Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The ninth edition of Chennai Marathon will be held in the physical form but away from its usual route, in a contained area with limited participation and under new rules and COVID-19 protocols.

The event – its full name is Skechers Performance Chennai Marathon (SPCM) – is slated to be held on January 3, 2021 at the Madras Motor Race Track at Irungaatukottai in Kancheepuram district. The 2021 edition will be a non-competitive event.

The event is the second major road race to be held in the physical form in India and the first to include amateur participation in the physical race, after the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. In November, the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) was held in the national capital but its physical race was restricted to elite athletes; amateur runners downloaded the event’s app and ran in their respective cities and towns.

The 2021 Chennai Marathon has capped participation at around 1000 runners. “ This is going to be an ice breaker as many race organizers are keen to know how to manage such an event under the current circumstances,” V.P. Senthil Kumar, race director of SPCM, told this blog.

Government and local administration officials are also using this as a test case. “ A big team of government officials, including the Collector, is likely to be present at the venue,” Senthil Kumar said. All the necessary permissions have been sought. Spread over 200 acres of land, the loop on the race track has a width of 11 meters and is 3.7 kilometres long, he said.

The spread of the pandemic had forced the cancellation of road races worldwide. Among major international races, the marathons at Tokyo and London were elites-only affairs as regards the physical race. Given elite athletes need opportunities to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics marathon, there was a slight pick-up in road races towards the concluding quarter of the year. So far, the model at large has been physical race restricted to elites with amateurs running virtual races.

Chennai Marathon, held every year in January, attracts participation of over 25,000 runners. The traditional route is located inside the city with finish on the East Coast Road. “ Given the current situation we are in, we decided to hold the Chennai Marathon in a different manner keeping in mind all the protocols necessary for the pandemic,” Senthil said.

The 2021 event will have four race categories – marathon (42.195 km), 20 miler (32.1 km), half marathon (21.1 km) and 10 km.

The number of runners participating in this race has been capped at around 1000 compared to the usual 25,000. Of the 1000, maximum participation would be in the half marathon followed by the 10 km-race.  Participation in the event has been restricted to runners in the age group of 16 to 60. “ The qualifying norms are stringent to restrict the number of runners,” Senthil said.

On race day, runners will be expected to wear masks till the start of the race. According to details available on the Chennai Marathon website, the aid stations and medal and food kiosks are designed to be zero contact areas.

Volunteers are expected to wear a mask at all time and those at aid stations and in the food area will also have to wear protective gloves. Volunteers at the start and finish areas will have to additionally wear a face shield.

Runners will have to wait in demarcated areas before the start of the race. Every 30 seconds, at the wave of a flag, 10 runners will step into the start area to begin their race, the website said. According to Senthil, the start time of the event will be open for about one hour to allow for staggered release of runners from the different race categories.

Hydration products will be arranged in such a manner that it helps runners to pick them up on the go. Volunteers will be instructed not to hand out these items to runners. “ We looked at some running events held overseas in the post COVID-19 period and formulated our rules in compliance with the pandemic norms applicable here,” Senthil said.

SPCM 2021 will be a non-competitive event with no prize money.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

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