Rising earlier than the sun, donned in sports T-shirts and branded tracksuits, they run miles in their flashy shoes while their trainer keeps track of the time. A few hours later, they hit the gym and challenge the weights while their nutritionist keeps track of the calories.
The routine may be mistaken as just another day in the life of a professional athlete, but this is the regimen being followed by hundreds of Mumbaiites as they prepare for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2011, which will be held on January 16.
What’s more, many of them have been following this routine for months, thanks to the ‘marathon culture’ the event introduced to Mumbai in 2004.
The statistics show that the marathon’s popularity has grown as fast as the malls and skyscrapers sprouting across the city.
In 2004, its first year, 22,200 participated in the marathon. By 2008, that number had surged to 33,200. This year, an estimated 38,400 are expected to run.
“Over the years, people have become more enthusiastic about the marathon,” said Mandar Pandya, head of operations, Procam International, the event’s organisers. “Earlier, people used to approach it as a just another fun-event, but over the years they have become serious about it and are looking upon it as a sporting event.”
One benefit of this heightened popularity has been the amount of money raised for charity.
In 2009, Giveindia, the marathon’s then official charity partner, amassed Rs 6.75 crore with the help of 104 non-governmental organisations. If that sounded promising, the Rs 9.16 crore collected in 2010 was stupendous. This year, the collections are expected to rise even higher.
But the evolution of the marathon is not restricted to the numbers.
CHANGES, TURNING POINTS
The marathon has come a long way in its organisational structure. The 2010 edition saw separate starts for the half and full marathons.
Post-26/11, the pressure to organise a fool-proof security cover is well and truly on.
“There would be no stone unturned to ensure a safe marathon,” said the KMM Prasanna, deputy commissioner of police (Zone 9). “We are coordinating with various departments. There would anti-sabotage teams and adequate cover for the sea link.”
The biggest boost for the marathon’s brand image came last year. The sprawling Bandra-Worli sea link, opened in 2009, found a place on the route in 2010.
“Last year can be rightly called the turning point, thanks to sea link. With its induction into the route, the event’s glamour quotient surged,” said Pandya
“If you look the Istanbul, London and other marathons, there are breathtaking settings. Though we always had the beautiful Haji Ali and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus on the route, the sea link gave us a shot in the arm as far the image abroad goes,” he added.
Last year, there was also some friction between the organisers and the athletics federation, with the latter demanding more than the 10% prize money (Rs 13.8 lakh then) they were entitled to.
The standoff prompted the International Association of Athletics Federations to intervene and give its go-ahead for the marathon.
But perhaps the biggest effect the marathon has had on the city is how citizens perceive it. There is no greater proof than the number of special training centres that have sprouted up to help aspiring runners.
For example, the Nike Run Club (NRC), a Nike-sponsored project has a special programme for marathon runners.
“We give them multi-level training around the year, which includes cardio, cycling, basic runs and cycling. We also hire nutritional experts to guide them on their diets,” said Daniel Vaz, a 19-time marathon runner who is now a trainer with the NRC.
The marathon has in the past been termed a commercial stunt and the training centres opportunistic businesses. But nobody denies that it has converted many into fitness freaks.
“I was never a sportsperson. In fact, I had never run in any competition. But now, I run the full marathon,” said Francis Xavier, a 64-year-old interior designer from Andheri.