The lethargy of a Sunday laced with weather more suited to breakfast in bed than endurance running failed to detract 15,000 people from setting off before dawn to participate in Calcutta’s marquee road race, an event that had started in 2014 with barely 6,500 entries.
The fifth edition of Tata Steel Kolkata 25K, partnered by The Telegraph, wasn’t just about the road race growing bigger and better. From the warm-up Zumba session at 5.50am to the last few runners crossing the 25K finish line, the sheer force of enthusiasm defined how Calcutta has imbibed the culture of running over the past few years.
When the Open 10K started at 6.30am, there were 5,800 people on the starting mat.
Around 6am, such was the rush to get to Red Road — the start and finishing points of the road race — that several queues of cars and a throng of runners on foot were seen converging on the Park Circus intersection from various directions.
Police released the traffic towards Park Street in batches to avoid a logjam.
When diving legend Greg Louganis flagged off the run in the company of former cricketer Sourav Ganguly, a sea of humanity seemed to move along Red Road, many people waving at the podium and the STAR Sports cameras that were telecasting the event life like last year.
While several top marathoners of the world competed in the international segment, the amateur 25K category had record participation as well. In the elite field, the men’s 25K race was won by Birhanu Legese of Ethiopia with a timing of 1:15:48. The women’s champion was Dibaba Kuma, who finished the race in 1:27:11 to complete the Ethiopian domination.
The Tata Steel Kolkata 25K is the only race over that distance to be accredited by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) .
Nine persons on wheelchairs from Burdwan took part in the Champions with Disability category of the race. The customised wheelchairs have been provided by the NGO, Motivation India. Picture by Gautam Bose
Since the inaugural edition of the event, more than 12 “running groups” have been formed that not only compete in road races but also push a cause close to their hearts. One of the first such groups had 10 members running on Sunday with sacks to “plog around the course”. They picked up plastic bottles, bags and any other litter they could lay their hands on along the 25km route.
“It was fulfilling that we could do something about the trash lying on the streets instead of just cribbing about it,” said Rizwan Riaz, an investment banker who regularly runs road races.
While everyone running in the timed categories — the 25K, the 10K and the newly added 5K — got serious after the flag-off, the Ananda Run — the 5K event without timing chips — had most participants doing justice to the category name in the company of family and friends.
“We were waiting for our toddler to learn to walk. As soon as he could walk by himself, we decided to register for the Ananda Run,” said Hare Street homemaker Rajni Rastogi, who ran and walked the 5km course with husband Narmdeshwar, daughter Divya, 6, and son Aviral, who is two years old.
The road race also saw huge participation by senior citizens, one of the first categories for which registration had to be closed. In the Sunday morning crowd was 67-year-old Shyamal Chatterjee, a retired cost accountant who did not let a recent leg injury keep him away from the Senior Citizens’ Run.
Chatterjee, a resident of Hiland Park near the EM Bypass, walks at least 5km every day.
Around a dozen men and women who are part of a laughing club on Moore Avenue cheered loudly as they made their way to the start line. Bani Chatterjee, 62, said she was very surprised to see so many people participating. “I had not expected such a large crowd to turn up. It is an amazing feeling to run and walk alongside so many people of our age group.”