The rise and rise of marathon competitions in urban areas

Competitors of the CRDB Bank Marathon, which was held in Dar es Salaam on Sunday. PHOTO | COURTESY

Summary

  • Staging marathons is becoming a regular culture in urban Tanzania, and hardly a month goes by without having a marathon here or there. The purposes of these marathons are many.
  • Most are related to charity action, especially in the health sector, but, as the VP urged in his speech at the CRDB Marathon recently, keeping fit is another aim.

August 14, 2022 saw the running of the CRDB Marathon, which attracted thousands of participants. It is one of those sophisticated ones, where your BIB Number included a sensor which records your distance coverage and the time spent. Categories included, bicycling (65km), and running, in four different distances: 5km, 10km, 21.1km and 42.2km.

The Guest of Honour was HE the Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania. Other dignitaries included retired President, Jakaya Kikwete; Deputy Minister for Sports Hon Gekul; Deputy Speaker, Hon Mussa Azan Zungu; the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Mr Amos Makala; and the CRDB Managing Director, Abdul Majid Nsekela. There was also plenty of entertainment.

Staging marathons is becoming a regular culture in urban Tanzania, and hardly a month goes by without having a marathon here or there. The purposes of these marathons are many.

Most are related to charity action, especially in the health sector, but, as the VP urged in his speech at the CRDB Marathon recently, keeping fit is another aim.

A marathon in also a good time for networking, entertainment, marketing, and connecting with people of like minds. Marathons have also been an opportunity to identify talent, or to prepare those who are going for international bouts.

We have come to call them marathons. Although this could be a misnomer, since a true marathon is 42.2km. Half a marathon is 21.2km.

You do not hear much about a quarter marathon or one eighth of a marathon. Any way we have come to accept that they are all marathons, even if the running is 2.5km. In any case, these runs are not competitive.

The ace runners do their best to cover their distance of choice in as a short a time as possible and the top may be three do, sometimes get an award, but all finishers, even those who walk in between the runs, end up with a medal.

From historical sources, we learn that the idea for the modern marathon was inspired by the legend of an ancient Greek messenger who raced from the site of Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles, with the news of an important Greek victory over an invading army of Persians in 490 B.C. After making his announcement, the exhausted messenger collapsed and died.

To commemorate his dramatic run, the distance of the 1896 Olympic marathon was set at 40 kilometres.

From the urban management point of view administering a marathon is a huge task. In particular, you need a to have a convenient, popular and marketable meeting place, large enough to accommodate the runners, cars, services, business promoters, entertainers and what have you.

Given the dearth of open spaces in our urban areas, this could be a daunting task. In the city of Dar es Salaam, popular places for marathons have been the University of Dar es Salaam, Mlimani City. TTCL grounds, Goba Hills, but more so, the Green in Oysterbay and the Leaders’ Club Grounds in Kinondoni.

In the recent CRDB marathon the Green and neighbouring grounds were overwhelmed by cars to a crisis level.

It is notable however, that you do not hear marathons being run from the poorer areas of the city such as Mbagala and Yombo Vituka. In part, this could be a result of lack of infrastructure, but also lack of interest, and the opportunity cost of either spending your Sh30,000 (plus, travelling cost and time) on a marathon or on food. One is left asking oneself why the football stadia are not used as starting/finishing points.

City managers may want to prevent the growth of the feeling of “them and us”. Marathons should be open and convenient for all.

The other problem is the routes, their convenience, and security of runners especially from vehicles, pedestrians and street traders. Here, the assistance of the police and other security personnel is of paramount importance. Some routes have to be closed to motor vehicles for some time.

Starting early and using routes without many vehicles, and without many people, helps.

However, it is not possible to close key roads from motor vehicles for a long time. Thus, it is a challenge to run long distance categories such as those of 42.2km and even 21.1km, since these may take hours to complete. During all these hours, the police have to look after the safety of the runners while restraining traffic.

The proliferation of the marathons points to the need to organize urban space to accommodate these uses. In particular, you need many open public spaces, as well as roads designed to accommodate pedestrians and runners as part and parcel of the city fabric.