Not everyone can be first of course – that’s sport. But not everyone who’s first can finish on such a fabulous finish line.
Before reading on, here’s a video of Sunmaya finishing. Super! Congratulations and thank you to the GaoLiGong organisers for a first class event.
The Gao Li Gong event is partnered with the UTMB organisation in France. While the terrain is different to UTMB, it offers challenging courses through some beautiful landscapes, with the quality standard of UTMB applied.
Based on Sunmaya’s previous performances in Hong Kong, and Chamonix last summer, she was invited to compete in the 50 km race, the THT “Tea and Horse Trail”.
Anyone at the event will have been impressed by the start. Under the huge arch in the square of Tengchong, smoke machines and amplifiers created an excited atmosphere resembling a rock band about to come on stage. Elite runners were invited on stage wave to the amassed pack of regular athletes. For Sunmaya, a pretty exciting start to the day.
Early on in the race, at checkpoint 1, pictured below, Sunmaya was already at pace and around 7th position. Too fast maybe? TNF athlete Meredith Edwards was some 10 minutes back in 2nd position.
All turned out to be well. Sunmaya maintained the pace throughout the course, moving fast on the uphills and taking ground on the descents. At checkpoints she waited seconds only, grabbing some liquid and keeping moving. 2nd woman was way behind, but Sunmaya ran it like she would be caught at any moment.
At the finish, Sunmaya looked reasonably fresh, and very happy. The finish was a similar show, with one of China’s TV Sports announcers entertaining the crowd with the rousing GaoLiGong Ultra Trail theme tune being played in the background.
Congratulations Sunmaya! Do you think that winning Gaoligong was your best result in a running race so far? Why?
-Yes, definitely! The finish time was good but unlike last year when I was suffering as I run; this year I didn’t even know the race was done!
What was your plan for the race?
I was going for the podium for sure. Richard Bull was with me, so I was tense. As I said, last year [at Wulong] due to various reasons I could not perform as I wanted. This year with more experience, being more familiar with 50 km and better trained, my plan was to do my best. That would help me with more opportunities in future.
What do you think about when you run in the lead? Are you stressed? Worried?
Being in lead there are many strong runners chasing you all through the course so I was tense and felt I had to run hard and do my best.
The woman in second, Meredith Edwards, is a world class runner, but you beat her by over an hour. Was she close to you during the race?
I rarely look back when I race, I didn’t see her since the start. I would have loved to run some of the trail with her and learn from her.
Did you find the Gaoligong race course easy or hard?
Last year, it was my first race in China in Wulong and I had problems. I had some bad food before the race and I vomited during the race and got very cold and tired. This year I was enjoying the course very much. After the 4th checkpoint, I was slightly worried about my muscles but the trail was easy. It was one of my best runs.
How did you prepare for Gaoligong race, what training did you do?
I did some interval training. Some up and downs every day. Nothing specific, i just ran around the hills of Kathmandu.
You won Stupa to Stupa three weeks after Gaoligong, did you feel tired still?
I haven’t done many races in Nepal so even though I was tired I went for it.
How long did you spend after Gaoligong before starting to train again?
I rested for five days then I had to go back to the hills with my shoes. The hills around Kathmandu are my playground.
What was your favourite thing about Gaoligong race?
Trail marking was beautiful and the atmosphere. Food was much better this time. And, I loved the trophy!
What did you like about Tengchong (the place where Gaoligong was held) ?
The place reminded me of my home, Jumla. The hills and forest. It was better with Richard there to take care of certain things. He was a guardian.
Everyone at Gaoligong misses you – Pavel, Yishi, Samantha, Nathan, Daniel. Do you have anything to say to them? We all want you to learn English soon so that we can talk to each other.
I miss them so much and am as grateful. Without them the race for me was only a dream. I didn’t know english or chinese. They were at the checkpoints which gave me an energy and will to run better. Their presence and company was a joy.
I am doing best with my english classes as well!
Are you back in training now? What is your training plan for a week?
Yes, I am. Lizzy Hawker and Mira Rai have given me an effective plan. I have started rock climbing as well. I run every day but not more than 10 km. One 30 km once a week.
Are you back in Kathmandu or in Jumla?
I am in Kathmandu for my english lessons.
What are your future plans for racing and training?
What are your plans for your future?
I want run more at the moment. Get some good racing done and win, hopefully. I am looking for some sponsorship. With it I will have some freedom to pursue my dreams. I want to teach and train the younger generation some day.
Are your family proud of you and support you?
I come from a traditional background so running was not encouraged. I was asked by my parents to pay more attention to my school but now they are happier with my goals. I bring home many medals. They are proud but still want me to improve my english.
Do people recognise you on the street in Nepal now? : ) like they recognise sister Mira)
I am not as popular as sister Mira. Still, i have people who support me everywhere. It make me happy.
Which race do you most like to run in the future? (UTMB, etc)
Skyrunning and Golden Trail Series is my focus right now.
Thanks to Hiro, Rishi and Anuj at Astrek for the interview and translation.