This is the first post in the series on following the development of Running in India, or rather ‘organized’ running. This post focuses on a passionate running group from Bangalore – Runners for Life, which has set a benchmark for developing a great running community, a running culture, and set up highest standards in organizing running related events in India. Here’s their story.
Group website: runnersforlife.com
Runners for Life – A dream come true
The origins of Runners for Life or RFL as it is more commonly referred to, lies with – The Fuller Life – a recreation management company, a company started by Arvind Krishnan in 2001. An IIM Calcutta graduate, he was working at Indya.com when he got the idea of starting a company which helps people to follow their interests. So he went ahead and started – The Fuller Life – with its ethos attached as the tag line – ‘One life. Do more’. In the year 2005 The Fuller Life was mostly working with companies to get their employees to live a fuller life. At that point Arvind wanted to start a division of the company which was aimed more at individuals and not companies. Being a runner himself he started Runners for Life on 5th March 2005.
RFL had 2 things to offer to runners in the city, a google group where you could discuss anything related to running or plan your trainings and a monthly run organised in running friendly routes. At that point of time RFL mostly consisted of people who were already runners. Some of them had already been running for decades. These runners (most of whom are still very closely associated with RFL) formed the core of a small and thriving community. Between them they had enough wisdom and experience to guide any new comer who joined to the google group.
The google group became a hotbed of information on running – everything about shoes, training, diet, hydration, injuries was being discussed. At the same time, people were unofficially being trained by the experienced runners, at the monthly runs.
The RFL mailing list (google group) was an open group but was kept strictly running related. The monthly runs were also being conducted without fail by The Fuller Life team.
Over the course of the next few years running became more popular and many more runners joined RFL. In this period there were a couple of International marathons at Bangalore which got all the runners enthused but failed to match expectations. In both these marathons, the full marathon runners were ignored. With no water or traffic stoppage in the second half of the run, there was growing dissent in the group. So when Madhu Avasarala, a fellow runner suggested organising the country’s first Ultra Marathon, it made a lot of sense to us.
We at RFL knew that events were important in keeping the runners excited and getting new runners to join in. So in February of 2007, a committee of runners was formed which would help RFL execute it’s first event – The Bangalore Ultra Marathon. With meticulous planning, on December 15th 2007, RFL conducted the toughest foot race in the country. At a time when all other race organisers were pampering the 5k runners and ignoring the needs of the marathoner, RFL was creating a special race for long distance runners. The Bangalore Ultra had a minimum distance category of 26kms.
The Bangalore Ultra – a 12 hour grueling race was a huge success. We expected 50 to 100 runners to take part but were surprised to find 248 registrants, some of them coming from Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and the US of A. It was the first “by-the-runner-for-the-runner” event in the country. It was even heralded by the best footrace in the planet by many of the participants who had taken part in marathons overseas. An ironman triathlete who won the 50k category of the first ever Ultra in Indian soil compared it to the Ironman triathlon races in terms of organisation. We have not looked back since.
By the end of 2007, RFL had already created 2 world class annual events. The Kaveri Trail Marathon at Srirangapatnam, a run which was organised merely as a training run for the Ultra Marathon, ended up being an event by itself and the Ultra Marathon.
Since then we have added 3 more events to our calendar –
The Urban Stampede – a 20km corporate relay race in 2008, BSA Hercules Duathon – a running and cycling event and Feet on the Street – a monthly charity run in 2009. Each of these has been hugely popular amongst the fitness enthusiasts in Bangalore.
RFL as a running community is still something we are very proud of. After starting a social community website in 2008 the runners all over the country are able to reap benefits of sharing experiences with our runners. Recently we crossed a landmark 5,000 runners as part of RFL through our website (4,100+) and the faithful google group (1,200+).
Community running is the way to go. It works well for multiple reasons. Running gets very different kinds of people together, so it is a great place to build a good network of friends. Now RFL has a thriving social scene with runners making new friends, traveling to their weddings, dating members in the group, attending baby showers and what not.
RFL also has strong associations with Nike. We have been partners for a good 2 years and RFL works with Nike with their initiative on running – The Nike Run Club, which has got many to start running and completing their first 10K.
On 5th March 2010, RFL will finish 5 years of existence and we are very proud to have supported our faithful members for all these years.
With a host of marathon events in the country, the popularity of running is only going to grow. Our focus at RFL is still to get more people to start running and to help the converted stay enthused and excited about running. We aim to be the largest running community in the world sometime and with the way things are going, our dream is within our sight.
Words from Arvind Bharathi (A2):
The RFL team now comprises of me and Nikhil Ram Mohan. The first 2 people who work exclusively for running in India.
I joined The Fuller Life in January 2006 after a year long stint at an embedded systems start-up of which I was a founding member. After realising that a tech job was not what I was meant for but still enamoured by the rigours of a start up, I stumbled upon The Fuller Life, thanks to my sister Monica Pillai. Call it serendipity or fate, my second day at The Fuller Life was an RFL monthly run. Instead of organising it I ended up running 15kms, my first long run. With a lifelong interest in sports and new found running feet, I was made the manager of RFL. I was still working across other functions till May 2008 and then RFL became my sole responsibility. Looking back I think joining The Fuller Life is one of the best decisions I took in my life and working for RFL is my dream job.
Nikhil joined The Fuller Life after a lot of outdoors experience. He is a mountaineer by training and has a lot of experience in on-the-ground deployment. His addition to the team has greatly enhanced the running of RFL. At 24 years of age he knows more about organising a running event and runners than anyone else.
RFL now conducts a minimum of a run every weekend in Bangalore.