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The marathon couple
Imagine running on an ice floor with carefully marked tracks from which the slightest deviation could land you deep into a crevice of frozen sea - the Arctic Ocean to be precise. Imagine running at minus 34 degrees Celsius, with icicles forming frozen spider webs on your eyelashes and hair, all the while exposing yourself to the risk of frostbite even on the smallest patch of unprotected skin. Imagine, now, the possibility of blindness if you so much as remove your ski goggles for a few seconds. The blazing sun which never sets at the North Pole in April is unforgiving.
These were only a few of the dangers that Uma and Krishna Prasad Chigurupati faced while running at the northernmost corner of the world early this month. "On April 5th, We flew from Oslo to Svalbard, the tip of Norway, where all 26 co-marathoners stayed at a local hotel, awaiting the green signal to fly to the North Pole. But our wait extended to four days as the weather played truant. On one of those days, in fact, we got to hear from our organisers that the Bameo Polar strip, commonly used for landing on the North Pole, got a crack about a metre wide, leaving Prince Harry, who was hiking at the North Pole with a group of wounded soldiers for charity, stranded too, " says Krishna.
But the exhilaration the husband-and-wife team finally felt while hoisting the Indian tri-colour on April 9 at the North Pole compensated for all the anxiety and the agony. "The Indianness we felt from within was further accentuated by one of our co-marathoners, an Australian, playing Jai Ho (from the film Slumdog Millionaire) to celebrate our victory. It was pure bliss, " says Uma.
The couple got their first taste of marathon running way back in 2003 when Krishna was approached for corporate sponsorships by organisers of the Hyderabad 10 km-run. It was being held for the first time then. "I sponsored 100 staffers from my office and, thinking this was an excellent opportunity at teambuilding, joined them. Believe me, until then my fitness regime had been restricted to a walk around KBR park, and that too in fits and starts. So when I completed the 10 km-run in about an hour-and-a-half, I was quite thrilled, " says Krishna, who is managing director of pharma company Granules India. Uma, meanwhile, is the MD of Krsma Vineyards.
The next big moment came in 2005 when Krishna's NRI brother-in-law invited them to join him on a marathon in Reykjavik, Iceland. "My initial response was 'No', as I thought only crazy people ran in strange places. Uma was busy with the children and their studies, and ruled herself out. On second thoughts, though, I decided to go, thinking Iceland would anyway be a good tourist destination. I remember practicing real hard as I didn't want to fail in my first attempt at marathon running, " laughs Krishna.
Running on the streets of Reykjavik was a high. "The atmosphere was very different from that of the Hyderabad 10-km. This was the big league, after all. There were so many participants from so many countries, and the spectators were encouraging and cheering us on. That adrenaline rush which I felt on completing a full marathon was amazing and I was kind of hooked. "
There was no looking back from there. After doing a few 10-km runs in Hyderabad and a couple of full marathons in cities like Maddoc (France) and Prague, the couple was prepared mentally and physically to attempt the Grand Slam by early 2010.
So it was Los Angeles in March 2010, followed by Kenya (Lewa National Park) in June, the Ayers Rock in the Australian outback in July, the Gobi desert (Mongolia) in September, Buenos Aires in October, Porto (Portugal) in November and, finally, Antarctica in December.
While the couple credits Antarctica for readying them for the icy weather conditions at the North Pole run, one of the more memorable runs was at Maddoc, which is in the wine-growing Bordeaux district of France. "Instead of being offered water for sipping as we ran along, there was wine all through. This was quite an educative trip for me, as I have recently ventured into the wine business. We also had fun at Porto, which is where port wine originated from. Running at the Lewa National Park with giraffes for company was also immensely gratifying, " says Uma.
And who between the husband and wife is the more motivated? "Oh, Krishna, most certainly. I don't think I could have ever run a single marathon abroad without him being present, " laughs Uma. After making it to the rather exclusive 50-member Grand Slam club of marathoners (the only Indians to do so), the couple is now planning to bring out a book on their running adventures. As they say, for those who want to do, there's always something to be done.
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