It is hard to believe that the first ultra-long distance race 23-year-old Mira Rai took part in was only earlier this year. But in just two months after that Rai had won three international trail races.
Rai participated in the 50km Himalayan Outdoor race in March in harsh weather wearing a cotton T-shirt, sports trousers and just a bottle of water. She was the only female Nepali runner, and was the first in her category to touch the ribbon. Recognising her talent, Trail Running Nepal provided her training and arranged her participation in international races.
“Our challenge is to help Mira make her own choices and find funding for races she chooses to take part in,” says Richard Bull from Trail Running Nepal. “We make sure that it remains enjoyable for her.”
This summer, Rai won with surprising ease the Mustang Trail Race. She has innate talent, but it was her early life that prepared her for such races. After dropping out of school, she worked as a trader carrying upto 28 kg sacks of rice up and down mountains. “Many considered this to be a hard life, but now I see it was really good training,” Rai laughs.
This September, Rai participated in and won the Sellaronda Trail Race (57km) and the Trail Degli Eroi (83km) in Italy within two weeks of each other.
“I grew up in a remote Himalayan village where walking on trails for collecting food was normal,” she told Nepali Times. “So trail running is like being home for me, it’s natural.”
While in Europe, Rai also spent a few days at the North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, one of the world’s most difficult endurance races, meeting international professional runners.
“I watched Rory Bosio and learned how to make some corrections in my own running,” she says.
Last month, Rai was the star attraction in the MSIG HK 50 in Hong Kong
(pict, left) where she finished fifth overall and won the women category in 5h 30m 32s. She will be back in Hong Kong for the MSIG Lantau 50
Originally from the remote village of Sano Dumma in Bhojpur district, Rai feels a sense of achievement running races all over the world. “I am happy that I got to go to these places where no one in my family has gone before,” she told us.
Rai doesn’t just race, she’s also trained in karate, and won several climbing wall competitions only after six weeks of doing it for the first time. “She is a gifted athlete and has an ability to take to different sports easily,” says Niraj Karki of Astrek Climbing Wall in Kathmandu.
Rai takes her role as a role model seriously, and credits her parents with encouraging her to dare to dream. “Many girls are told to keep quiet and be satisfied with their lower status in society,” she says, “but they have to take their destiny into their own hands.”
Rai now wants to help other girls like her: “Life is short. I want to do something good and earn an international reputation for Nepali women.”
Run Maya run, Ngima Pakhrin
Extreme Annapurna in Nepal, Richard Bull
Run, Kathmandu, run, Lizzie Hawker
Running in the mountains, Charles Haviland