An Interview with Mira Rai, star of the film Mira

Mira Rai

Photo Credit: Lloyd Belcher

I recently reviewed the inspiring documentary ‘Mira’ about the young girl from a small village in Nepal who is now setting the trail running world on fire. ( Read the review here )

The New Zealand Trail Running magazine Kiwi Trail Runner recently featured an interview with Mira Rai and have very generously allowed me to reproduce the article here:

Mira Rai – The Nepalese Trail Running Phenomenon

If you don’t already know the name Mira Rai,  I am sure you soon will. This diminutive 24 year old from Nepal has burst onto the international trail running scene seemingly from nowhere, with astonishing success.

A year ago she didn’t even know trail running was a sport. To her it was just a way to get around in an area so remote and mountainous that a journey to buy supplies from the nearest shop can easily take 3-5 hours  on foot. Since then she has won 13 of the 19 races she has entered and had a podium finish in another 4! Her victories include races in the Asian Sky Running Championships in Hong Kong and setting a new women’s record at the Mont Blanc 80km!

Raised in a mud walled house, without power or running water, in a remote village in the Bhojpur region of Eastern Nepal, she grew up as the second of 5 siblings, her parents, subsistence farmers. Life was not easy and regular meals were often dependent on the weather and the quality of the harvest. Mira dropped out of school early to help support the family, carrying sacks of rice to the market for hours over mountain trails. In retrospect this must have been good training for what was to come.

At the age of 14 in search of a better life she ran away from home and joined the rebel Maoist Army. Nepal had been battling a civil war for the previous 10 years but by 2006 the peace treaty between the Maoists and the Nepali Government had already been signed so Mira was fortunate not to see any fighting. Life wasn’t much easier though with the discipline and the daily survival and weapons training but there was regular food and the opportunity to train in sports, to build up her fitness. She learnt Karate and became a brown belt but it was running that gave her the greatest pleasure.

The camp was eventually closed down and her unit absorbed into the Nepali Army. Mira was discharged, and not wanting to return to her former life in the village, travelled to Kathmandu. With limited resources she stayed with friends, and focused on track and road running. However fate, as it so often does, was to play another hand.

One day on a training run she met another runner who told her about a mountain race that was free for Nepali women to enter and so a few days later she found herself on the start line of the ‘Himalayan Outdoor Festival 50km’. The only local woman to enter, she seemed woefully unprepared, clad in a cotton t-shirt, tracksuit pants and without food or water.…………She won the race!

A month later she won the multi stage Mustang Trail Race and it was then that people started taking notice. Well-wishers and friends raised funds for her to compete in Italy, her first ever trip overseas. Last minute Visa problems meant she arrived just before the race but it didn’t stop her winning the Sellaronda, a tough 59 km run through the Italian Dolomites.

More victories followed, bringing her to the attention of Salomon who now sponsor her race and travel expenses. Her multiple successes in Hong Kong have resulted in a soon to be released documentary on her life.

Inspired by her meteoric rise and wanting to know more, we enlisted the help of her mentor, Trail Running Nepal’s Richard Bull, and an interpreter, and managed to track down Mira during a brief return visit to Nepal to ask her a few questions about her new life as an international runner:

When did you first start running and why?

  • I actually started running while I was in the Maoist camps when I was 15. We used to have many sports and I got opportunities to join in. I was pretty capable in running then but you can say that I began from my childhood, running up and down the hills, near my village.

We had heard that you had initially focused on running track, what made you switch to trails?

  • I was still running tracks when I was introduced to trail running for the first time through the Himalayan Outdoor Festival. Since then I’ve seen my strength is on trails and, I leave track now to the experts!

Where is your favorite place to run?

  • I like running anywhere. I don’t have a particular place. But if I had to mention the trails that I have run, I liked Hong Kong and Manaslu (Nepal) trails particularly.

How do you find the trails in the mountains in Nepal different to the ones you have been running in Europe?

  • In terms of difficulty, there is not much difference in the trails of Nepal and those of Europe. But, the trails in Europe are managed and more developed and easier to run on.

What’s a typical training day like for you?

  • In Nepal, I run different distances every day. Sometimes, I run for 1-2 hours, sometimes for 5-6 hours and on occasions, even 9-10 hours. The trainings are similar abroad as well. I train both hard and easy. Usually, I run 5-6 hours a day. For ultra, most is slow fat burning running with sections of high heart rate running.

What does your family think about what you do?

  • My family has been really supportive and encouraging of my pursuit of sports. My parents are very happy with the wins that I have had. I don’t know why I began running in the first place, but when I see my family, I am very happy to have followed this path. 

How did you feel when you first went overseas to race?

  • After I won the Mustang Trail Race, I was invited to participate in an international race. Travelling overseas was a very different and exciting experience for me. I went out of my country for the first time, all on my own. Undoubtedly, there were many obstacles but it still remains one of the most memorable events. The race (Sellaronda) was very difficult; I had to cross four hilltops. But I loved the challenge.

Has it been hard getting sponsorship to run overseas?

  • Getting sponsorship is quite difficult. But I am lucky I got chances. In the beginning, Trail Running Nepal supported me and now Salomon team has been supporting my travel as well.

Have things changed now you are getting international recognition?

  • With me, my country is getting recognition too, and so are the women of our country who have had a challenging childhood and life. More people in my country now have knowledge about trail running; a sport, which is not well known in Nepal. I feel I can push myself even harder now, that I have more people supporting me. Besides this, well, not much has really changed.

How has running changed your life?

  • Running has given a purpose to my life. Also, I earned recognition for myself and my country through running.

Do you think from the time you started running to now, the running scene in Nepal has changed?

  • It hasn’t been long since I started running. The situation hasn’t changed much although I am hopeful that more people now know about trail running than before.

Given your experience with international races, how would you like the running scene in Nepal to progress from here?

  • Many people don’t see trail running as a significant sport in Nepal, although its potential is obvious here. There is no governmental or non-governmental support for trail runners in Nepal. They need to find sponsors or support groups which is very difficult. Development of running trails is important and we runners can work on that.

What advice would you give someone just starting out?

  • Well, the most important thing is that you need to enjoy and secondly, focus is important. When I run, I have no idea what is going around, all I know is that I am running, and I should be running. You should run freely.

Any plans to run in New Zealand in the future?

  • I don’t have particular plans at the moment, but I would love to. I am willing to take up any opportunity that comes my way.

Following this interview, Mira Rai competed in the final race of the World Skyrunner Series, the 110 km Ultra Pirineau in the Spanish Pyrenees. Challenging the Swedish runner Emelie Forsberg for this year’s title, Mira pushed her hard over the mountainous course. In a nail biting duel, the duo were neck and neck for much of the race. At 100 kms Mira was just 90 seconds behind Emilie, who eventually claimed the win and the series title. Mira came in second just 2 minutes behind, and achieved an incredible 2nd place in the series in just her first year of competition. For her to be challenging Emelie Forsberg, the 3 time World Skyrunning Champion so closely hints at great things to come from this phenomenal young runner.

Useful links:

Mira

Mira Rai

Photo Credit: Lloyd Belcher

“Chances are like a leaf on the river. You have to grab it as it may never come again” – Mira Rai

A lovely, inspiring short film.

Being an avid trail runner myself I had heard of Mira Rai, the young Nepalese runner who had come out of nowhere to achieve success in international mountain running, so I was very happy to find out that a short film had been made on her life.

Filmed by Hong Kong based film-maker Lloyd Belcher, and funded by donations, the film tells the story of Mira’s humble beginnings, growing up the eldest of 5 children in a mud walled hut in a remote region of Nepal. In an effort to ensure regular food, she ran away to join the Maoist Army during Nepal’s civil war. It was there that she discovered a love of running. After the army was disbanded she tried her hand at track running but with little success . Fate, however, was to play its hand when she by chance entered a 50km mountain race, which she won, and she realised she had found her forté.

Not wanting to spoil the story for you although most of it is already in the public domain, the film is a really inspiring piece of filmmaking. Mira comes across as a simple, innocent girl, with an amazing talent. The visuals are breathtaking. From footage of her races in the Alps to drone shots of her bounding across the Nepalese mountain side like a mountain goat. One particular scene of Mira warming up as steam rises from her body lit up in the rays of the early morning sun really stands out in my memory.

At only 42 mins long it’s not a long film but long enough to inspire you to get out the door and hit the trails.  The support of her well wishers is admirable, and her achievements on the international stage are incredible for anyone, let alone a girl from a tiny village and who couldn’t speak english.

The film is available to rent on Vimeo on demand and is well worth seeing. Proceeds from the film will help fund girl’s sports in Nepal

“Sometimes life’s struggles are preparing you for greater things” – Mira Rai

Mira from Lloyd Belcher Visuals on Vimeo.

Altering Expectations

Altering Expectations

“I probably have the same feelings as the person who crossed the finish line first had….”

“Altering Expectations” is a short film documenting runner Kimberley Teshima as she prepares for and then runs her first Ultra-Marathon, the Oregon Coast 50K.

Filmed by her husband Ethan Newberry, a man otherwise known as “The Ginger Runner” the film is emotional, inspiring and filled with the stunning scenery of the Oregon coast. It’s almost like a tribute to the lady who has captured his heart and whose bravery and determination he obviously admires.

Kimberley is interviewed as she prepares for the race and although having some anxiety at running the distance for the first time she appears confident. The reality of race day however is starkly different and the confidence and pre-race bravado are soon left behind as she battles to beat cutoff times. The clever editing reminds you of her pre-race statements as she battles exhaustion and her mental demons. Along with Kimberley you get to experience her extreme ups and downs, her feelings of disappointment and failure, and her eventual elation at overcoming all the difficulties.

It must have been hard for her husband to keep filming while documenting her low points but film-on he did and the end result is a lovely little documentary that will inspire you to put on some running shoes.

If you haven’t got time to watch a full-on documentary and are looking for something to motivate you then watch “Altering Expectations”.

Me? I’m off for a run!

More films from “The Ginger Runner” can be found here

You can find out more about Kimberley Teshima here

Meru

 

Quite possibly one of the best documentaries I have watched in recent times. A deserved winner of the US Documentary Audience Award at Sundance 2015, it is gripping, inspiring, and visually spectacular!

The Shark’s Fin route on Mount Meru, in the Indian Himalayas, is a route that has thwarted some of the world’s most elite climbers. The 21,000 foot peak contains nearly every type of surface a high wall climber will experience in their career, all combined in one treacherous route. Many a climber has attempted it before but up until the filming of “Meru,” not a single one had succeeded.

Accomplished mountaineer Conrad Anker, a man with an impressive history of mountaineering and  first ascents, teamed up with fellow mountaineer and friend Jimmy Chin, and expedition film-maker Renan Ozturk, to attempt scaling the peak. The documentary “Meru” is their story.

Like the peak they are attempting to climb, the characters themselves are larger than life. Conrad, a hardy, rugged, mountaineer, the man who found Mallory’s body on Everest, and who, himself, has summited the iconic peak 3 times. A man driven to incredible feats of strength and endurance in an effort to quell demons from his past. Jimmy Chin, the laid back counter-balance to Conrad’s intensity, an accomplished climber in his own right, yet one who jokes and quips like a stoner surf bum, despite being inches from death. Renan Ozturk is the quiet one, but don’t let that fool you. As you will see, he is a man with incredible hidden reserves of strength and determination. Featuring additional commentary and insights from renowned author and mountaineer Jon Krakauer, as well as commentary from the climbers themselves, “Meru” will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.

This is not some boring climbing story suitable only for mountaineers. No instead this is a documentary with all the elements of a Hollywood thriller. It keeps you guessing with unexpected plot twists, contains moments of tragedy and awe, and it is incredibly inspiring! At the same time it’s informative, as a documentary should be, and it’s beautifully filmed. In fact it is hard to conceive how it was actually filmed given the conditions they were climbing under.

But more than the stunning scenery it’s the story that grabs hold of your attention and doesn’t let go. Time and again I see documentaries which highlight the power of the human mind and spirit over adversity, yet every time I continue to be amazed at what human beings can accomplish. A film like this puts your own life into perspective and you realise that all those things that are troubling you, that are holding you back, are insignificant, and that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to. There are so many lessons to be learned from the film “Meru,” lessons about perseverance, courage, determination, loyalty and friendship. I urge you to watch this film even if you don’t have the slightest interest in mountaineering. Trust me you wont regret it.

Watch the trailer here:

 

Meru [Blu-ray]
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