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What goes into planning a large-scale running event? We speak to two major race organisers in Malaysia to learn more.
Malaysia has seen a significant increase in running events over the last decade. From marathons and half marathons to fun runs, there is no shortage of these sporting events to satisfy both the serious and casual runner.
“While running and the sport of marathon running has been present in Malaysia for a while now, the last ten to 15 years has seen the sport growing steadily, both in terms of participation numbers as well as exposure,” observes Gloria Ng, director of Dirigo Events who own and organise the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon (SCKLM) with co-organisers Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL).
Since its inception in 2009, SCKLM has become one of the country’s most anticipated public sporting events. A running event designed to showcase Kuala Lumpur city, with a flag off at Dataran Merdeka, SCKLM went from an initial 12,500 entrants to its maximum capacity of 35,000 runners in 2014.
Dirigo Events directors Gloria Ng (left) and Rainer Biemans (right), who organise the annual Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon.
“Since then we sell out every year, sometimes in a matter of days,” says Ng.
Avid runners from around the world have also been taking part in SCKLM, boosting tourism for the country. “About 1,700 running tourists signed up this year [for the race on 21 May], compared to 800 in the beginning and 1,200 in 2016,” notes Ng.
Patricia Tan, CEO of SCORE – which focuses on organising sports and fitness events in the country – has also seen participation levels grow in their running events. Starting in 2013, SCORE’s first foray into sporting events began with SCORE Expo, a sports and fitness expo aimed at providing a platform for companies and brands to showcase their products and services to people, as well as a way for the public to get acquainted with different fitness activities.
SCORE CEO Patricia Tan with Strategic Director, James Tan.
As a natural progression, the annual SCORE Run – a city-based race with distances of up 21km – was later launched in 2014.
Since then, SCORE has continued to develop themed and obstacle races (such as the Cupid Run and the females-only Amazonian Race), and offers their expertise and services to clients looking to create their own runs or sporting events.
SCORE’s Amazonian Race, an all-women obstacle challenge.
SCORE’s Strategic Director, James Tan, says that the company’s aim is to encourage people to have a healthier lifestyle and embrace their grand vision of “One person, one sport.”
With running being a trending sport in Malaysia, event organisers are eager to get on board and host their own running event. But what caused this sudden boom among Malaysians?
“I think a big factor behind the recent popularity is the general shift in mind-set by the populace towards more healthy pursuits, as well as the all-encompassing power of social media,” says Ng of SCKLM.
“More people are getting inspired by their friends and colleagues through social media and are starting to run and participate in running events.”
No doubt, technology has helped running become a more interactive experience, and with wearable technology, virtual races have also been made possible.
The virtual race concept is something that SCORE has been offering runners since its SCORE Run 2016. By giving participants the convenience of choosing when and where to run (including indoors on a treadmill), runners are offered a new way to keep motivated, and earn “mini-victories” while keeping the integrity of the sport alive.
On top of on-ground events, James and Patricia also organise several virtual runs under the SCORE brand.
“The experience of running an actual event is the ultimate [goal], but there will always be people who cannot make it or want to start small, which is why virtual races work for them,” explains James.
With the number of running events being held today, Patricia and James recognise that there are now more events than interested runners. Competition has become stiff, making it difficult for smaller or first-time organisers to sustain themselves in the long run.
“Sometimes we see a run one year, and then we never see them again,” remarks James.
As for the organisers who manage to pull through and carve a name for themselves in the running community, what does it take to create a successful race?
An aerial view of the crowd awaiting flag-off at SCKLM 2017. The event saw close to 36,000 runners participate.
“[Organising] a successful race is not as easy as people think if you want to give a good experience to your runners,” says Patricia, adding that SCORE operates on its own formula of three S’s – smooth, safe, sexy – to ensure that everything runs as hassle-free as possible and participants have an enjoyable experience.
“It is in our philosophy; we want everything to be a top-notch experience so we dedicate a lot more time into the planning process,” James adds.
SCORE’s Cupid Run was held on Valentine’s Day in 2016.
Besides creating a theme and designing a route that will get runners excited, keeping everyone safe during the event is a must, stresses James. “We always make sure there are a lot of people on the ground, like marshals, RELA, auxiliary police.”
“But on top of that we also take care of the small things [by working with partners] that provide sprays for muscle aches, and we ensure that the food and drinks offered are from reputable suppliers,” he adds. Other than that, the team ensures they have sufficient water stations with ample supply, and enough medical teams on standby.
Ng of SCKLM also emphasises on the importance of safety. “Safety is paramount when planning a route, after which we look at maximising the runners’ race experience and finally, how best we can showcase the city.”
“We also take into consideration regular traffic conditions of any particular road and the landscape – do we want a flat and fast course or an undulating and challenging course?”
While all race organisers battle with the threat of bad weather conditions and other unforeseen circumstances, Patricia notes that their biggest challenge is surpassing the expectations of their participants.
The annual SCORE Run is a race around Kuala Lumpur city.
It’s an even bigger challenge for a long-time player like SCKLM, who make it a point to constantly improve every year. In the past, enhancements include introducing a new running route, a new check point system and junior running clinics, while this year’s race saw new Malaysian veteran categories added.
“There are a lot of stakeholders involved in the event who must be satisfied before a race can be deemed a successful one,” says Ng. “Making sure all our stakeholders are happy is our biggest objective, year on year.”
“It can get daunting trying to please everybody when you’re dealing with tens of thousands. Managing everyone’s expectations becomes a pretty tall order!”
With so many moving parts involved in executing a race, these organisers are driven by more than just the possibility of lucrative returns; it’s the passion for the sport and helping runners achieve their goals that push them to excel.
“When all the months of planning and preparation culminate with a sea of runners congregating at Dataran Merdeka to accomplish something meaningful in their lives, there is a deep feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end of every race, which is rather addictive,” shares Ng.
“We are passionate. We are runners and we are brand owners,” say Patricia and James of SCORE. “Similar to how when we run, we want to run faster, we want to do better. We want to do the same with our business.”
By Stacy Liu
SCORE profile photos by Teoh Eng Hooi.
Event photos courtesy of respective organisers.
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