First Hand Experience crewing in at a Ultra RunRashi Bhargava
Our calendars quickly fill up with our busy and rewarding work and personal schedules that leave us exhausted and scarcity of time don’t let us think and do anything else. As gratifying as they are, there are also other equally satisfying ways in the world to be involved in and one such thing is volunteering.
Volunteering/Crewing in a running event is an incredibly validating way to support a friend, family member or even an unknown runner as they go after a personal goal. Though, it’s a lot of work. It’s not just about few minutes or so the runner is in the aid station. There are lot of Behind-the-Scenes activities that goes up in putting Ultra Runs or any sporting events for that matter. You spend hours driving, helping to mark the route, preparing kits, setting up the check points, and hopefully getting the right items and food together that will allow the runner to get in and out, perfectly prepared to move onto the next section. But for every bit of work and for every hour you spend contributing your labour the reward for supporting runners to watch them go on and accomplish their goal, can be incredibly satisfying.
I have recently taken baby steps to running. Enjoying the process and my journey from zero to 5k. When the opportunity came knocking to volunteer for 2021 edition of Garhwal Runs (Qualifying Runs for La Ultra 33k and 55k) I was excited like a kid to make most of this opportunity. Rubbing shoulders with ordinary individuals running extraordinary distances to test their limits. Where else one will get a chance? To see these ordinary individuals run extraordinarily in a run which can make/break your heart. Few seconds from the cut-off time can kick you out of the competition.
Garhwal Runs puts you through testing ascent throughout the distance, running through lush green forests and countryside of Himalayan foothills. The route goes through the villages of Kokriyal, Dubhra, Sakalana and Daulagiri and ends at, Dhanaulti TOP. In short, the Run promises tons of excitement to both the participants and the crew. And mighty Himalayas range have something magical about them. The Himalayas has rich tapestry of cultures and landscapes, spanning six diverse countries. The 1,500 mile stretch of majestic mountain ranges are home to some of the most inspiring sites in the world, starting in Afghanistan, before descending upon Pakistan, Indian, Nepal and China, before ending in secretive Bhutan.
Garhwal Runs, organized by La Ultra Team spearheaded by Dr. Rajat Chauhan, a crazy Homeo-sapien, extraordinary individual who believes each one of us have inherent potential to become better individual than what we were yesterday. With these runs and running mentoring programs he is making us ordinary individuals do extraordinary running beyond the comfort zones and giving us life lessons that Running, and walking is part of being Human Beings. It has been part of us. It’s just that some of us have forgotten the basic human activity.
Apart from volunteering at Greenpeace I had no prior experience of volunteering. At the time up of signing I did wonder if I was going to be a particularly useful addition to the crew (I am a personal finance expert, recently taken baby steps towards running. No runner in his/her right mind is going to ask me for stock tips in the middle of some serious running 😊). Who knows my back pain may flare up with all the hard work and temperature change 😉?
But Chetan Mom/Mr. Bean/Chintu Bhaiya promised an unforgettable 24 hours in an epic scenic location with amazing bunch of crazy runners and fellow crew members. Garhwal Runs 2021 did not disappoint and rekindled my sporting spirit and seem to have ignited the fire and passion I had for sports, as a kid.
Crew’s duty started 12 hours before the start of the run with packing of T-shirts, tucking in safety pins on Runner’s Bibs, preparing 4 boxes for 4 teams the crews were divided into. It was a lean team of volunteers due to covid and runners were encouraged to come prepared with their personal crews, water, food and transport arrangements.
I hardly slept on the night of 20th.We had to wake up at 3:30am and assemble at Orchard Restaurant at sharp 4: 30am.Tiredness, back pain and sleep were last thing on my mind when I woke up to get ready. Chetan and Jo picked me up at 4:15 and within few minutes we were at Orchard. Thankfully everyone was on time and together as one team we loaded our respective cars with the boxes and kits we had prepared last night.
When we reached the start point, two runners were already there. The excitement was palpable. Soon on reaching we sat down to work, setting up the shop, getting the list and kits ready. After weeks of preparations by the organizers it was Light, Camera, Action. Our Official photographer Chetan Mom with his drool worthy DSLR Nikon 7200 was on the job from the word go.17-year Akshansh got busy posting on IG and tagging us in almost all his posts much to our dismay. The energy and enthusiasm of fellow crew members was infectious. There was a great feeling of comradery from the start and it just got better during the day. The salt and pepper me never felt out of place.
Due to covid the runners were divided into 4 groups and each group had a different start time. As the sky turned different shades of blue, orange, pink the run started exactly at 6am.By the time last batch was flagged off the sky was blue. Soon Sun was kissing and bathing the mighty Himalayas as if blessing the Garhwal Runs. Jo and I, Team 2 got into the car soon after the last batch was flagged off. Our first pit stop was 21k.As the driver Bhaiya drove and we passed the runners one by one, Jo and I got busy with our respective jobs. I started clicking pictures and capturing the beauty of Himalayan foothills and Jo with her enthusiasm started cheering the runners as we passed by them.
The crew’s main role during the run was to be there as a general support for the runners. During the race, there were checkpoints at 21km,33km,47km,57km and we were on hand to provide water, encouragement, medical support and note cut-off time for the runners. The nature of the event meant that I got to know most of the runners by their names well and found myself really invested in their progress. After making sure everyone was safely through the final checkpoints, we headed back to the finish line at 74km, Dhanaulti TOP with much excitement to cheer the brave hearts, the 74k warriors.
Out of 19 brave hearts who signed up for 74k,2 didn’t turn up and 14 made it to the finish line, achieving the feat from time ranging from 8hours 37 minutes to 11 hours 17 minutes. To me everyone was a winner that day for showing up. Signing up is one thing but to show up and making efforts is another thing. I am totally in awe of each and every runner. I bow down in respect to these extra ordinary individuals who first thought of such audacious goal and then worked toward it with hard work and discipline.
As the last finisher chugged in at 6:02 pm, weather turned bad, mist and fog swept in. The air became cold and chilly. And I realized I was not prepared for such weather. My neon silver NASA jacket was not a good protection for this cold 😉 Weary and tired with 14 hours of excitement behind I now just wanted to hit shower and rest. It took us almost 2 hours to reach Dehradun.
So, what’s next, I asked myself post cold shower and tiredness being washed away. I am keen on challenging myself to volunteer at one of the toughest and cruelest races on our planet La Ultra. With close to 6 months to prepare, it is on the top of my bucket list. The emotions I felt cheering the runners has inspired me so much that I am determined to volunteer at La Ultra 2021 edition.