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.