“As I was warming up for the 21 kilometre event last year, at the Mumbai Marathon, I saw three suave and cheerful gentlemen stretching their muscles nearby,” says Mahendra Chiplunkar, former table-tennis international and now coach. “I was amazed when one of them told me their ages; my eyes went moist and out of sheer respect, I touched their feet.” The most jovial among them was 85, and the others — who were quite cheery as well — were in their late 70s!
Chiplunkar, who has participated in all 14 editions of the Mumbai Marathon – earlier The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon which is now The Tata Mumbai Marathon, believes that the event is a true-to-life representation of the maximum city. “I am a Chhatrapati awardee,” says the celeb paddler, “but it is the senior citizens, the handicapped persons and the other men and women of the city – from all walks of life – who have made this the world event it is today. They are the ones who deserve awards.”
“The Mumbai Marathon represents the spirit of Mumbai,” says Dr A Kumarswamy, a prominent city dentist and implantologist, who has been a regular participant in the ‘Dream Run’ event over the years. “More and more world-class marathoners are now part of the event. But the real winners, if you ask me, are the ordinary Mumbaikars who display such enthusiasm and add festive fervour to the run.”
He says that it is heart-warming to see entire families taking part in the event. It is, for him, a sort of a ‘family’s days out’, with some members participating and a few egging them on.
With a mischievous grin, the good doctor also adds, “Where else will you find Bollywood stars and celebrities standing aside and cheering you as you jog along? For me it is a VIP moment!”
Former fast bowler Vijay Alva runs a fitness academy at Shivaji Park. A fitness fanatic himself, he has run the 21 kilometre race at every Mumbai Marathon since its inception in 2004. “The event has been a boon to Mumbaikars in the sense that daily workouts have now become a part of people’s lifestyles. It has created awareness about the benefits of health and fitness, and feeling good about oneself,” he says.
Though Alva’s academy doesn’t train people specifically for the marathon, he says that quite a few of his trainees participate in the half-marathon, and other road-races and ultra-marathons all over the country. “We do cross-fit training, six days a week. Marathon running is just one of the benefits that my trainees derive from the workouts,” adds the cricketer-turned-trainer.
“In the past, we had at least 15 members participating in the 42 kilometre run, but this year we shall have only four in the gruelling event,” he says. “Most of them aren’t professional athletes but participate to improve their timings. They compete against themselves – it’s a personal battle.”
“On Sunday, I shall be running the half-marathon with a bunch of my trainees. My primary focus will be to set the pace and encourage them to slash a few minutes from their best timings. That will not only make them feel good but will also help motivate them to work harder in the months to come,” says Alva.
A property of Procam International Pvt Ltd., now sponsored by the Tatas, the 2018 Mumbai Marathon is expected to attract around 44,000 participants. 14 years ago, the participation level barely touched 20,000 athletes – both professional and amateur.
The different events that will commence from various places in the city on 21 January will be the Marathon (42.194 kilometres), Half Marathon (21.097 kilometres), Dream Run (6 kilometres), Senior Citizens Race (4.3 kilometres), Champions with Disability category (2.4 kilometres) and the Timed 10K run (newly added).
The Mumbai event is now Asia’s largest marathon and its biggest mass participation event. Besides, it is the richest race in the country with a prize of $405,000 on offer. The face of the event is Bollywood actor John Abraham and the international ambassador of the Mumbai Marathon for 2018 is legendary pole-vaulter, Sergey Bubka, who during an illustrious career set 35 world records.
Event ambassadors in the past have included ‘hall of famers’ like Michael Johnson, Steve Ovett, Linford Christie, Gail Devers, Haile Gebrselassie, Marion Bartolli, and Ed Moses, besides our very own Vijay Amritraj and Anju Bobby George.
Some of the world-class marathoners who have won the event include John Kelai (Kenya), Jackson Kiprop (Uganda) and Gideon Kipketer (Kenya) in the men’s section and Mulu Seboka (Ethiopia), Yang Fengxia (China) and Valentine Kipketer (Kenya) in the women’s section. Kenyans Gideon and Valentine Kipketer hold the record for the fastest timings over 42 kilometres in the Mumbai Marathon.
One of the top marathons in the world, the event also provides an international platform for philanthropic activity. Managed by United Way Mumbai, the event’s philanthropy partners, over Rs 196 crore have been raised by more than 55 NGOs through their participation in the Mumbai Marathon over the last 14 years.
The event has also brought to the forefront, during the last decade and a half, some extremely heart-touching human interest stories. The story for 2018 could be that of a chartered accountant who not only survived a fall from a building but also defeated cancer to become a participant of the 42 kilometre run on Sunday. Such is the stuff that Mumbaikars are made of.
Fitness trainer Alva says that the Mumbai Marathon has been successful in changing the fitness mindset of the entire city. “The organisers, however, have a lot more to do if India has to produce world-class athletes; especially marathoners,” he feels.
The promotions for the Mumbai Marathon begin only a few months before the event takes place on the third Sunday of January. “With so much at stake, the various partners of the property, in conjunction with Tatas, could have year-long programmes like train-the-trainers, athletics and fitness programmes for schools, talks and discussions involving top Olympians and what have you,” opines Alva. “This would help Indian athletics in the long run.”
It was only a couple of weeks ago that the city fathers were directed by the courts to grant permission for the Mumbai Marathon to be held. The contentious issues had been fees to be paid to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the display of publicity posters, besides putting up water kiosks on the city’s streets during the event.
It would perhaps be advantageous, in future, for Procam International Pvt Ltd to make BMC a partner in the high-profile event. After all, the Mumbai Marathon now belongs to the city of Mumbai and its people!
Come Sunday, Dr Kumarswamy will not be a participant of the ‘Dream Run’, for the first time in many years, because of a back muscle strain. Be sure to find him in the crowd, though, cheering his fellow Mumbaikars as the event rolls on!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, he is also a coach, sports administrator and a mental toughness trainer
Updated Date: Jan 20, 2018 13:22:47 IST