Kolkata, December 9, 2016: Expectant of seeing a bigger attendance on race day this year in Kolkata, Multiple marathon record holder and TSK 25K Race Director Hugh Jones feels running has now firmly established itself as a career option with the huge media attention and its conversion from isolated effort to being a spectator sport.
“Running has changed almost beyond recognition. In the 1960s when I started running we were thought of as oddballs and there were no genuinely popular events: it was just a few dozen people – almost exclusively men – running around muddy fields or back country lanes. There was no TV interest and no charity fundraising – and almost no spectators,” Jones said talking about Tata Steel Kolkata 25K run promoted by Procam International Pvt. Ltd.
He went on to add: “Even in my time running offered the chance for a good runner to make it into a profession. But now it is on a much broader sense.”
Talking about the 25 K here, Jones looked excited: “The TSK 25km has been the first ‘new’ distance running event for me and the Procam team in a few years. It is always a challenge to come up with the best possible event from ‘scratch’, especially in a new location. However, we have had very good partners from the Police, from the City authorities and from the West Bengal Athletics Federation.”
Though the response has not been magical from the laid back and more cerebral city that Kolkata is, he is happy to see the graph rising: “It has not been as explosive as the early take-up was in Mumbai, and even in Delhi, but there is steady growth and we expect this to pick up as it did with other places throughout the country. I am sure we will be looking back on the race in a few years time and comparing it with the best that anywhere else has to offer.”
His personal favourite is of course the “Red Road start and finish itself and passing under the monstrous metal framework of the Second Hooghly Bridge. There are prettier parts of the route too – such as the Victoria Memorial.”
Talking about his races, the first Briton to win the British Marathon veered onto the subject of the most memorable run of his career: “Sahara Marathon 2003. It is run between the refugee camps of Western Sahara on hard-packed desert floor. We were hosted by refugee families. At night the dark was unlike anywhere else – only starlight. While running it was yourself under a big blue sky with nothing else on the horizon (the other runners were behind me, I won it in 2:46). And I was re-visiting the area for the first time in 40 years, at which time it was still a Spanish colony, so it held a few memories for me as well as the new experiences.”
Even though ‘injuries’ have been the biggest challenge for Jones, who has won marathons in New Zealand, Iceland, West Indies, Spain and Africa, feels India is on the cusp of a running revolution:“I see it as booming. The main job is to try to supply quality races to match the enthusiasm of people who wish to participate. Elite runners are a slightly different issue and the Elite Distance Running Programme (EDRP) developed by Procam under the aegis of the Sports Authority of India has certainly shown encouraging results in the short time it has been operating.”
“I think the EDRP Initiative is showing how this can be done – by gradual assimilation of elite runners into the global scene based upon sound training in a favourable domestic setup,” he added.
But only professionalism does not help, for Jones running is a passion and it is the passion that has made him stick to the sport so long after giving it up.