14th January 2014, Kathmandu, Nepal. Last week I met up with two Rams, two of four Nepali runners heading to Hong Kong this weekend for the fourth Vibram 100km race. Ram Kumar Khatri, 27, and Ram Bhandari, 30, are both from the Nepal Army Club and hope to fill two of the top spots on the podium.
We went to a local Buddhist / Hindu concoction of temples to sit out of the way of traffic and general city noise and talk about their upcoming trip.
Both seem confident, speculating that one of them will be second and the other in first place, though both are aware that it will be excruciatingly hard work to win. “We will only know when we’re over there who is the danger,” says Khatri. He was captain of the team that set a new Trailwalker record last November, so perhaps has right to be a little bit confident.
The first issue they have is cash, an all too common problem in Nepal, specifically for the flights. Dragon Air in Kathmandu is in its third year of helping out with flights for runners to travel to Hong Kong. Without their help the small band of Nepali runners would probably not have taken Hong Kong’s big races by storm. But the tax needs to be paid on the tickets and that’s approximately US$800 they have to pay. (Heads up for readers, we’re going to ask for a donation at the bottom of the page!)
In Nepal where professional salary starts around $150 per month, and with inflation somewhere around 12%, it’d be a year of saving to afford the tax on the ticket. Both attended Kathmandu Ultra Trail’s short 11km event last Saturday for a taper run (1,100m climb!), which won Khatri two well-used 1000 Rupee notes, about US$20 which was a not great deal of help.
It’s a pretty crappy situation that two hot contenders for the podium have to beg for money just to get there, but so it goes. Persuading businesses in Nepal to sponsor is not yet viable as there is no real running scene. See Rachel Jacqueline‘s article on pre-race contenders.
They’ve been to Hong Kong seven times between them, to the Vibram and the Oxfam Trailwalker events, sponsored firstly by G4S then later by Team Columbia. “Team Columbia sponsored us with clothes and shoes, otherwise we buy shoes ourselves from the Adidas store in Kathmandu.”
“We like Hong Kong a lot. It’s clean and beautiful!” The army club training is heavily centered on traditional athletics events. When I ask if they could go anywhere, which race they would love to do, a long list of city marathons is brought forward. “London Marathon, Singapore Marathon, Hong Kong Marathon, New York Marathon, any, ” says Bhandari.
They only run hills once per week*, and that is along the shredded tarmac road to a village outside of Kathmandu with some 700m climb. (See average training schedule below). Kathmandu suffers from a smog of dust and fumes from the growing vehicle population. In September they both ran the Kathmandu Marathon, notorious for its mingling runners with heavy traffic, dust and heavy black fumes. A Guardian running blog article about it was entailed “Like running with a cigarette in your mouth.” They finished 3rd and 4th in 2:30 and after two laps on Kathmandu’s ring road and main trunk roads, “Your spit is completely black,” says Bhandari.
Pokhara has a better environment than Kathmandu, says Khatri. There they train with Ramesh Bhattachan, the tireless Annapurna 100 organiser and trainer of aspirant British Gurkha Army soldiers, in the lush hills surrounding Pokhara’s lake. They’ve been given leave from their army duty to train there for the past two months.
What do they eat on a 100km race I wonder. I ask knowing that Sudip Rai (fastest ever Mount Kinabalu descent) once stopped for a full dal bhat meal at the 90km point on the Annapurna 100 race. “Chocolate, biscuits and so on, whatever is there,” says Khatri. What about gels I asked, do you eat GU? “Gee You, you mean?” says Bhandari, looking puzzled.
“G.U.? Yes, but it is called GU no, like goo?” Quickly I realize that in Nepali language gu is a pretty awful word referring to excrement and I am asking if they like to eat that during a race. We laugh a bit and I go along with pronouncing it G.U. from now on. So there we have it. Two excited guys, ready to take on the Ultra Trail World Tour series race, and well practiced with pigeons and careful what they squeeze into their mouths.
If we have 80 people donate $10 then flight costs will be covered. The generous race organizers and Nepali residents in Hong Kong will cover the accommodation and dal bhat. And if you donate, you’ll have an interest in the race on Saturday! Exciting! With sincere thanks!