On a humid spring day minutes before noon, 19-year-old Sunmaya Budha crossed the finish line of the Stupa to Stupa Marathon, taking first place in the 54-kilometer (33.5 miles) ultra trail race that ended in the heart of Kathmandu on Saturday, March 24.
A small crowd of spectators and organizers cheered as Budha ran the final meters along the brick cobbled walking path inside Boudhanath Stupa, one of the few sacred archaeological sites successfully rebuilt after the devastating earthquake that shook Nepal three years ago.
Budha, a promising Nepalese ultra trail runner, completed the race in 5 hours and 36 minutes, just two minutes ahead of 38-year-old runner-up Simon Castro-Wooldridge of the United Kingdom. Budha took the 40,000-rupee prize (about $385).
A total of 72 national and international runners participated in the fourth iteration of the race, which was promoted this year as Mira Rai’s Stupa to Stupa Marathon by Trail Running Nepal. The Nepalese runner Mira Rai is considered a national treasure. Now part of the organizing team, Rai ran in the first Stupa to Stupa Marathon in 2014 and encourages young girls to participate in the event.
The event kicked off at 6:14 a.m. at the Swayambhunath Stupa, or Monkey Temple, one of the oldest sacred sites in Nepal. From Swayambhunath’s brilliant golden spire, the trail wove through the hills surrounding the Kathmandu Valley, taking runners through important Buddhist monasteries such as Jamacho, Nagi (at 7,677 feet, the trail’s highest point), and Kopan. The race wrapped up with runners doing three ritual laps, or koras, around the Boudhanath Stupa.
“The first hour was a challenging climb up a steep hill to reach the first checkpoint to Jamacho Gompa. Shortly after, I ran downhill through Nagarjun’s lush forests and national parks, and the trail was really amazing,” Budha said.
But Budha had more on her mind than just the beautiful landscape.
“I participated to improve my timing and to train for international-level competitions. I was hoping to at least win in the women’s field, and now having won the overall competition, I’m pretty happy about that,” she said.
Budha started competing in races when she was in the seventh grade in the village of Patarashi, which is located in the Karnali region, one of the poorest and most remote areas in Nepal.
“Running up and down difficult terrain was a part of our daily life. It was normal to run in order to help our parents transport household goods from the market to the village, or even to go to school, which was nearly an hour’s walk from my home.” Budha finished second in her first district-level running competition and came in first at her second race. Since then, she hasn’t looked back.
Two years ago, she came to the nation’s capital to participate in short- and long-distance races, along with mountain trail runs. In November 2016, Budha won the Manaslu Trail Race, a challenging mountain race hosted on the world’s eighth-highest peak, Manaslu. She won the Manaslu race again in 2017.
Apart from being one of Nepal’s leading ultrarunners, Budha has achieved victories in major international trail races. Earlier this month, Budha won in the female contingent of the 55-km (34-mile) Gaoligung Ultra Marathon of Mount Blanc (UTMB) held in China. She also won the 50-km (31-mile) Asia Skyrunning Championship in Hong Kong in 2016 and was the runner-up in 2017.
“Running is my livelihood. I want to be the next Mira Rai, who is my coach and role model,” Budha says.
Rai sees a bright future for Budha. “She is young and hardworking. During trainings and competition, she gives 100 percent. The only thing she needs is proper guidance and the opportunity to showcase her talent,” says 29-year-old Rai, who is inspiring a new generation of young women like Budha to excel in the sport.
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