There are trail blazers, and then there are the trail makers. Bangalore based entrepreneur Kavitha Kanaparthi’s venture Globeracers has been instrumental in the evolution of ultrarunning in India and promoting participation in the sport among India’s burgeoning running community. Globeracers organizes some of India’s most prestigious, challenging and scenic ultrarunning events like the Nilgiris 100 Ultra, the Bhatti Lakes Ultra and the Run of Kutch. Globeracers has been key to providing an organized platform for the sport in India, and giving runners in India an experience comparable to international ultrarunning events. At Unived Sports, we have been fortunate to have had the chance to hydrate Globeracers events like the Nilgiris Ultra 2014 and the upcoming Run of Kutch 2015. We caught up with Kavitha to learn more about the organizer’s perspective on ultrarunning in India, the challenges in managing multiple races in some of India’s most extreme locations, and the way forward for the sport in India.
You started out as an electrical engineer and spent a few years in the US – far away from the Indian ultrarunning world. What sparked this major life change to come back to India and to kickstart the competitive endurance event scene in the country?
I got my BS in Electrical Engineering but never worked in the field. I consulted in the Computer Networks field for a few years and built my business in the same field. Never was I inclined to be an Engineer – it just so happened that I got my degree in Engineering.
I didn’t intend to start Globeracers in India. I was looking for running tracks during a short stay in India, and things materialized after a 4 day run in Sundakphu, West Bengal.
The first international event organized by Globeracers was the Thar Desert Race 2009. What are the unique challenges, from an organizer’s perspective, in setting up such events in India? Did you face any teething troubles in organizing the first event?
Absolutely. There was little understanding of the sport at that time in India. There were but a few people like Arun Bharadwaj whose life revolved around ultrarunning at that time. From the thought, to planning to execution was immensely difficult. Logistics had to be planned meticulously, equipment for these kinds of events was hard to find, especially transporting to the desert was incredibly difficult, and volunteers were hard to come by. These are not events where volunteers can be paid and there was no ultrarunning community to seek out. GPS marking was tough as it was only me who could operate the device and I ended up probably running the entire route multiple times by the time race ended. It has been years now and we still face some of these problems.
Could you tell us a bit about the team at Globeracers and how you folks came together? How long does the planning and execution for an event take? How far ahead do you have to start?
Initially it was just me, along with folks we would hire. With each race, a few awesome souls would seek us out and volunteer at races. A few such people are Prateek Mohan, Prashant, Avinash Pratap Singh, Archit Rakheja. We got introduced to Abhijit Yeole by our friend and runner Aparna and he has been an integral part of the organization. Then we find some real great support in friends like Goutham Shankar and Vishwas Prasad who enable our activities such as photography and design, with very little to no compensation. We work on trust, gratitude, and goodwill. This has gone a long way in ensuring that we can go from race to race without breaking our backs financially, though we have only been losing money every year, still. Each race takes us a year in planning, recceing and creating the race for next year’s calendar. We start ahead so that we don’t leave any planning for chance, especially security and safety aspect of the runners.
Great running spaces are not very easy to come by in India, what with the constant tussle with traffic and shoddy roads. Events like the Run of Kutch and the Himalayan Crossing are more than races – they are meditative experiences that offer an escape to runners in India. Is this something that guides you when you conceptualize events? What else is involved in the conceptualization process for events?
I travel, which is one of my passions. Every time I step out to see a new place, I have running on my mind and I carry my shoes with me. If I feel one with the place and I feel challenged by the route I was on, I look at it as a possible race route and investigate further. I sometimes visit the place multiple times before we decide to put on a race on that route. Once we are set on the route, the team will discuss and pick from among the shortlisted locations before we finalize and announce to the running community and put it on our calendar. Parameters such as elevation, terrain, weather, logistics and safety go in to designing the format of the race. We know there will be other ultra races and we want runners to feel challenged when they think of Globeracers’ races and aspire to train and participate in it.
Compared to regular running races, ultra events are relatively sparse in the Indian running calendar. Yet, even with comparatively less visibility, more and more runners in India seem to be proactively seeking out and going all out in their preparation for extreme/endurance events. What, in your opinion, is causing this shift?
Every athlete, no matter what sport they choose, seeks to rise above their limitations – perceived or real. In running, beyond a marathon, the next steps are multi-day events and single stage endurance races. Also, when a runner witnesses their peers taking on tougher challenges that weren’t witnessed earlier, it inspires and challenges them to take it on too. In India, running, despite the increasing numbers, is in nascent stages of proper understanding of the sport and the pursuit of it in itself is alluring.
When it comes to events like Comrades, Ironman and Badwater, high event fees and related costs are a big barrier for Indian participants. How do you think we can collectively improve the sponsorship prospects and overall support for athletes in India who wish to compete internationally?
There will be a time when runners from India can dominate the ultrarunning world with their proven records and properly planned entries to international races. Results will have to be shown by runners who are well trained, supported and mentally ready. When that continues to happen, brands who have the most to gain from additional exposure to the sport will start to sponsor individual runners. Even around the world there are fewer sponsored individual ultrarunners when compared to marathoners, who provide larger extent of exposure to sponsors.
What does your personal endurance calendar look like? Are you training for something in 2015? What’s your dream event?
I love to run on my own, and I usually set a target for summer months to recce a new route. It hasn’t been so in 2014 and the same goes for 2015. I am looking to shift my focus from hands-on approach to races to overall management, and it is consuming most of my time at the moment. I was to run in a region of the Himalayas this summer, scouting for a different route, to an extent of 300K, with no set time agenda. That may not happen this year as I haven’t been able to do any long runs.
You have seen incredible growth in the last 5 years. In terms of growing the endurance community in India and organizing more flagship events, what is the next frontier for Globeracers?
We are working on creating a base for runners to be sponsored by us, independent of outside sponsors. Globeracers has been sponsoring several athletes in the field of cycling for the past 4 years, from selection from various small towns in the country, their complete training expenses, living in Bangalore to learn skills, participating in races nationally and winning medals at national level. We plan to extend that to running from 2015 hopefully, sponsoring ultrarunners to participate in races around the world. In addition, we hope to create a running festival that will be held in different cities each year, invite international runners, and celebrate running with short and long distance races, seminars and boot camps. These will benefit serious ultrarunners and those who aspire to learn from international experienced runners and find avenues to enter international races.
What does the introduction of a product like RRUNN™ mean for the Indian ultra community? How do you think they will receive an Indian product such as this?
Runners have shied away from products given their cost factor at times and also availability in local/online stores. It’s great to have a comparable product made available locally and at an affordable cost.
Unived is an Indian company that is making vegan & gluten-free products for endurance athletes. Your views, words of encouragement, or advice for us?
Ensure you reach out to the entire community, veterans and amateurs alike. You will find some good balance in how your product is perceived when you reach out to a spectrum of users. There something that every runner can gain from Unived products and it will vary from runner to runner, based on their experience and their targets. Learning from them will enable Unived’s future research and development of the product.
Photo by Saify Naqvi