The 40th London Marathon 2020 - last year’s winner Eliud Kipchoge and his stiff rival Kenenisa Bekele; the sport couldn’t have got better. The greatest marathoner ever competing against the greatest distance runner in history. The fame, glory, money, and audience were all set to witness the battle.
The marathon battle of the century: 2:01.39 vs. 2:01:41
But then came the pandemic, that uprooted our expectations and made us think from scratch.
The London marathon was initially pushed from April to October has now announced that the race will no longer be a mass-participation. An Elite-only, crowd-free race will be staged on an enclosed track of St. James Park. That means the world will still witness the marathon of the century including the elite women and wheelchair athletes. But for everyone else, the race goes virtual.
Participants will have 24 hours to complete the 26.2 miles, from 00:00 to 23:59 on Sunday 4 October, and will be able to run, walk, take breaks and log their race on a new London Marathon app being developed by event partner TCS.
Obviously this comes as a big blow to all the participants who have been preparing for this event for months and years now. But the pandemic has made us relook the entire business of marathons and we have already witnessed a series of global sporting events being canceled.
Marathons and COVID19
Earlier the 2020 Boston Marathon was canceled and went virtual. The New York Marathon was also canceled but it has hoped to be back in 2021. While most of them are withdrawing from the business for this year, there is a growing number of events transforming into virtual. Allowing a normal runner to run near his vicinity according to his comfort level.
And as a runner myself I love it. However, the majority of people consider marathon events as a social and fun gathering. While it is about running it is also about music, dance, and food. But having a virtual option not only prepares for you for an ongoing pandemic but also gives other runners a choice to run from their comfort. Not everyone can travel or want to be part of a social gathering.
Last year the Tata Mumbai Marathon, one of the top 10 marathons in the world had a feature Run As One powered by RunKeeper. The featured allowed people who loved running to download the app and be part of the event virtually by paying a nominal fee. I believe that it was a futuristic move by the event organizers, considering now every event organizer is thinking about how to go virtual and adopt digital technology. For instance, the London Marathon 2020 will have virtual crowds on the track for cheering the elite runners.
Much like the International running scene, the Indian running events have been impacted by the COVID19.
Of the roughly 1400 distance races organised every year, around half have already been canceled or deferred. But the real challenge lies ahead—most of the major races happen between October and February. “What will be the fate of the Delhi Half Marathon in October? Or the Kolkata 25K in December? The Mumbai Marathon in January?” writes Hindustan Times.
Meanwhile, the fourth edition of the Adani Ahmedabad Marathon (AAM) will take place on its scheduled date of November 29, 2020, albeit in a virtual format. The event synonymous as the #Run4OurSoldiers would be conducted through remote running with GPS tracking participants. Much like its earlier editions, 100% proceeds from the registrations would be donated for the welfare of the Indian Armed Forces.
Fundraising and marathons
Running for a cause has been one of the biggest motivators for runners who love the sport. But the pandemic has not only hit the running business but charities have got a hit too. Last year more than 42,000 runners who raised a record £66.4m for charity in 2019 are not at all happy with the present state.
Learning disability charity Mencap, which is the marathon’s Charity of the Year, said on Twitter that it is “obviously disappointed the usual event isn't going ahead” and that it had aimed to raise £1.5m on the day. Children with Cancer UK had a team of more than 1,200 runners signed up to the race, which normally raises £3m a year for the charity. Together with the cancellation of other fundraising events, this could result in a 40% loss of income for this year, the charity said.
Raising money for charitable causes is also a major part of Indian races—the Tata Mumbai Marathon raised Rs 40.7 crores for philanthropic causes, and the Delhi Half Marathon Rs 12.66 crores last year—and this too will be hit if there are no races.
This is where the virtual running is becoming a saving grace to the sport, charities, and livelihood attached to it.
In June 2020, the American Cancer Society hosted “DetermiNation Runs the Country.” Participants were asked to set individual one-week running mileage goals that would contribute to a collective goal of logging enough miles to traverse the United States. More than 400 runners collectively logged 9,943 miles – enough to run across the United States more than three times. The campaign raised about $64,500.
In a two-part series, Shana Masterson discusses why going virtual is not just enough for competitive peer to peer events. “By removing the ability to host an athletic event in the traditional sense, participants may feel they are losing the public culmination of their training efforts. In reimagining these events, we must take care to harness the essence of the competition by empowering and recognizing participants, while getting creative with building a virtual or socially distanced community, eager to take on the challenges of the activity, as well as fundraising.”
Sunfeast India Run As One
Sports IP creator, Procam International, the company that also organises the Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata marathons, is planning staggered races with limited entries. But with the increasing number of cases every day it seems unlikely so the company has joined the virtual bandwagon.
In association with ITC’s Sunfeast biscuits, it has launched 'Sunfeast India Run As One'.
A virtual sporting event, to encourage purposeful fundraising from within India and across the world. The initiative is aimed at providing support to vulnerable sections of society who have been distressed and have lost their livelihoods due to the ongoing pandemic. To bring the social and fundraising impact it has collaborated with GiveIndia.
The virtual marathon called ‘Sunfeast India Run as One’ started on Independence Day on August 15 will extend till September 13. The sports event management firm has set a goal to cover the distance between Kashmir and Kanyakumari 74 times as part of the marathon on the occasion of the 74th Independence Day.
Participants can register at a nominal fee, starting at Rs 99 and onwards, based on their choice of contribution and pledge to walk, run, or jog for the cause. You can link your smartwatches or fitness devices and sync the data to the platform.
The event has already got all the star power from celebrities, including fitness enthusiasts and actors. But for me, it is the man who last year ran a marathon under 2 hours(unofficially) - Eliud Kipchoge.
The execution is simple and has no glitches. Once you have decided whether you want to become a Change Maker or Leader or Champion. It is a mere job of sharing all your personal details. Frankly, the organization is asking way too many personal details that can be avoided.
I decided to be a Change Leader by contributing the required amount. Additionally, you can add up an extra donation for the needy. The entire operation was smooth on mobile.
Once the payment is done you have the option to start a fundraising page with GiveIndia which is the much-required extension of virtual fundraising. Not only you are running or doing an activity but you can use your social and offline connections for fundraising. The creation is simple and additionally, you can do on Facebook too.
I was tempted to start a fundraising page but decided to stop at individual contributions and running for the cause. GiveIndia has a list of selected NGOs for fundraising but I don’t know how and what they work on. One of my reasons to not start a fundraising. But you always have the choice to start a fundraising page.
I was also excited to see how the running activities would integrate and showcase the results. It does a great job.
I have committed to do 250Kms and I ran my first 10Km today. I was happy to see the website using Garmin as one of the apps and you just need to sync the data. It is easy.
My profile gives me two feeds - My Activities and running details.
My only concern is with the website both on the web and mobile. The mobile has no unique device experience and it looks like the entire website has been dumped onto a 5-inch device. I don’t’ understand why have social wall features in 2020 and then carry it forward on the mobile.
The website does the job but it is clumsy and pain to the eyes, especially on the mobile. I am not bothered about the web considering the nature of the activity.
You can call this a new norm. But for me sporting companies who would think beyond having virtual runs just as a good to have feature will be ahead of the curve because the consumer has made the move.
Meanwhile, 99-year-old World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore has raised funds for NHS Charities Together by walking 100 laps of his 25m long garden before his 100th birthday. Also, a 103-year-old Belgian doctor is walking a marathon around his garden in daily stages to raise money for research into the new coronavirus.
Inspiring, isn’t it?