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Can’t wait to run

All roads lead to race start line

By Debraj Mitra and Snehal Sengupta in Calcutta

  • Published 16.12.19, 2:19 AM
  • Updated 16.12.19, 2:19 AM
Senior citizens raring to go as volunteers try to hold them back till the race begins at the sixth edition of Tata Steel Kolkata 25K, partnered by The Telegraph.
Senior citizens raring to go as volunteers try to hold them back till the race begins at the sixth edition of Tata Steel Kolkata 25K, partnered by The Telegraph. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta and Gautam Bose

Records tumbled and spirits soared at Calcutta’s marquee road race on Sunday, where more than 15,000 people turned up.

The sixth edition of the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K, partnered by The Telegraph, reflected the city’s growing passion for serious running. The 15,445 runners also included many outstation participants. The first edition of the race in 2014 had seen 6,500 registrations, all categories combined.

The first race (Open 10K) on Sunday started at 5.40am, a good 20 minutes before sunrise. It was still dark when the participants started gathering on the starting mat.

Much before the first race on Sunday, the warm-up zone was brimming with activity.

When former Argentine goal machine Hernan Crespo flagged off the run, a sea of heads seemed to move along Red Road. Many people waved at the podium and the cameras that were telecasting the event live.

The Tata Steel Kolkata 25K, accredited by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), had several top runners from across the world in the fray.

Runners on Southern Avenue

The top three in the 25K Elite runs for men and women broke the previous course records in the two categories.

Leonard Barsoton of Kenya set a new record with a timing of 1:13:05, a staggering 43 seconds less than Kenenisa Bekele’s 1:13:48 in 2017. “It is so special to have broken the record of someone as legendary as Kenenisa Bekele,” said Barsoton, who trains in Japan.

Guteni Shone of Ethiopia breasted the winning tape in the women’s category with a timing of 1:22:09, knocking off over four minutes from the one set by Ethiopia’s Degitu Azimeraw in 2017 at 1:26:01.

If the professional runners lived up to their reputations, the amateurs were not to be left behind in spirit. One of the most enduring scenes of the day came seconds before the start of the senior citizens’ run when the young course marshals struggled to hold back the participants eager to break into a run. “Ki enthu (what enthusiasm),” muttered one of the marshals.

A running duo from Gangtok, Yogesh Gurung and Tsemed Kaleon, summed up the pull of Calcutta’s biggest road race. “I try to take part in all major road races in India. I was stuck with some important work but somehow managed to come here yesterday, just yesterday. We will leave this evening,”said Kaleon, a businessman.

The route of the 25K run saw a few new entrants. As the participants ran down the Gariahat flyover and the leafy Southern Avenue, they drew cheers from a crowd of onlookers and residents peeping out of their windows and balconies.

Former Argentinian footballer Hernan Crespo cheers the runners

“The run is not just an athletic event. It is a people’s movement,” said Vivek Singh, joint managing director of Procam International, the organisers of the race.

Risha Bhattacharya, all of nine years, and her mother Sikha not only took part in Ananda Run but also picked up trash along the way, drawing glances of admiration from passers-by. “We turned up with a couple of jute sacks and plogged through the course. People were encouraging us and it felt very good,” said Risha, a student of Sushila Birla Girls’ School.

One of the participants in the Champions with Disability category was Uday Kumar, who lost his left leg in a train accident in 2015 and has since lived with a prosthetic limb. The Belghoria resident has been running since November last year and has already taken part in 26 such events.

“Most of my friends avoid physical activity. Shortage of time is the most common excuse. I take part to motivate people that if I can finish the run, everyone can,” he said.

Brigadier Venkataraman Krishnan, 74, and wife Sharada, 66

The couple jogged their way back to the holding area after finishing the 10K run when runners half their age were gasping for breath. The two, settled in Bangalore, have been taking part in road races for 15 years now. Apart from all major Indian runs, the two have also run in the US (Vermont), Canada (Ontario) and Singapore. “Running together has lent an extra charm to our equation,” said Sharada. Krishnan studied at St Xavier’s College and Sharada did her master’s from Calcutta University.

Rajendra Singh Lahauria

The general manager of the air traffic services at Calcutta airport, Rajendra Singh Lahauria, took part in the 10K Open along with two members of his running group. Lahauria said running has been his first love since college in Shillong. “Today’s course was wonderful,” said Lahauria.

Nayanika Das

Nayanika Das, who works for a Ishwar Sankalpa, a Calcutta-based NGO that works with homeless people and persons with special abilities, turned up at the run with her face painted as The Joker. “This platform gave people across all social strata a chance to participate. It’s quite incredible," she said.