13-19 February 2015 #745

Running all her life

Mira Rai goes from being a Maoist guerilla to an international marathon champion
Naresh Newar

GLORY FOR NEPAL: Mira Rai and Samir Tamang after they were first in the female and male categories in the 50km Asia Sky-running Ultra Championship in Hong Kong on Saturday.
It seems Mira Rai has been running all her life. Growing up in a remote village of Bhojpur district, she ran up and down mountains carrying sacks of rice. She joined the Maoist militia at age 14, and had to run to keep fit. Today, she is a multiple ultramarathon champion.

Life was a struggle for survival for Mira’s family, and when Maoists came to her village to offer her a chance to fight for a better life, she readily joined. The conflict had just ended, but the Maoists were still recruiting child soldiers to pad up their numbers in the UN-supervised camps.

“I believed I was going to be fighting for a better future,” Rai recalled.

But after she got the weapons training, Mira was disqualified by the UN for being a minor when recruited. She was so dejected that the party had abandoned her that she decided to head to Kathmandu, instead of returning to her village.

Her best friend, Anupama Magar,was a national karate champion who persuaded and helped her to come to Kathmandu to start a new life. In 2013, she started training to run and was encouraged after winning the 50km Pulchoki ultra marathon in which she beat all the male athletes and came first.

Last year, she went to Sellaonda in Italy for an international ultra run with the help of Trail Running Nepal when she came first again, and broke a new record. Two months later, she won another international race in Hong Kong and broke another record in the 50km uphill marathon.

Rai at age 16 at a Maoist training camp in 2006 learning to fire a machine gun.

“I haven’t forgotten my past but thanks to my friends, I have moved on and I want to win a lot more international marathons,” Rai told Nepali Times after winning the Asian Sky-running Ultra Championship in Hong Kong last week.

Rai sets the pace in the Vertical Five Km marathon in Hong Kong in October last year, which she won. Pic: Richard Bull

Rai lives with friends in a modest rented apartment in Balaju, and lives off the interest of loaning her prize money to friends. She is still supporting her parents in Bhojpur and the education of her siblings, so her economic situation is precarious.

“I am struggling now but I know I will be successful one day. I just hope it happens soon,” she said with a forced smile.

As happy as Rai is about her latest win in Hong Kong is her mentor, Richard Bull of Trail Running Nepal, who has been helping her organise her participation in the international races.

On the phone from Hong Kong, Bull told Nepali Times: “This latest win proves Mira has reached world class standard, as she is beating male marathoners from sponsored professional teams.”

Read also:

The inspiration of a long-distance runner, Stéphane Huët

Run, Kathmandu, run, Lizzie Hawker

7 years and running, Billi Bierling