21 june 2017, 12:04

Movement is Life: Exclusive Interview with the Director of TRICOLOR TV White Nights Marathon

Tricolor TV has launched a large-scale Time of Victories with Tricolor TV project to promote healthy life style and supports a number of sports events, including being the title partner of the 28th International TRICOLOR TV White Nights Marathon.

80 thousand liters of water, several hundred volunteers, over 10 thousand runners and, the main thing, several dozen thousands people cheering for the sportsmen because each of them is backed by his or her families and friends. Our reporters have talked with marathon director Mikhail Kochetkov and learnt which problems are faced by the organizers, where the stand-off between the runners and the motorists came from, what «marathon tourism» is, which injuries are the commonest for athletes and whether it is really possible «to see the finishing line and die».

Mikhail Kochetkov is a member of the Presidium of the Sport Federation of track and field athletics in Saint Petersburg, the chief coach of Saint Petersburg track team and director of TRICOLOR TV White Nights marathon.

You have been the director of TRICOLOR TV White Nights, the Road of Life marathons and Pushkin  — Saint Petersburg race since 1995, that is for over 20 years. Which changes have taken place over these years?

The marathon was initially intended to be a night one, and in the first years it started at 11 p.m. However, it is complicated to hold it at night: firstly, there are no fans; secondly, our nights are not so «white» — we still had to switch on lighting; thirdly, due to the intensive traffic it was impossible to provide safety of the participants in such conditions. There were also difficulties due to the raised bridges; therefore, the track ran along the left Neva bank only. Later the marathon started in the evening as well at 7 p.m. and then at 5 p.m. Due to the big number of cars the event was moved to Saturday. And finally the start was scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sunday: the city is cleaner and there are fewer cars at this time. Besides, our marathon is «the brand» of the city, and holding such an event at night is inacceptable either from the point of view of tourism or safety.

And how has the demand for such events changed? Do you agree that healthy lifestyle is coming into fashion among young people or is the number of young boys and girls interested in sport has been approximately the same over the years?

In the Soviet time the marathon boom coincides with the late 70ies — early 80ies; there was already a substantial decline in the 90ies. True, recently people have started again trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, and the number of professional sportsmen and just amateur participants of the marathon has grown. Over the 20 years the minimum number of the people finishing the marathon distance of 42.2 km was 200 people in the 90ies. Now this number is over three thousands. The progress is certainly noticeable. There are already not less than 1,000 — 1,500 participants in all Saint Petersburg races which used to have 100-200 people.

Are there significant differences between Russian and foreign marathons?

I have been to many marathons: in Hamburg, Berlin, several times in Prague, Athens, Italy, Venice, Milan, Dresden, Baltic marathons, Copenhagen, to name but a few. And I haven’t seen anything special. The only thing which I could not help noticing as the marathon director is the great number of fans abroad. People cheer the runners along the entire distance, children clap their hands, and cars are friendlier. Although recently the situation in Russia has been changing for the better. The more so along the track: although the start abroad is generally in the center, the route then goes sidewise while all our distance rungs along interesting places only.

In 2017 the sportsmen of TRICOLOR TV White Nights marathon will come from a record number of participating countries for Russia. Why is it so attractive for foreigners?

Saint Petersburg is a good brand attractive for foreigners. Besides, we have been the first in the country to start practicing the distance of a 42-kilometer ring going round the historical part of the city. It certainly causes difficulties related with blocking off traffic in the city but then our race is practically an open-air tour of the city: the Palace Square, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Bronze Horseman, the Holy Synod, the Spit of Basil’s Island, Nevsky Prospect, Alexander Nevsky Laura, the Big Drama Theater, the New Holland...

By the way, there s the notion of «marathon tourism»: people visit the most beautiful cities of the world — Saint Petersburg, Vienna, Beijing, Melbourne — to take part in a marathon. Such people come, run the marathon and they generally do not come to the same city again the next year. But other people come to replace them. Owing to this our marathon is the most international one. Both people from far abroad countries and a lot of our compatriots visit us: Belarusians, Ukrainians, sportsmen from Baltic States, Middle Asian countries.

Could you speak in more detail about the most important specific features of Saint Petersburg track from the sportsman’s point of view? Is it true that our track is very hard for marathon runners?

I would not say it is very hard, rather medium hard. We are practically at the zero mark at the sea level, we have no mountains. Right, there are several bridges on our track but when the runner goes up the Palace Bridge, for example, he runs down it then: he picks up what he has lost. But the track may be hard for records. For instance, there is a marathon in Antwerp, in Holland, or in Dublin, in Ireland; very high results are always shown there. It is more complicated in our case but the track is still cannot be considered to be one of the hardest.

You have mentioned that it is quite hard to set a record in Saint Petersburg. But is it basically possible? What should be done for that?

This needs appropriate doers. Nobody has yet «run out» of two hours; the official world record is 2 hours 2 minutes 56 seconds. We do not yet aim at setting it and it is also costly: it needs inviting a dozen of sportsmen close to the world record, assigning specially trained newsmakers to them who will «shepherd» them — all this needs huge financial investments.

How much does a person need, on the average, to get ready to cover the distance of 42.2 km? And is it possible to get ready for such a competition «from zero»?

There was nothing like that at all in the 90ies. Now that the running movement is on the rise, there have appeared a lot of private sport schools training people for marathons. I have personally read that their course is meant for 3 months but I don’t understand it as a coach: everybody has a different physical condition, and we sometimes lay such runners in a row after the finish and sent them to the resuscitation department.

A professional generally runs two, maximum there marathons a year; the other time he gets ready for them and rests from them because a high speed marathon is great loads both on the locomotor system and the human psyche. It sometimes happens that approaching the finish the runner no longer understands what he is doing. And some lovers run even two marathons a day. It is in Russia only that there are people who have covered 700 marathons.

That’s impressive! And which injuries occur in marathons?

At a slow pace a marathon is not hazardous but, as I have already said, this a very big load on the locomotor system — knees, ligaments. Now there is a very good kit, specialized running shoes with gel padding. There are injuries, of course, like in any sport, there are sometimes fatal cases when the runners’ heart fails but not in our marathons. The Russian Federation has a law of the Ministry of Healthcare according to which we have no right to admit a person to the marathon without a medical certificate. This certainly causes a storm of runners’ indignation, like I am solely responsible for my health; it is enough that I have signed the acknowledgement. But the acknowledgement has no legal weight and if something happens to the person, the organizers will have serious problems. Besides, the need to undergo a medical commission is primarily an additional reason to check one’s health; therefore, we actively explain to the participants why it is so important to produce a certificate.

Could you speak in more detail about the difficulties of organizing a marathon?

Well, firstly, it is very complicated to organize such an event as a marathon in the center of the city. The major problem is blocked motor traffic. It needs getting a lot of approvals and resolutions. Do you imagine how hard it is to block the city center for six hours? As the sportsmen cover the distance, we certainly open the streets but we face a lot of negativity, especially from motorists.

Secondly, the equipment of the track — a lot of different metal barriers are required.

And, thirdly, medical support. Last year the marathon took place in extreme conditions: it was +30... +32 °C on the day of the race, the health professionals hardly coped. About 100 people applied for medical help and 13-15 were hospitalized but we fortunately managed to avoid fatal outcomes.

There certainly must be a good team of volunteers and a panel of judges, electronic and transport support, feeding along the distance. We organize feeding stations every five kilometers of the marathon and we additionally place refreshment stations and water every three kilometers in hot weather. We purchase about 70-80 thousand bottles of water and huge quantities of coolers. And all this must be distributed, cleaned, people must be given water.

There is nothing complicated about receiving online requests. We start registration about seven-eight hours before the beginning of the marathon; we also hold the Marathon-Expo exhibition where our partners also take part, and we give out the start numbers there. About 600 people, including volunteers, are involved in this work.

You have mentioned the temperature problems during the last year marathon. Can you tell us how the optimal date of the marathon is determined? Is there any system of calculation, any special method?

The date of the marathon is determined by the very name of the event; the peak of the white nights falls on 22 June — this attracts the participants, foreigners especially. Among other things, we also depend on the time of the city-wide Crimson Sails holiday now. We try to target the last Sunday of June or the first Sunday of July. Last year, for example, the race started on 2 July. But this year this is the date of the FIFA Confederation Cup final; therefore, the marathon has been moved to 9 July. We will be able to determine the date in 2018 in August as Saint Petersburg will receive the FIFA World Football Cup and we may have to hold our competition in the late May or early June.

What is the cornerstone of a successful event on the part of the organizers, in your opinion? Are there any key factors?

Well, the key thing is, like anywhere else, the budget. We receive some small part of the funding from Saint Petersburg budget as the organizer is the Committee for physical education and sport and Saint Petersburg Sport Federation of track and field athletics. This year we have been lucky that Tricolor TV has launched its own socially oriented sport project and decided to support us within the frames of the project: this is an opportunity to bring the event to a new level both in terms of organization and mass media coverage of the event. We hope that our cooperation will continue.

We also hope for that a lot. Thank you for the interesting talk!

Thank you.

To go to the news about TRICOLOR TV White Nights marathon.

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