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Indian Runners Hopes Dashed after Cancellation of Last of World Marathon Majors

Representative Image (Photo Credit: Reuters)

Representative Image (Photo Credit: Reuters)

London Marathon, which was the last of the six World Marathon Majors, was cancelled.

The announcement of the 40th edition of the London Marathon changing its format to an elite runner only event last week dashed all hopes of amateur runners who were expecting to run at least one of the World Marathon Major (WMM) races in 2020. The race was the last of the six WMM races to announce cancellation of its usual mass event format. Hundreds of Indian runners had been preparing to run at least one or more of the WMM races since 2019 or earlier.

"Since February 2020 runners who'd been training hard to accomplish their personal goals at one of the WMM and other International races have been dealing with the disappointment of races getting postponed and eventually cancelled," said Gauri Jayaram, Founder of Active Holiday Company that represents all six of the WMM, along with other popular races such as the Comrades Marathon and the Antarctica Marathon in India.

"The safety of the runners and the spectators is above everything else, however many race participants have been deeply affected. Some were on the verge of getting their sixth star medal in 2020. With no clarity on when International running events will resume, some have taken a break from the sport while others have been financially impacted"

The six WMM races, that attract over 2.5 lakh runners and about 4 million spectators collectively through the marathon course each year, have become a bucket list item for amateur runners in India in the past five years. While there are only 41 Indians who accomplished the WMM challenge, hundreds were expecting to run at least one of the WMM races in 2020.

Running an International marathon entails several months of physical and mental commitment along with some financial planning to cover expenses such as flights, stay, race entry etc. While there are some offers of refunds or deferral of services to future years, expenses incurred in visas, training and nutrition etc. are a financial loss for athletes. Given the high quality of the WMM events, many runners aim to achieve their best performances at one of these races, in particular the BMW Berlin Marathon that has been host to as many as 11 World Records.

"The WMMs are world class events. And a big step forward from the local and national level events. They serve as a big motivation to amateur runners to train," said Ashok Nath who is coach to scores of amateur runners in addition to participating in the Boston Marathon 10 times, and being a Six Star Medal finisher.

"Psychologically, their absence takes away a key milestone and without a goal the result is then felt physically as there is reluctance to put in the necessary intensity, frequency or distance in training. As a Coach, one needs to cajole the athletes to help them stay mentally and physically committed to training."

Most of the WMMs are encouraging participants to join their virtual events where runners can register for an official version of the race that can be run in a broad time frame on their own in their home cities. Finishers can receive timing certificates and even official event medals. However, many runners agree that the experience is not even comparable.

"While it has been possible to keep up a basic level of motivation through goal oriented workouts and milestones in the form of self-timed trials, it will never match the euphoria of pursuing goals at the running carnivals that WMM races are," said Anubhav Karmakar who was the fastest amateur Indian runner in the 2019 New York Marathon.

"In the process of training I usually visualize a strong finish amidst a cheering crowd; that's what I miss the most. The lockdown and the cancellation of these races has diminished some of the progress that I was expecting to make in 2020. While training has not yet returned to pre-Covid levels, the eventuality of lining up next year has kept me going."

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