Hari Bahadur Rokaya's practice schedule is as tough as his home terrain in Jumla. Like most marathon runners he prefers setting off in the early morning, past the bazar, along the trail down to the Bheri, over the suspension bridge, past paddy terraces glistening in the sun, along the edge of the pine-scented forest. After two hours, this world class athlete is back home in time for a snack of instant noodles.
His training may be 'low tech', his shoes frayed, but Hari more than makes up for it with his determination and patriotism. The up-and-down and the thin air at 3,300m is good training. The 41-year-old sets himself a grueling pace: he has reached Rara Lake from Jumla in seven hours, a distance that takes trekkers two days.
Hari's life reads like a highland version of Forrest Gump. From a shy lad at Chandannath Secondary School in Jumla, he became a celebrated athlete at the 26th National Athletics Meet in Kathmandu in 1985 where he won gold and a silver in the 5km and 10km races. Since then he has won every other major national long distance run and participated in 30 international events. He has represented Nepal in the SAF Games, Asian Games and even at the Olympics. Hari also prides himself in being among the few Nepalis to take part in the famous Jungfrau Marathon held annually in Switzerland in 2001. He stood eighth among 3,700 runners. "I am a highland runner-so I gain momentum uphill but my performance slows along the flat stretches, I wish they had more hills in Switzerland," Hari says with a grin.
But it was the Everest Marathon, the world's highest marathon held every 18 months, that made him famous. This 42.2km race reaches an altitude of 5184m, and Hari won it three consecutive years in 1997, 1999 and 2000, and set a record by finishing in 3 hours 50 minutes and 23 seconds. In 2002, Hari couldn't take part because he couldn't afford the participation fee.
This year he is determined to run, and win again. Hari is already training for the November event even though he hasn't found any sponsors yet for the Rs 50,000 he needs to cover personal expenses.
Hari's job as an assistant coach in the Jumla District Sports Committee earns him Rs 7,000 a month, which he ploughs back into taking budding athletes under his wing. His trainee Laxmi Upadhaya, also from Jumla, is already a national runner. Hari has received numerous invitations to emigrate abroad, but choses to live and work in remote Jumla. He says simply: "I was born and brought up here. This is home." (Hemlata Rai)