Kargil war veteran Major DP Singh rises up to the challenge of the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K run

Long-distance running is the path Tata Steel has taken to bolster its links with the community and, in the process, provide a boost for sports

Kolkata is not associated with crowd-pulling running events, but when Sourav Ganguly, India’s former cricket captain and the city’s beloved ‘dada’, exhorts his fellow Kolkatans to run for their health, they do. The spurring certainly worked for the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K run (TSK25), with more than 10,000 participants in the 2017 edition of the event.

TSK25, which has completed four years, is the most prominent piece in Tata Steel’s embrace of long-distance running. West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand are the states where the company has rolled out its running events, and the roster includes the Jamshedpur Run-a-thon in 2014, the Bhubaneswar Half Marathon in 2016 and the Noamundi Run-a-thon in 2017.

A FINE FIT

City-centric long-distance running, particularly the marathon, has become increasingly popular in places like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi — the recent Tata Mumbai Marathon attracted more than 44,000 participants — but not so much in other Indian metros. Tata Steel has tried to change that and its tie-up with Procam International to launch TSK25 in 2014 provided a much-needed boost for running in the city and the region as well.

For Tata Steel, traditionally a big supporter of sports and sportspeople, marathons are a terrific way to engage with the community. Running is becoming all the rage in India and is the most popular mass-participation activity in the country.

Participants get going in the showpiece event of the hugely popular Tata Steel Kolkata 25K run

The Tata Steel runs in Kolkata, Jamshedpur, Bhubaneswar and Noamundi have, additionally, been a shot in the arm for running in general in eastern India.

The Kolkata event stands out in the lot. It is India’s first 25km race to be accredited by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races, a global body for long-distance running. With a $100,000 prize money pool, it offers a splendid platform for professional and amateur runners to contest against the best of Indian talent as well as international competitors.

Designed to pull in the greatest number of participants, TSK25 has five categories: the showpiece 25km run, an open 10km run, an ‘Ananda’ (or fun) run of 5km, a senior citizen’s run of 4km and a ‘champions run’ of 4km for people with disabilities. The event has grown in leaps and bounds since its 2014 unveiling and has the backing of Kolkata’s film industry and celebrities like Ganguly. Former tennis ace Boris Becker was the international face of the event in 2016 and long jump world record holder Mike Powell in 2017.

Ethiopian distance running ace Kenenisa Bekele (centre left) and American long jump world record holder Mike Powell (right) — also the event ambassador — at the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K run

Social responsibility and philanthropy are themes that have been woven into TSK25. The event has raised a cumulative 23.6 million in charitable funding, with the 2017 edition bringing in 5.6 million. The 30 NGOs registered with the run work for a wide variety of causes in spheres such as education, health, skill development, women empowerment and environmental conservation.

The other running events in the Tata Steel stable are similar in concept and execution. The Jamshedpur Run-a-thon, which promotes fitness and a healthy work-life balance, has races in three categories: 10km and 7km runs open to all and a 5km run for children under 16. The 2017 run saw more than 6,000 people participating.

It’s flag-off time in the first edition, held in 2017, of the Tata Steel Noamundi Run-a-thon

RACES ALL OVER

The Tata Steel Bhubaneswar Half Marathon is the only professional run held in Odisha. Organised by the company in association with the state government’s sports department, it unfolds every January and has three categories, 5km, 10km and 21km. The 2018 edition of the event had in excess of 4,500 runners.

Noamundi is home to Tata Steel’s mining operations. The running event here has been a big help for the company in reinforcing its relationship with the community. The theme for the first edition of the Noamundi event, held in 2017, was ‘run for biodiversity’. About 5,000 participants ran in four different categories: the 10km and 7km events for men and women, a 5km run for school and college students, and a 2km run for the disabled.

The Tata Steel Bhubaneswar Half Marathon, jointly organised with the Odisha government, began in 2016 and is the only professional run held in the state; the 2018 edition had about 5,000 runners
More than 6,000 people participated in the 2017 edition of the Tata Steel Jamshedpur Run-a-thon, which had the twin objectives of promoting fitness and a healthy work-life balance

The running events that Tata Steel supports have grown together to become an important part of the backing that the company provides to sports as a whole. And, judging from the manner of their expansion, the road ahead looks more than promising to runners and running in eastern India.