Sponsors, loos and runners with RFL tattoos – Arvind and Arvind speak about RunnersForLife

First Ultra

At a running event, be it large or small, don’t you wonder who are these people who set everything up before you reach the venue (impressive considering you reach there before 5am!) and make arrangements from drinking water to erecting signboards and from keeping track of your time to directing parking of vehicles?

Organizing a mass sports event is a mammoth task. It requires enthusiasm for the sport and an ability to simultaneously handle myriad challenges, many unknown until it is almost too late!

Bangalore-based company Runners for Life (RFL) organizes 10 major events every year. It is one of the largest sports companies in India.

Mayur Didolkar spoke to the founders of RFL, Arvind Krishnan and Arvind Bharathi affectionately called A1 and A2 respectively.

A1 founded The Fuller Life, parent company of RFL, A2 joined him soon thereafter. A1 and A2 are engineers by qualification and accomplished runners. They are in their true elements in the roles of facilitators, motivators and mentors to runners from different parts of India.

An excerpt from the chat –

MD:  Since when have you been running?

A1: I have been running on an off since childhood. But re-started in 2005 just before starting RFL.

A2: I was part of the track and field team in school. Long distance running for me started in Calcutta in 1994. It has stayed as a cornerstone in my life ever since, that’s 22 years and counting (smiles)

MD: And what about running marathons?

A2: My first full marathon was SCMM 2007 – I had run only one half marathon before that. I ran alright for 32kms and that’s when the dreaded Mumbai heat and humidity hit me. I struggled to the finish in in 5hr 27min. The same year we organized the Kaveri Trail Marathon (KTM) where I ran the full marathon. Bad idea. We were organizing the run so I was up working late the entire week preceding the run. KTM is a tough course and I finished in 5hr 21min thanks mostly to Pankaj Rai who kept me distracted with conversations (he calls it runversations). Since then I haven’t run a full marathon. I tell all new runners not to make the mistake I made and rush towards a full marathon. These days I prefer running 5k, 10k or a half marathon.

A1: My first marathon in 2006 was a just below 6 hours run. It’s been a while so I look at myself now as a wannabe marathoner.

MD: A1, please tell us how RFL came into existence?

A1: It was an epiphany. On a cold wintry day in Jan 2005, I was on a bike with Sushil (who used to work with us) on Bangalore’s Outer Ring Road. Those were the heady Internet days when community building was the in thing. I had a sudden desire of building a large community of people in some area. Running was my interest area. Running went well with the pleasant weather of Bangalore and thus a theme was struck and an idea born.

On March 6th 2005 RFL organized it’s first event. A 10k run on Bangalore’s Bannerghatta road. We had 46 runners.

For the RFL was a passion project (a polite way of saying we lost money!) for the first 5-6 years. We certainly have come a long way.

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MD: What would you say defines RFL?

A2: Right from the beginning our intent has been to provide a high quality experience to runners.

Our scope of operations in wide – events, training, consulting, and merchandise retail. We keep trying out new things. RFL has played a leading role in bringing about a running revolution in India.

A1: I want people to discover running the way I did. I want them to get fitter doing something that they love.

MD:  You guys are event organizers who also run. Which is your favorite non-RFL event?

A2: I love trail runs so Auroville marathon in Tamil Nadu has to be on top of the list. But I must say KTM is the most beautiful trail run that I know..

A1: +1 to A2 on the KTM. I also like the Bangalore Marathon.

A1 and 2

MD: Any event that disappointed you as a runner?

A2: As a runner I am not hard to please. I enjoy running in every event I go for. Because of the experience, I can pick out faults in other events easily but I know how tough it is to be in those shoes. I tend to give the organizers a lot of rope.

A1: You are not going to get me to answer that one! :-) (Both laugh)

MD: What are the most common problems you see in badly organized events?

A2: There are many good events now and the organizers are doing a fine job. Events turn bad only when the focus moves away from the runner. The runner’s needs have to be at the epicenter of all decisions made for an event. The farther the organizers drift from the runner, the worse things become.

A1: Organizers need to be runners themselves. Not necessarily good ones, but runners nonetheless. You cannot understand the customer well enough if you have not been in his/her place. This logic applies here too.

MD: Take me through the To-Do list for organizing a full marathon.

A2: It will take a full book of notes to answer this one! Anyways, let me try to be brief.

Planning begins about a year in advance. It is crucial to start with an estimated registration count. Decide the venue, start and finish points and the route. Finalize the budget to assess event profitability. Find sponsors.

Open registration at least 6 months ahead of the event date. Earlier the better. Open registrations without a sponsor only if you have the capacity to pay out of your pocket if no sponsors can be found. It is a risk, take the plunge with your eyes wide open.

Organize annual events. They have good recall value and are easier to get sponsorships for.

A1: A2 knows this better than I ever will.

MD:    How easy or difficult is to make a living off running in India as an event organizer or a trainer?

A2: It was very tough in the past. Things have gotten better in the last 3-4 years.

Training could be a good start as it doesn’t require much investments. Of course effectiveness of training would define the extent of success.

Organizing events is a riskier proposition. A loss-making event can hit one hard. Significant investments are required. There needs to be a team. Besides, it takes time to make event management profitable. 3 or 4 years maybe.

And no, you will not make your first million with a running business in India.

MD:  Your best moment running RFL would be?

A2: There are many moments and it’s tough to choose. People have walked up to me in the most unexpected of places to say that they started running because of RFL. The sense of satisfaction at such moments is beyond words.

RFL has given an alternate career to many sports persons and sports lovers. There are people working with us who participate at the national level in air rifle shooting, rugby and cycling. We also have engineers, lawyers, and maritime archaeologists joining RFL for their love of sports and running.

A1: Like A2 said, too many to choose from. RFL’s activities have changed many lives. From people who battled illness, to runners who met future spouses, to people who ran their way into a new career.

One standout moment was at Ultra 2014. A runner came up to me and said that when he was absolutely down, RFL and running helped him turn his life around. Therefore, he got RFL tattooed on his leg! That compliment made my day, week and year.

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RFL tattoo

MD:  What message would you like to give to novice event organizers?

A2: Get into running events for the right reasons and it will be a rewarding experience. Keep runner at the center of your planning.

A1: Keep the faith. And make sure there are enough loos (Both laugh)

Interviewer – Mayuresh Didolkar. Mayur is a marathon runner, a novelist, a financial advisor and a standup comedian!

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