Oversleeping on Sunday mornings, a heavy mid-day brunch, probably a drink or two in the evening and oops! a hard-earned holiday comes to a close. You sleep with guilt pangs of not having moved an inch closer to your New Year resolutions, of not being at the gym or explore the city.
Breaking these urban millennial stereotypes are the young and old alike in Hyderabad who now have a new-found passion. To run, organise marathons and explore the city of hills which now teems with organisations where like-minded people are making fitness an everyday goal. A walk through the Necklace Road on a bright Sunday morning along the banks of the iconic Hussainsagar is a witness to this changing demographics of the city.
Gautam Pondi, a software professional and an active member of Hyderabad Runners, is all praise for the sport enthusiasts in the city after finishing the 90-km long Comrades Marathon in South Africa between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in June. âHyderabad is special and different in a way that people here are really excited about leading a healthy lifestyle. The number of well-maintained parks right in the heart of the city is an add on. Organisations like Hyderabad Runners (HR) have played the role of the catalyst as well as an enabler in organising and conducting various running events, creating awareness about leading a healthy lifestyle,â Gautam says.
Hyderabad Runners, one of the forerunners in turning the city into a hub for marathon enthusiasts, shares their 11-year success story. Speaking to TNM, Sagarika Melkote, one of Hyderabad Runners' long-time associates, recalls, âIn 2007, a group of five people started running in the KBR park. Rajesh Vetcha, the founder and president of Hyderabad Runners was the guiding force. After participating in the Mumbai marathon, he made running a part of his own fitness routine. People, specially in parks or routes that the Hyderabad Runners frequent, kept seeing a bunch of runners, their curiosity was piqued and within a couple of months, we were already a team.â
Hyderabad marathon, the annual event held by the Hyderabad runners, is touted to be the largest after the Mumbai marathon and sees around 10,000 participants every year running through one of the toughest marathon routes.
Shanmukha Rao Dharmana, who has been a regular participant at the Hyderabad marathon since 2014, is a below the leg amputee who lost his leg in an accident in 2013.But this 27-year-old MBA graduate is in awe of the city that has inspired thousands like him to make fitness a daily routine despite limitations. âI started running and cycling professionally in 2014 after my accident. With the help of fellow sports enthusiasts, I rode my way to North Telangana to spread awareness among people on issues like road safety and organ donation. We covered nine districts and we plan to do the same in south Telangana as well,â Shanmukha says.
In 2015, Shanmukha set another record after he completed cycling from Bengaluru to Hyderabad in 3 days.
âAfter the Hyderabad marathon, my dream is to participate in Paralympics and I will definitely do it,â Shanmukha says.
Finding local talent
For Gautam Pondi, a sports maniac who has been on both sides of the weighing scale, HR is a forum of like-minded people. âI started going for the Sunday long runs and have been a part of HR since then. I am pretty sure I would have given up running had I not found support in the form of HR during the initial days amidst hectic work schedules. The beauty of such organisations is that the entire community is volunteer driven and is still run in a meticulous manner,â Gautam says.
Programmes like âCouch to 5kâ (a structured training programme of 8 weeks which helps a person who has never run before cover a distance of 5km with ease) have been instrumental in training people to run from 5k to 10k, to half and then full marathons. âSome Couch to 5k participants have, in good time, become Ultramarathoners. Some people who started off running with HR have won podium finishes at various events. Annual marathons every year is a test of our runners' talents like organising and managerial skills,â says Shiv Shankar, a member of the Hyderabad Runners Society.
Gyms, sports clubs but why marathons?
So what explains this sudden obsession with an endurance sport like marathons when gyms and badminton courts in the city are in plenty? Talking about the teeming crowds that throng the city roads on Sundays, Sriram Bhopathiraju, an anthropology research scholar at the University of Hyderabad, and an active member of the Hyderabad Runners, calls the sport a mental workout rather than a physical one.
âMarathons build endurance. They give you a better sense of accomplishment than working out in a gym or scoring a match of table-tennis. It works like an antithesis where you compete with yourself and success leaves you in want of more. This self-validation is exactly why a lot of people in the age group of 28-55 enroll for marathons,â Sriram opines.
Slow or fast, everyone can run
Marathons have piqued interest because anybody can have a shot at it, no expensive equipment or gym subscriptions are required. As most of the city-based clubs have free subscriptions, people are at ease trying their sport of choice. Talking to TNM, Munim Pasha, member of a city-based adventures club, says, âOne can find various reasons behind this exponential rise in teeming crowdsâincreasing urbanisation, more awareness about health and fitness and increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the efforts to counter that or just a general momentum. The more races are organised, the more people get interested in running them.â
The Hyderabad marathon, an annual event organised by HR, spends around Rs 1000 per runner every year. However, it is not the cost that is the greatest indicator of the growing popularity of these events, but the rising number of participants.
âWe have members from 18 to 65 years of age and this can be solely attributed to the accessibility marathons offer - slow or fast, everyone can run. We merely spread the word,â Munim adds.
Appetite for road running is growing at such pace that recorded races alone are touching 900 annually in India. In a country with competitive sports nowhere near world standards, amateur runners are definitely changing the fitness scenario.
âSchools with no playgrounds to speak of, heavy academic pressures, addiction to electronic gadgets, shrinking urban spaces with no public parks is pushing our young population towards a sedentary lifestyle. All these are working in such a way that the youth is very aware of the choices that they have and are making the right ones,â Sagarika Melkote of HR says.
Around 10 years ago, hardly could anyone think of the last time their city hosted a marathon. We have come a long way and the running calendar in India is spilling with about 130 eventsâthatâs a race every two and a half days.
âWith the growth that the city has seen in the last ten years or so, a large number of sub groups have been formed - mainly in gated communities, apartment blocks, housing colonies and even in parks. This has resulted in community building where people from the same community runs, promoting bonding and inclusivity,â Sagarika adds.