April 2021 | 1522 words | 6-minute read
Anita Selvakumari and Asif Kadiwala, a marathoner couple from TCS North America, participated in 12 virtual races and completed their 5th TCS New York City Marathon virtually. CK Venkataraman, MD, Titan Company Ltd, in an interview with ET Panache said, “I have been doing two 10km and one 20km run per week these past few months.”
The runner community consists of the likes of Anita, Asif and CK for whom running is not just a way of life, but is like oxygen — the source of life.
The Covid-19 imposed lockdowns did not deter runners across the world from pursuing their passion. In fact, running became an integral part of life, as it helped runners maintain their mental and physical well-being. With most fitness facilities and gyms shut down, running was the safest form of outdoor exercise that even ensured social distancing.
A fallout of the lockdown is the new trend of virtual events which have become a beacon of hope for runners, providing them support and a goal in these bleak times. It’s companies like Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) — the largest sponsor of international running events — that have made this transition from physical to virtual running events possible.
From physical to virtual
On january 12, 2020, a few days before the United Airlines NYC Half, TCS’ Global Sports Sponsorships (GSS) team was apprised that the live event was being cancelled. Realising that the Covid-19 situation was here to stay, and with the Boston Marathon and the Virgin Money London Marathon being postponed, the GSS team sprang into action.
The team got in touch with race partners around the world to see how they could help them adapt to their changing needs and grow their engagement with the runners. The GSS team worked with the TCS Interactive team to create a digital solution for this purpose. The TCS Interactive team came up with a solution that was incorporated into the Virgin Money London Marathon app, helping connect participants and spectators virtually. The app was the only way runners could officially participate in the event.
“We are delighted that TCS shares our passion for the benefits to society that marathon running provides. The transformational change that running brings into people’s lives, the sense of global community spirit it engenders and the potential for leadership in many areas, including sustainability and technology are phenomenal,” said Hugh Brasher, event director, Virgin Money London Marathon, adding, “Thanks to our partnership with TCS, and the race app they created, we were able to connect runners across the world and host a world-class virtual running experience.”
London Marathoner Bytes
"Thank you so much for all your support. The app was brilliant, loved the commentary every mile."—Jo Jenkins
"Well done London Marathon team! I have to congratulate you on the app too. I was very skeptical and thought it would kill my battery. It didn't at all and it was great to hear Steve & Paula all the way round!"—Clive Shute
"This was a brilliant event! I found the app brilliant and loved the cheers and message every mile."—Joey Fellowes
"Absolutely loved the app and it kept me going throughout; the commentary was just brilliant. Felt proud to run the streets of Sheffield but in my head, I followed your London landmarks on the app which kept me going."—Tracy Biney
Although the Virgin Money London Marathon was largely a virtual event with only a live race component for professional runners consisting of 19.7 laps of a closed-loop circuit in St James’s Park, yet it turned out to be a huge success with over 45,000 registered runners from 109 countries of which 37,966 were finishers. This event now holds the record for the largest number of participants in a one-day virtual marathon in the Guinness Book of World Records. New features in the event app such as GPS (global positioning system) tracking, mini photo recaps, virtual medals, event specific soundtracks and sound effects, customisable cheer cards and selfie photo frames created a lot of excitement among the runners. For races in the UK and Europe, TCS partnered with Smart Medal — an app that enables runners to create a personal digital trophy room and a personalised digital poster. The TCS New York City Marathon app featured an augmented reality medal that was used by over 8,000 runners.
While the Virgin Money London Marathon and the TCS Lidingöloppet were the only TCS sponsored events with live pro-athlete races, the rest of the events including TCS Amsterdam Marathon, TCS New York City Marathon, TCS Clark Animo, TCS World 10K, Boston Marathon and Bank of America Chicago Marathon transitioned from live to virtual marathons. TCS proactively offered its clients and employees the opportunity to participate in these virtual events. In several geographies TCS provided runners with TCS running shirts/kits to wear for the virtual run, thus promoting a sense of team unity.
Owing to the transition to virtual events, several charities were affected as the live events, which used to be a fund-raising platform, no longer existed. However, several races encouraged runners to raise funds; in fact, the London Marathon Events group created the 2.6 challenge in April, which was a mass fund-raising event where the public was encouraged to do any physical activity (run, cycle, push-ups, etc) around the numbers 2.6 or 26. TCS promoted the event extensively among its clients and employees.
Tracking runner behaviour
In June and July 2020, TCS conducted This Run Tech Survey to discover running technology trends among runners in the US and to help shape TCS’ plans on supporting runners and races in the future. The survey covering 1,200+ runners revealed that since the start of the pandemic runners have enthusiastically embraced technology.
- 40% respondents enjoyed running more
- 96% increase in use of augmented reality devices and apps
- 117% increase in smart sneakers/socks
- 60% of runners had started using smart watches
- 78% increase in nutrition and hydration apps
With virtual runs being the new normal in the runners’ world, the community has quickly adapted to the changes. “As the title sponsor of the TCS New York City Marathon, we shifted our focus to directly supporting runners and marathoners all over the country as they began training for the virtual marathon. And for the first time, I took part in the virtual TCS NYC Marathon! Although it was an unconventional way to run my first marathon, I fulfilled a long-time goal of mine while virtually running ‘alongside’ great marathoners, employees, teachers and others,” says Surya Kant, chairman, North America, TCS.
Virtual runners were now on their own, so they had to firstly equip themselves with a smartwatch or a smartphone to record their run. Every runner needed to pre-plan her/his route ensuring it is clear and traffic-free and create their own support for medical aid and hydration stops which were earlier the responsibility of the organisers.
Virtual racing has expanded the overall diversity and accessibility of running events with the events becoming more inclusive. This has proved to be an advantage for runners who earlier had to spend money on travelling for an international event and most importantly had to qualify for it. The TCS New York City Marathon no longer has any entry restrictions, and it even offers a free virtual race option so that all those interested can participate.
Sponsors like TCS continue to support race partners and runners through their long-standing commitment to global marathons and running partnership platforms. As an agile technology company, TCS took advantage of the rare downtime in live events to bring global race partners together to address the shared challenge of sustainability of race events. The phenomenal collaboration among the TCS Pace Port team, TCS GSS team and global external running and sustainability partners has the potential to reap rich benefits to the runners’ world.
Get, set, go
TCS is actively working with race organisers to support both live and virtual events. Through its #ThisRun campaign, the company is continuing to engage with the worldwide community of runners, bringing them together and empowering them with technology innovations for better health. Through inspirational stories, tools and tips, #ThisRun imaginatively captures the power of sport to unite people, help them grow and make them push boundaries in order to challenge the status quo.
With the launch of its first running challenge — #ThisRun Goes Red — TCS employees, clients and community members earned a TCS virtual heart medal by running or walking in February, which is celebrated as heart month in TCS. “#ThisRun cements our long-standing commitment to running, bringing the best of technology to unify the running community with shared experiences. This unique global community explores the motivations and emotions of runners and celebrates their running experiences. It pays tribute to the people who push their bodies and minds to achieve so many things beyond running and reinforces the innovative role TCS technology plays in enhancing the marathon experience,” says Rajashree R, chief marketing officer, TCS.