Cochin International Half Marathon 2013 - A maiden gala event at Kochi

Kochi hosted its maiden Half Marathon on December 29, 2013. The experience from the mini-marathon conducted in 2011 helped make this a hugely successful event for the city and its people. Runners in general, were somewhat skeptical about Cochin International Half Marathon 2013 due to a number of factors, chief among them being the event was organized by the city as opposed to a runners group - the local runners figured it would be used to showcase politicians and celebrities as opposed to promoting running as a lifestyle change for the general public. The city silenced all its critics by pulling off a highly professional event - most parts were outsourced to the best organizations available and that probably helped.

Having participated in the half marathon event, below are some observations:

Good: 
  1. Entry on the Marathon Day: The main-gate to Maharajah's ground was opened only slightly for some weird reason. This resulted in a stampede atmosphere in the adjacent street (Hospital Road) and the main entrance area. Policemen manned the area and the gates and they continued to keep the gates half closed despite the mad-rush of the participants to get inside. This was the one real red-flag in the entire event. Once past the half-opened gates, the race categories as well as the age-category pens were marked well that getting to the correct slot was not a problem. Also, it was heart-warming to see dignitaries such as Rishi Raj Singh waiting in the pen just like the others for the start - no special treatment at all and there were a bunch of folks from the transportation department with him (Rishi Raj Singh finished the race in 2:52 (bib number 7144) - unfortunately, an emergency angioplasty was done soon after following chest pain). The presence of the 2000-strong navy crew across the half-marathon and 7K events was a wonderful sight. They encouraged the runners too during the race!
  2. Warm-up Drills: A professional warm-up crew was on the stage from around 5:15AM to 6:15AM and they kept the runners entertained. The warm-up drills were hard to follow as the category-pens were crowded. Not a surprise, given the participation of over 8000 people.
  3. Water, Sponge, Electrolytes, Refreshments, Goodies, Medical Support, and Restrooms:  Water was plentiful  throughout the course. It was distributed roughly at the rate of one per kilometer. Water-sponges and electrolytes were distributed only twice. Medical support was not a problem as they had temporary facilities both at the start-point and at a few locations on the course. Green Kochi initiative however  took a back-seat during the event - plastic bottles and no proper disposal areas. Goodies were missing too - the bib-packet consisted of just the bib, timing chip, and safety pins - an option to purchase a marathon themed T-shirt would have been good. Refreshments at the end of the event consisted of a bun and juice but they ran out of them half way through the event - there was no verification at all in the medals and refreshments distribution-area and that probably contributed to the problem. Alas, no restroom facility either.

Better: 

  1. Registration: Registration opened just six weeks before the race day. Online registration was the best option as it was very smooth. The option to register manually through Muthoot branches was less than perfect as many ended up waiting a long time during bib collection - some manual verification of proper registration was involved, thus delaying the process.
  2. Bib Delivery Process: The bib collection center at Maharajah's ground was open on the 26th, 27th or 28th. Participants had to show ID proof in original and registration confirmation email. Starting trouble was there on the first day and those who arrived first to collect the bib had to wait upwards of 30-minutes. From then on, the process went relatively smooth.
  3. Marathon Route, Start-times, Cheer-leading, etc: The marathon route was completely flat except for the short climbs to cross the two bridges from Ernakulam  to Mattanchery through Wellington Island. Although the route itself did not go through any of the touristy areas, the heritage nature of the place was easy for anyone to recognize. The start-times for the races were announced somewhat late. Organizers officially announced 6:15AM as the start time for the half-marathon and 6:45AM for the 7K fun-run just a week prior to the event - apparently, there was pressure to make it a late start to make it convenient for celebrities and other dignitaries but sanity won-out in the end. The organizers had plans for a parallel competition for the cheer-leading crews that could independently register but apparently there were few takers. Good 'chendamelam' and such were there in the Mattanchery area and though the rest of the course lacked group events the locals that flagged on either-side of the entire route more than compensated for this by their enthusiastic response.

Best: 

  1. Participation Fee: The organizers managed to keep the entry fee extremely low compared to other well-known marathons in the country - the entry fee for the half-marathon was Rs 200 and for the 7K fun-run was Rs 100. This is compared to an average of well over Rs 1000 for other international marathons in India. Not only that, subsidized registrations were offered to under-privileged groups. 
  2.  Prize Money: For a maiden effort, the overall prize money at over Rs 25L was comparable to the prize monies offered by the best races in the country. The age-wise and gender-wise categorization with separate prize monies for Indians ensured the race gave something to celebrate for the locals, even-though their best efforts may not equal the best in the world. Further, equal prize money for men and women was another positive factor. Although, the winners check of $5K was low compared to international standards, the event still attracted some of the best athletes ranked within the top ten in the world.
  3. Course Logistics: The marathon route was in pristine condition on the day of the marathon. Runners especially appreciated the lack of potholes and traffic on the course. Also, the timing chip transfixed on the body-side of the bib and the timing mats functioned well - the mat locations were easy for the runners to recognize as well. Within two hours of the run, the official results became available online. The finish-point was well-organized although the area became very crowded over time. The open and elite winners were announced at the main stage but some of the other category winners did not get to stand on the podium following some confusion about the official timings
Kochiites eagerly await the next iteration of the event tentatively announced as December 23rd 2014.

Related Info:
  1. Cochin International Half Marathon 2013 - Event website.
  2. Video showing media coverage of Cochin International Half Marathon 2013
  3. Cochin International Half Marathon 2013 - Official Results.
  4. Indian Running Races Information.
Last Updated: 01/2014.

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