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Interview with Mira Rai

Photo Credit: Martina Valmassoi

  


 

Firstly, please introduce yourself!

My name is Mira Rai, ‘Ultra Sky runner’, ‘National Geographic Adventure of the year 2017’ and ‘World no. 2 Sky World Champion 2015.’  I come from a rural village called Sano Dumma, Bhojpur district of Nepal.  I am also one of the international athletes of Salomon.

How did you first get into trail running? How did you initially become interested in it, and when did you start?

Initially, I was not aware neither of ultra-marathon nor trail running.  During the post Maoists insurgency most of the people were seeking foreign employment and I was also one of them.  But, when I came to Kathmandu 6 years ago, I met my Karate Guru (Trainer) Dhurba Bikram Malla who saw potential in me and encouraged me in various sports.  He inspired me to hold back my plan for foreign employment.

It was early 2014, I started road marathon then one fine day I happened to follow Nepal Army runners. They invited me randomly to this festival called Himalayan Outdoor Festival which was happening next day.  Honestly, I did not have a clue of what really was happening but I just wore the race-bibs then ran 50K.  Those series of obstacles, jungle, uphill-downhill, narrow difficult trails reminded of my childhood’s everyday chores carrying water bucket, food supplies and other daily needs on the similar trails.  Apparently, I, without proper training or a coach, topped the podium among dozens of other experienced runners.  Winner was awarded with prize money, medal, Salomon shoes and a certificate.  Since then, my official trail running career commenced. 

Gradually, I was intrigued to pursue a career in something that I had been doing since my childhood. I was so excited, and it boosted my confidence to the utmost level. Later in the same year, I began to participate in various other similar races.  Despite my English language barrier; I made sure I was on my toes training hard and learning English all the time.

What does an average day in your life look like?

I start my day by training with my running buddies around the hills of Kathmandu valley. During the day, I am around doing my personal errands, visit Mira Rai Initiative office to get updates and sometimes attend social gatherings where I am invited.  Recently, I am devoting more of my time in Mira Rai Initiative which focuses on promoting young and aspiring women trail runners in Nepal.


Photo credit: Martina Valmassoi

What do you enjoy most about trail running?

Running is the ultimate happiness for me.  It is in my blood; I am also happy when I get the chance to explore the mountains and new terrains around the globe which running makes it possible.  Each trail has its own beauty and challenges which makes trail running interesting.   Trail Running is a long, tedious and tiring adventure sports especially mixer of numerous narrow uphill and downhill.  Hence, trail running has made me more patient, focused and determined in my life.

  

Where have been your favourite places to run?

I prefer running in different terrains all around the world. Like I mentioned above; every trial has its own beauty and challenges thus for me all the trails are equally favourite to me.  Since, my childhood was spent mostly in remote village; I prefer being in the nature, mountains, rivers and water-falls.  

In relation to your identity as a woman, are there many women and girls trail running in Nepal?

Yes, there are many young women and girl runners in Nepal. Recently, we can see several trail races happening almost every weekend all over Nepal.  If you look at the gender ratio; it is almost 50:50. Mira Rai Initiative, my organization, has been focusing on promoting young, aspiring and under privileged women trail runners in Nepal. I would love to share my experience and knowledge to help create a platform for trail running in Nepal.  

In relation to your identity as Nepalese, are there many other trail runners from Asia within the international trail running community?

Trail race community is growing every day.  In the context of Asia, there are a lot of trail runners from China, Thailand, Nepal and a lot of from other Asian countries.  It is interesting to see how trail running in Nepal as well as other countries is growing.  I feel overwhelmed that many of my international fellow runners (specially women) are inspired by me.  I would love to see trail running (race) being included in Olympic games someday.  My team and I have been working very hard to achieve this dream.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced within your journey? What are some of the challenges you have faced in trail running?

Like every successful story there are tireless effort, sleepless nights, undue rough experiences and reality of representing third world or under developed nation among many others.  I do have my own share of challenges face within my journey till now.  Back in 2014, trail race was a completely new sports which was not even under any national associations (it is still not).  Then being a Nepalese and a woman made it even worse for my struggle specially for international races where I had to apply for visa and travel alone.  Initially I did not even have enough money to buy proper running shoes and attire.  English language communication was another challenge for me which I overcome by taking special English classes.  Mira Rai as a brand is not just an individual; but a team of like-minded and dedicated people who believed in Mira and have helped in some way or the other way to tackle all the challenges along the journey. 

Trail running in general is still in growing phase in Nepal but the community should have grown way ahead than what it is right now.  As stated above, we do not have proper regulations or governing body to support and guide thus we are lacking behind. But, we must appreciate local promoters who have selflessly promoting trail running culture despite not gaining any monetary profit. 

Tell us about the Mira Rai Initiative.

Mira Rai Initiative is a Non-Governmental Organization which is sponsored from Hong Kong Trail Racing Community. Its main objective is to inspire young female athletes and support their Trail Racing Journey. Mira Rai Initiative runs Exchange and empower (ENE) program, Capacity building program and Bhojpur Trail Race. In ENE program, we have English Language classes, training program and other program package which lasts for 9 months. The interested youngsters and athletes are properly guided for their better performance. The program provides with an opportunity to visit and participate in one of the renowned races in Hong Kong. The women will have an opportunity to stay in Hong Kong for several days and experience their unique lifestyle and culture. The initiative is to promote the trail racing community in Nepal. Under Capacity Building Program, we provide first aid training, team building and leadership program, trekking guide and other trainings which will empower women to find a sustainable profession in the growing market for adventure and tourism in Nepal. We believe that the program will contribute towards overall development of women so that they can navigate both personal and professional life together. We also organize Bhojpur Trail Race, which is already till 4th edition. Bhojpur Trail Race is a single day race which is held annually. It has a trail racetrack of 50km, 8km and 4km. We have gathered a lot of young and enthusiastic athletes from this event who have passion to build a career trail running.

As I understand, you’ve also done some environmental work with trail clean-ups, and also in Women’s health with Luna menstrual cups? Could you tell us about that please?

Environment is important not only to mankind but also for animals, birds and entire living beings.  We should take the responsibility to keep our environment clean not just for us but few generations as well as entire living beings.  I personally believed in doing things rather than just orating.  Mira Rai Initiative led by myself with other more than 60 volunteers chose a hill called Champadevi.  It took us few hours to collect 80 rags of dirt contributed by us (people).  It was just a small gesture of our social responsibility; we hope it has set an example to lot others to come up with similar campaigns in near future.  

Monthly period is a natural phenomenon of women.  When it comes to female athlete then it does not cooperate at all; I was not an exception either. Even during trainings and races; I had my experience. Sanitary pads are also not helpful. About 4 years ago in Italy, one of the fellow runners introduced me to menstrual cup.  Apparently, it was very comfortable so I decided to introduce among Nepalese female trail runners.  Hong Kong trail running community sponsored 100 menstrual cups for the cause then through Mira Rai Initiative we distributed here in Nepal.  I am pretty much sure that it has helped our female runners to feel comfortable at uncomfortable time of the month.

What are some of the challenges facing Asian women today as a whole?

Being a girl, I have realized that patriarchal society still exists, especially in Asian region. Women are considered incapable and inferior compared to men. People think, ‘what will a girl achieve from this?’ or not acknowledging the performance and hard work we go through. In Nepal we can find many challenges like this. In most of the cases, the passion and interest towards Trail race is neglected by family members.

I am happy to be a part of the sports community where so many strong women are involved despite these problems. 

What advice would you give to people just starting trail running?

I would like to welcome all the passionate runners.  I am always ready and willing to share my experiences and knowledge without a second though to the new generation of trail runners.  I will always try to be the bridge between the young aspiring runners and international community to provide them chances they deserve.  Your passion and zeal will drive you to give your best inside your like any other sports.  Gone those days when playing sports was limited to hobby but now if you are dedicated, determined and devoted it can be your career.  Thus, you can have a content and healthy life.  Life is all about challenges which make you stronger and wiser.

Follow your heart and Keep Running!

 


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Born and raised in the remote mountains of Bhojpur village, running has always been a part of Mira’s lifestyle. As a child, her daily chores comprised of farming, gathering fuel, fodder and grass for livestock, and walking about an hour every day to fetch water for the household. But she wanted to break free from her rural village lifestyle, defy the gender stereotype, support her family and do something significant. After three years in the Army, she began running at the guidance of her karate coach Mr. Dhurba Bikram Malla. She won the 2014 Himalayan Ultra Race (50k) the Mustang Trail Race and two races in Italy, the Sellaronda Trail Race (57 km), Trail Degli Eroi (83 km) which helped cement her place amongst the elite trail runners from around the world. Mira Rai now is a recognizable figure in her field where she has had amazing opportunities to participate in local, national, and international events and races across the world, and a strong advocate for mainstreaming Trail Running in Nepal. She feels proud to have been able to represent her people and country and has been bestowed with several awards, titles including an honorary doctorate.

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