Deepthi Velkur continues her conversation with Rajesh Vetcha about Hyderabad runners club and his plans on institutionalising running in India in the second part of the story.
Catch the first part of this conversation at Running for Life with Rajesh Vetcha – Part 1
FM: The Hyderabad runners were the first city running group to host a marathon (the Hyderabad marathon). What was it like to take on this daunting task? Any major roadblocks along the way?
Rajesh: The running group was initially a google group and we always let this group grow organically.Anyone who wanted to run or hook up with a running partner found Hyderabad Runners. The group travelled together for marathons to other cities and became a very close-knit group comprising of nearly 1500 online members by 2010.
30 runners from our group travelled for the Athens Marathon in 2010 and it was the 2500thyear of the original marathon by Pheidippides. We all came back with a keen interest to organize a marathon in Hyderabad.
We first registered ourselves as a society in October 2010 and slowly started working towards organizing our first marathon in 2011. From registration to finding volunteers, getting permissions from various authorities to raising sponsorships to route planning was an uphill task. To add to this, the agitation for a separate state of Telangana was at its peak and in hindsight, to start something of this kind was a perfect recipe for failure.
It was the first marathon in the country that had a different start and end point instead of a loop system. Looking back, it was one the best decision we made although it stretched our resources. This is because the city has grown so much and it block traffic for a long time is difficult for all stakeholders. We have seen a surge in the number of participants from the first year (1100 people in 2011) to 22000 people in 2018.
If I had known that we will be faced with as many issues to be handled ourselves, we might not have attempted it. We were very lucky to have our first event incident free. The satisfaction was felt when people walked up to us congratulating us for a well-organized event.
The first three years was a struggle on all fronts but in 2014 once the new state was formed, there was certainty and government started supporting our event and since then there has been no looking back.
The event has gone through several changes. For the first three years, we had a relay marathon apart from the half and full marathons. In 2014, we added a 5K instead of a relay. 2015 was our 5thyear, we had 5 events – 3K, 5K on Saturday and 10K, HM and FM on Sunday with the 10K starting at a different point and the HM and FM at a different point and all the runs culminating in one place. In 2016, we dropped the 3K run.
Our current format is that we have an expo on Friday and Saturday. Start with a 5K run on Saturday followed by a 10K, HM and FM on Sunday.
Hyderabad Runners(HR) which was set up with the idea of encouraging people to adopt active lifestyles and make it as a preferred form of fitness activity became the first running group in the country to organize a city marathon.
FM: Apart from just organizing marathons, the Hyderabad Runners also undertake training for those interested? How do you go about devising a training plan for runners?
Rajesh: In 2014-15, we realized it is not just about events or organizing the Hyderabad marathon, but we need to do more than that. So, we focused on developing a training module for various people who wanted to get started with running, improve the running and also create an eco-system for support by providing information on other stakeholders such as doctors, physios, trainers, etc.,
We broadly work on three areas:
- Advocacy– We are constantly making people aware of what we do through talks and workshops. We work towards encouraging people to lead active, healthy lifestyles and hand hold them to achieve this through running. We reach out to a lot of organizations which include corporates, educational institutions, NGOs, Resident Welfare Associations, Governmental agencies, etc., to see how we can create active lifestyles through running
- Training- We have training modules such as the ‘Couch-to-5k’ plan which we do for corporates, various communities, and novice-to-advanced marathon training programs. We also have outdoor training programs for kids as it is important to inculcate an active lifestyle at a very young age.
- Events- We organize the Hyderabad marathon, a club run which is the end of the season run. We also organize a Kids Run in the last week of December, a women’s day run and a costume run for fun.
While there has been a lot of work which has gone in the last 8 years, we still have a long way to go. To be honest, we are here probably 55% by default and 45% by design. We did a lot of things as we were evolving. In the future, we want to be more structured and develop a strategy on how we go about and hence the thought of institutionalizing running.
FM: What was the main idea of The RUNdezvous newsletter kicking off?
Rajesh:The main idea behind this newsletter is to be able to communicate regularly about what we do to our stakeholders/audience. The publication stopped nearly 9 months ago due to various reasons. We hope to start again, probably with some rebranding and if required with the help of an external agency.
FM: Your idea to institutionalize running in India, how far do you think you have come with this? What more do you see changing in the coming years?
Rajesh: On a scale of 10, I would say 4.5 – 5.0. I’m hopeful that in a few years’ time we will be able to achieve our dream of institutionalizing running across India. We are constantly striving
towards creating a healthier and active population across Hyderabad and ensuring that running becomes a way of life.
We also strongly believe that a marathon is just not a sporting event but a big community event that brings people together that cuts across all barriers and we have to make it as inclusive as possible.