Thursday, December 25, 2014

Scorecard - Indian marathons vs. abroad

Over the last 5 years or so, I have managed to garnish my largely-Indian races with a few from abroad. While they have not been popular races, I have managed to squeeze in a 50k Ultra, 2 marathons, a half, a 6miler and a 100k bike race.

As has been the practice in the last couple of seasons, I include a shorter distance race during my marathon training. I missed a chance to race the TCS World 10k this year and then ran a below par 5k at the Urban Stampede. My progression in the Half marathon distances has not kept in sync with the full marathon Personal Best timings (PBs). The timing of 1:35 to win the Spirit of Wipro race in the 2012 edition was an aberration in a series of 1h:40m finishes.

And along the 16week training for the maiden Bengaluru marathon, I had a chance to score a personal best HM timing twice – once in India and once abroad within a few weeks of each other. A good op to stack an Indian marathon against an overseas one.

"Picking a "best" marathon can be like finding a good piece of chocolate in a sampler box of candies: you either take a plunge and pay the price for it, or you rely on someone else who has eaten a piece before" - anon

I will compare these 2 races keeping the details out to make it more generic for someone looking to compare an Indian race with those run abroad.
    • Burnham Beeches Half Marathon, in August 2014, in Berkshire, UK (BBHM)
    • Spirit of Wipro Half marathon, in Sep 2014, in Bangalore, India (SOW)

I will share my experience along a few KPIs for races
  • Cost & Ease of registration
Most Indian marathons are cheap, going from about $10 to about $25, barring one or two outliers. These races come with a race tee shirt, a timing chip, support on the course, medal, downloadable certificate & post-run breakfast. Some runs also have massage facilities that you can avail for free after the run.
A marathon outside can set you off by about $50 - $100 or more, you may have to also budget a few dollars for post run snack as well.

  • Pre-race fanfare

You cannot complain about fanfare when there is none. Both these were low key races, without an elaborate Expo (the sponsors and their paraphernalia). It made picking-up-the-bib a simple affair.
  • Conditions & Start time

Races in India are mostly in hot and humid conditions. Expect temperatures between 20-30°C, with average relative humidity of about 65-70%. Given these conditions, most races have start times that make breakfast seem like a mid-night snack. A 6am start for the SOW run, meant that my pre-race breakfast of oats, had to be eaten at an unearthly 3:30am or so.

Compare that to start times of 9:30 AM for the BBHM, with temperatures of 13-20°C. The start times allow for a relaxed breakfast and that all important potty. I got my money’s worth of the complimentary breakfast at Beaumont Estate, WIndsor and took a taxi to the start point.

  • Support on course - Water stations, medical aid, crowd support
Most marathons are well stocked with water, a sport drink and a fruit – and a mix of indifferent and engaged volunteers, both in India and outside. The smaller races that I have participated in abroad have the basic medical aid. The bigger races are a huge draw for support crowd. At BBHM, the route map had called out the local pubs for the support crew to hang out while cheering the runners. A thin line of supporters spread sporadically on the course, is all you can expect even in the biggest races in India.
  • Competition

I ran the half marathon distance in Aug at BBHM in 1:31:02 and was placed 65th overall in about 500 runners. At SOW in Sep, running the HM in 1:29:41, I came in 5th overall – about 343 finishers. Both these were personal best (PB) for me. While my sub-90 mins run received all the acclaim, this is at best an average performance for any race abroad.
The gap only becomes worse if you compare the best races in India (the likes of Mumbai marathon) to the top 5 marathons. Before we pat ourselves in the back for those podium finishes in the Indian races, we need to eat the humble pie – there is still a long way to go.
I did, however, like the gift voucher, deos & other goodies that came with the 3rd place (Open-Guest category) in the SOW run.
  • Post-race support
    • Nourishment

Indian races have decent post-run Indian breakfast which is included in your registration. If you have any specific preferences you should budget for it. Remind yourself to climb down from cloud 9, to find your way to the breakfast counter, then the medal counter & then baggage counter. These queues may take up more time than your racing time. At the finish line in the grounds of Caldicott school, there was literally no "free lunch" on offer. A sandwich / cake and a drink from the beeches cafe will set your wallet lighter by a few pounds (or dollars).
    • Medals / Certificates / Pics

Most Indian marathons give out a finishers’ medal; race pictures and timing certificates are big too. Every distance (5k, 6k, 10k, 21k) gets automatically upgraded to ‘marathon’. Don’t be surprised if you a well-rounded smiling group in track pants showing off shiny medals claiming to have completed the marathon in 1 hour. It is to be read as a 5k-marathon. The amateur photographers do an excellent job of uploading your pictures (watermarked and all) for you to download. Off late, they have been trying to monetize this as well.
If you are a ferrophile like me, when you run outside India, look specifically if the race fee covers a finishers’ medal. Most local races abroad don’t have any certificates / pics that you can download.

The idea of this post was to give a comparison of smaller races in India and outside. Hope this was useful. Some snippets on BBHM & SOW before I wind up this post (which was been in wip status for a record 77days!)

This was also a dress rehearsal for the Bengaluru marathon, I realized too late that I had left my socks behind. I had some gory toe nails to show off after the race. BBHM was my first race abroad for a Half marathon.

Mathematically speaking 2 half PBs is equal to 1 full PB, to find out, come back after in about a weeks’ time. (Yes. I mean it, the next update is before the next year)