Marathon musings

Harish Bhat | Updated on February 22, 2018

Run for fun, and much more! VIJAY BATE   -  Vijay Bate

Why is running so popular with people and brands alike?

I ran in my first ever marathon race last month. This was at the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018. Actually, I ran the timed 10 km race at this event, rather than the full or half marathons, which are still somewhat beyond my grasp. I made it to the finishing line with decent timing and in good shape, and felt very fulfilled when I received my finisher’s medal. I am now determined to run the half marathon next year.

What amazed me was the stupendous turnout at the Marathon – more than 44,000 registrations, a record high this year. Clearly, Mumbai has fallen in love with running. And not Mumbai alone. During the race, I met runners who had travelled to the city from many other towns, to run this race. A very energetic man from Nashik, who was participating in his fifth marathon. He spoke to me with so much passion about his running group back home. A woman professional now based in Gurgaon but originally from Mumbai, who travelled to her home town specifically to run this race, despite having dislocated her shoulder a couple of weeks earlier. A young mother, who told me that this was her first marathon race, and a dream come true. Lots of middle-aged executives like myself, trying to push our physical boundaries. Professional athletes from Africa and India, who blazed the tough roads of Mumbai with some brilliant timings.

This race was sponsored by some of the finest brands in the country. Tata, the parent brand of the organisation I belong to, was the title sponsor, jointly with Tata Consultancy Services. Other sponsors included famous names such as Nestle, Bisleri, Seiko, Asics, Jet Airways and Tata Nexon. Virtually every big marathon worldwide draws such enthusiastic sponsorship by reputed brands. And undoubtedly, this is because running as a sport has become so popular with lakhs of people. So, I asked myself, why has running picked up so much speed over the past few years ? Why do people want to run, and run again ?

Before we examine the human needs which have prompted this great love for running, we must take a moment to recall the reason for the original race that inspired the modern marathon. This race was run in ancient times by the Greek soldier Pheidippides. He ran from a battlefield near the town of Marathon in Greece, to the city of Athens, a distance of 26.2 miles, without stopping even once, to announce that the Persians had been defeated in battle. The human need he was serving here, by running this entire distance, was the need for early news about an important event that the people of Athens felt anxious about.

Fulfills diverse needs

In today’s digital world, no longer do marathons and runners serve this ancient need for carrying news and information. Running now serves many other human needs and aspirations, which are perhaps even more important and interesting. Here are some of them.

Running helps enhance fitness, strengthen core muscles of the body, and develop a toned figure. It helps people to lose weight, and become slim, which is almost always a desirable state. It is one of the most effective exercises for the burning of calories. For a 75 kg person, running can burn over 850 calories an hour. Slimming also helps people appear more attractive to the opposite sex, which is a primal human need.

Running helps unclog pores in the skin through sweating, keeping the skin fresh and healthy. Running is liberating, and makes people experience a new sense of freedom. People find that running boosts their self-confidence and self-esteem. Setting big goals, such as running a full marathon, and ultimately attaining this goal leads to feelings of purpose and achievement, of doing more with your life. For many people, running helps relieve stress, because it boosts the brain’s serotonin levels, making you calmer and more stress-resistant.

In today’s fast paced society, running is an activity which helps you gain new like-minded friends and build a new network outside your routine work or family context.

For many creative and business people, running provides space to think of new ideas, as it is a solitary activity, where you remain relatively undisturbed. Writers and marketing professionals have told me that some of their best ideas have come to them while running or walking.

Sometimes, running fulfils the social need to “fit in”. If many of your colleagues at work are runners, you do not want to feel left out. For people who do not have the resources to access a pricey gymnasium or sports club, running provides a low-cost alternative to obtain their daily dose of exercise, virtually anywhere, anytime.

Running fulfils a lifestyle need – when you run, you feel part of a desirable lifestyle that connotes health, fitness and wellness. And like one of my neighbours, also a marathon runner, told me, running gives you a “runner’s high”, because it releases dopamine and other feel-good hormones in your body.

Marketing to runners

You would have noted by now how many diverse human needs the simple act of running caters to. No wonder running and marathons have become so popular. What is equally interesting and relevant is that running creates further needs for a wide variety of products. These include running shoes, clothing designed for running, energy drinks and water to keep you hydrated during a race, nutrition products that build your muscles to help you run stronger, wearables and smart watches to track your timing and heart rate while running, and even music accessories for people who wish to run to the beat of their favourite songs. For professional runners, there are advanced running shoes with various types of shock absorption technology, and technology-driven apparel that enhances performance by keeping you cool and dry. Clearly, there is lots of space here for marketers to play in, and deliver to these needs.

As even more people become conscious of health and fitness, I predict that the craze for running will only increase, and perhaps dramatically so, over the next few years. So, if you are a marketer, think about which current or future products in your portfolio can associate with running, either directly or indirectly. And if you have personally not begun running yet, but one or more of the many needs described above appeals to you, then you may wish to consider the advice that the iconic sports brand Nike has given us over the decades – “Just do it”.

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, and author of The Curious Marketer. These are his personal views.

Published on February 22, 2018

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