First, the good news:
The intentions were honorable. The idea of Sevathon, an India Community Center project, was to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday by hosting a walk/run where participants would have the opportunity to find sponsorships for their various charities by getting pledges. The format is not unlike many other runs and marathons. In addition, ICC put together several booths with non-profits offering information and services to get the word out and keep the participants entertained while doing so.
We reached the Sunnyvale Baylands park around 8 on Sunday morning. According to the flier, the event was supposed to start at 8:30 and we hung around for a while, getting our registration bibs and t-shirts. Bollywood music blared in the background as participants milled around, trying to find the starting point for the race and getting a sense of the trail. Tables were set up with water, protein bars and bananas. We hung around the health tent, where organizations like the South Asian Heart Center had set up testing stations.
Around 8:30 we were invited to a warm up session, conducted by one of the dance instructors at ICC. After we had finished stretching to the peppy “Jai Ho” there was still some confusion about when and where the race was about to start. Finally there was an announcement that the race would start at 9 and we went to our car to put away our jackets. When we returned in a few minutes, we found to our dismay that the race had already started, without any official announcement of the same. The runners in our family took off while my daughter and I started briskly walking. At this stage, I was still not sure where the official start point of the race was. We just followed the crowd and eventually wound our way back after 5 kms.
Our runners were not so lucky. They missed a crucial sign marking a turn on the path and went off in the wrong direction. Eventually, they just used their pedometers to mark out 2.5 kms and returned from that halfway point.
Ultimately, the ambiguity about the start and finish times didn’t quite matter, because there was no clear finish line either. We just sauntered back to the tents that had been set up and left a few minutes later. According to the flier there was supposed to be a mela of some sort but there was no excitement created around it, no announcements, and we saw many others leaving along with us.
Given that this was the first year of the event, the chaos was perhaps understandable, though why a simple knowledge transfer from experienced organizers like the India Literacy Project was not done is puzzling. The idea of a run followed by a fair was good, but the execution left much to be desired. One of the first rules of creating a memorable run event is to make it attractive to serious runners; that creates a buzz around it that brings the rest of the crowd. Without a clean run experience, it becomes a casual day in the park which leaves future participation to the whims of ICC supporters.
My two bits on improving the experience?
– Have clear start and finish lines. If possible, arrange to time the runners and give prizes based on the times.
– Have a fixed start time and do not deviate from it, even if participants are sauntering in on Indian Standard Time.
– Mark the trail out immaculately and arrange to have volunteers at every point of confusion, at least for the first few years.
– Have barkers to constantly make announcements about the fair and drive traffic to the booths.( This is my opinion, was the biggest shortcoming of the event, since the fair was its USP)
– Instead of letting kids run free, charge a discounted rate for them so they can have their own bibs. Have separate prizes for the kids.
Sevathon was a noble idea. Here’s hoping the kinks get ironed out by next year.