Morning run through wetlands
A large number of Calcuttans tossed aside their blankets on a cold Sunday morning and joined an off-road race that cut through the East Calcutta Wetlands.
At 5.30am, while it was still dark, the Godrej Waterside building in Sector V was abuzz with a warm-up session to catchy beats of bhangra and hip-hop numbers.
It was still half an hour to go for the start of the fifth edition of Jai Balaji Group Kolkata Trail Run, in association with The Telegraph.
The only trail run in the city, the event has been growing in popularity. On Sunday, there were around 2,000 participants raring to take off from the starting mat.
At its debut in 2016, the run had drawn only around 100 participants.
As the participants ran past multi-storeyed buildings along Godrej Waterside and Ring Road and turned left towards Khasmahal, on the edge of the East Kolkata Wetlands, the scenery and the terrain changed abruptly.
No more wide, paved roads to run on. Instead, the runners had to negotiate narrow dirt tracks winding along water bodies and be mindful of every step they took.
“The trails are a different ball game compared with a road race. I was conducting a route recce on Friday and the front wheel of my bicycle got stuck in a depression in the soil on the trail. I fell into the freezing cold water that knocked my breath out,” said Sundeep Agarwal, a member of the Cycle-Network-Grow, who led the runners on his mountain bike.
Elderly village women and children turned cheerleaders, egging on the runners. Cows and pigs came in the way at times — and ran away at the unfamiliar sight of an army of runners — adding to the fun. Men on bicycles headed to work with fishing nets and vessels strapped on pillion seats got off and stared in amazement as men and women, dressed in bright yellow jerseys, ran past them. Several fished out their cellphones and made videos.
“Aamra sobai tupi aar muffler porey aachhi, tao thanda laagchhe. Aar era eto sakaley ei shitey douracche! (All of us are wearing woollen caps and mufflers but are still feeling cold. Look at them, they are running at the crack of dawn in this biting cold!)” Ramesh Bor, 35, a fisherman, was heard telling another onlooker.
The first category of the race — 21K half-marathon — was flagged off to a roaring applause right at 6. Close to 250 people took park in this run.
The other two categories — 10K and 5K — saw a higher turnout. The 21K runners did two rounds of the 10K route.
This year a new category was introduced — 2K, where children ran with their parents. The run turned out to be quite a hit, with 180 participants enrolling for it.
The joint commissioner of the Bidhannagar Police Commissionerate, Kunal Agarwal, ran the 5K category with his four-year-old son Satwik.
“My son was more excited than me. It felt superb to run with so many people around and with nature all around us,” Agarwal said.
Jag Mohan, the director-general of the fire and emergency services, was another participant in the 5K category. “The city has seen a paradigm shift when it comes to
fitness. It is heartening to see so many people hitting the trails on a Sunday morning,” he said.
“We keep trying to include newer things every year and try to make this run a bit different from a regular road race.... The trail is beautiful as well as challenging,” said Gaurav Jajodia, a director of the Jai Balaji Group.
This year the organisers had timing chips for the 5K category as well, aiming to encourage the participants to take running seriously and prepare for longer distances.
The chip tells the organisers through a radio frequency technology the time when a participant steps on the starting and finishing mats.
“The chips enable us to record the exact timings of the runners,” said Nishant Mahseswari, an official involved in organising the race.