On 30th January, my friends and I were out for a walk when I happened to spot an electronic billboard flashing the word marathon. By the time I had pointed it out to my friends, the billboard had refreshed to some other advertisement. We waited quite a bit before the advert for the Kolkata Marathon (www.kolkatamarathon.com) came up again.
This pretty much set up the theme for the Kolkata Marathon: not much to tom-tom about, and yet, not a bad thing, given that there are hardly any runs organised in the eastern part of the country.
The event website mentioned that the various race categories were 5km Fun Run, 15km and 42km full marathon. The route maps shown on the website were hand-drawn sketches, causing us to get a little worried about the level of professionalism of the organisers.
The next day, a friend and I went to the offices of the event organisers, High Life Management, located in the dilapidated, burnt down and eerie looking Stephen Court on Park Street. We wished to register for the 15km run. We filled up the registration form and were asked to come to Kennel Club on Mayo Road on the 7th of Feb (a day before the event) to collect our bibs. I asked how come there had been no buzz about the marathon and was told they had had an issue with placing an advertisement in the newspapers the week before.
In the week leading up to the event, I did see a couple of billboards spring up and there also were mentions about the run in The Telegraph, a media partner for the event.
Some time during the week, I got a call from the gentleman who had taken our registration forms, telling me that the venue for collecting the bibs had shifted to the Parsee Club, a couple of yards down Mayo Road itself.
However, on 7th of Feb (Saturday), my friends and I found the Parsee Club shut and not a soul around. Nor was there any notice put up. We realised the venue must’ve shifted back to the Kennel Club.
Sure enough, the Kennel Club was abuzz with activity. A group of old gentlemen were sitting at a desk set up under the shade of a tree, registering names and distributing a free t-shirt to every runner. “100% cotton!!” I was told sternly by the old gentleman, as if I wasn’t valuing the t-shirt enough as I took it from him. I don’t think I was able to hide my chuckle.
We were asked to go inside the tent to collect our bibs. I was told by my friend that the RFID tags to register runner’s timings on the bibs were being introduced only this time, the 8th edition of the Kolkata Marathon. I also met the gentleman who had called to inform me about the change in venue. I asked him how come he hadn’t called to inform us about the change in venue again. He blamed last minute changes but didn’t offer any reason or an apology for not calling back.
On the morning of the race, my friends and I struggled to find the gathering area for the start of the race. There were only one or two arrows pointing in the direction of empty fields and no volunteers whatsoever. We spotted a few participants and we together navigated our way over to the starting point. Only near the start line did we begin to see enough volunteers to ease our nerves.
The start of the race did get delayed by about twenty minutes, no one knows why.
A couple of things went funny during the race too.
For instance: there were volunteers standing at regular intervals with placards indicating the distance that had been covered. The 3 KM sign was held up somewhere near the 1.5 km mark, which caused a few runners (who weren’t using RunKeeper or some other tracking app) to pause in confusion for a few moments.
Another thing which greatly surprised most of us was that the route included running OVER the Chowringhee flyover!
Also, perhaps because of sponsorship issues, there were no energy drinks being handed out to runners at regular intervals but only bottles of water. I wonder how the full marathon guys coped with this and how they replenished themselves during the run.
I must commend Kolkata Police, though. They were pretty much on the job and ensured that the runners did not have to encounter any traffic en route. Well done KP!
At the finish line, apart from the large ‘FINISH’ stand, there was little else waiting for us. I had to ask around for where to head next. No cheering volunteers or bottles of water. You were lucky if you had picked up a bottle of water towards the end of your run. Thankfully, at least a medical tent had been set up to attend to runners who might need help.
We had been told at the time of registration itself that there were no medals for finishers, so we were ready to not be disappointed. However, we were also told that post the run, we would be given a “refreshment kit”. I had assumed it would be a fruit (banana/apple) or a small bottle of fruit juice to help with immediate recovery. Imagine our surprise then, when each of us was given a packet of noodles to take home!
Perhaps I am being extra critical of the event organisers because all the prior runs that I’ve participated in (TCS World 10k Bangalore 2014, Tata Steel 25km Kolkata 2014, Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2015) were all pretty well managed. But that is the reality that we live in: runners in India have now been exposed to better managed running events and it is now up to the organisers of the Kolkata Marathon to step up their game.