Nepal’s monks lose their robes, don running shoes

Seven Buddhist monks from a remote village at the foothills of Nepal’s Himalayas have swapped their maroon robes for running shoes, hoping this pursuit will place their remote village on the map.

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PLACE ON THE WORLD MAP: These monks want their village Sindukot, which lies just 80km from Kathmandu but like many rural communities in Nepal feels completely cut off from the rest of the world, to get noticed.

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REBUILDING LIVES: Their aim is to get funds to rebuild their homes destroyed during the devastating earthquake nearly three years ago — on April 25, 2015.

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AIM IS DEVELOPMENT: The aspiring ultra-marathon runners are hoping they will be able to introduce development in their village. “We found that we can get many opportunities through running and so we hope to do something from our monk team. — and make a name for our village,” 21-year-old Man Bahadur Lama, the fastest in the group, said.

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NOT FUN’N’ GAMES: The monks, mostly in their early twenties, follow a strict regime – praying in the morning before disappearing into the hills to run up to 40km (25 miles) each afternoon.

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WELL PREPARED: Monk Mingma Lama is matter of fact about his new pursuit. He feels his monastic duties in the community have prepared him well. “Every day we go up and down the hills. We often have to walk far…So running wasn’t too hard for us,” he remarked.

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“MARATHON MONKS”: These Himalayan monks are, however, not the first to take up the sport. The so-called “marathon monks” of Mount Hiei in Japan have been recognized for their “superhuman” feat of running 1,000 marathons in 1,000 days — but they are seeking enlightenment, and not prize money.

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SUPPORT TO EXCEL: According to a member of the monastery who oraganizes races nearby, these Nepalese monks are talented, however they require more support to excel. “They don’t have the technical know-how, like for their diet, or even proper shoes for training,” Mingma Gyalbo pointed out.

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NO MEDAL…YET: The first race run by the Sindhukot monks was two years ago — a 30km trail run in a neighbouring village. They are yet to win a medal. Man Bahadur, the fastest of the lot, came tenth in their first major marathon earlier this month, losing out on the top prize of 100,000 rupees, or $964, which is more than the average annual income of Nepal.

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HIGHLY MOTIVATED: Race organizer Shekhar Pandey is, however, impressed with the monks’ motivation. “I was quite amazed when I first learnt these monks were running… They are self-motivated and hardworking, they are training on their own. They are very young and if they train well, they have good potential.”

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WORLD’S HIGHEST MARATHON: Nepal currently hosts a handful of races every year, including the world’s highest marathon that starts at the Mount Everest base camp at a significantly high altitude of 5,364 metres (17,598 feet).

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MAKING A MARK: Some Nepalese runners such as former child soldier Mira Rai have made their mark on the world stage, recently winning the gruelling 52km Ben Nevis Ultra in Scotland and being named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2017.

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POINT TO PROVE: The monks, meanwhile, are excited and raring to go. Chuldim Sampo, 24, explained “We want to show people that even monks are capable of running.”

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