The capital was witness to a sight that is typically unusual for a chilly Sunday morning. Thousands of people — men, women and children —had congregated at Vinay Marg, ready to take part in Delhi's mega annual event, the 2009 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon.
There were serious competitors too. The field of elite athletes shot out as soon as the half marathon was flagged off. Deriba Merga successfully defended his title, clocking a time of 59:54 minutes. He was closely followed by Eshetu Wendimu of Ethiopia (60:02) and Kenyan Wilson Kipsang (60:04).
Merga now has a hattrick of titles in India, with the 2008 Delhi half marathon and the Bangalore marathon earlier this year also in his kitty. But the lanky Ethiopian was not fully satisfied with the result.
“I was aiming to run a sub-59 time in the marathon,” he said ruefully. “That is why I'm slightly upset. Hopefully I'll return again next year and break my record,” he said, speaking with the help of his coach who doubles up as the translator.
After a knee injury that forced him to sit out the recent World Championships in Birmingham, Merga explained the preparation had been slightly affected. “After the injury, I could only train on grass,” the champion said.
Merga made an aggressive start and his experience in long-distance running proved valuable in maintaining a consistent speed.
His young compatriot Tilahun Regassa had no such luck. After providing a serious challenge to Merga up till the halfway mark, he fizzled away and finished fourth (60:37).
Merga said that Regassa's impatience had cost him a podium finish. “Tilahun was impatient. I kept asking him to slow down. If he hadn't pushed so hard, he would definitely have been second today,” observed Merga.
Kipsang, who finished second last year, complained of toe pain during the middle stages. “At 15 km, I felt pain in my toe and I checked my speed. The gap between me and the leader became more than expected and I wasn't able to cover the lost ground at the end,” he said.
World champion Mary Keitany won the women's race by crossing the finish line and setting a new course record of 66:54. Despite a stitch in her leg that marginally slowed her blistering pace during the later stages, she left behind Ethiopians Ayelew Wude (67:58) and Aberu Kebede (67:59).
“The course was good and I felt comfortable. The next time here, I will chase the world record of 66:25,” Keitany added.
Among the Indian women, Sukanya Mall came out on top, managing an overall 20th position with a time of 80:11. She was followed by Anuradha Singh (overall 24th) and Kamlesh Baghel (overall 25th).
Deepchand Saharan (64 minutes) was the winner among Indian men, with Santosh Kumar (65:10) and Soji Mathews (65:18) placed second and third respectively.
Unlike the half marathon that was run in an organised manner, the Great Delhi Run over 7 kms had people (and even vehicles) from different directions.
Bruno Goveas, media relations director for the marathon, said, “The sheer number of people participating makes it difficult to coordinate things.” The roads, he said, were “sanitised until 11 am” and only opened to traffic in phases after the finish.
“It is an uncontrolled atmosphere when almost 20,000 people run, the event is not taking place in a closed stadium,” he said.