How is the weather underground, what kind of doping is allowed at a race in Cricova Cellars, what can you meet in the closed corridors of the cellars and when do we run again?
The Cricova cellars are one of the most spectacular sights of our country. However sad, few of our local residents ever visited them. On the other hand, this is the first place tourists come to, and it’s no wonder. The Cricova cellars are among the largest wine cellars in the world, an entire underground city with its streets, boulevards, alleys and even traffic lights! Therefore, coming to Moldova and not visiting them is a crime! And we live nearby and don’t understand how lucky we are.
The total area of the cellars is 55 hectares, and this is more than the area of a lot of cities in the world, in the case of Vatican – even states :)
Our ancestors were extracting limestone from this place (smart sources say it happened in the XV century), and the formed tunnels were adapted to cellars, because the climate is good for wine aging – 97-98% humidity and a temperature of 12-14ᴼC above zero.
Perhaps, this is why wine collections of the powerful found their place in the Cricova cellars :)
So, the climate is good for wines, what about people?
Two years ago, during another visit to this cult place, I imagined tens of runners with flashlights on their heads, running in semi-darkness against a background of huge barrels. “Hallucinations, caused by the insufficiency of oxygen”, I thought. Anyhow, fully surreal… Completely… Then I thought again, and again… This is how the dream to organize an underground race in the cellars came to life…
However, this dream wasn’t quick to come true. We either couldn’t manage to meet with the cellars’ management, because we were fully booked with the organization of other events, or were on vacation, or the crisis, or elections, or the weather, or this, or that…
We didn’t give up, and, finally, met, the plant’s management supported our idea, the negotiations had ended and we shook hands…
The greatest difficulty was marking the route. For the 120 declared kilometers of underground corridors and tunnels, the tourist route consists only of three, the others are used as workshops, industrial premises, etc. In addition, the half-inhabited quarries. We hardly obtained the map of the cellars and started to develop the route. Thereafter, we took the guide with us and decided to check the route by car. We “slightly” deviated from the tourist route (breaking all possible rules, including the safety procedures and instructions), and there… dark labyrinths, abandoned working tools, and someone’s clothes and flashlights… The only thing missing was stumbling into a skeleton with a mug in its hand.
We stopped in one of the blind alleys, got out of the car and turned the engine off… We were interested to know what does it feel like: to be lost in a tunnel. Honestly, for me, this was one of the most unpleasant experiences. Dead silence, coldness, and, most importantly, absolute darkness – a darkness you’ll never find at the surface.
I imagined that I needed to find a way out of the labyrinth by touch, and goosebumps ran down my back. Everybody felt it. We came to our senses only after getting into the car and turning on the music. It was time to get out.
No such luck – the exit to the main corridor was meant to be found long ago, but we were still spinning through the labyrinth in complete darkness. We got lost. Everybody stopped joking. It became particularly uncomfortable. After 15 minutes of same turns, low ceilings, eternal dust, forks and blind alleys, we saw a light at the end of the tunnel. I guess I was that happy to see the light only on the day I was born…
January 2015. It’s been raining for three weeks.
On the day of the start, January 25th, I woke up, stretched, looked out the window and remained stunned – there was snow outside. It was falling on the ground, white and fluffy, on cars and people, covering all the dirt and dullness. It was a sign – the race will be special…
After embarking on the bus, we headed to Cricova. It was lightly snowing, no wind, and the temperature was around zero. Perfect. However, we still run in +13ᴼC, 98% humidity and at a depth of 80 meters below the surface.
Mass media broke all records – the representatives of almost all Moldovan networkd, newspapers and websites were there. It’s been a while since I’ve last seen so many cameras and microphones on a race.
An easy warm-up, and here they are – 57 underground “kings”, with their overhead flashlights turned on, rushed after an electrocar into the blackness of the cellars.
We run. It’s getting darker. And here they are again – those same turns, dust, low ceilings and bottlesbarrelsbottlesbarrels. I thought I was seeing things again, but then I turned back and realized I was not alone. There was a crowd of us – daredevils, ready to participate in the first underground race through wine cellars. And this was even more surreal :)
We run. Chardonnay street, turn to Cabernet-Sauvignon boulevard, then Feteasca street. We are surrounded by barrels of different types and sizes. We run shoulder to shoulder, breathe this moist air with wine vapours and get drunk from the unreality of things happening.
Even slow runners become champions in the Cricova cellars. We ran together, tight grouping. Why? First of all, those whose average speed was not high, were running faster to keep up with the main group and not get lost forever in the dark, dull, dusty (but full of wine!) cellars.
Secondly, those who didn’t have an overhead flashlight (not everyone was lucky to find one) were clinging to those who had. Clinging figuratively and literally, therefore the average speed was the same for all, as was the level of jitters.
We reached the abandoned quarries: white dust under our feet, ominous corridors to the left and to the right, and only the flashlights, like drunken fireflies, are jumping from side to side lighting the way.
And one more thing that seemed strange. The roads in the Cricova cellars are not smooth. These are up and downhills, sometimes quite steep. So, during the entire route we went up and down with the entire crowd.
All in all, about the end of the race I had a very strong impression it was more like a roller coaster in slow motion. Only the final “Hurray” was missing!!
Finally!! The finish line!! We are met by the media.
We congratulate each other, drink branded champagne, the Cricova cellars staff offers us hot mulled wine.
Everyone is excited, runners’ eyes are burning, everyone is buzzing with chatter about the race, give interviews, fuss, laughter, photo shootings…
And I stay in the background and remember how two year ago, in this place, listening once again to the monotonous gabble of the guide, I imagined people running through these corridors… For the umpteenth time I realize that thoughts get material.
Well, here are our plans for this race:
– We’ll make it annual.
– Develop its own style and logo
– Launch a registration site
– Organize a route compliant to all rules
– Organize a wine tasting at the finish line
– In a word, we’ll be doing the same stuff as always – promote Moldova.
Thanks to my Sporter.md team – Katjusha, Vitya Perjan, Roman Fyodorovich.
A huge thanks to the cellars’ management for their trust (we won’t let you down!) and for their help in organizing everything! Special thanks to Guban Ivan Ivanovich – the manager of the mining department of the Cricova plant. And many thanks to Aleksandr Alexeev – Cricova’s tourism manager.
And to all who came to the first underground wine cellar race in the world!
P.S.: The race was so comfortable and inspiring that I thought that, maybe, a long, long time ago, Moldovans built these secret tunnels to train ancient Moldovan Athletes. Then hard times came by, sport wasn’t needed, and for tunnels not to stay unused, people started to store their wine there.