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 the elite athletes shot out as soon as the half marathon was flagged off. Deriba Merga, the defending champion, was at the head of the pack, along with Wilson Kipsang, Stephen Mokoko, Titus Masai and Tilahun Regassa bunching together. 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 has now won 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 also doubles up as the translator.
After a knee injury that forced him to sit out the World Championships at Birmingham recently, Merga explained the preparation had been slightly affected. "Generally I practise on the roads. But after my injury, I could only train on grass," the champion said.
Merga said a change of strategy had worked to his advantage. The athlete made an aggressive start and maintained the same speed until the very end. Being an experienced long-distance runner, he was able to consistently pace himself.
His young compatriot Tilahun Regassa had no such luck. After providing a serious challenge to Merga in the beginning and 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.
The race was a melange of colours and laughter and merriment as entire families took to the road. Kitted up in colourful trainers and jumpsuits and track pants, the atmosphere was a festive one at the start-finish line. Some showed off the Indian tricolour painted on their cheeks, while a whole group was decked out in fluorescent pink Afro-style wigs. Shah Rukh Khan and actor Rahul Bose provided a touch of glamour and style at the grandstand, along with ace Indian boxer Vijender Kumar.
All the participants were chipped and timed. Onlookers crowded the pavements to cheer on the runners. Photographers (amateur and professionals) clicked away from every conceivable angle. With the sun glowing behind India Gate and the frontrunners scampering away towards the coveted prize, the Delhi Half Marathon symbolised the city's enthusiasm for everything fast and furious.