Sunmaya Budha nearly died of malnutrition as a child. Like her sisters, she was destined to marry at 16, but left home to run. Now she is a professional trail runner.

Note: This article was originally published in Spanish at using Deepl translator. Please visit the original article for the full story. 
Sunmaya Budha, in the CCC category in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. The North Face

By ANDRÉS GARCÍA, 29/06/2023

Sunmaya Budha, like almost all girls in Nepal, was destined to be married off as a teenager. Her three older sisters were forced into marriage at the age of 14. Her mother gave up spinsterhood at 12. Trail running allowed her to embark on a different career. She took her own path. The rebelliousness of youth guided her steps towards a future in which she would be the master of her own decisions. Today, at the age of 24, her name already appears on the list of winners of races as important as the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.

She was born in Pere, a small village in the Jumla region, which can be reached after two plane journeys and a half-day hike or a three-day bus ride from Kathmandu. She always showed an interest in sports. She played volleyball with the boys at school. She was the only girl. At the age of 13 she tried athletics. She signed up with the school for a race that was held once a year in a nearby village on a dirt track. Although she participated barefoot, she was the best in the 5,000 metres. By the time she finished school, aged 16, her father and brother had arranged her marriage. “I dreamed of becoming a runner. I heard about the Karnali Sports Club and its coach Hari Rokaya, a marathon Olympian. I told my father that I wanted to continue my studies and I went there,” recalls the Nepalese runner.

She left home and, on foot, arrived at the Club with little more than 5,000 rupees (34 euros) in her pocket. Hari took her into his home and gave her the opportunity to run. Within a week she dropped out of school. “Classes and training were at the same time. I chose to focus on sport, but I didn’t tell my family,” Budha tells MARCA.

Sunmaya Budha, in her village and on her first runs. The North Face

A third place in the Dharan marathon earned him a prize of 15,000 rupees (about 100 euros). “My parents were sad that I didn’t win, they didn’t understand what a marathon was and the level of the other participants,” Budha recalls.

In 2016 she made her debut in a trail race, hand in hand with Richard Bull, the man in charge of the event. “I won, I was very excited. I loved running in the mountains. I was used to it. At home in Jumla, I used to run at 3,000 metres altitude,” she explains.

Her father still did not agree with her decision to take up the sport. “I want them to believe that I am no less than a boy and that one day I will be able to take care of my family better than a man,” Budha says. These words tie in with his past. First his brother was born. Then came seven girls, as his parents were looking for a second boy in case something happened to the first-born.

I want my parents to believe that I am not less than a boy and that one day I will be able to take care of my family better than a man.

Sunmaya Budha, Trail Runner

It was not easy to support such a large family. “I was on the verge of death due to illness and malnutrition. I remember someone in the village even asked me when I was going to die. I don’t know if it would have made much difference to my family if I had died. My mother told me that she felt she couldn’t let me go. She took me with her to the mountain. With natural medicine and prayers she pulled me through. For food, she fed me slugs and that helped me survive,” Budha recalls.

Sunmaya Budha, on her arrival in second place at the finish line of the CCC category of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. The North Face

Sunmaya Budha arriving at the finish line of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc CCC course.The North Face
Two years ago, she joined the APA Athlete Team, a team of the best Asian adventure athletes, sponsored by The North Face for the past 18 years. His career took a leap in quality. “I gained professional status, with training, money and more resources to improve,” he reflects. Previously, Richard Bull’s help, via sponsorship, allowed him to race in and out of Nepal.

In her first race as a member of The North Face Adventure Team, in December 2021, she won the Doi Inthanon Thailand by UTMB (100 km) ahead of one of her references, Mira Rai. The Nepalese, who went from child soldier to trail running star, has been a source of inspiration for other young runners.

Kilian Jornet’s admirer

Budha has run through Nepal, Hong Kong and the Alps in the last year. In August 2022 she took part in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, the fetish race for all trail runners. She competed in the CCC distance (100 kilometres). Not even an Achilles tendon injury, six weeks earlier, prevented her from fighting for the podium. She finished second with a time of 11 hours, 45 minutes and 44 seconds. As a prize, she was well above the average salary of 280 euros in Nepal.

Sunmaya Budha, on a recent visit to her village. The North Face.

When asked about a runner she admires, she doesn’t hesitate: Kilian Jornet. “I saw him at Sierre Zinal, in a crowd, and it was incredible. His wife [Emelie Forsberg] is also a great runner like Ruth Croft. I like them because they are also humble. They show their power in the race, not by talking,” he says.

In 2023 she won two races: the COROS 100 (50 km), just one minute ahead of the male winner, and the Golden 100 Hong Kong (30 km). An injury kept her out of the recent World Trail Running Championships in Innsbruck. She also missed her first race in Spain: Val d’Aran by UTMB (from 5 to 9 July). Her objective is to be ready to return to the UTMB, this time in the OCC modality (55 km).

Sunmaya Budha has not forgotten her family. She wants to build them a new house and help her brother, sisters and cousins to whom she rented a house in Jumla so that they can go to a better school. Her parents already have a different view of her daughter running around the world. “They support my dream,” says Budha, the runner who went off the beaten track to make her own way through the mountains.

Note: Translated from the original article in Spanish in by Deepl. h/t to Preeti Khattri for the link.

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