At 6.54 am on Sunday, when the city lay asleep under a thin blanket of smog, the first set of feet bounded on to the Bandra-Worli sea link.
The spectacular cable-stayed bridge, which was opened last July, was cleared of cars and made part of the marathon route at the seventh Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon.
The starter gun had been fired nine minutes earlier near Bandra’s Rang Sharda Hotel, the starting point for the 21-km half marathon.
Elite athletes darted towards what emerged as the most memorable 5.6 km stretch in the entire length of the half-marathon.
As the amateur runners rushed in next, for some, all sense of competitive timing dissipated on the towering bridge. With awe taking over, they stopped mid-sea link to take photographs on their cellphone cameras, a feat they perhaps can’t repeat till next year’s marathon.
“I felt a sense of achievement watching the sunrise while on the bridge. The sea was calm and Mumbai’s skyline was in clear view. I took a few moments to wait and stare,” said businessman Tejas Malhotra (30).
As visually-impaired Kenyan athlete Henry Wanyoike and his track guide Joseph Kibunja sprinted past Worli’s hutments, they didn’t quite hear the encouraging cheers they expected.
For the local fisher folk, taking their morning baths on the road before the water ran out was a more pressing concern.
While adrenalin coursed through south Mumbai’s roads, the city’s commitment was on display on the paved sidewalks. Families still in their pyjamas substituted the usual soundtrack of blaring horns with claps, cheers and slogans such as ‘Come on India’.
Bystander action peaked at Marine Drive, where cheerleaders, musicians and pedestrians lent their hands and voices to motivate the athletes on the last leg of their run.
At the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the jamboree had begun.
Senior citizens jigged with actors Akshay Kumar and John Abraham, others donned fancy dresses to spread their message. As for the differently-abled, they whizzed on their wheelchairs to prove their mettle.