Monday, January 21, 2013

Mumbai Marathon: A few suggestions

There is something unique and wonderful about running the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). The event has grown in size steadily over the last 10 years to become a premier event in the world running calendar. The large numbers of people that line up the streets do make it an expressive carnival that Mumbaikars take immense pride in. And the event has grown in terms of the numbers of participants that run the various races that make up the SCMM. These are only a part of what makes the event a riot of colour, noise, participation and an expression of togetherness. 

Since the addition of the Bandra-Worli Sealink the course is also quite wonderful. The many extended flat segments, the 4km Sealink, the run along Queen's Necklace and the gentle inclines make it quite a nice course to run without being either too difficult or too challenging. The good parts more than make up for the stench that a runner is hit with along a few segments of the run. The entire course is closed to traffic and that is a definite plus. The volunteers and organizers are extremely polite and highly focused. 

Although it is a serious run for many people, there is much fun to be had. It is definitely one of the better organised races in India; perhaps even the best. I wrote a blogpost on my own experiences running the SCMM2013 earlier today.

Yet, I do believe that the event must be better organised. Here are a few suggestions I have for the organisers and runners.

Portaloos at the start point:
Five portable toilets (portaloos) for men and five for women at the starting point is just not enough please. There were a few more portaloos along the course as soon as we started the half marathon run, but most runners gather at the start point at least half an hour in advance and do not want to hold their stuff in them for longer than is necessary. The loo queue was way too long in my view. I hate writing this and I'd hate to be the reader of what I am about to write, but after waiting in queue for 15 minutes, the loo I went in to was filled with unpleasant stuff. Why? Because there was no water for the guy(s) that had used the loo before me. So the lack of enough portaloos and the lack of water makes it a massive double fail in my books. Why can't we get this aspect of hygiene right? Ever?

Water station at the start point:
Runners spend nearly half an hour in the holding bay at the start. Few runners got water with them. A water station at the holding bay will not go awry. Runners preparing to move towards the start line need to hydrate properly.

Mark the water stations please:
The Mumbai marathon has plenty of water stations and this is a big plus. However, as a runner I do not know when the next one is going to come up. It should not be too much of a hassle to mark our the water stations clearly with a banner that makes it easily recognisable from at least 100m out. A blue dot that sticks out (say) 3m high will mark the water station out distinctly. Depending on which side of the road the banner is, runners who need the water can then line themselves up to either on the right or the left side of the road as they approach the station. The last thing you want to see is runners cutting across your path from right to left (or the other way) the moment they realise they may just be about to cross a water station.

Crowd management at the finish line:
The finish line has always been chaos central in the SCMM and this keeps getting more and more chaotic with each passing year; simply because the numbers keep increasing. It would be great to see better organisation and better crowd dispersion management controls at the finish line. The absence of portaloos at the finish line was a source of severe disappointment. After having consumed copious amounts of liquid -- a mixture of water and isotonic drinks -- I was hopping around after my finish -- not from pain but from a distinct desire to not have an embarrassing accident. 

Telephone capacity:
This is less to do with the organisers and more to do with the telephone carriers. All runners were desperately trying to contact their family or friends to let them know they were fine; that they had completed. Many of them may have wanted to organise their ride home. Few phones worked. The fact that the telephone companies could not organise additional capacity on the day was a major fail in my books. 

Runner etiquette:
Apart from the BO index (especially near the start line) being insanely high, the main problem I had with my fellow runners was that they'd drop their water bottles in the middle of the road after finishing with it. If you can't find a bin, do fling the bottle to the side of the road and against the pavement. Two reasons mainly. Firstly, this makes it easier for the cleanup operation. But more importantly, it makes for a clearer path for the the slower runners and the elite marathoners who would trod the track later. However, I found many a half-finished water bottle, a half finished orange or assorted rubbish on the road. This was somewhat disappointing behaviour from a cohort that was generally excellently aware, organised and prepared.

Overall, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2013 was excellently organised. I will certainly run more SCMMs in the future. If a few jagged edges are ironed out, I am sure SCMM will be a much better event than it already is.

-- Mohan (@mohank)


  1. Has it already been 10 years for the SCMM? Whoa.

    I remember volunteering for the very first SCMM. Was part of a team running one of the water stations on the return stretch.

    By the time the Dream Run ended (there were only 3 that year - Full, Half & Dream) there were about 300 boxes plus of bottles that had been emptied out of the station. Nearly 5000+ bottles thrown across the road and footpaths.

    The reason I write is this: Although no cleanup had been planned, the road after the station was clean in minutes after the gathering ran towards the finish. Simple reason: A ragpicker shyly approached me and asked if he could pick up the trash the runners were throwing. I confirmed with the team leader, and told the ragpicker he could do what he wanted, as long as he didn't disturb anyone running on the road. Et Voila, the stretch got cleaned in minutes -the ragpicker got his whole family and friends to clean up, and guess he must've made his month's target of earnings from ragpicking from that one morning.

  2. Lovely story there about the important role pickers play in the clean up operations. They were out in full force yesterday too.