Elite runners brushed off poor air quality and a surge in coronavirus cases Sunday in India's capital for the Delhi Half Marathon, one of the country's first major sporting events since the pandemic started.

Forty-seven professional runners hit the 21-kilometre (13.1-mile) course in the men's and women's event, while amateur participants raced between Wednesday and Sunday to prevent overcrowding.

Ethiopian athlete Yalemzerf Yehualaw runs towards the finish line to win the women's 2020 Airtel Delhi half marathon in New Delhi Ethiopian athlete Yalemzerf Yehualaw runs towards the finish line to win the women's 2020 Airtel Delhi half marathon in New Delhi Photo: AFP / Sajjad HUSSAIN

The route was sprayed with chemicals to minimise the effect of Delhi's annual toxic smog, which blankets the megacity in winter due to traffic and industrial pollution, crop stubble burning and cold temperatures.

The air quality index -- which monitors tiny PM2.5 and PM10 particles that get into the bloodstream and vital organs -- was at 244 and in the "poor" category, the Central Pollution Control Board said Sunday.

Doctors last week said it would be "suicidal" for runners to take part in the competition given the twin risks.

Ethiopian athlete Amedework Walelegn celebrates at the podium after winning the men's 2020 Airtel Delhi half marathon in New Delhi Ethiopian athlete Amedework Walelegn celebrates at the podium after winning the men's 2020 Airtel Delhi half marathon in New Delhi Photo: AFP / Sajjad HUSSAIN

Ethiopia's Amdework Walelegn won the men's race with a course record of 58.53 minutes with last year's champion Andamlak Belihu just a second behind.

The previous best was 59.06 set by Ethiopia's Guye Adola in 2014.

"The course was very good," Walelegn said.

"In earlier years there were a lot of U-turns, but this time it was flat and good to race on."

In the women's race, Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia won in 1.04.46 -- also a record -- with Kenya's Ruth Chepngetich second.

Avinash Sable, who has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in 3000m steeplechase, was the top Indian finisher with a record national time of 1:00.30.