Published by Ashutosh Tiwari on his Facebook page.
7 August 2015 at 20:27
CURIOSITY SERIES V:
5 QUESTIONS TO RICHARD BALL
Richard, a long-time friend of Nepal, is the man who popularized trail running in this country.
ASHU: We’ve heard of running in general and of marathons. But what is this trail running? How is trail running different from, well, just running?
RICHARD: The American trail running Association has thought hard about this so I don’t have to. They say trail running has four elements: 1) uses unpaved tracks; 2) has natural obstacles; 3) significant elevation gain/loss i.e. hilly; and 4) scenic. As you can guess it’s less about a hard rule or definition and more about encompassing the spirit of this sport and why people like it – running in beautiful, and often very challenging, natural environments.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that you introduced trail running in Nepal? How did you get into trail running yourself? What made you decide that Nepal’s hilly terrain is ideal for trail running?
RICHARD: I didn’t introduce it but could say that I have worked to popularise it (with limited success). Roger Henke, onetime Director of the Summit Hotel in Kupondole, got me into trail running and taught me to run without crashing my heels to the ground. My pains and injuries faded away. We’d do slow Saturday runs with friends to discover new places and we’d cover some very long distances stopping for tea at many places on the way. I learned that the body is capable of a lot, if you train it slowly, no matter how flabby your starting condition.
Nepal is obviously ideal for trail running. It is a nation of foot trails connecting tens of thousands of villages. And of course it is possible to stay almost any place along the way, and in pretty good comfort in trekking areas. So a great place for people who want to come and run and explore for several days.
QUESTION: Nepali trail runner Mira Rai’s victories in ultra-marathon (i.e 100 KM) type of European races recently have given rise to this sense that there must be many other naturally gifted trail runners in Nepal. Do you think so? If, how can those latent talents be flourished?
RICHARD: It’s a big project. One route is this: First you have to be able to find talent. That means holding enough small races around the country and advertising them reasonably well, then hope that talented people show up. Then the best of the runners bring together in another race, perhaps in Kathmandu or a district or zone centre. If there is a real talent there then there has to be a scheme to assist.
This kind of programme exists in many countries. It’s very simple: small salary, equipment, training plan, advice and so on. Where does this lead though? We need to develop a couple of high profile races here in Nepal for people to aim towards.
Racing overseas is not guaranteed: it requires money and a certain type of person to be able to function well in another country. The second route is for the Nepal’s Athletics Federation to acknowledge trail running as a sport, and make it a competitive event for police and army, and then bingo. Right now I have racing opportunities in China with free flights and prize money and nobody to go.
QUESTION: What are the challenges and the constraints of making trail running a bona fide sport in Nepal in terms of logistics, economics and science?
RICHARD: Beyond it being accepted as an event in its own right with a number of events, then organising quality events becomes the next problem. It’s hard to get lost or take a shortcut running around a track. In the hills I’ve lost many people due to ambiguous or unclear trail marking, and idiots who remove trail markers.
We’ve figured this out now but the bottom line is making a trail race is a lot of work and it has to be done to a high enough standard that the result is fair and trusted by the runners. On top of that prize money draws the best runners in and sponsors are needed for that. Army runner Samir Tamang says that Mira’s last win has changed opinions considerably within the army. People are asking about the sport and what she is doing. So now is the time to do something.
QUESTION: Now that some trail runners are competing and winning in some of the global tournaments, some people are dreaming of riches . . . is this true? How can runners like Mira and others manage finances while pursuing their passion on the trails all over the world?
RICHARD: If they want riches, then better try setting up their own business. There is not much money for athletes in running (though getting bigger in China right now). It’s like anything else actually. A million books are published in the states each year and perhaps less than 10 make a million dollars in revenue. There are only a handful of people making a living from running, and certainly not big money, and those people are not only good runners, but are good at representing their sponsors, speaking nicely, looking nice and being real brand ambassadors.
For the brands, a winner is important, but not nearly as important as a lower ranked athlete with a great personality who can represent the brand and encourage more people to get into the sport and buy products. This aside, nobody is going to win in this or any sport without some kind of passion for it.
People can dream all they like about riches, but it is passion, hard work, and a lot of luck that will bring success. For the rest, they get to enjoy the benefits of running and racing, and if very lucky, feel they’ve fulfilled their potential and have the chance to see a new country once in a while.
BONUS QUESTION: How can the Nepal government, our various sports bodies and Nepal’s private sector help promote this sport all the more?
RICHARD: Well the same way they promote any other sport, minus the negatives. I’d say the government should consult with people like Samir Tamang who can explain how the sport works in other countries and his understanding of what needs to happen.
I guess someone high up needs to ask the question honestly, does having Nepal runners winning races and unfurling the flag as they cross the line sound like a good thing or not.
Around 300 came to an 18km trail race in Nagarkot on August the 1st. The organisers did a great job of promoting. The private sector can take note that there are new opportunities to get large groups of people out challenging themselves and get fresh publicity in the media as sponsors. THE END
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