Monday, November 30, 2015

More than the Runners’ high-The Zendurance Nashik Spirit run experience

The prospect of running amidst the vineyards was too tempting to resist especially when it was just a 4 hour drive from Mumbai. This was despite the fact we had just finished a half marathon the previous Sunday at the exuberant Vasai Virar Mayors Marathon. 

We had first heard about the Zendurance Nashik Spirit run in October post our monthly meet with the Mumbai Road runners (MRR). Runners could register either for the 21k, 10.5 k or 5 k and it was a race amidst the famous Sula Vineyards where participants were entitled to a complimentary wine tasting tour in the grape capital of India. Not wanting to do a back to back 21 k, we signed up for the 10.5 k race, deciding to enjoy the panoramic view of the forest and vineyards.

It was a beautiful drive from Mumbai. Having started early Saturday morning, we managed to escape the traffic snarls and found ourselves in the amphitheatre of Sula Vineyards by noon, where we collected our bibs.  It was breathtakingly beautiful and the entire place had an international feel to it.  We were greeted warmly by the founder of Zendurance, Mr. Ashish Shah and one of the organisers Sushmith, who engaged in a friendly chatter about their event.  Incidentally, they also organise the Ladakh run in July which is an entire week package in order to help runners acclimatize to the Himalayan region before their run. 

We decided to take the wine tasting tour on Saturday to avoid the rush that was anticipated post the race the next day. After being briefed about the intricacies of wine making, we were allowed to sample 5 different kinds of wine.  Feeling a little high already, probably the onset of the runners’ high to be followed the next day, we headed out to our hotel.  Ginger Hotel proved to be the best option as it was situated just 15 mins away from the start point at Sula. 

Sunday dawned with a pleasant chill in the air. The holding area was nice and peppy, brimming with runners, music and warm ups.  The race for the 10 k runners flagged off just 5 mins after the 21 k run.     From the word go, we set off like wild horses let loose in the meadows. The trail was a rocky terrain with huge gravels sticking out as though they wanted our attention, which they certainly got. We had to constantly look at the ground as one slight stumble would throw us off balance, bruising ourselves and our self-esteem in the process. The slopes slowly presented themselves to us as we went up and down to reach a vast lake to our right. Surrounded by dense shrubs, trees and grass all over, the stillness in the woods had a mesmerising feel to it. 

Now a trail run is quite different from running on city roads where the crowd is up and early to cheer us runners which motivates us when we are on the verge of giving up.  Besides the water points stationed by volunteers every 2.5 km, there wasn’t a single soul on the side-lines to pep us.  We were pretty much on our own with just nature for company. 

We could feel the trees and hills watching every step of ours, probably with amusement to see many 2 legged creatures huffing and puffing in their domain. After the 5.5 km mark, we descended downhill and got a beautiful glimpse of an orange ball in the sky.  The sun was making its way into the horizon and the sky began to exhibit a beautiful glow. The shrubs around us developed a certain sparkle. Sights like these are probably nature’s way of cheering us runners to continue with our run, as they are unable to communicate the human language. Taking such cues, we continued our strides and by now it had become slightly warm. The vineyards were in our vicinity, waiting to embrace us post our run. We soon reached the finish line where the founder-Ashish Shah stood there cheering and clapping for every runner who had successfully conquered the mystical woods.

The medals were garlanded instantly with a warm smile from the volunteers who directed us towards the breakfast counter. We were treated to a sumptuous box of poha and idlis which catered to the hungry runner’s appetites.  As more runners streamed in, the venue soon turned into a party place and the DJ began to churn out popular Bollywood tracks and remixes.  The entire community of runners broke into a jig as they let their hair down in jubilation and relief of having run through a tough trail.
The Zendurance Nashik Spirit run truly lived up to its name as it left the runners in high spirits and this was not necessarily because of that 1 bottle of wine. It may have been an arduous trail, certainly not a route to get your PBs, yet it left that million dollar smile on our faces which is why it’s an event to be added to every runner’s bucket list.

Thank you Ashish, Sushmith, volunteers, pacers, photographers for a great experience at Sula Vineyards. Look forward to coming back again next year.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A family that runs together-The Vasai Virar Mayor's Marathon experience


When you have the roads washed for you the day before, volunteers who wake up wee hours of the morning to hand over the necessary refreshments at regular intervals; the village folk sacrificing their Sunday morning sleep to cheer for you, then you have no reason to complain even when the weather Gods are not exactly at their best. 

Despite light showers the day before, Sunday, November 22nd-the day of the Vasai Virar Mayors’ Marathon, still exhibited some humidity in the air. The start line was jubilant with all the Djs and bands playing tracks. The song ‘Bhaag Milka Bhaag’ was enough to make get us going, determined to put our best feet forward.  After running just 2 kms, we were surprised to find ourselves drenched with perspiration. Did the calender just turn back to May?  No time for such thoughts as we saw the board saying ‘water point 100 metres away. ‘Thanking our stars we rushed to replenish ourselves with enerzal and water which the helpful volunteers handed over with a reassuring look.  

Within a short while, around the 7 km mark, we got a glimpse of the breaking dawn as sunrise slowly began to make its way.  Just as we were down on our energy levels, we began to spot runner friends, some of them doing the full marathon. A hi five, wave and a smile was enough to set our spirits soaring as we raced past with renewed vigour, well in time to pose obligingly for the chirpy photographers who clicked away as we continued our strides.  What an amazing set of people, to wake up and travel this far, only because they could treat us runners with sweet memories of our run, not to mention the eye catching display pictures for our profiles on social media.
As we continued our journey, we found the atmosphere to be nothing less than a carnival.  Bands playing, colourful balloons adorned on the road sides, school kids doing their little cheer, lending out their hand in anticipation for a hi five that would make their day, laying yellow flowers for us, handing out bananas, biscuits and their own refreshments.  The old and the young folk of the Vasai village kept clapping with exuberance, encouraging us runners to keep going.  Volunteers who were present at regular intervals handed over the ice pack/ sponge and sprays to ensure that we runners had a comfortable journey to the finish line. It was welcoming to find aid stations at almost every kilometre. Such unsolicited support from volunteers, crowd and the photographers gave us enough incentive to run with zest and banish those questions that kept creeping in time and again “why did I decide to run this one?”  

That reminds me of a few questions I am often asked by non-runners-“How can you keep running? Isn’t it boring? What’s so special about running marathons?”  

Well one thing is to experience the runners high, the feeling of setting a target for yourself and achieving it, the congratulatory messages after you get your medal, is all fine.  But when you are running towards your goal, you realize that there are others who sacrifice so many things so that they can help you achieve your goal. Right from the organizers, volunteers, photographers, pacers to the crowd- they sacrifice their sleep so that they can come and hand over your refreshments, click your pictures to brighten up your day and cheer you up, when you are almost on the verge of giving up your run.  Taking all this into consideration, you realize you are not alone in your journey and it gives you enough incentive and enthusiasm to think of signing up for the next race, no sooner than you have crossed the finish line of the present one.  

Coming back to the Vasai Virar run, we soon reached the finish line and were greeted with pats on our backs by the volunteers who personally attended to each of us asking if we were ok and guiding us towards the medals.  It was a welcome treat to find a sumptuous breakfast awaiting us, thanks to the suggestion by the Mumbai Road Runners-the running group whom we run from Bandra to NCPA every first Sunday of the month.  The Poha and sheera catered to our famished runners’ appetites as they just melted in our mouths.  It was a brilliant and a thoughtful suggestion, considering that we runners were up from 3:00 am and travelled far and wide to run this race.  It was certainly needed to replenish our depleted energy levels. 

Meeting and embracing runner friends post breakfast, posing for pics added to the celebrations. It may not have been the ideal winter weather, which would have restricted many from achieving a good time leading to inevitable disappointments, yet the entire experience of running through amidst the ecstatic and electrical atmosphere was worth the journey. Despite these little drawbacks, we runners went home a satisfied lot. Guess it’s the journey which makes it more memorable than the destination. 

A big thanks to all the volunteers, photographers, organizers, the pacers, the crowd and fellow runners for making this event a joyful and memorable one.