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Nepalese Monks Compete in Long-Distance Races


Seven Buddhist religious workers from the village of Sindhukot in Nepal are trading in their robes for running shoes. They want to become ultra-marathon runners. They hope that by running in long distance races they can help provide money to rebuild homes destroyed by a deadly earthquake in 2015.

The monks train by running across the hills around their village in the Himalayas. Most of them are in their early twenties. They follow a firm training plan each day. The monks pray in the morning before going into the hills to run up to 40 kilometers each afternoon.

Twenty-one-year-old Man Bahadur Lama is the fastest runner of the group. He said, "We found out that we can get many opportunities through running and hope to do something from our monk team — make a name for our village and bring development here. That is why we are running."

Life is difficult in Sindhukot. The village is about 80 kilometers from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. But, like many rural communities in Nepal, it feels completely disconnected from the rest of the world. The closest school is a two-hour walk and the only shops are in a nearby village.

FILE - Nepali Buddhist monks running during a training session in Sindhukot village, some 80 kilometres northeast of Kathmandu, Feb. 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH MATHEMA )
FILE - Nepali Buddhist monks running during a training session in Sindhukot village, some 80 kilometres northeast of Kathmandu, Feb. 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH MATHEMA )

Many Buddhist families in Nepal send at least one son to join the local monastery. There, the boys are usually fed, clothed and educated. This provides financial help for their parents.

Lama was sent away when he was only eight years old. But he currently lives at home because the village monastery was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake.

Fellow monk Mingma Lama said his duties as a monk in the community have prepared him for running long distances.

"Every day we go up and down the hills. We often have to walk far... So running wasn't too hard for us," he said.

These Himalayan monks are not the first to take up running. The so-called "marathon monks" of Mount Hiei in Japan are known for running 1,000 marathons in 1,000 days. But they are seeking enlightenment, not prize money.

'Even monks can run'

Mingma Gyalbo is a member of the monastery who also organizes races nearby. He told the AFP news service that the monks are talented but need more support to become better. He said they lack technical skills, like knowing the best foods to eat and they need good running shoes.

Trail running and ultra-marathons are gaining popularity in Nepal. The environment surrounding the Himalayas is well-suited for extreme tests of human endurance.

Nepal now hosts several races each year, including the world's highest marathon that starts at an altitude of 5,364 meters.

A few Nepalese runners have found success internationally. One of them is Mira Rai. She won the 52 kilometer Ben Nevis Ultra in Scotland in 2017. She was also named the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2017.

The Sindhukot monks' first race was a 30 kilometer trail run in a nearby village in 2016. But they have yet to win any medals.

Man Bahadur Lama finished tenth in their first major marathon earlier this month. He missed out on winning the top prize of 100,000 rupees, or $964. That amount is more than the average yearly income in Nepal.

Shekhar Pandey was the race organizer. He said, "I was quite amazed when I first learned that these monks were running. They are very self-motivated and hardworking, they are training by themselves. They are very young and if they train well, they have good potential."

One of the monks, Chuldim Sampo, said the group is excited. He added, "We want to show people that even monks are capable of running."

I’m Jonathan Evans.

This story was first reported by the AFP. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in this Story

endurance – n. the ability to do something difficult for a long time

enlightenment – n. a final spiritual state marked by the absence of desire or suffering

marathon – n. a running race that is about 42 kilometers long

monasteryn. a place where monks live and work together

monks – n. members of a religious community of men who usually promise to remain poor, unmarried, and separated from the rest of society

talented – adj. having a special ability to do something well; having talent

potential – n. an ability that someone has that can be developed to help that person become successful