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Why I Run: How a Girl from a Rural Nepalese Village Became a Champion Trail Runner

It’s never a bad time for running inspiration, which is why we’re excited to bring you this exclusive interview with Mira Rai, expert trail runner from Nepal, conducted by Nepal travel expert Richard Ball. Once a girl from a remote village in Nepal who fought as a child soldier with the Maoists, Mira Rai started running the Nepalese mountain terrain just to fetch her family’s basic needs. Now a champion mountain runner, Rai is inspiring a new generation of Nepalese youth to pick up their running shoes and hit the trails.

While we may not all be ready for elite trail running, we think Rai’s incredible story is the perfect reminder that runners come from all backgrounds, and that each faces her own obstacles. Whether that challenge is a mountain to scale or a 5K to PR, we hope you can draw some inspiration from Rai’s journey!

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While you were still in school, you left to join a local Maoist militia. What inspired you to do this, and how did it impact your start as a runner?

Mira: I joined the Maoists mainly because we had financial difficulties at home. Also, I wanted an opportunity to learn new things. I wanted to prove that women can be equal to men. Maoists respected women soldiers. I wanted to change things for women because in the village there was very little opportunity. And for girls, there are even fewer chances to do something: only to get married and work at home. With the Maoists I met many people, I learned new skills, and I did sports which I loved. I became a stronger person and independent. If I had not joined the Maoists, then I would not have found success in ultrarunning.

When did you realize that you wanted to make a career out of trail running?

Mira: I didn’t, actually, and I still don’t know what will happen in the future. No one does. But this is a good opportunity that I have, and I am trying my best to make the most of it. I have been lucky and have had a lot of help from friends. Last year was very good for me in running, and I was second in the world in the Skyrunning World Series. This year was not good! Actually, last month I had a knee operation. I hope for 2017 I will be very strong. I hope to keep running as long as I can, but in sports anything can happen. Until I can’t run any more, I will keep trying.

Internationally, you travel around the world for races. What are some of your favorite races, and why?

Mira: So far, all of the races I have run have been in beautiful places. My favorite is the first one. It was called Sella Ronda trail running. It is in the Dolomite mountains in Italy. It’s amazing. It was my first race in Europe and I won it! So I remember it very well.

What’s it like training in Nepal compared to running in other countries? Do you find you have an advantage from the high altitude?

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Mira: The altitude is not high in Kathmandu or my home in Bhojpur. I think about 1300 meters. (4300 feet). Now many people know me in Nepal, so training is difficult unless I run in the forest! Many people are saying hi!

Could you describe your daily training schedule in the Himalaya?

Mira: When I was in Nepal in spring time, I was running two to four hours a day close to my home there, in the forest at the edge of Kathmandu Valley (we have some nice races there, too). I usually run one hour before eating breakfast. This is to train my body to burn fat for long races. After running, I stretch, eat a lot and sometimes sleep! People ask about nutrition. In Nepal we eat dal bhat, which is lentils and rice with some meat and vegetables. We eat a lot of this. This keeps me strong and healthy. I also drink a lot of water and sometimes black tea.

How has your trail running success been received at home, both by the media and people in general?

Mira: I won a big race—the Mont Blanc 80km—just after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. My picture was on the front page of the main newspapers. This win was for Nepal. It was some good news in Nepal after so much sad news. Since then, many people have come to know about this woman doing trail running, and people are happy to know about the success of one person from their country. I hope it is encouraging others to run, too, especially women.

What are your goals for the future? Any specific race you want to run, or aspirations for trail running in Nepal?

Mira: First, I want to be strong for next year. This year I had an injury and needed a knee operation for ACL repair. I am currently exercising to get stronger in order to run soon. Once I can compete again, I will be very happy and will do my best in every race. I hope that people will also come and run in Nepal, joining me on October 6 for a race in my home village. We have many beautiful places there, too. It is a great place to go on vacation and do some running, especially during festival time in Nepal.

What do you love most about running?

Mira: I love nature and seeing new places. I like ultra-running—it is a sport that involves being outside in nature so it is perfect for me! I have met so many nice people in this sport and I feel very lucky to be part of it. I encourage other people I know to run, too; the shopkeepers I pass or women walking in the street. It’s good for your health; it makes you feel fresh. It’s hard to begin sometimes, but it’s not that hard if you try with friends and have some support. I am happy that I have helped some people start running… Not as far as me, but still they are running and enjoying it!

*Photography courtesy of Lloyd Belcher

Richard Ball

About the author:
Richard Ball

Richard Ball is a travel expert for kimkim and founder of TrailRunningNepal.org, a resource for trail runners in Nepal. As an expert trail runner, Richard organizes trail races around Manaslu and Upper Mustang in Nepal, and works closely with Mira Rai to help promote trail running to the Nepali youth.

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