Sunday, August 31, 2008

நம்ம சென்னை Marathon - A Case Study on How Not To

நம்ம சென்னை Marathon - A Case Study on How Not To...

This is my fourth the so called Chennai Marathon. After each one I tell myself never again to run in Chennai but I relent telling myself this is after all நம்ம சென்னை and things will be different this time. But, this time was no different from the earlier ones. For a change, it had a promising start but failed on all fronts.

For some reason, marathons and Chennai don't seem to click and I know the reason. It is simple, none of the Chennai Marathons are organized by professionals or anyone who even is remotely associated with running. If they had even an iota of exposure to running or organizing an event of such a magnitude, things would have been different.. very different.

This marathon had a promising start. Tamil Maiyam, the group that organized Chennai Sangamam organized the marathon as well. With strong political support, funds wasn't an issue. In fact some reports suggest that they had over INR 15 crores at their disposal plus the official machinery. But what good can these funds do if the organizers don't know what to do with it?

But they did one thing very well and that is deriving media mileage. There was enough free air time for Chennai marathon and its organizers in print, radio and TV. This created unprecedented participation leading to crowd management issues at the starting and finish points. Other than the media blitz, everything from registration to communication to BIB distribution to run day arrangements was a mess.

BIB distribution: While the registration was fairly easy, actually there was no need for it. Anyone and everyone who wanted a BIB got one and in some cases more than one. When I called them, I was told the Paypal email was sufficient. So, it was upon the runners to figure out where, when and how to collect the BIBs. I spoke to the organizers personally and requested them to pay attention to the BIB distribution and start early but it hardly registered on them. There was no communication about BIB distribution even after repeated queries and I ended going to their Mylapore office a day earlier to collect the BIB. What I saw there was disturbing. There was no need for any prior registration, anyone could have just walked in and collected a BIB number which was being hotly printed and handed out to anyone who wanted one.

Start Time: Organizers had the celebrities and media in mind more than the runners when they fixed 6:30 AM as the start time. Anyone who has spent even just a day would know that Chennai gets extremely hot and humid and wouldn't want to put the runners thru the grueling heat. But then, Organizers had other things to care about as they wanted to ensure media and celebrity participation. What is even worse is that, they kept the runners waiting for the VIPs to arrive and give speeches before flagging off the run, which happened only around 6:45 AM.

Route: Credit must go to the organizers for keeping the unmanageable Chennai traffic at bay for well over 2 hours. But the narrow width reserved for the runners weren't enough to manage the sea of runners for the first 5+ kms. We ended jostling over each other for space and I hear there was mini stampede in the 7k run.

Volunteers: There was none to regulate the crowd and manage water points. Organizers should have tapped in to NCC for this purpose, but they chose to rely on Chennai Police who couldn't give adequate coverage other keeping the traffic at bay.

Water and refreshment: The arrangement was truly appalling. In the initial few water points, there was a heavy rush and runners were falling over each other to grab something. I was hoping the situation would gradually improve, but to my horror there were no water points on my return trek from Velankanni temple. There were some good samaritans from IOB giving out water from the nearby homes and stuff. Also, the used water bottles and plastic water sachets were thrown around everywhere and proved to be safety hazard for the runners. Several runners had to slow down to avoid slipping and getting injured.

Finish Point: For all the talk of separate enclosure and refereshments for the marathoners, there was no sign of finish point anywhere near Gandhi Statue. As I ran towards Gandhi Statue from AIR office, all I saw was a sea of humanity (7K runners) with absolutely no indication of finish line. I and another runner by name Vikas Grover asked around and finally decided to stop in front of Gandhi big vanakkam to Mahatma. we had enough..

At the finish point, all we needed was a place to stretch and some cold refreshment but got none.

It is pretty sad to see one youngster die due to possible cardiac arrest near the finish line. It might not have been possible to avoid these eventualities, but were the organizers prepared for one? I am doubtful as to how the emergency was handled. Immediate and urgent care is needed in those circumstances and I am not sure if Santosh got it.

Overall, the run was pretty badly managed and conducted. It is sad because Tamil Maiyam had the money and political clout to do a good job. It is sad beacuse, Father Jegath Gasper is a self proclaimed runner and he ought to know. It is sad because runners were treated as mere pawns in a larger game. It is sad because Chennai seems to be cursed when it comes to Marathons. Lastly, it is sad because I am sad and I live and love this city.

For the record, I finished the half marathon with a timing of 2:18:01.


  1. Very Nice Post Sir!

    It captures the essence of what is needed!

    If you handover something 100% to politicians and connected people, expect about 10% of it to be done!


  2. Well done Ram! I appreciate your spirit.

    It is a shame that Chennai is unable to organise Marathon.

  3. My close friend who ran the 21km was apalled at this mess.

  4. Ram,

    Good summary of the event. It is probably time that we convert one of the ECR runs next year to a marathon. I feel like it is clear that we are the only people in the city who can execute this job.

    If you are in Bangalore and if you want to do a run, call me - 900-8244-596.


  5. Ram, I was one of those unfortunate souls in the 7K run. The starting point was mentioned as Island grounds, but when we reached there, we were informed that it had been shifted to Munro Statues. So we walked nearly 2kms even before the 'run' started. The crowd was unbelievable. The organisers combined the 7k run and 5k run (for under 14) together. It was impossible for any one to run in the crowd. All we could manage was a fast paced walk. The water refreshment points consisted of one person placing a sack full of water sachets on the road and the crowd jumping in to grab one. This is my third road race in Chennai and was by far the worst.

    One solution would be to conduct the race in ECR.

  6. Ram,

    Really good gist of the fiasco.
    I'm looking forward to a marathon in Chennai that is organized by runners for the runners. All said and done, these non-running entities cannot understand the needs, convictions and emotions of a true runner....NEVER.

    Lets (Chennai Runners) pull together a good event soon! Distance doesn't matter...but dedication does!


  7. Chennai runners should make a petition to the organizers and to city their willingness to work with the organizers for improvement in the next one. The areas Chennai runners help is provide volunteers. Many of you have participated in several marathons in and outside the country.