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Tata Steel Kolkata 25k: A post Covid return to running events

Running enthusiasts have missed the buzz of running events since the beginning of Covid-19. One runner writes about how it felt to run with other people again

Participants take part in the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K Marathon, in Kolkata on Sunday. (ANI Photo)
Participants take part in the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K Marathon, in Kolkata on Sunday. (ANI Photo) (Utpal Sarkar)

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Yesterday, I ended my five-year sabbatical from running events. The Tata Steel Kolkata 25k’s 10km race was my first since the Brighton Full Marathon in April 2018. It was also my first-ever mass participation event after the end of the pandemic and the timing and location couldn’t have turned out better. Now, the Tata Mumbai Marathon remains my favourite; but running in Kolkata on a nippy mid-winter morning, the course winding past Victoria Memorial, the Maidan grounds, the Race Course to Eden Gardens, is now a close second.       

The 10km (the first race to be flagged off at 5:40am) is a popular distance, and there were plenty of runners. I managed to avoid the mild shoving at the starting line by sticking to one side of the road. The feeling of running with others once again was a nice one, I have that I have missed it. The distance feels magically shorter when you are surrounded by so many others running towards the same goal. 

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We started as dawn was breaking and a thick mist covered the vast open expanse on either side of the race route. The crowd support in Kolkata is sparse and almost absent compared to Mumbai, so, to make up for that, the race organisers had filled the route with performers and loud music. There were the traditional Bengal drummers playing the dhak just 500m from the start line. The upbeat music certainly helps picking up the pace as many runners tend to keep time with the beat. As we made our way towards the Maidan, we ran past people with kit bags making their way to play cricket while multiple games of football were already underway. 

Before I knew it, I was already at the 5km mark, having run around the cantonment neighbourhood close by the colonial Fort William. The course went on along the Race Course and then took a U-turn at the 7km mark. It then led along one side of the Victoria Memorial boundary wall, before turning right towards the building that is synonymous with the city. As the race progresses, the crowds tend to thin out if you are even marginally quick. So, by the time I was turning near Victoria, running along the race line was easy without anyone cutting across or blocking the way. The overly enthusiastic runners who were jostling for a quick start, and the rookie runners too, had already fallen behind by the 3km mark. I was thrown back to the time about 12 years ago when I didn't know how to pace myself, and found myself appreciating the benefits that come with experience.

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I was feeling good and running at a steady and even pace after a rather fast start when my Garmins (I was wearing two, FR 255S Music and Venu SQ2 Music, to compare their performance) alerted me that I had run the first kilometre about 15% faster than my usual average pace these days. I consciously slowed down slightly so as to not struggle towards the finish and saw plenty of people overtake me. However, by the time I crossed 6km, I found many of them were either winded, or beginning to tire, and I could easily overtake them. 

Going past runners is a good feeling. Perhaps, as good and liberating as managing to overtake a silly driver holding up traffic. Some others who were also holding back overtook me--including someone I knew--sprinting past me in the last 500m. Being overtaken is not that great a feeling, especially near the finish line, when I was actually accelerating and making best use of the Asics MetaSpeed Edge carbon tech race shoes. But I also managed to go past a couple of runners who were ahead of me and that left me feeling content again.  

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I enjoyed the race and went on to breakfast with three friends I had car-pooled to the race wit. One thing all of us agreed on was that the organisation of this event has steadily improved with each passing year since we ran it first in 2014. I’d say it is almost as slick a production as the Tata Mumbai Marathon. Yesterday’s race has already got me planning another race with friends next year. Strictly for fun, not any personal record.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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