When you have a marathon with 35,000 runners, what do you do if there are floods? Or if the haze hits? What if volunteers don’t show up? Here’s a look at the meticulous planning involved.
THIS October, some 35,000 runners are expected to race through the city of Kuala Lumpur in the Standard Chartered KL Marathon (SCKLM), which in recent years has come to be known as one of the country's premier running event for its sheer size and reach.
The run, now in its sixth year, attracts a motley crew of runners – the running elite who run competitively for the prize money, non-elite but seasoned enthusiasts who run for some form of personal fulfilment (or obsession to achieve personal bests) and novice runners embarking on a new hobby.
Running the distance – whether a full 42km marathon, a 21km half-marathon or the shorter 10km run – is no small task. Runners often start rigorous training months in advance to build their endurance.
But ensuring that all runners have a pleasant and comfortable yet challenging and incident-free run is the responsibility of Dirigo events, the SCKLM event owner and organiser.
“The most important thing for us is to ensure that the runners have a memorable race. Otherwise, no one will come back,” says Rainer Biemans, the director of Dirigo Events.
Evidently, the team have been doing their job well. When SCKLM held its inaugural race in 2009, some 13,500 runners signed up. Last year, a whopping 33,000 runners registered for the race – a 144% increase in just five years.
Making sure that everything runs smoothly on race day takes intensive planning and preparation.
“For us, preparation starts more than six months in advance ... the planning, coordination (the organisers work with various government and private bodies), marketing and sales,” explains Biemans.
“Sales is very important because we do need sponsors. We cannot organise a marathon on this scale just on the (race) registration fees. It is a huge, huge event – 35,000 runners and 3,000 volunteers, traffic police, medics and officials on race day!” he explains.
One of the important aspects in planning a marathon is plotting the route – where there are four factors to consider.
“Our first concern is the safety of the runners – we must ensure that the route is free of hazards and obstacles.
“Secondly comes traffic. We are not running in a stadium. Our stadium for the day is the city. We work with KL City Hall and the police to make sure the roads along the route are closed to traffic for six hours,” says Biemans.
On race day, there will be some 400 traffic police and medics (including 65 physiotherapists in case runners suffer cramps and muscle pulls) and 350 officials along the route, as well as outriders moving along the route to ensure the safety of the runners.
The third factor is the need to showcase the city.
Biemans explains: “This is the KL Marathon. We are on the international calendar (of running events) and runners come from all over the world. They don’t want to run in a park. They want to run through the city and see its landmarks and iconic buildings.”
“Lastly, the route must be runner friendly. In KL, we already have two natural obstacles, the heat and humidity. We try to keep the route as flat as possible – which is hard because in KL we have flyovers here and there – but still, we try as we want the runners to have an enjoyable run,” explains Biemans, adding that runners in the SCKLM 2014 will have a new route to look forward to.
From the flag-off point at Dataran Merdeka, the SCKLM route passes major city landmarks such as the Twin Towers, the National Mosque, the Parliament building, Little India and the Palace, among other places.
An ideal route, says SCKLM race director Datuk S. Vegiyathuman, would be one that’s free of motorised vehicles.
“That’s the ideal ... every runners’ dream. But we can’t have that, so we find a solution and that is to close the roads. But believe me, we get a lot of public complaints for that, although the public is becoming more aware and the complaints have somewhat reduced,” says veteran athlete Vegiyathuman, who is the honorary secretary of the Federal Territory Kuala Lumpur Athletics Association (FTKLAA).
Also important is making sure that the runners are well-hydrated by ensuring water stops at short intervals (generally at every 2km mark) along the route.
The organisers also need to assess risks, in case of unforeseen obstacles. Last year, the race was scheduled for June but had to be postponed to September due to the haze.
Biemans says, “Ideally, we set the date well in advance as runners like to plan their running calendar for the year. So last year when the haze was so bad, we had to decide quickly what to do as we had runners coming from overseas and they had to change their plans.
“We felt responsible for the 35,000 runners and also the 3,000-odd volunteers and officials ... we didn’t want them to stand on duty if the conditions were going to affect their health.
The risk assessment also includes providing emergency exits along the route. Also, if it rains and the roads are flooded, organisers have to prepare a route to divert the runners to.
“Then, of course, it’s making sure we have officials and police along the route to keep an eye on things. It’s just a lot of planning. An outdoor competition is exciting, but also unpredictable,” shares Biemans.
Currently, his team are working on getting their registration database up for SCKLM 2014’s launch next week.
“We expect registration to close in about four weeks, once we have reached our capacity, which is 35,000 runners,” he says.
Once registration is done, the pre-race events begin.
“We have free training platforms for the runners which include 10 running clinics where the runners can learn how they should train for the big race,” says Biemans.
Preparations pick up speed three days before the race when it is time for runners to collect their race packs, which include their running vests, their bib (with their running number and timing chip) as well as complimentary products from race sponsors.
The day before the race is when the action begins. SCKLM recruits some 3,000 volunteers, mostly local university students who have had some rudimentary training for their tasks on race day.
Volunteers are required to be on-site at 10pm the night before the race. They are given dinner and have a choice of watching three movies in a tent that acts as a make-shift theatre. At 2am, they are taken to their posts and briefed on their duties.
“It’s a voluntary job and sometimes things come up and the volunteers either change their minds or are unable to come. If we ask them to come on race day itself, we’d be in trouble if only 2,000 show up! To prevent this, we recruit more than we need and we ask them to come early. This way, if we are short of volunteers we still have time to do something about it,” shares Biemans.
For Vegiyathuman, the SCKLM has been a benchmark for all other runs in the country for the meticulous way it has been run. As the race director, he has to make sure that the event is run in accordance to international standards.
“Organising a run of this magnitude is really very complex. But I have full confidence in the way the SCKLM has been run,” he says.
Standard Chartered KL Marathon
> Organiser: Dirigo Events Sdn Bhd
> Co-organiser: Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and Ministry of Youth and Sports.
> Title sponsor: Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia Berhad.
> Incepted in 2009.
> Highest number of runners: 33,881 runners in 2013
> Total prize pot in 2013: US$112,000 (RM336,000)
> International accreditation and local sanctions: supported by Ministry of Youth and Sports, Malaysia Athletics Federation (MAF), Federal Territory Kuala Lumpur Amateur Athletic Federation (FTKLAA), International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Association of International Marathons, Distance Races (AIMS), and National Fitness Council (NFC).