Heritage walks, move over. Because it is time to run. On September 23, it will be a date with Hyderabad’s heritage for over 800 runners. The over 400-year-old history of the city will be covered as part of a 42.195 km long marathon.
What makes the Hyderabad heritage marathon special is that it is the only one of its kind in India. Its first edition attracted 800 runners, 60 of them foreigners. There were a significant number of amateurs interested in exploring the past on the move as well.
This year too, before the crack of dawn at 5 am, when most of Hyderabad will be asleep, the marathon will start from the Chowmohalla Palace, one of the finest palaces built by the Nizam of Hyderabad and end at the Qutab Shahi tombs around noon. Enroute will be monuments that define Hyderabad – the Charminar, Mecca Masjid, City College, High court, Moazzamjahi market, Assembly building and Golconda Fort.
What is so special about a heritage marathon when there are city marathons galore in different Indian cities? For one, the theme. The Great Wall marathon or the marathon through the vineyards in France or the LA marathon through Hollywood studios are how different cities and countries showcase their USP. Which is what gave Uma Chigurupati, the chairperson of the Hyderabad Heritage Marathon the idea to have a blast from the past. A slice of Hyderabad. Bole to, Hyderabadi touch.
Uma herself is an accomplished marathon runner. She and her husband, Krishna Prasad have in fact, made it a habit to be on the run, most of the time. They figure in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only Indian couple to have completed marathons in seven continents (including the tough Antarctica) in seven months in 2010 and also run on the even more tough North Pole.
Being an experienced runner, Uma says the thrill of running through the empty streets of the city, with the cheering crowds on the side is an exhilirating feeling. Uma and Krishna Prasad, have done a series of adventure marathons, that included the blazing Gobi desert in Mongolia, where all they could see were camels and carcasses. Or the Lewa National Park in Kenya, where they had only animals for company.
Which is why when someone asked Uma the total length of a full marathon, she replied pronto, “42.195 km”.
“Did you google it?” the person asked.
“No, we ran it,” she replied with a grin.
Hyderabad had its first date with running in 2003 with a 10K run around the Husainsagar lake. But the Heritage marathon is for runners made of sterner stuff. Unlike the 5K and 10K runs that are more fun and attract over 14000 participants, the Heritage marathon is a more professional event. It adheres to standards prescribed by the Association of International Marathons and Road Races, which also sends its representatives to Hyderabad to measure the distance and certify the event.
Actor-model Milind Soman who ran in Hyderabad last year, tried to replicate the event in Uttar Pradesh, given the Mughal heritage of a place like Agra. But the idea did not quite take off. What an event like Heritage marathon needs is synergy between sport lovers and those interested in heritage tourism. And unlike most marathons which depend on celebrities to run to give it that star status, marathons like these have steered clear.
“I never believed in celebrities running. For me, every runner is a celebrity,” says Uma. And every runner will be made to feel special, with a horde of photographers at every heritage site, available to click the runner against the monument for posterity. The idea is to create awareness about the city’s heritage, with the help of write-ups about the monuments and connect Hyderabad’s young with its sepia past.
The city’s topography, however, is a hurdle. The last two and a half km of the marathon is an upward gradient and there were a few murmurs from runners last year who found the going tough as the end drew near. The Marathon organisers have therefore given half an hour extra to accommodate the tired legs. And since the day is the fifth day of the immersion of the Ganesh idols, the road around the Husainsagar Lake will be skipped.
With a prize money of one lakh rupees each to the Indian winner and the foreign participant winner, Hyderabad Heritage Marathon promises to be a calender event. And a Hyderabad more aware about marathons and its history.