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Sanskar Nagri bares its Soul at SoleFest

th Feb (Bhavnagar HM) & 5thMarch (Mt Abu Trail HM) & Bhavnagar won because we got an extra week to prepare for the event. This was really tough as we knew many running buddies from Baroda had planned to run Mt. Abu (Bhavnagar too, for that matter), but the bullet had to be bitten. That they would get to drown their sorrow of missing this event in freely available beer made us wipe our tears & gird the loins.

by none other than the wife, when we were returning after the event. I shall come back to this later.

We also decided that there would be no 5K, to avoid needless attention being paid to non-serious runners. Thus, we had men & women running 10K & the HM in 2 categories each – Open & Veteran. As none of us had any political aspirations, nor did anyone desire the record books noting our participation levels, we could focus on a manageable event to promote the cause dear to Dr. Chauhan – Organ Donation. Lest Rakesh be scared, the doc was kind enough to explain the meaning & rationale behind the objective. We targeted & planned for some 500 odd participants. A small, but not an easy number to achieve as we had only about 3 weeks to put on the show. Not forgetting that many of the seasoned runners were going to Mt. Abu & Surat for events announced much earlier. Apart from social media (WhatsApp, Facebook & Twitter), volunteers fanned out to the parks & hot spots where morning walkers & runners usually hang out. In the end, we ended up with 700-plus runners, with over 70 for the HM. We were not stumped by this response as we already had Plan-B, Plan-C & Plan-D in place to cater to any such jump in participation. The tagline "Daudo Dil Se" (coined by Adil) pulled at the heart strings of Baroda's runners.

Doc Chauhan had gathered a very competent set of individuals to execute the plan. We had people like Rakesh, who did a lot of running around. In fact, he ran around so much that he did not run in the event itself (was it the absence of 4 things?), stationing himself at the venue. And Reni, who made his appearance when (and where) it mattered the most. Then we had Dr. Narendra Joshi, Faiz, Mohammed, Narendrabhai, Harjeet, the Smart couple (Dr. Neha & Himanshu), Dr. Akash Singh, RK Menon, Ajay Sharma, Dr. Piyush Doshi and the lot (which included the Spandan & HCG teams). Pardon me for not putting down the entire list. In their own ways, they went about doing the small tasks that made up the whole event.

We used to meet at Spandan Hospital to discuss the event, in late evening hours when we were done with our professional responsibilities. The discussions were cordial & consensus was attained without much friction. But the best thing used to be the dinner at the end. Dr. Chauhan’s hospitality was always been a benchmark! As you know, runners love to eat. You would also know what all these events feed us after the run. After some debate, we all voted for unlimited puri-bhaji with tea/coffee over samosa/kachori with tea/coffee. Nothing like a heavy meal after a long run, if one is a runner. And the guys actually tasted 3 different types before finalizing the bhaji. Didn’t I tell you, this one was organized with the runners in mind?

Spandan Multispeciality Hospital & HCG Cancer Center were the major sponsors. The basic expenses were met, with some help from the nominal participation fees (Rs. 300). While we were not stingy with the runners’ essentials (dry-fit jersey, medal, hydration, ORS, physio), we were not in a position to be lavish either, on account of the short window to collect funds & organize the event. Of course, this called for innovative solutions (or, if you prefer an indianised term, jugaad). Thus, we had a run without timing chips (promising ourselves that we would have it the next time). But we arranged for LED time displays (finish) & video cams (finish & turnaround) to capture the finish time of runners & avoid controversies. Nor did we have standees marking the distance, but vehicles were parked along the route with KM markers.

We did not even need to decide that there would be no celebrity to flag off the race. With even the Vadodara International Marathon starting on time this year, we couldn’t afford failing on this account. We had arranged for Zumba performance to warm up the runners before the start. It so happened that as the start time neared, there were no signs of the performance ending (because the performers arrived late?). With a delay of a couple of minutes, the HM was flagged off. The HM route took one from HCG grounds to Havmor Circle on OP Road & onwards to Nilambar Circle & Priya Cinema up to the intersection with Gotri Road. And all the way back to HCG for the 21K. The 10K runners turned back a little after taking left from Havmor. The HM was flagged off at 5:30 AM (to be precise, 5:32) & the 10K at 6:00 AM, the time lag to avoid any rush at the beginning or the end.

When the 10K was being flagged off, I was there at the front of the pack. No, I wasn’t aiming for a podium finish. I wanted to return earlier for the puri bhaji before the rush began. But I simply can’t run fast enough for a considerable distance. Less than  KM & Dr. Suresh Iyengar (the one who paced me in Gandhinagar & Vadodara earlier) caught up with a “mera partner mil gaya”. And we were joined by Dr. Sejal, who was returning from injury picked at BSafal (and was consequently out of practice) & Ajay Sharma, one of the pacers at VIM (which reminds me, I still haven’t begun the 2ndpost on VIM). This prompted Dr. Iyengar to up his speed as we moved to OP Road & go ahead. And I tagged along (As I have been telling you since the last two posts, there is no better pacer than Dr. Iyengar).

We (Doc Iyengar & I) usually make a guess about who we will come across on the return at what distance. As expected, Fazal came sprinting along at 4K (that was the distance we had covered as well as Fazal’s pace). He loves to run, else we may as well as handed him the 1st prize even before the race began & no one would have uttered a word in protest. Actually he doesn't even run, he gallops & needs under 40 minutes to cover 10K. Next we came across Vasudev & Sameer Gaikwad, strides in sync. I cannot decide whether Sameer is a fast runner or Vasu a slow one. Yes, they were running at the same speed but Sameer, I believe, is more than twice Vasu’s age. And we make so much noise about the age factor in active sports.

I was feeling thirsty but the 1sthydration point was still some distance away. Zaheer Khan had arranged his cyclist buddies to provide hydration support to runners along the route. I saw one coming & stopped to get some water. He pulled a bottle & handed it out but a runner zipped past taking the bottle with him!! The kind cyclist went for another one but found he had run out of stock. He went to replenish, while I moved ahead to get some water near Manisha Chokdi & catch up with Dr. Iyengar. I can put it on record there’s nothing like a quenched throat & Dr. Iyengar’s company to make an early morning run, whatever the distance, enjoyable. (It’s another matter, Dr. Iyengar rarely wakes up early & nor do I!)

The police was out in full force, managing the traffic. Unlike the peak traffic hours, this time the people were patient enough to follow the traffic personnel’s instructions & wait for us to pass. At Havmor junction, we turned left. The turnaround wasn’t too far from here. And as has become the practice since the last 2 events, I took off. Nilesh Shah was already doing the return leg here. Nilesh is a colleague who has started running a few months back. He did his 1st HM at the VIM. Along with a few other colleagues, he was doing the 10K at SoleFest. The music announced the turnaround. It was well stocked with water & ORS as well as the physio. I had a pack of each (but not the physio, stupid!). But where were the bananas? Wasn’t someone supposed to have arranged these? Because of the unlimited puri-bhaji on offer missing a banana here was not such a big deal & the ORS was enough for a 10K. The big deal was not being able to go by Vikram Raval’s suggestion. (On account of the law in force & the prevailing enforcement environment, I cannot share what he said but am sure you would understand.)

There was a pretty large bunch of runners coming from the other side. One of them being Mr. Pandey. The previous night, when we were at the venue overseeing the preparations, two elderly persons walked in. Interacting with them, they informed that they were participants & had come along to see the start point. They stayed nearby & were informed of the event by volunteers who had parked themselves at the park where they went for the morning walk. They participated in all marathons possible, including outstation ones & were happy to have 2 events in Baroda itself. The venue was readied in double quick time. Yes, the plot was vacant & didn’t need much of an effort. But to arrange resources & get it ready for an event was a task in itself. Had you been there the previous morning you would have found a neglected piece of land. By late afternoon, it had been cleared of vegetation & levelled. By evening, stalls had come up & the late night it was all decked up. It was one hell of a task but we wanted the runners to feel heavenly. During the evening itself, Mohammed went & fixed up the car parking at a nearby plot (in a matter of minutes, at that). And while we were wondering what to do about KM markers, we were informed that Faiz was already on the job. Even Narendra Joshi’s Bullet never felt so overworked as it did during that single evening! You know how much men love their bikes? For Narendra Joshi, running some 80-odd KM is a stroll in the park. (He actually did that less than 3 months previously at Kamati Baug.) But considering that his dear Bullet was so exhausted, he skipped the run during SoleFest preferring to run the show from behind the scenes!

Back to the elderly gentlemen, one of them (Mr. Chauhan) was over 60 years, while Mr. Pandey was 71 years young. Here they were again, outrunning those young enough to be their grand kids. One of them, though much older to be a grandkid, was Kamal Saxena. Kamal had seen some of my VIM pics on Facebook & had called saying he wished get into running. I made him register for Sole Fest & here he was running strongly. He had taken this one seriously & had really practiced for the event. I also came across Kishore Talegaonkar, who was on his maiden run, & Dinesh Govinda, who was doing the 10k for the 2nd time in a month. The previous occasion was at VIM where the organisers mistakenly registered Dinesh for 10K (instead of 5K) & he sincerely completed it. Both of them (colleagues at work) are now wedded to running as a regular activity. In this respect, SoleFest achieved what it intended to.

Coming back to OP Road, I reached Manisha Chokdi to hear music being played out. The speakers had been mounted on a Thar (another jugaad). (Did I miss it when I first went past?) We also had arranged 2 groups of Punjabi dancers/musicians with dhols who were positioned along the HM route but I missed it because I ran only 10K. Another water bottle & ORS gave me energy enough to pick my pace. Which brought me to the last leg, below the Kalali overbridge & then to the Sun Pharma Road. Where a cyclist had parked himself with a bottle of water in his outstretched hand. I wasn’t really thirsty & moved along but admired his thoughtfulness. For, this is the point where one needs all support & minor gestures such as this one made SoleFest a runners’ event.

I saw Sameer coming along at a brisk pace. Was he doing a double 10K? No, this thought never occurred to me. All I asked him was whether the puri-bhaji had been prepared (it was too far for the aroma to reach) & receiving an affirmative answer quickened my pace. Abdul was there & he escorted me to the finish, egging me on. His encouraging words (and the puri-bhaji) made me almost sprint (technically, the fastest I can run) to the finish. And I had finished in under 1:10 (1:06, is what the Garmin told me), the fastest 10K (actually, 9.5K as per the Garmin) I have ever done. Whenever Dr. Iyengar paces me, I run faster than I have ever done. This happened on the previous two occasions & this one too!!

I took out my phone & found missed calls, including a few from the wife (made quite some time earlier). Upon calling her, I was told that it being dark, she wasn’t sure of the route after Nilamber circle. She actually went along a wrong route till some runner called & corrected her. Weren’t their volunteers around, I asked & but she hadn’t seen any. They had either not turned up or left for some other alluring activity.

Then, she came across a pack of quarrelling dogs & took refuge at a tea stall. Upon seeing the missed calls, I had feared only an injury but dogs on the road (like cockroaches & lizards inside the house) are far more serious! Fortunately, they minded their own business. She had crossed the turning point & was now in familiar territory, with the darkness gone. We missed out this aspect of the route. The route was good in terms of low traffic, green cover, etc., but our recce team ran along the route post-dawn. Thus they may have missed out absence of streetlights on this stretch. Also, they (like most male runners) would not have considered the canine presence as a nuisance (or, should it be danger?).

Anyway, relieved that I was, I attended the other number that had tried contacting me. It was from Ms. Razia Shaikh (she has at least 3 ph nos.!). We had decided that we shall not have any celebrities to flag off the run or give away the prizes. We zeroed down to Ms. Shaikh & Imran Sheikh to do the honours at the end. To those unacquainted with her (which means those not from Baroda or those born much later than I), this lady was the undisputed national champ in her sport – Javelin Throw, for around 15 long years. In her long career, she won more than twice as many gold medals as silver. And Imran Sheikh has been the captain of the Indian blind & deaf cricket team. (When we first contacted him for the event, he was playing the world cup.) Sportspersons with impeccable credentials but largely unknown for not being involved in men’s cricket.

Ms. Razia Shaikh had reached the venue & I had the tough task on my hand to locate her in this crowd. Though I had last seen her in person some 25 years back, there were recent pics on her Facebook page. Being a small venue & her precise directions, I found her but she had already made herself comfortable by then. We fell short here too. We should have nominated someone exclusively to attend to the invitees. Next time, definitely. Some time later I found I had missed a call from the wife, this time looking for directions at Havmor crossroad. Again, a case of missing volunteers. I was late in responding but she had managed to take the correct turn this time.

So off I went to extend last stretch support to Kamal Saxena & Dinesh Govinda as they finished their run. Having done my duty, I returned back to the venue & managed to get Kishore Talegaonkar’s company for the unlimited puri-bhaji. After all, that was the prime motivation. And I was not disappointed at all. Of all the post-run snacks/meals, I will rate SoleFest as joint-best with Spice CoastMarathon!!  Having finished the puri-bhaji (won’t reveal how many helpings I had), I discovered another call from the wife that I had missed. I had missed too many calls today, and despite a valid excuse I was really scared of the fate that awaited me once we were back home. This time, she had been smart. She had called me from Reliance mall for directions. By the time I called her back, she was at Akshar Chowk, the very point she wanted directions from, which I provided.

To make amends I went off to catch her on the route. As I came out, I saw Anita Rawat on the verge of finishing. The wife should be close behind. Well, not really, but she was also not too far either. And I chaperoned her to the finish. Just in time for the prize distribution to begin. (If this appears very hectic, it was.) Reni was on stage now and, by his performance, upstaged RJ Roshan. But for the absence of a pen to take down notes, he would have gone back to Radio City as a far better RJ. The known suspects walked away with the prizes, but there were enough surprises. 

The winner of men’s HM was a Mr. Kareem (did I spell it correctly?) from France. Without even attempting to be one, SoleFest, in the first edition itself, had turned International!! We have always known Rajesh Tiwari as a speedster of distance running. At SoleFest, his sister-in-law announced herself as one too by getting a podium finish. The Dr’s Kamat kept things predictable by each winning a prize. Dr. Nagesh K revealed that this was the first ever podium finish for him. He would finally have looked the Mrs. (an "Ironwoman") in the eye after an event!! Rajinder Singh, who missed out the podium at VIM by one position, got one here. And when they announced the 3rd place in women’s HM, I wondered who this Anita Rawat was. This one was a new name, till the wife exclaimed & I realized who it was. The two ladies began running less than 3 months back & had finished 3rd & 4that SoleFest!! (But I am too modest to take credit for initiating them into running & guiding them through the course.)

But, as they say, Drama abhi baaki hai mere dost. It turned out that Shital Pawar should have been on stage receiving the prize. This was conveyed to the concerned & upon checking the data, the mistake was graciously (& publicly) accepted. Same thing happened in one of the women’s categories too. With timing chips & mats the next edition onward, this was the last time such an error was taking place. 

We had also arranged a couple of Fine Arts students to sketch portraits of the winners after the event. Though not all availed this, I am sure this will be another reason (apart from the unlimited puri-bhaji) for they coming back to the next edition of SoleFest.

Bringing this post to a close, I would sum up the first edition of SoleFest as one where a lot of things went right & a few that could have been better. “Comrade” Vandana Parekh (was this really the 1st event she has run in Baroda?), while accepting her prize, was all praise for the manner the event was conducted. Coming from someone who has run all over the world, one would obviously not disagree with her, including the one suggestion she had. I am sure, Himanshu & Dr. Neha would find a trophy featuring a female runner next time. 

Considering the cause being promoted by the event (Organ Donation) & that the event itself was promoted by two hospitals (HCG & Spandan), the medal paid its due homage to this noble profession. (Thanks to Sameer for the suggestion.) SoleFest will return & get much more than the over 100 organ donation pledges we received this time.

This post first appeared on Run, Fun, Etc., please read the originial post: here

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Sanskar Nagri bares its Soul at SoleFest


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