Many ‘ordinary’ people regularly go running in Bangalore. They are motivated by health benefits, but most run for the sheer joy of it.
A friend for life, just like books and dogs.” That’s how a runner describers her relationship with the sport. Thanks to the running bug that has bitten Bangalore, this could just as well be you or me. In fact, a revolution of sorts has been underfoot in the Garden City — to demystify running and turn it into a lifestyle choice, as health fad and social event.
The driving force behind this has without doubt been the five-year-old Runner’s For Life (RFL), a group whose effort is to turn running into an activity that ‘ordinary’ people can enjoy.
Started as an online platform on which amateur runners in Bangalore could exchange tips and information, today this 7,500-strong team has members from around the country. It’s main activities, though, are concentrated in Bangalore. “We have certainly lived up to the ideal we started with,” says manager Arvind Bharathi. “For example, when we started we didn’t know we could help beginners start running, and now it’s one of our most important goals.” A majority of members are short-distance runners.
Bangalore’s year-round good weather, the envy of the rest of the country, has proved conducive to running. “The [other] thing about Bangalore,” says Naina Lal, co-founder of Runner Girls India (RGI), a women-only runners’ group, “is that it is a relatively small place and we are okay to travel for 45 minutes to reach a trail in the outskirts. And if there is breakfast waiting after that, why not?” The fact that more and more people understand the importance of keeping healthy has helped, too. And running is an easy sport to take to. “Once they start running they are hooked to it, and health becomes incidental,” says Bharathi.
It is also a versatile sport, lending itself to all manner of modification. You can run on your own, or you can make a social occasion of it. All you need is a good pair of shoes, space to run in, and the willingness to push yourself. There are no rules except those that you make for yourself.
Reena Chengappa, 33, who runs a gardening company, stumbled on running when she was looking for a fitness option. In running she not only found a sport she could enjoy, she also gained the company of like-minded individuals. “I don’t need an alarm to wake up and get to the park any more,” she says.
Similarly, Vidhee Parikh, 29, an architect, joined a gym in search of fitness and discovered running. “It suits me as I can run at any time of the day, in the gym or outdoors, with or without company, and without any form of specialised equipment.”
While RFL is associated with well-known competitive events such as the Bangalore Duathlon, Urban Stampede corporate relay, Kaveri Trail Marathon and Bangalore Ultra, it also has a serious focus on amateurs and beginners. The fortnightly runs on the outskirts of the city are seen as training runs in which participants can run anywhere from 10 km and 40 km. The monthly 5 km “Feet on the Street” in the city centre is especially geared towards encouraging people to just turn up and have fun. It usually sees around 100 participants of all ages and abilities.
RFL is also a platform to help runners interact online, and many smaller groups based on locality, workplace or a common goal have sprouted from it — GKVK Runners, Cubbon Park Irregulars, Bellandur Bibs and Runner Girls India, to name a few. These groups meet in different parts of the city to train together for upcoming events and competitions.
RGI, for example, exhorts women of all shapes, sizes, fitness and enthusiasm levels to take to the track and “run like a girl”. Set up in 2007, it has about 150 members, and there is a decent turnout on their regular Girls Only Runs. “RGI has grown to become more than just a running club,” says Lal, a 45-year-old mother of two who has some prestigious events under her belt. “We [also] meet socially and have fun together.”
Runners’ groups do more than just organise runs and put runners in touch. The RFL has information related to running events globally and around India on their website, and helps with registration and logistics. There is also an amateur ranking programme, a beginners’ section and an online store. “In Bangalore we have reached a stage where we don’t have to actively do anything in particular to keep the community intact,” admits Bharathi.
Not just Bangalore, other cities too are seeing a burgeoning in runners’ groups. The RFL is looking to support groups and chapters in other cities, and RGI has chapters in Hyderabad and Chennai. “I would ask everyone to run, whenever and as much as they can,” says Parikh. That will undoubtedly lead to a happier and healthier nation.
|RUN FOR A CAUSE
Team Asha is a running and fundraising programme run by Asha for Education, an NGO dedicated to socio-economic change in India by focusing on basic education. Team Asha provides support to runners, enabling them to compete in running events across the country. Its runners raise awareness and funds to support programmes that change the lives of children. It has 68 chapters world-wide, having raised over $4 million through running. Its Bangalore runners alone raised over $1 million
Feet on the Street is a monthly charity run organised by Runners for Life in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park. It is a non-competitive event that encourages people — runners or otherwise — to come and experience the joy of being outdoors and find out how much fun running can be. Each month Feet On the Street ties up with a different NGO or cause.
[Payal Dhar is a Bangalore-based writer and editor]