Apr 22
Making of a Marathon
Making of a Marathon
All that went into organising India's maiden sea-bridge marathon - and that too in a record time - narrates Bappaditya Paul
 
In the morning of February 8, the readers of The Times of India (TOI) woke up to a surprise! Splashed across the front page was the news that just ten days later India is going to witness its first-ever marathon over the sea – the L&T Sea Bridge Marathon.
 
Many couldn’t believe this! Serious runners thought the time was too short to organise such a marathon; others familiar with L&T’s functioning couldn’t believe the conglomerate was actually putting its weight behind a mega sporting event!
 
Among them was Ms Trupti Dalal, who is both an L&T employee and a regular marathoner. She reached out to L&T’s Corporate Brand Management & Communications (CBMC): “Is it really us behind this marathon?” she asked. “How can this happen at such a short notice?”
 
“It sounds incredible, but everything did happen in just about 20-25 days. It was the fastest-organised marathon” says Mr Sumeet Chatterjee, the Head of CBMC. “It was in mid- January that TOI approached us with the idea. It was a brilliant idea especially because L&T had constructed the Sea Bridge. I immediately approached the management. A sports property adds vitality and visibility, both of which are needed to bolster the L&T brand in the minds of Mumbaikars as well as passionate runners,” he adds.
 
Mr Partha Sinha, President-Response at TOI, goes a step back to explain how the idea of the sea bridge marathon arose. “It was a few days after the Prime Minister had inaugurated the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) on 12 January. At the Times Building, we were discussing the public frenzy surrounding India’s longest sea bridge, when its length – 21.8 km – suddenly triggered the thought that MTHL is actually built for a marathon!”
 
Led by Mr Sinha, the TOI team consolidated what he now refers to as “an arithmetic idea” and approached the owners of MTHL – the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) – for permission, and MTHL maker – L&T – with a proposal to sponsor India’s maiden sea marathon.
 
“Who else could have been a better sponsor than the one who constructed MTHL? We saw L&T as the natural ally for the event and requested Sumeet to take it forward,” adds Mr Sinha.
 
 
CONVINCING THE CAPTAINS
While Mr Chatterjee readily bought the idea, he needed the consent of L&T’s top management. Being largely a B2B entity, there was no precedence in L&T of any high-decibel sponsorship-led branding activity.
 
Towards the end of January, the CBMC Head got an opportunity to make a presentation about the proposal to L&T Chairman & MD Mr S N Subrahmanyan (SNS).
 
“My pitch was – the marathon will give us an opportunity to establish an emotional connect with the public via the magnificent sea bridge that we have constructed. Also, being India’s only sea marathon, it is going to be a unique event. Less than five minutes into the presentation, SNS gave his approval and advised me to secure a go-ahead from CFO Mr R Shankar Raman (RSR) as well,” Mr Chatterjee recalls.
 
While the clock was ticking for hosting the marathon, top L&T leaders, especially the CFO, were engrossed in the preparation for the Company’s Q3 Results slated for 30 January. Once done with the Results and the subsequent investors meet, etc., the CFO finally gave time to the CBMC Head on 5 February.
 
“We discussed the plan threadbare for about two hours. RSR examined the proposal from all possible angles – branding opportunity, return on investment, logistics, and most importantly, runner experience – then gave the go-ahead. We inked a deal with TOI – L&T would be the title sponsor for the annual marathon for five years and after this will have the RoFR (Right of First Refusal)” Mr Chatterjee reveals.
 
As soon as the crucial meeting at the iconic L&T House in south Mumbai concluded, the TOI and L&T teams swung into action – for they were now running against time to host the maiden L&T Sea Bridge Marathon on 18 February.
 
 
RACING AGAINST TIME
TOI roped in noted marathon organising firm YouTooCanRun to conduct the event, and got into express mode to secure certification from the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), the Athletics Federation of India’s affiliation, police permissions, etc. The L&T team, on the other hand, plunged into internal and social media publicity and supervision of the arrangements.
 
“The challenge before us was four-pronged – the event should generate a buzz about L&T’s association with the Sea Bridge Marathon, all internal stakeholders must be aware, all necessary arrangements should be in place, and there shouldn’t be any mismanagement on the D-Day. A slip, especially on the fourth point, would cost the L&T brand dearly,” Mr Chatterjee explains.
 
Over the next 12 days, CBMC’s office on the fourth floor of L&T Landmark Building at Mumbai’s Andheri was a beehive of activity, often running till late into the evening. While one group was enmeshed in attending/ conducting a series of arrangement-related meetings with TOI and internal stakeholders, another group was busy developing the publicity materials, and yet another group was going the extra mile to ensure that all relevant information about the marathon reaches every single employee of the L&T Group.
 
In fact, some CBMC members and a few other L&T-ites even sacrificed their weekends to make the marathon happen. For instance, Dr Divyang Shah, Head of Medical, Welfare & Community Health Services at L&T, joined the TOI and YouTooCanRun teams on a Sunday afternoon at the MTHL in Sewri and reviewed the proposed medical arrangements.
 
“We wanted to leave no stone unturned on this front, especially after the unfortunate demise of two runners at a major marathon in the city less than a month ago,” says Dr Shah, himself a regular marathon enthusiast.
 
Again, two days before the marathon, a 25-member team of L&T volunteers drawn from Landmark Building, AMN Tower and Powai Gate 1 went on a recce of the venue at MTHL.
 
“The brief for this volunteering team was to supplement and supervise the on-ground event management personnel and extend the assistance necessary. Hence, we familiarised the team with the venue and the arrangements in advance,” explains Mr Chatterjee.
 
On 16 February evening, TOI hosted the L&T Sea Bridge Marathon prelude ceremony at Taj Colaba. Dignitaries from L&T, TOI and MMRDA turned up for the glitzy evening.
 
Mr Shankar Raman (CFO), Mr A T Ramchandani (Head – L&T Precision Engineering & Systems), Mr Shrinath Rao (Head – Transportation Infrastructure) and Mr Anup Sahay (Head – Corporate Strategy & Special Initiatives) were among the L&T dignitaries in attendance.
 
Amidst much fanfare, together with TOI’s Mr Sinha, Ms Sudha Natarajan (Director – Response) and the MMRDA Joint Municipal Commissioner Mr Radhabinod A Sharma, they launched the marathon jersey and medal. And with that began the real countdown to the D-Day.
 
 
D-DAY DAWNS
On 18 February, while the event was to kick-off at 5 am with the full marathon, for the CBMC team led by Mr Chatterjee the day actually began at 3 am. They were at the venue, carrying out last-minute checks of the arrangements; a few even walked up to the start line on the bridge – about 750 metres from the assembly point – to be doubly sure that the stage is set for the historic marathon.
 
By 4 am, the L&T volunteers had taken position at their assigned spots. Some of them got busy directing cars to the parking lots.
 
With daybreak still some time away, the assembly point – below the Sewri-side ramp of MTHL – started filling with the 5,106 marathoners swaying to the beat of live music performed on a giant stage. Several excitedly headed for the attractive selfie zones, capturing moments at an event that will go down in history as India’s first-ever sea marathon.
 
At 5 am, TOI’s Mr Sinha and CBMC’s Mr Chatterjee flagged off the full marathon (42 km), in which 279 runners competed. Next came the half marathon (21 km) at 6 am, which was flagged off by L&T CMD Mr Subrahmanyan and CFO Mr Shankar Raman together with TOI’s CEO Mr Sivakumar Sundaram.
 
Interestingly, Mr Subrahmanyan and Mr Shankar Raman not only flagged off a race, but, together with their L&T Executive Committee (ECom) Member colleague Mr D K Sen, also enthusiastically ran the 10 km race that started at 6.30 am. Another ECom Member Mr J D Patil ran the 5 km race.
 
The 5-km race, which was the most popular one with 1,933 runners, was flagged off by Bollywood stars Akshay Kumar, Tiger Shroff and L&T Prayas Trust President Ms Meena Subrahmanyan. Among others present on the flag-off stage were Mr Samir Jain (Vice Chairman & MD – The Times Group) and L&T Board Members Mr Subramanian Sarma and Mr S V Desai.
 
The enthusiasm of the runners, among whom were many from the L&T Group, was electrifying. As they took off, a scarlet sun peeped over the horizon and a flock of flamingoes flew past amidst a cool breeze wafting in from the sea – it was indeed a sight to behold, an experience to cherish!
 
At the prize distribution ceremony hosted soon after the last race ended, Mr Subrahmanyan, Mr Shankar Raman, Mr Jain and Mr Sundaram were joined on the stage by Maharashtra Industries Minister Mr Uday Samant.
 
 
FEEDBACK TO FUTURE
Asked how he felt about the maiden L&T Sea Bridge Marathon, Mr Subrahmanyan said: “We are proud to have constructed this bridge. It’s a real example of Aatmanirbharta (self- reliance), of what Indians can achieve. We go abroad and see such things and now that we ourselves are able to build one, and are able to even conduct a marathon over it – isn’t it something to be proud of?  Isn’t it a great feeling to have?”
 
Mr Shankar Raman complemented him saying that the maiden sea marathon has been very encouraging and that he expects many more participants in the next edition.
 
“When we were constructing the bridge – a structure across the sea for the first time – we knew we were doing something very iconic. So, this is something very special to us and we wanted to strengthen that bond. A sports event like L&T Sea Bridge Marathon is the first-of-its- kind with the running track entirely across the sea and we are glad to be an indelible part of this unique experience,” he said.
 
Both these L&T leaders were so impressed by the success of the marathon that they went a step further and wrote personal congratulatory mails to the CBMC Head.
 
“Am writing to extend my heartfelt gratitude to you and your team for orchestrating the very first and an incredibly successful L&T Sea Bridge Marathon on the Atal Setu yesterday… Your team’s attention to detail ensured that every participant felt supported and cared for, contributing to the overall success of the marathon,” Mr Subrahmanyan wrote.
 
Not only the top leaders, but an overwhelming majority of the participating L&T Group employees also appreciated the event. A post- marathon internal online survey revealed that 93% of them felt that the marathon was well organised.
 
External participants too echoed similar sentiments. “The L&T Sea Marathon was a fun experience: the crowd was great and very enthusiastic. The route is very pretty, so it works out. I had a real great time,” said Ms Vedika Walia, who ran the 5 km race.
 
Ms Rakhee Bathija, who ran the full marathon, said that she felt excited about being part of a history in the making. “The L&T Sea Marathon is the only marathon that happens through and through on a sea bridge and it feels great to be a part of its maiden edition,” she said.
 
Be it the L&T or the TOI leadership, all are unanimous about building on such overwhelmingly positive feedback and delivering an even-more mesmerising marathon the next season.
 
Among the plans are to host the marathon a bit early – sometime between end-December to end-January, organising special trains for participants to reach the venue, setting up more cheer-booths along the route and drawing in international participants, including some celebrity runners.
 
“For the next edition, we will start working 4-5 months in advance so that the event can find a place in the international marathon calendar. The focus will be more on serious marathoners who run the 42 and 21 km races, because we want to position the L&T Sea Bridge Marathon as a niche event,” Mr Chatterjee and Mr Sinha say in unison.
 
“The event has the potential to attract several more thousands of runners,” says Mr Shankar Raman. Mr Chatterjee agrees, saying that while the plan is to increase the capacity, offering exceptional runners’ experience will be the central idea.
 
So those who couldn’t secure a race slot this time can always look forward to running over the breezy Arabian Sea at the next chance.

Comments

What a wonderful read. Very...

What a wonderful read. Very informative, engaging, or thought-provoking.  Congratulations on this fabulous achievement. Only L&T can do it. All the very best for the next!
 on 4/25/2024 10:05 AM