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This tech entrepreneur is in it for the long run

Kavitha Kanaparthi is the founder of Globeracers, a platform instrumental in promoting the discipline of ultra running in India

Kavitha Kanaparth wants to build a community around ultra running.
Kavitha Kanaparth wants to build a community around ultra running.

While growing up in Jaggayyapeta in Andhra Pradesh, running was a constant in Kavitha Kanaparthi’s life. Her father would wake her up during the predawn hours, and take her out for a jog through the fields around the town.

Today, life has come a full circle for the 46-year-old. She’s the founder of Globe-racers, a platform instrumental in promoting the discipline of ultra running (covering distances longer than the classical marathon distance of 42.195km) in India.

When Kanaparthi finished her Class XII, her family moved to the US, where she went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Washington University in St Louis. Instead of looking for a job after graduation, Kanaparthi decided to launch her own tech startup, called Design Net, in 1997. “It was the time of the Y2K problem and we were on the server side of things, so we got a few good projects. From the beginning, I wanted to challenge myself. I needed to learn freely and on the go rather than train under someone," she says.

The startup didn’t survive for long. An accident and a laborious divorce changed her career path. What was to be a short stay in Bengaluru for a few weeks in 2005 to settle legalities in the divorce case, dragged on for a couple of years due to complications. Around the same time, she got a job with the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation but turned it down.

To get her mind off the muddle, she took off to take on the trails of Sandakphu in West Bengal. It turned out to be the perfect distraction and on her return to Bengaluru, she tried to reach out to other runners in the city. “Somewhere along the line, I just needed to step away from the things that were happening around me. I shut the startupand turned down the one job I had worked so hard for (FBI). I now wanted to chase the thing that meant something to me all my life: running," she says.

Through a friend, Kanaparthi met Santhosh Padmanabhan, who runs a group called Runner’s High, and joined his training program where she met other runners. With this community, she took on trail runs in places like Garhwal, Darjeeling and Spiti, and started writing about her experience on what was then a blog, Globeracers.

“A thought came to my mind: if I could start a race, maybe people would train and I could think of starting a business around it. The idea was to build an ecosystem of ultra running in India and organize races which were on a par with what was happening around the world," she recalls.

On checking with some friends, she learnt of a route from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur. When Jaisalmer was found to be swamped with tourists, she made her way to Pokhran and asked a local if he would show her around. A few hours later, she found what she was looking for, as she set out on her first run amid the sand dunes.

Once back home, she spent time on Google Earth to understand the landscape and topography, and a month later was back in Pokhran, wearing running shoes as part of the recce. In December 2009, the first race, Thar Desert Run, took place. The five-day race saw six runners from around the world cover 42km each day.

“I had done the recce myself, figured out the logistics, located and trained volunteers, marked the entire route and also ran with a Germany lady, who dreaded the local dogs," she recalls.

Most sponsors she went to were oblivious to the world of ultra running. They would want to know how many thousands were likely to show up, how many free entries and t-shirts they would get, and what kind of media coverage would be on offer. When she told them about the number of runners that were expected, they would look back in amazement at her request for sponsorship. Over time, she found her place in the business. She also realized that she wouldn’t break even for a few years, just like the startup she had set up back in the day.

“I created a company out of nothing, a startup of a different kind. But I’ve put the best practices in place. I even had human resources as part of the team, everything that you would see in a corporate structure," she says, adding: “It’s challenging because we also do things very differently. We don’t take sponsors until we believe that they are aligned with our vision. So there’s little scope for unnecessary demands."

Today, Globeracers organizes six races across the country, with various distances and formats, the longest being the 338km Himalayan Crossing in Spiti. Kanaparthi also conducts wellness workshops around the country and has identified mentors in experienced runners, who can guide aspirants in making a gradual transition to bigger distances.

“I’ve done so many different things in life and I’ve proved that I can do one more new thing," she says.

Through Globeracers, Kanaparthi wants to bring short-distance trail running into the format.

“Right now we have a lot of long races. That way, we allow the new runners to understand trails in a mindful manner, before they graduate to ultra distances. We want to build the community in an organic manner."

Career Detour features people who quit their 9-to-5 job and made adventure sports their profession.

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