Even as the city celebrates the 16th edition of the Mumbai Marathon, Ayan Roy looks at what the race means to the city and vice versa

Mumbai is always on the run. From dawn to dusk, ‘dashing’ Mumbaikars are constantly on the move. It is thus, almost, inevitable that it is home to the iconic Mumbai Marathon, which in its 16th year has become synonymous with the city. The third Sunday of January is a date that most Mumbaikars have permanently marked on their calendars now, just like Ganpati festival or Diwali.

So it is that today sees over 46,000 runners take to Mumbai’s streets to fertilise it with their sweat and ensure the germination of many more marathoners.

Synonymous with the city

As Amit Murugkar, Chairperson of NGO Atma Education Trust, said, “Mumbai Marathon has become the integral part of Mumbaikars’ lives. From celebrities, industrialist, corporate leaders to the aam aadmi, everyone looks forward to January. It is a major social wellness festival. People proudly display their medals, certificates and talk about their achievements for months after the race. Mumbai likes to celebrate life and the marathon goes so well with the genes and culture of city that it became one within no time.”

Amit, who has participated in full marathons in New Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad apart from Mumbai, said, “This (Mumbai Marathon) has triggered a movement and now you see various running races across the city and suburbs. Throughout the year various groups keep up the preparation, corporate groups bond over running, NGOs bring alive the spirit of giving, in people.”

City runner Kranti Salvi, who participated in the Berlin Marathon in her nauvari and set a world record for being the ‘fastest marathoner in a sari’, said, “Mumbai Marathon showcases the city to the participants from abroad. It’s a spirit of Mumbai that is displayed on route by runners and alongside of the route by the spectators. For me, it’s the festival of all masses; it’s a celebration of Mumbai.”

The Malabar Hill-based IT enterprenuer, who has been participating in this event since 2012 every year without missing, added, “The Mumbai marathon is an event where people from all walks of life participate. The route also covers most of the major iconic monuments of Mumbai and is scenic as well as challenging due to hot and humid weather as well as the terrain.”

 Boon for charity

But the race isn’t only about the runners or medals, though, a lot of elite athletes will be competing for the prize money and course records.

It is also about giving back to the community. The marathon is the biggest philanthropic sporting platform in the country. The Marathon inspires people to ‘Be Better’ and over 1100 individuals raised Rs.11.73 crore through the Individual Fundraising Category even ahead of the race. This year over 176 corporates fielded 293 teams comprising of over 7,800 runners and helped raise Rs.16.54 crore for 91 NGOs pre-race day.

Vivek Singh, Joint MD, Procam International said, “One of the most important aspects of the Tata Mumbai Marathon has been the immense positive response from all sections of society to the event’s unique charity platform. The amount raised and the fundraisers have created new records every year, and the 2019 edition is no exception. We are extremely proud of our incredible journey with our philanthropy partners, United Way Mumbai, who have enabled the event to contribute in multiple ways to help society #BeBetter. We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to every individual who has worked towards this betterment and celebrate their commitment!”

Every year thousands participate for a cause, to raise funds for hundreds of NGOs. The amount of funds raised through the Marathon is growing every year. TMM is a great opportunity for organisations to bring their individual donors together, even young nouveau rich givers flock together for an organisation of choice. Apart from monetary benefits, many organisations also witness a rise in skilled volunteers. Many partnerships are forged, and collaborations and synergies between organisations take place, NGO names and causes also become household names due to exposure from the event. Overall it’s a big boon for charity.

Kranti Salve at the Berlin Marathon
Kranti Salve at the Berlin Marathon

 Cheering squad

The race displays the Mumbai spirit in another way – through the cheering squads on the sidelines as well. Mumbaikars in large numbers line the race route with water, glucose, biscuits and medicines to encourage and help the runners. Kranti, who will run along with her husband this year as well, added, “My running group from Girgaon (PinkathonGirgaon) whom I train are going to have a cheer zone on Marine Drive, at the 38-39 km mark. This is the point where most marathoners need such support. These women are going to wear the Nauvaris and cheer with the sound of cow bells!”

She though won’t be running in her famous nauvari this year. “I will run (in a nauvari) again if someone breaks my record,” she said with a laugh. She added, “The nauvari has become so popular that the traders have even started calling a sari that I draped for the Berlin Marathon, the ‘Berlin Nauvari’. And it’s been selling all over Maharashtra. Small girls want to wear it. Many women want to run in it. There are some women who ran from Pune to Mumbai in Nauvari, too.”

And that’s the point of the race – It celebrates the people and their unique traits.

 Wellness revolution

The marathon has also led to a wellness revolution, at least in the city, with many off-shoot events being organised throughout the suburbs. Amit said, “It’s like a chain reaction. Many of my friends started running (after the inaugural marathon) and in turn inspired other friends too. ‘Main chala, log saath aate gaye karvan banta gaya’. This brought in regularity in the health and fitness routine for many. Some of them excelled and achieved various milestones in races across the world including Boston Marathons, NY Marathon, Iron man challenge, etc.”

He added, “It certainly boosted the overall growth of the wellness industry, from shoes, apparel, accessories, wrist bands to nutrition-fitness consulting, gyms and health apps. Mumbai marathon has led to a wellness revolution. People effortlessly use words like BMI, body age, fat percentage, calories in the food, count the number of steps in a day, etc. It certainly raised the bar on awareness around overall wellness.”

Kranti echoed the thoughts when she said, “Mumbai Marathon is the main race of the year for me and my family. Our travel, social meets, everything is planned with a focus on this race. Our nutrition and lifestyle as well.”

 Inclusive field

It will be a new experience for Kuldip Nalkane, who will be taking part in the marathon for the first time. The 18-year-old, among the youngest to take part in the full marathon, was extremely excited. He, though, has no idea of the scale of the event. Having taken part in only one other marathon in his district, he is just here for the experience and to absorb the atmosphere. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t competitive. Kuldip is part of a group of 151 tribal athletes from Naxal-affected Gondia and Gadchiroli districts of Maharashtra. And that’s also what the Mumbai Marathon is about – inclusiveness. From Anil Ambani to Kuldip Nalkane to Kranti Salvi, the wellness festival welcomes one and all. If you weren’t a part of it this year, you better be next year.