I had read about the Nasik Spirit Run, held in the midst of vineyards, and wanted to take part last year. But the registrations had already closed by the time I tried to register. I couldn’t be late this year too & registered myself a good three & a half months prior to the event. The run was scheduled 2 weeks after the Spice Coast Marathon at Kochi (http://theotherwhys.blogspot.in/2015/12/a-spicy-run-along-spicy-coast.html) and I was sure HM would be beyond me, so it was the 10K this time. You Too Can Run has got its hands on a very good property with Zendurance Nashik Spirit Run. This was at the fag end of the daughter’s vacation & this event became a family outing too. She was very happy to know that she would traveling to two different places during this vacation which would be the envy of her friends at school!
It was a 3-day trip for us & when we departed early on 27th November, it was one big family (myself, wife, daughter, dolls, teddies & other soft toys) who managed to squeeze into our small car. The Baroda- Nasik drive is some 350-odd km, but most of it is in Gujarat & one finds it very comfortable. You would also pass through the only hill station in Gujarat & can plan an overnight stopover here. Weather is pleasant in Nasik at this time of the year. It was just a week since we returned from a hectic travel to Kerala & we had decided that this is going to be a relaxed trip, while we were in Nasik (1 full day & 2 less than half days). I was particular abt this because immediately after the run I had to drive back to Baroda.
One has two options to collect the Bib. One is to collect it on Friday in Nasik town. I opted for the other, which was on Saturday at Sula Vineyards. After all, what is a visit to Nasik without going to Sula? I would anyway have to go there for the run, but the family had accompanied me. The leisurely Saturday morning found us at Sula Vineyards. It’s a beautiful green place surrounded on all sides by vine yards and very close to Ganga Sagar reservoir. Now, for the best part. Bundled with the registration fees, is a complimentary wine tasting tour. They also had a discounted offer for those accompanying the runners (Rs. 250/- for tasting 5 wines, apart from the tour). They take you around the factory & tell you a lot about the wine making process, the types of grapes used for wine, etc. Now, this is very informative but totally useless for one who has access to only bootlegged liquor back home! There’s a problem that runners from Gujarat will face. You have the entire range of Sula Wines to buy, but how do bring it back? There can be unpleasant scenes once you enter Gujarat, so it is better to have it here itself. The organisers had advised us to go for the wine tasting tour on Saturday itself, as Sunday could be more crowded & we followed the advice. Having to drive back some 350 odd kms immediately after the run was also a reason I did not opt for Sunday. It would be a better option to do so on Sunday, followed by having the wines of your choice at the Sula bar (which has a terrific view) if you take an off day from work the next day.
The event starts quite early & the assembly is even earlier. As the road leading to Sula is a narrow one which would also be where the runners would run the initial (and final) stretch, one needs to be at the venue well in time. At around 5 am, I was out on my way to Sula. Nasik, being an industrial town, there were enough people on the way to guide me along. I actually saw a lot of people jogging/running early in the morning. Now, being almost 10/15 km from the venue, I do not think they were participating in the run. I think Zendurance/YTCR did not really publicise the event locally, maybe to keep the numbers low. Most probably, these were youngsters who had moved to Nasik after getting a job here. Of course, there were also older ones out walking. This also showed that Nasik has a healthy running culture which can be exploited by race organisers (there’s another event in a month’s time). I found a couple of cars waiting by the side & in response to my query was asked to follow as they were also going to Sula. Thus, window panes now up, I was playing catch up rest of the way. Being early also helps one easily find a good parking space.
It was a wonderful atmosphere at the assembly point. The weather was cold, but not much. While other events start at a large ground or a stadium, this one was within the Sula premises. Beautifully landscaped, it had a cozy ambience. Runners were busy in stretching & warming up in groups, or solo (like I was). The Aurangabad Blackbucks, a running group from Aurangabad had sent a large contingent for the event. There were families too, participating in different categories, who did not have to spend needless amount of waiting time as the races (5K, 10K & HM) started off with a lag of 5 minutes. This is helpful for outstation participants, else the kids would get restless waiting over half an hour doing nothing (they never stretch or warmup!!).
We started off when the first light of dawn was making its presence felt. After an initial stretch of metalled road (leading to the vineyard), we move on to a stretch of unpaved path/road. Rest of the route is meant exclusively for 2-wheelers or pedestrians, though not only because of road width! The organisers had advised us in advance about not running barefoot as this was a mix of road + trail. But we had just begun.
Nasik is also an industrial town with plenty of interesting destinations. One of these is the Gangapur Dam. An a good part of the route is by the side of the dam. Add the early morning light & onset of cold weather, which teamed up for a wonderful running weather.
This stretch besides Gangapur is quite narrow with a pair of well worn paths made by innumerable people & bikes that have traversed it. The return leg takes one back along this way, thus it is not easy to overtake a slower runner as you have others coming the opposite direction. Of course, one can always run over the grassy patch in between if one is in a hurry. I wasn’t.
I saw two runners ahead with “Nirlep Runners” printed on their jersey who were talking to each other as they ran. When asked “what’s the hurry”, the other runner replied “the organisers would close the race”. I got chatting to the guy in front as I overtook them. I reminded them of the post-race breakfast that may be over as the 5K runners would surely finish ahead as would the faster of the 10K & HM runners. Now, this guy (Yogesh Karandikar, Bib No. 10105) told me he is on a fast. It was Sankashti Chaturthi that day & he would be off meals till dinner time. (You can read more about Sankashti Chaturthi on wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angarki_Sankashti_Chaturthi.) Of course, he could always have some fruit. He had come from Aurangabad & would be going back immediately upon completion. Now, Nirlep is a well known cookware brand & I was curious as to what the relation was. He informed me that they worked with Nirlep in Aurangabad. Their CEO joined a running group there (Aurangabad Blackbucks, that I mentioned earlier). Inspired, he formed a running group in his company too. Some of those who joined initially continued with the habit & a few now regularly travel to events outside Aurangabad. Like our friends here. I couldn’t get to discuss this but hope Nirlep facilitates employee participation in running events by means of reimbursing costs & extra leave.
A little further, and I came across another couple of guys. One of them was carrying a backpack. I jokingly enquired whether Sunday was not a weekly off & if he was immediately rushing to office after the run. He appeared not at all unhappy while informing me that there were no off days at work. To my query, he replied he had come from Deolali. I knew that Deolali was a cantonment town & received the affirmation that they were from the army. Part of the artillery unit, I was with runners who were actually gunners!! So, it was another race day selfie time with soldiers (remember, I had one at Kochi too). These are the people who don’t expect an off day at work so that we can avail weekly offs & annual holidays! One can never be grateful enough to our soldiers!!
The 5K mark is where we turn back towards Sula Vineyards. The HM is two loops of 10.5 K. They have hydration points at 2.5K, 5K, 7.5K & 10K. When we reached the turnaround point (5K), they had run out of Enerzal. Of course, they had enough in stock at the 7.5K mark. I hope they replenished the 5K point too for the HM runners who would be back at this point & would really need it. This is the only crib for a very well managed event.
Just beyond the turnaround, there is a steep drop off the Dam site where we get to a truly off-the-beaten-trail portion. There you see them, going towards the turnaround point & then down below, all in a single file. Immediately as I saw this, I realized we would climbing back up by a similar height but over a much longer distance. And it would not be a good, paved, metalled road. I am relieved that I didn’t go for the 21K!
Getting down we come across this caution sign out up by the organisers & soon come up to a ditch that comes into view at the very last moment. If not for the caution sign, more than a few 1st time participants would surely be stumbling down it. During the younger days we would run through such ditches & enjoy thoroughly. However, age brings not only maturity but also risk aversion along with it.
They should have put other signs too. Like “mind your head” at this point. But this is the only place one needed to stoop & rest of the course can be run with head held high unless one is too tired!
One soon climbs up to road level & it’s fortunately a short climb that one can walk through in quick time. So, a 21K should not be a daunting task as I feared earlier & I may return here for the HM and another wine tasting session.
The gentleman here is not scary enough to deter me from coming back. But I am not a bird & he would be performing his job admirably.
The local residents perhaps find it funny to see so many people out running so early. But the predominance of red colour on their dresses reminds one that we need to be elsewhere soon.
Back in my hotel room after an enjoyable run, the medal too found its parking place!