It has been a while since thousands of people last gathered and jostled for space on a road to finish a race. But that’s what happened with the return of TCS World 10K Bengaluru brought 19,000 runners together on Sunday, 15 May. There were over 12,000 people running the open 10km race. I was one of them.
The marquee event organized by Procam has always been considered special since it starts off the running calendar in the country. But this year it was extra special because it marked the return of mass running events for the first time since covid forced races to be cancelled. The TCS World 10K Bengaluru is the first of the ‘Procam slam’, the others being the 21.1km run in Delhi, 25km run in Kolkata and the 42.2km run in Mumbai. Just the buzz of running with a crowd of people, with spectators cheering you on, is in itself is a big reward. Most, like me, were so happy to get back on the road, that even the rain and puddles gathered on Bengaluru streets could not dampen their spirits. And if this was true for amateurs, it was even exciting for the running elites.
I haven’t stopped run during the last two years. But those runs have been solo ones, in the safety of a park, or even within the colony. Running with others felt weirdly new and yet comfortingly familiar. The old pre-race jitters came back the night before, as I tried to remind myself exactly what I am supposed to eat, and how much water to drink (from personal experience, drinking a litre of water on the morning of the run does not hydrate you, but makes you want to rush to the washroom instead). The next morning, rushing to the start point in a light drizzle, I wondered if I had the time to warm up. I managed a quick jog, few lunges and skips before the start of the run. I needn’t have worried though, since the first 3 km of the run was crowded enough to let me jog at a comfortable pace. But I did not mind the crowd. I had missed it for two years.
Ethiopian runner Muktar Edris had participated in some track meets and some road races in the past two years, but the Bengaluru race was his first “real race” back. “The past 2 years were difficult in running, to motivate yourself in the race without public is very difficult for the mind. During the pandemic we had restrictions. We could for example only train with 2 people if you were 3 or more, police could arrest you. Stadiums and gyms were closed so we had to be creative on how, when and where to train,” he said.
Indian athlete Srinu Bugatha was also at the race. Earlier this year, Bugatha qualified for the Asian Games by winning the men's title in Bangladesh at the SAAF marathon. Bugatha, who’s in the Indian Army, agrees that mass events bring more motivation. “Wherever it may be, having people around gives an instant push. They cheer, they see your bib number and call out, it’s a different feeling. During the pandemic, safety took the priority. No matter how great the training was, I was always worried to race lest I have any symptom.This certainly feels different.”
For the thousands running at the TCS World 10K Bengaluru, the safety arrangements seemed top notch. But yes, at the back of everyone’s mind was the question: Is it too soon? Should I be running with a crowd? Procam had made double vaccinations compulsory for every participant, and there were on spot masks in case you forgot yours. Naturally, with two years of no big races, the organizers did not want to go wrong with their comeback run. For those still having second thoughts, the option of virtual racing was also there, which automatically booked you a place in the next year’s race.
“An on-ground event is exciting and magical. Nothing can compare to that. But hybrid is here to stay. However, in my opinion, going hybrid is fruitful when the event itself is iconic enough, when people have heard about the race and want to be part of it. Otherwise, for a new event going hybrid makes little sense,” said Vivek B. Singh, joint MD, Procam International.
For one of the race partners, sportswear brand Asics, the association ended up being a perfect fit. Asics partners with events such as the Gold Coast Marathon, Tata Mumbai Marathon, and is associated with World Athletics till 2029. For Rajat Khurana, MD, India operations, this year is all the more special because many people had picked up running only during the lockdown and are first time participants at the event. “These events are all big branding opportunities for a performance driven company like ours. We also get to engage with the right target audience at the right time. Was I worried that it would get cancelled like some of the events announced last year? Honestly, it was a 50-50 for me. But the organizers were confident and we are more than willing to back it up,” he says. With partners and participants both back in full swing, it seems that races really are getting back to normal.
I wonder often why I like running. Or pushing myself on days when I don’t feel completely energetic. But road races like this one have a way of reminding me that it’s worth more than how long it took me to finish the run. I was slower than my personal best by at least four minutes, but I finished with the biggest grin, and happily took in the high fives from my fellow runners. As I stretched and chatted with friends, the stadium erupted in cheers as the elite runners broke the course record.