Marathons are not supposed to be romantic. Gruelling, yes. Muscle cramps and burning lungs, yes. So when Hyderabad-based couple Uma and Krishna Prasad Chigurupati decided on their first marathon together, they picked one that involved wine. Copious quantities of it. “Just like water stations, they had wine stations,” Krishna says. This is Le Marathon du Médoc, in France’s fabled wine region of Bordeaux. Runners pass through 59 vineyards—on the official race map, the water stops are marked by tiny red goblets. The landscape undulates with green and gold, grapevines and rose bushes, old stone walls, and châteaux rising like islands out of the green. In cellars under the châteaux, draughts of vintage cool and mature.
For Krishna and Uma, there could be no better pairing than running and wine country. Intrepid runners, and wine lovers-turned-winemakers, Le Marathon, which the couple ran in 2006, marked the beginning of a fine and unusual romance, through running, for them.
Krishna is managing director of Granules India Ltd, a pharmaceutical company. Uma is director of KRSMA Estates Pvt. Ltd, a boutique winery that she and her husband started in 2008. The first wines from their 80,000-litre, state-of-the-art facility, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon, both from the 2010 harvest, will be released in a month’s time.
Uma and Krishna have also run over 25 marathons together. Uma is now chairperson for a running group called Hyderabad 10K Run Foundation, which organizes the Hyderabad Heritage Marathon, now in its third year. Their passion for running has spread to family, friends and colleagues. Employees from Granules India are regulars at running events in Hyderabad.
In 2010, they became the only married couple in the world to run marathons on all seven continents in one calendar year. “Both Uma and I were going for a wine course in California (US), and we found out that the LA Marathon was a day before our course started,” Krishna says. “So we went and ran that.” While running in Los Angeles, Krishna and Uma felt the urge to break out of their usual practice of running in city marathons, so they chose the Safaricom Marathon, whose route goes through the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.
“There was a man celebrating finishing runs in all seven continents at that marathon,” Uma says. “So Krishna and I immediately thought, ‘Why don’t we go at a stretch and finish all seven continents in one year?’”
"A DEMOCRACY OF TWO: Uma and Krishna are both adept at handling the logistical nightmare that comes with their passion for running difficult marathons across the world. "
One spectacular run followed another, as the indefatigable couple followed the global running trail—the Australian Outback Marathon, the Porto Marathon in Portugal, the Buenos Aires International Marathon, Argentina, and the International Gobi Marathon in Mongolia. The race for the seven continents ended in the most audacious run the couple had ever attempted—the Ice Marathon in Antarctica in 2010.
“We had never run on ice or snow,” Krishna says. “The only run we had as preparation was next to the Hudson river in minus 6-7 (degrees Celsius) to test our warm clothes.”
In Antarctica, they ran through howling winds in minus 17 degrees Celsius, often fearing that the ice would crack or the snow would disappear under their feet into a crevice. They finished together, waving an oversized Indian flag above their heads as they approached the finish line. On all these runs, they were the only ones from India. “Even in France, they were playing national anthems of all the participants, but they didn’t have the Indian national anthem,” Krishna says. “So Uma went up to the microphone and sang it.”
"WIDE ANGLE, SHARP FOCUS: At the vineyard, it’s Uma’s expertise in plant pathology and soil microbiology that keeps things running on the ground, while Krishna’s focus is more on the manufacturing and business aspects."
They came back from Antarctica just in time for the first harvest at their vineyard near Hampi. In April 2011, still driven by their insatiable thirst for adventure, they ran a marathon in the Arctic. Through it all, there was work to be done, and a family to look after (Krishna and Uma have three children, twin daughters and a son). “Luckily the children are grown up,” says Krishna, “two of them are working and one is in college. But balancing between work and practice and travel—and not just travel for the marathons, but for business as well. It was tough.”
When Krishna and Uma first met in 1982 through Krishna’s father to fix their marriage, neither had any idea they would have so much adventure in their lives. The passion for wine was immediately apparent, though. “When I got married and stepped into his apartment, there was one bedroom that had been converted into a winery,” Uma says. “He was making wine at home at that time!”
"CROSS-CURRENTS: Krishna: I like Bordeaux wines, and two of my most prized wines are 2000 and 2005 Mouton Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild. Uma likes wines from California’s Napa Valley."
Soon after their wedding, Uma and Krishna began Triton Laboratories, the predecessor of Granules India. But then for more than 15 years, Uma chose to stay at home to bring up the children. Once the children began college, Uma decided that the time had come for her to challenge herself. In 2003, the organizers of a 10K run in Hyderabad came to Krishna for sponsorship. Granules India contributed, and also pledged to send a hundred employees to participate. That’s when Krishna and Uma decided that it might be fun to do the run themselves, though they had never run before.
Uma and Krishna now run two-three marathons every year, and have lost none of their thrill-seeking nature.
"DO NOT OPEN: Krishna has booked himself a place on Richard Branson’s daring space flight, which is supposed to take around 500 tourists into space this year. Uma is not impressed."
“But there is one marathon that’s my dream,” Krishna says. “A run from Hampi to our vineyard, and at the end of the line, you get all the wine you can drink.”
“I will not organize the marathon!” Uma says, shocked.
“No, no! It will happen! It will be a great experience,” Krishna insists. “It will be in the crushing season.”