Deepthi Velkur continues her conversation with Rajesh Vetcha on how Hyderabad Runners mentors other running groups across the country.
FM: How is HR setup as an organization to manage and mentor other running groups around India?
Rajesh: My New York city experience had completely opened up my mind on running and in 2009 during a visit to the USA, I made my first visit to the office of New York Road Runners (NYRR) which organizes the New York Marathon.
After a few visits, I met Mr.Cliff Sperber, the person in charge of the children’s running programme called “Mighty Milers” and requested him to let us replicate this programme in Hyderabad. Later on, I also met Mary Wittenberg, the President of NYRR who was an inspiring lady and who transformed the New York Marathon.
In 2011, we signed a 3-year MOU with the New York Road Runners(NYRR), the largest running group who mentored, supported and guided us in many ways including the Children’s program for which we did a pilot project and was successful too. We, however, could not take it forward for various reasons including lack of resources both monetary and manpower.
Amongst the learnings from NYRR, it was clear that to enable growth we needed to have a structure in place, hire employees to run it and so in 2012, the search began to look for people to join us. We had a couple of people join but they did not last long because they had other interests.
I realized that unless there is a career path for the person, it would be difficult and worked around that to create by giving a prospective employee a chance to visit USA, visit NYRR office, run a marathon, undergo training with Bill Pierce, one of the top marathon coaches and also undergo a certification with Road Running Clubs of America. All these gave him the confidence to choose a career in running.
We got a small office space and hired our first employee in 2015 and currently have 3 employees. We are the first in the country to institutionalize running and all on a Not for Profit model.
During the last four years, we have been doing our best to put proper systems and processes in place. It has been rather difficult but moving ahead slowly.
It is really tough to manage a whole lot of issues since we have only a few employees and heavily depend on volunteering. We have had mixed experience when it comes to volunteering. Initially, it was highly unreliable but over the years it has improved and we hope it becomes as reliable like paid employees.
Seeing our event and our model of running we have a lot of requests from running groups across the country. We have been helping them by sharing our knowledge and expertise of our journey so far.
We are happy to have been associated with running groups across the country in some manner or other in helping them set up, organize events or any other related activity. They include Chennai, Coimbatore, Kochi, Bhopal, Surat, Pune, Ahmedabad, etc., to name a few.
Most of this is done on a voluntary basis and it gives us immense satisfaction to see them grow and do so well. The relationship with all these groups is symbiotic.
We (Finisher Magazine) had the opportunity to talk to individuals from other running groups who have been associated with Rajesh in his capacity both as a runner and an organizer. This is what some of them had to say,
Senthil from Chennai runners- “We started running together in Chennai. It was great working with him and I gained a lot of inputs, insights and we continue to exchange thoughts, ideas on how we could offer a better experience to the runner, how to make our events better, etc. It’s amazing that he went to Hyderabad and started a running group there and I can easily say that it is one of the best and well-organized marathons today. It has the community, government and police participation which are critical for any marathon event. It is definitely one of the most well appreciated running events, it has its own charm and identity given that Hyderabad is quite famous for its flyovers. Also, Rajesh has brought in corporate culture and style to his running group which we would like to try and emulate in our group as well.
It’s not only about organizing a marathon but having started a group, growing along with it and keeping the flock together is something that he has achieved to a great extent. We collaborate and work as one combined family and the Hyderabad runners have always been very supportive of us and likewise, we have too”
Mahesh Narkar from Pune Runners- “When we started to do PRB, Rajesh came down and shared his experiences on things like how to prepare for an event, what to look out for etc. We genuinely appreciated this insight as well as their willingness to share information and knowledge, best practices and share what worked and did not work for them. That is true of all the running communities in India. As a senior runner, he is a very non-controversial runner and that is true of the Hyderabad Runners as a group as well. To be able to grow the business in such a manner is a quantum leap of change from where we all started”
Ramesh Kanjilimadham from Soles of Cochin- “I met Rajesh at the Hyderabad Marathon in 2013. The people and volunteers were very friendly and it left a mark on us. It was definitely one of the better experiences of running in India. I had returned from overseas and participated in a few marathons prior to this and didn’t like the experience we had there. So after having run the Hyderabad Marathon, it was a welcome change for me and that got me curious to find out more about the club and Rajesh. We started our club in 2013 and I was constantly in touch with Rajesh on getting the guidance of how you to form a club, getting it popularized, how to make running more popularized and get more people to take up the sport. We started our marathon in 2014 called the Spice Coast Marathon and organized the run that year without any sponsorship. Rajesh really hand-held and guided us during the few months of organizing the marathon. He gave us tips on how to go ahead with registration, what to prioritize, how to get volunteers, etc. It’s been a wonderful experience getting his insights on that. From then on, we go to Hyderabad for their event and they come down during our event and it has worked mutually.
We both love running and have the same principles of running and it’s not about the money making, recognition, fame but just about the sport itself and busting the myth that running is harmful to your legs. That’s been our experience and it has been wonderful”.
Prakash from Kumbakonam group- “Rajesh and myself have known each other through running. We met somewhere in 2006-2007 when we were a part of a Hyderabad run that was organized by another group. Post that Rajesh started the Hyderabad Runners group and the Hyderabad Marathon. My team and I started the Kumbakonam Marathon in 2014. Right from its inception, Rajesh has been instrumental in helping out by connecting us with the online team on various aspects like registration of the event, registering of online participants for the event, insurance, the safety of the people during the event and other key disclaimers. Such aspects were really helpful for us as these areas are something that we tend to overlook. He was the one who brought in the culture of organizing the event in a very systematic and organized fashion. When I ran the Hyderabad marathon, that experience gave me a lot of insight into organizing events on a large scale. We try and emulate the same in our marathon and try and give the best experience we can to the runners”.
Ramesh from Coimbatore runners had this to say- “My association with Rajesh goes back more than 10 years now when I was part of the Chennai runners’ group. In 2011, I moved to Coimbatore and in 2012, I started a running group called “Coimbatore runners” with the same vision as Hyderabad runners basically creating a platform to bring runners together. I was approached by the Coimbatore Cancer Association to come up with a marathon aimed at bringing awareness to the foundation and while I did have experience with organizing marathons in Chennai, I nevertheless reached out to Rajesh as well for guidance considering his vast experience. He was very generous with his time and was very free with sharing his knowledge, best practices and information. Rajesh and his team are one of the benchmarks for both runners and organizers alike and he is one of my go-to guys when organizing an event”.
Nishant Warwade from Bhopal runners– “Rajesh and his team of Hyderabad runners have been our technical mentors since the inception of Bhopal runners and its flagship event run Bhopal run from 2015.
Rajesh and his team helped Bhopal runners to understand the entire gamut of running activities by way of providing framework and counsel to promote health as a way of life and running as a preferred form of physical activity”.
Dr. Pranav Desai, founder of Surti runners and Race Director of Surat City Half MARATHON AND Valsad City Half Marathon(SCHM was voted best Marathon of the year 2018 by MRR in their annual awards night in Mumbai)- “I had started running in 2008 in Surat. My wife and I were the first couple to start running marathons in the city.
In 2010 another friend Dr. Kalpesh registered me for Athens marathon and someone gave me Rajesh’s contact saying he could help me with visa and all that as he was taking a big contingent to Athens. That is how I came in touch with him.
We met in Athens and he helped us selflessly. Hyderabad runners were organizing their first edition next year, we were invited and went there and were very happy to run an excellent and well-organized event for runners by runners with a stadium finish which was a first in India.
Meanwhile, I had formed a group “Surti Runners” in Surat which had no fees and was a nonprofit group to inspire and guide amateur runners. Hyderabad Runners was the inspiration for Surat City Half Marathon which we organized in 2015 and Rajesh guided us well as we were also organizing a not for profit event for runners by runners. Rajesh also came and ran in our first edition.
He is a selfless guy and my role model so to say in how to run a not for profit group and marathon”.