Serious Sisu: Mira Rai

Mira Rai is no stranger to sisu.  Growing up in a remote village in the eastern hills of Nepal she would often walk mountain trails for up to six hours a day with up to 25 kilos of water and rice on her back.  Just 9 months ago the opportunity to run her first ultra marathon was presented to her, and although she was totally unprepared, she took the opportunity and she won. 

With the support of Trail Running Nepal and other friends and mentors, Mira was sponsored to run two International events in Europe this season. She literally secured her passport and visa for Italy and was on a plane six hours later.  The experience was life-changing, with Mira winning both events.  In late October Mira traveled to Hong Kong (same last minute visa issues) and took first place in the HK50.  

Mira is inspiring girls across Nepal to not only take to the trails, but also to pursue their dreams and passions.  As part of our One4One Fund, we provide funding to Trail Running Nepal and their Girls Running Fund, which has supported Mira on this journey.  Later this week, SisuGirls supporter, Jane Shadbolt, is departing for Nepal to run the Manaslu Mountain Race and she is raising funds to support this amazing program - this is your chance to get behind this incredible story of serious sisu and to help Mira achieve her dreams of more Nepali girls in the sport.  Donate here and in the meantime, enjoy this incredibly inspiring story of Mira Rai. 

Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?

  Mira Rai - Photo taken in Hong Kong by   Lloyd Belcher Visuals

Mira Rai - Photo taken in Hong Kong by Lloyd Belcher Visuals

I am a 25 year old girl currently living with friends in Kathmandu.  I am originally from a small village in Bhojpur district which is in the eastern hills of Nepal where my parents and four siblings live. I moved to Kathmandu 11 months ago.  As a young girl I was not very interested in doing household chores, which is why my mother gave me the physical tasks like bringing water from the river, which is two hours down and three hours back home. I also used to carry a bag of rice to the market to sell and bring money home. I grew up running, so to speak.

I was also very interested in sports and played volleyball in school. I have a brown belt in karate. When I was visiting Kathmandu, just over a year ago, a running guru saw me and thought I was a good runner.  This is when I started to run seriously. It was then that my guru and a friend suggested that I come and live in Kathmandu with them, to run, to pursue running professionally. But even then, I hardly knew anything about professional running. Apart from a few running tips that I got from here and there and a bit of coaching at Rangashala National Stadium, I knew nothing about trail running. In fact, until recently, when I was in Italy for a month-long training for two races there, I did not know that I was actually running the wrong way, something was seriously wrong with my technique, which I only discovered a few months ago.

What is a typical "week in the life" of Mira Rai?

I wake up at 5am and have breakfast and then go running in the hill, Jamakot, which is not very far away from where I live in Balaju. I run 10 to 12 kms in the morning and 10 to 12 kms in the evening, every day. During the day, I am at Astrek Climbing Wall in Thamel training myself to rock-climb and catching up with other climbers and runners in Kathmandu. Apart from this, I cycle. When I'm not running or climbing, I am helping my friends cook food and I get to bed by 10pm to wake at 5am the following day.

You came to the sport of ultra running only a few months ago?  Why was that? Were you always interested in running?

 Photo taken in Hong Kong by  Lloyd Belcher Visuals 

Photo taken in Hong Kong by Lloyd Belcher Visuals 

I was introduced to the sport nine months ago when I took part in the Himalayan Outdoor Festival 50km race organised by Trail Running Nepal in Kathmandu. Seriously, I had no idea about trail running until that time. It all happened very quickly. One Saturday, I met some people who were running the same hill as I was and the next thing I knew I was running a 50km race a week later. Since I knew nothing about the race I was not prepared at all. I ran the race on an empty stomach without any crackers to munch or water to drink on the way. When I reached 42km I was extremely exhausted and I was beginning to feel very thirsty and very hungry. Luckily, there was a shop nearby and the owner was very generous and offered me a packet of wai wai noodles and a drink, which saved me. I continued on the trail and won the race, which was quite a revelation to me. Since then I have not looked back.

The main reason it took so long to discover my talent is because I am not originally from Kathmandu. It has only been 11 months since I moved here. I would say, living in a village where there is very little or no exposure to different kinds of sports is the reason why ultra running as a sport is unheard of, let alone participated in.

I don't know if I have always been interested in running, but growing up in a village means walking long distances, or running in my case. Village life makes us very tough because to get anything done requires walking a minimum three to five hours and that can simply be to get to the nearest market to buy a packet of soap or cooking oil. This made me tough from the inside and outside, which is only natural if you come from the remote hills in Nepal.

What are your long-term goals?

My long-term goals are to encourage and train as many Nepali girls from remote and rural villages to become runners and to pursue the sport professionally.  

What are the main lessons you've learnt through ultra-running?

I have learned never to allow yourself to be afraid or nervous, especially by other people no matter how experienced or older they may be.  This is important when you are running the same race - basically, don't loose your mind to fear of others - keep your head. 


 Mira Rai climbing in Kathmandu - Photo care of Trail Running Nepal

Mira Rai climbing in Kathmandu - Photo care of Trail Running Nepal

What piece of advice would you give to your 13 year old self?

Don't loose your focus and balance.

What makes you wake up each morning?

To become a good runner and to run for my country, which essentially means taking part in International running events and aiming to win those races.

What and who inspires you?

The way in which Nepali society views girls as just mere household objects with no substantial aims and determinations to pursue sports as boys makes me want to prove this wrong - this whole concept is illogical to me. So, I would say this inspires me to run and run better everyday.

All my trainers and friends who helped me realise I was a good runner and that I could be even better, inspire me. They have encouraged me to come to Kathmandu and have provided me a place to stay and food to eat to while I pursue running, this means a lot to me.  I cannot emphasise enough the contribution Trail Running Nepal has made in helping me realise my potential to become the runner that I am today. A year ago I was only running around Tundhikhel Ground and now I have won three major international events and been to Italy and Hong Kong. 

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Don't look back, keep your eyes up and keep on running.

 Mira Rai wins her first International trail running event in Italy. 

Mira Rai wins her first International trail running event in Italy. 

Who do you think has serious sisu?

Undoubtedly, John Cena.

What can we do to support more Nepali girls on the trails? 

There is a lot that needs to and can be done. First of all, motivate Nepali girls across the country to run and join the trails. Give them opportunities, train them, coach them, feed them well and provide them with necessary skills, tools and accessories to empower them to run professionally. In sum, create space for Nepali girls.

Chloe Chick