30,000 run in Delhi Half Marathon
With their sports gear on, filmmaker Prakash Jha and actress Bipasha Basu lent their support to thousands of men and women participating in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday.
Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had named New Delhi the world’s most polluted city. Twelve other Indian cities ranked among the world’s most polluted in the top 20.
On Sunday, most of New Delhi’s government-run air monitors were showing “very poor” readings, providing an extra challenge for those taking part in the annual half marathon. Over 30,000 people participated in the race. Two runners were seen being taken to ambulances.
But the event proceeded unhindered, with Ethiopia’s Birhanu Legese and Kenya’s Cynthia Limo winning the men’s and women’s elite categories.
“It is my first time in Delhi, and I have come up with a personal best,” said Legese, who finished the race in 59 minutes, 20 seconds. He added: “It is even more satisfying considering the top six were so close.”
PM2.5 — the fine particles that get lodged deep in the lungs and cause the most damage — crossed 300 at some places in New Delhi, but very few runners had wore pollution masks during the race. “I have never tried to run with a mask. The idea of wearing one for the race seems uncomfortable,” Shruti Saxena, a 41-year-old businesswoman and a participant. “We are breathing the same air even if we stop running and I would rather run than not,” added Saxena, who has been participating in the marathon for the past eight years.
The Delhi Half marathon, in its tenth year, has become an important part of the city’s calendar. The race, which also attracts international runners, has encouraged a culture of running in the country, where youngsters can be seen playing cricket on weekend. Running groups are now gaining in popularity across the country.
The US Embassy’s air quality monitor, located in one of the greenest parts of the city, showed a reading of 283 this weekend, deemed so hazardous that the Embassy advised everyone to avoid outdoor activities. The readings were nearly five times higher than what India deems acceptable and 11 times what’s recommended by the World Health Organisation.
The race is typically scheduled for late October or November, when the air is cooler and the scorching north Indian summer has ended. But the cold weather also leads to spikes in smog levels.