluster, heading towards us from the Hotel InterContinental. One of the runners, dressed in a neon yellow shirt, says, “We’re nearly there, guys. Switch to jogging on the spot till the cars slow down.” Once the traffic eases, they head across the road to the Mumbai University grounds at Marine Lines. As one batch disappears, another follows suit. Four such batches cross us.

By the time we enter the ground, 50 runners have returned from a 10km race around Marine Drive. They are now stretching and grabbing a bottle of water. This is the Nike+Run Club (NRC), an informal group of runners who meet every Saturday at 6.22am sharp.

Even though it’s an ungodly hour to venture out on a weekend, the runners look eager to be here. So much so, that being around them almost inspires us to join the club for their next run. Note that we have never run a day in our life.

But that’s the charm of a running club — the collective energy level is intense and the enthusiasm is infectious. And that seems to be the draw for fitness enthusiasts to take up running as part of their daily routine.

Contributing to the popularity of such clubs is the running revolution that has taken over the city. For instance, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) 2015 recorded 40,485 runners on ground (source: sportskeeda.com). This year, too, running clubs have recorded additional membership as part of the upcoming marathon preparation (SCMM’17 is on January 15).

The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2015 recorded 40,485 runners on ground. (HT File Photo)

“Mumbai has become the running capital of the country. Most of these groups started out about 20 members. Today, they’re all communities in their own right, with over 60 members,” says Deepak Oberoi (31), a member of the Chembur Running Club (CRC).

It’s interesting to see how running — traditionally, a solitary, serious activity — has turned into a group exercise. This shift is thanks to a rise in the number of running groups that have turned their regular runs into a social event.

Read more: Running is now a social activity involving friends, music, after-parties

On your mark

Launched in February this year, NRC is a group of 100 odd running enthusiasts from all over the city who gather each weekend to run on Marine Drive. In fact, many such clubs have cropped up across the city — each of the main suburbs, be it Chembur, Andheri or Worli, seems to have their own running club.

The biggest draw for people to join these clubs is the opportunity to be part of a movement. (Photo courtesy: Mumbai Runners )

However, Mumbai’s relationship with running clubs goes back to 2006, when the first club, Striders, was established by runners Deepak Londhe (42) and Praful Uchil (45). Striders Miles started out as a group of seven bankers looking to add outdoor exercise to their otherwise sedentary lives. Today, it is a strong community of 2,000 members across Mumbai.

The biggest draw for people to join these clubs is the opportunity to be part of a movement. “A larger running collective is inspiring. Runners push each other to do better — a few of our members initially took 180 minutes to finish a 10km run, but now take just 45 minutes or even lesser,” says Daniel Vaz, a seasoned runner, who has been participating in the Mumbai Marathon since 2004, and now acts as a coach for NRC.

Read more: We bring you the ultimate training guide for the Mumbai Marathon

Additionally, running clubs are a judgement-free zone — you are not looked down upon for not being able to meet a target. Instead, you are cheered on to push yourself and finish a run. As a result, the clubs attract individuals from across age groups and gender. For instance, 90% of Striders’ membership is above the age of 40 and as much as 40% of the club members are women. Even at the NRC run, we noticed around 15 women among the 50 odd runners.

Running clubs are a judgement-free zone — you are not looked down upon for not being able to meet a target. (Photo courtesy: Striders Miles Club)

And while Striders has a paid membership (Rs12,000 for six months), other clubs allow free entry. “The idea is to build a health-conscious community that enjoys running. We want to encourage younger people to join these clubs,” says Vaz.

Read more: Cycle of change: Mumbai’s biking communities are making the bicycle popular again

On the flip side

Despite the benefits, Striders’s Deepak Londhe has his reservations about the informal clubs that are open to all. He insists that running, as an activity, needs constant supervision to avoid the risk of injuries — a job that is best performed by a professional. “The collective encouragement notwithstanding, the performance of every individual plateaus without professional attention. In such a situation, members may blindly follow targets based on their co-runners’ performance, and injure themselves or face over-exhaustion,” he says.

It’s important to note, however, that though the informal clubs don’t have professional coaches, each of the clubs invite pacers for runs — the neon yellow-clad individual at the NRC run, for instance. Pacers are experienced runners who guide members about their required running speed. They also herd the running group and ensure that everybody makes it to the finish line with minimal exhaustion.

Though the informal clubs don’t have professional coaches, each of the clubs invite pacers for runs. (Photo courtesy: Mumbai Runners )

And the runners don’t draw the line at SCMM either. “I have been training for the marathon since August. The club has motivated me and I would definitely continue coming for the weekly runs even after January,” says Juhi Godambe (23), an NRC runner.