Exclusive Interview With Rainer Biemans on KL Marathon
The biggest marathon in Kuala Lumpur is often touted as THE run of the year, and not to be missed by more than 45,000 runners of all levels from beginners to hardcore enthusiasts. It helps that the race director, Rainer Biemans, is someone who runs and therefore understands the needs of fellow runners.
Rainer’s first full marathon completed at the Singapore Marathon in 2011 stands as his proudest achievement in running to date. Since then, he has retired from long distance running and focused on the shroter 10-12km run categories in Malaysia and overseas.
Born and raised in a small town called Wuerenlingen in Switzerland, the 47-year-old has been part of the Kuala Lumpur marathon since Standard Chartered started branding it in 2009. Rainer started as an Account Manager and moved up the ranks as Director of Operations in 2010, and then onto Project Director since 2011.
ToughASIA: What inspired you to take up this role in the KL Marathon?
Rainer: Well, that is quite a story requiring another article. I have been in the sports industry since 1997, working in sponsorship departments of big corporations in Switzerland, with my final project being the Euro 2008 in Switzerland-Austria for Carlsberg. After that I went for a long holiday to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, and I fell in love with – and in – Malaysia.
So once back in Switzerland late 2008, I started looking for a job in Malaysia. One thing led to another and I returned to Malaysia on 14 February 2009 to work for KLSCM. After that, I married the women I fell in love with in 2008, and while KLSCM grew from 13,000 runners to 45,000, my personal life evolved from husband and wife to a family of five!
ToughASIA: How have you been coping with your business since the start of the MCO?
Rainer: KLSCM, along with the entire mass participation industry I believe, was hit very badly by the MCO. With no events taking place since February, no revenue could be created, neither from being an owner of an event nor as a supplier or contractor of other running events.
ToughASIA: What was the biggest implication or impact when you had to cancel KLSCM this year?
Rainer: I would say the biggest implication to the event was to all our runners who had allocated time and resources for KLSCM 2020 and who would now need to make alternative arrangements.
The safety of our runners however, along with those who are involved in making sure the event is running smoothly – volunteers, officials, medics, police and others, will always be our utmost priority. Faced with the unprecedented threat of COVID-19, we could not in good faith carry on with our campaign this year, and ended up having only one out of five running clinics leading up to the event.
And of course, the financial fallout we have had to endure due to COVID-19, as we were not able to generate revenue and we decided to keep all our staff on a full payroll without having adequate work for them.
ToughASIA: With the event being cancelled quite close to event day, were you able to fulfil your obligations to your sponsors and partners? How will the partnerships continue in the coming year?
Rainer: I believe we made the right decision by calling the event off in early April, more than two months before the event, and deferring all registrations to 2021. That allowed runners to cancel their bookings in advance. Dirigo Events unfortunately were unable to fulfill our contractual obligations to our sponsors and partners, and similar to other event organisers, took a significant financial hit.
Fortunately for us, we have solid backing from our strong sponsor family. Title sponsor Standard Chartered Bank has a contract with us until 2022, along with 100PLUS. And for sponsors whose contracts are expiring in 2020, they have all been deferred to 2021. This includes Bananaboat, Under Armour, AKLEH Highway, High5 and Salonpas. Our official timekeeper Seiko, even decided to renew their expiring 2020 contract into a new sponsorship deal for 2021 and 2022.
ToughASIA: For the goods and merchandise for the 2020 edition, did you already have them manufactured?
Rainer: This was actually one of the many reasons why we decided to cancel the event early. We had been in close contact with all of our suppliers, manufacturers and sponsors, including with our tight community of runners, to figure out the best way forward – do we wait or do we cancel early?
And if we were to cancel and defer registrations to 2021, we do not want our runners to receive KLSCM 2020 race entitlements as it would not make sense. We managed to defer these items to 2021. Of course, certain items hav already been produced and substantial resources have already been spent on ancillary events, marketing, advertising and PR, and we have no choice but to absorb these costs.
ToughASIA: Given the COVID-19 conditions, what will the 2021 edition look like?
Rainer: KLSCM 2021 is at least 11 months away, so we will plan according to the situation next year. Since all confirmed registrations have been deferred to 2021, no additional charges will apply. However, in case we open up more Full Marathon slots, there might be an increase in registration fees.
ToughASIA: Some marathons set up virtual events to replace their cancelled live events. We note that KLSCM does not do so. What are your thoughts?
Rainer: We believe you cannnot adequately replace a real running event with a virtual event. The atmosphere and experience of a major event is simply irreplaceable. However, we are looking into a KLSCM virtual run, not as a replacement, but rather as an addition.
ToughASIA: What are your thoughts about running in Malaysia moving forward post Covid-19?
Rainer: While a lot is still uncertain with regards to the pandemic, I am pretty sure that health and safety concerns will be an even bigger priority moving forward. Since we are not having the event this year, we hope that a vaccine will be developed before the year is out and the situation can return to normal next year. In any case, we will continue to take advice from the government and health authorities, along with input from all relevant stakeholders.
While Rainer and his talented team prepares for KLSCM 2021 edition, ToughASIA encourages all runners to stay physically and mentally healthy to boost your immune system during challenging COVID-19 pandemic.