Tens of thou­sands over­come Delhi pol­lu­tion in half marathon

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

NEW DELHI: The tens of thou­sands of peo­ple who par­tic­i­pated in yes­ter­day’s half marathon in In­dia’s cap­i­tal had more than just run­ning 21 kilo­me­ters (13 miles) through New Delhi’s streets on a misty, chilly morn­ing to deal with. They also had to over­come the city’s un­par­al­leled air pol­lu­tion. Last year, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion named New Delhi the world’s most pol­luted city. Twelve other In­dian cities ranked among the world’s most pol­luted 20. Yes­ter­day, 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.

More than 30,000 peo­ple par­tic­i­pated in the race, ac­cord­ing to the Press Trust of In­dia, or PTI. Two run­ners were seen be­ing taken to am­bu­lances, but it was not known why they needed med­i­cal at­ten­tion. Still, the event pro­ceeded in a car­ni­val at­mos­phere, 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,” PTI quoted Legese, who fin­ished in 59 min­utes, 20 sec­onds, as say­ing. “It is even more sat­is­fy­ing con­sid­er­ing the top six were so close.” PM2.5 - the very 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 wore pol­lu­tion masks dur­ing the race.

“I’ve never tried to run with a mask. The idea of wear­ing one for the race seems un­com­fort­able,” said one of the run­ners, Shruti Sax­ena, a 41-year-old busi­ness­woman who has been dis­tance run­ning in New Delhi for eight years. “We’re breath­ing the same air even if we stop run­ning, and I’d rather run than not.” The Delhi half marathon, in its 10th year, has be­come an im­por­tant part of the city’s cal­en­dar. The race, and the in­ter­na­tional run­ners it at­tracts, has en­cour­aged a cul­ture of run­ning in a coun­try where for decades the odd cricket game on the week­end was the most ex­er­cise most peo­ple got. 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 that ev­ery­one 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 Or­ga­ni­za­tion. 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.

“It’s a pub­lic health catas­tro­phe,” said Ak­shay Jait­ley, a lawyer and long­time dis­tance run­ner who has com­peted in races all over the world and ran in yes­ter­day’s half marathon. “You can feel the dif­fer­ence,” he said of train­ing and run­ning races in cities like Bos­ton and Lon­don. But he said he would con­tinue to run in In­dia’s cap­i­tal. “The ben­e­fits of run­ning are more than not run­ning,” he said. — AP

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