Some sprinted, some strolled, while most chose both in the 10km TCS Fit4Life Corporate Challenge, in association with t2, that saw at least 2,000 men and women hit the road on Sunday morning.
The third edition of the event saw the number of participants jump to 1,954 from 1,600 last year. Only 56 companies had sent representatives in 2015; this year the count stood at 70.
The run started from the Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Eastern Centre, popularly known as SAI complex, near the Salt Lake stadium. The runners were to pass the AMRI Hospitals on Broadway, take a left turn at Central Park, turn right after crossing the National Institute of Technical Teachers' Training & Research in Labony, go past City Centre, cross Bikash Bhavan and turn right at the Karunamoyee crossing before reaching the SAI complex.
Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to scale Mount Everest, turned up to deliver a pep talk before the start. "I am 65 and still climbing. When I am not climbing mountains, I climb stairs just to remain fit. It is great to see so many young people here and you should all be physically fit as we need to build a strong nation," Pal said.
Many of those who took part in the 10K challenge are regular runners. Others said they regularly played a sport or went to gym at least twice a week.
Among the participants was 43-year-old Britta Leick-Milde, the general manager of Hyatt Regency. "I exercise a lot, especially cardio, to keep myself fit. Although the sun was really harsh, I managed to finish and clocked a decent time," she said.
For Leick-Milde, the fact that many participants finished the run in under an hour was an inspiration in itself.
Abir Palit, a 25-year-old TCS employee, was heard discussing about heading to New Town to play a cricket match in the evening after finishing the run. "I had finished last year's run, too, which was 8km. This time it was more difficult because of the heat. So, I asked my friends to start the match after 5pm," said Palit, who regularly participates in cricket tournaments as part of the TCS team.
For Snagata Das, another TCS employee, the alarm had to ring for at least five times before she could wake up. But once up, I was all set to start the run.
"Although I don't run regularly I did not want to miss this event. I managed to finish, thanks to the words of encouragement from my colleagues. We mostly strolled and chatted through the way. I am elated that they gave us all a medal for finishing," Das said.
For the likes of Imtiyaz Ahmad and Onzalu Basumatary, both new to the city, the run was an opportunity to make friends. "We stay in New Town and run every morning. We finished 10km with ease," Ahmad said. "We made several friends at the warming up and cooling down sessions."
Sangram Jena, who took up running seven years ago, said road races not only built fitness but also made one mentally strong. "Road races make one strong physically as well as mentally. A training method to prepare for a road race involves keeping an object in the distance as the goal. As soon as the object or landmark is crossed, one has to choose another. In life, too, we should not be complacent once we achieve something. We should always prepare for our next challenge," said the 44-year-old, who works in Tata Teleservices.
For Infosys employee Pankaj Ahlawat, the run provided an opportunity to soak in the sights and sounds of Salt Lake. "This is the first time I am visiting Calcutta and I must say Salt Lake has one of the best road-racing environments I have ever seen. The roads are broad and smooth and apart from a few areas, motorists did not bother us," said the Chandigarh boy who has come to the city only to take on the 10K challenge.
For beginners, the camaraderie was a unique take-home. Some sang, some chatted, while many shouted "Come on" to egg on tired runners.
"We chatted, shouted and took selfies with complete strangers. The atmosphere was electrifying. I had come prepared to run alone but got many friendly companions," ITC employee Sandeep Lakra said while taking a break near Bikash Bhavan.
The sight of the runners brought pedestrians and traffic to a halt. "I have never seen so many runners together in my life," said Vikas Agarwal, waiting behind the wheel of his car near City Centre.
Proceeds from the run - Rs 5 lakh - was handed over to Tata Medical Center in New Town.
The sum was raised by setting aside a part of the Rs 300 each runner had to pay as registration fee.
The Tata Medical Center plans to spend the money on poor cancer patients who cannot afford treatment. "Every year we treat thousands of patients. Last year, 15,000 people had been treated at our hospital. A number of patients cannot pay for the treatment. We will use the fund we have received here to pay for their treatment," said Dr V.R Ramanan, the deputy director (medical) of the Tata Medical Centre.
Tata Stryder bicycles, along with trophies and medals, were handed out to those who came first, second and third in both men and women categories.
"It is important to be fit these days as we are often diagnosed with lifestyle diseases," said Suresh Menon, vice-president and general manager of TCS in the eastern region.