Hitting the track: Delhi’s marathons post pandemic

With the new fitness trends and challenges coming in, the love for running remained consistent. Runners clubs and other groups have tried to keep this interest alive among all age groups

Credit: Getty

Marathon has its roots in ancient Greece, where Pheidippides, a professional messenger, delivered the message of Greece’s victory over the Persian army from the plains of Marathon to Athens. Later, the Athens Olympics included the marathon, with the same distance — 42 km — that Pheidippides had run, as a separate event.

Like several countries across the world, India too succumbed to the marathon bug when various leading companies and organisations started hosting long-distance running events. According to India Running, an online community for sports enthusiasts, 2019 witnessed over 1579 marathons across India in all forms of races. Based on the data cited on the website, a total of five on-ground marathon events and three virtual events were listed in Delhi -NCR region in May 2022. 

These on-ground races were not being held due to the pandemic between 2020-22. In this context was born the idea of holding virtual marathons.

“Virtual marathon events enable the participants across the nation to run from the comfort of their home or gym. The participants can choose the distance, and when they complete the race, they have to submit their track record. Once it’s verified, we send them a medal via courier”, said Sarita Tanwar, manager at Omega Events, which conducts virtual fitness events.

On 29 May, Omega Events is organising the ‘Vande Mataram’ virtual marathon. Tanwar said that the aim of such virtual events is to create awareness and improve the fitness of each individual.

Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and the Ageas Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon are the major marathon events in Delhi, which occur between November and March. Apart from these, there are other events which focus on specific causes and fundraisers. 

Albeit the virtual events enabled people to keep track of their fitness during the pandemic, as more on-ground events are coming up, let’s look into the opinions of runners.

“I think they were very popular during the lockdown. Earlier, the running events were primarily on the ground. Virtual events took the lead when Covid-19 prevented people from gathering around. The main on-ground events are coming back and people are responding to it very well”, said Balwinder Singh of the Gurgaon Runners group (GRG). The group was founded in 2018 by Singh and Mahek Kapoor. Both of them are ultra runners and fitness coaches. With more than 350 active members, the group is in touch with over 5000 runners around NCR.

Credit: GRG

Singh said that virtual events were organised even before the pandemic, such as the GGRP Bisaki challenge organised by their group. It was a 13km-13 days virtual running event during Baisakhi. 

Running events are usually held early in the morning. There are different categories starting from 3 km up to 42 km — the full marathon distance. But the most popular format is the half marathon which is 21 km. The event starts between 5 am to 6 am. 

To run the full marathon, runners typically take four to five hours. Even in winter, marathons are conducted in the early morning because of the weather and traffic. The traffic needs to be controlled to make it easy for both runners, as well as vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

“Marathons take place on Sundays because early morning traffic is less then. From the organisers’ point of view, early Sunday morning is more preferable as they have to make less traffic management”, added Singh.

“I completed my first virtual marathon in 2020, for an introverted person like me doing these tasks at my own time and pace is really encouraging. I’ve participated in many of these events organised by Omega events, like any ordinary person receiving these medals and trophies boosts my energy”, said Megha who participates in virtual events.

She also said that, for a person who needs motivation or a push to do anything unlike the on-ground marathoners who are already active, virtual events are the best option. The sense of fulfilment you get after receiving the medal is really encouraging. These events are a great initiative to improve your fitness, the participant can complete the event in their own comfort without waking up early, going to the location and running along with others. For a working professional who wants to do something apart from their job, these events are a great option.

Trophies won by Megha

One of the runners from GRG, Varun, says, “I started running seven years back, and the main idea was to lose weight. Eventually, I enjoyed running and started taking it more seriously in a more structured manner. I connected with like-minded people. Seeing others run, I was able to increase my distance from 5 km to 10 km and later to 21 km and finally to the full marathons.

Varun ran his first full marathon in 2017 in Mumbai. “For me, it still remains the best experience till date. For the last two years, we have been doing a lot of virtual events, but I think, any runner would prefer a live event compared to a virtual event. The live event gives the feel, atmosphere and the chance of meeting other runners. I’ve done five to six virtual events, but the excitement has died down.”

Speaking about the timing of the marathons, Singh says, “At present, there are marathons happening across the country, but the peak time is between August to March. Runners strive to improve their speeds. Runners prefer winters, as there’s a greater possibility during this season to finish their runs quicker.”

While talking about the effect the pandemic had on the participants, Singh said that after the second wave, people were really worried. 

“But with the third wave, people have become more comfortable. It’s not always about the government protocols, it is about how comfortable people are feeling. People are now turning up for on-ground events and the numbers are good. Events are also getting back to their charm, which is a positive sign. There are also people who wear masks during the run. Generally, after Covid-19, people take self precautions. Like, if they are not feeling well, they won’t come to the gatherings. They have become more responsible.”

The most common age category seen is above 35, but there may be few in the early thirties.

For Aparna, who is also an active member of GRG, weight loss was the initial cause to start running. She started participating in marathons with her husband, who’s a marathon runner. She added that a clean diet, cross-training and strength training are the best ways to attain stamina. 

“Five years back, I did my first 10 km at the Goa River Marathon and I really loved the feeling of running a marathon. Gradually, I turned from a half marathoner to a full marathoner. I ran my full marathon in 2018 at the Goa River marathon. To keep me motivated during the pandemic, I participated in virtual events like 100 days of running, Airtel Delhi half marathon and other events”, said Aparna.

She says that more women participants are interested in 5 km and 10 km marathons now. “Lot of women are still hesitant to do 42km as it requires a lot of training, hard work and time. Along with managing work, home and training simultaneously, it is a challenge for women”, concluded Aparna. 

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