Som Tamang is Talking Trail Running

Ultra Trail Nepal is a much-anticipated new entry in the Asia Trail Master championship series this year. The spring time version of this event takes place on 25 April - a Tuesday - and that is on purpose. On that day it will be precisely two years ago since Batase and the wider Kathmandu region was struck by a shattering earthquake that demolished villages and brought immense suffering to lots of local communities, many of which were cut-off from the rest of the world for days. UT Nepal has been set up to help get people back on their feet, and aid with the reconstruction and relief efforts. Som Tamang has been the driving force behind the UT Nepal organisation, which also had a 'winter version' last January. While now living in Australia, Som was born in Batase Village and was personally affected by the earthquake. His remarkable story is one of devastation and heartache, but also of inspiration and hope. Two things he very much conveys to his native community today, and UT Nepal is just one element of that. As the event date is coming closer, we recently were talking trail running with Som Tamang.    

By K. Van de Velde

Q: Where were you born and did you grow up ?
ST: I was born in Batase Village, in the Sindhupalchowk district of Nepal. Batase is on the edge of Langtang National Park and is a traditional village. Until the Earthquake hit Nepal, everyone was living in mud homes. the people of Batase are mainly farmers, living off the land

What do you do for a living?
I own a Fair Trade store in Cairns, Australia. I import handmade items from Nepal, and where possible I sell items made by people from my village. Along with my wife, I also run a company called "Take on Nepal", we take groups of volunteers to Nepal where they volunteer in remote village schools. I also take groups on trekking expeditions to some of the most popular parts of Nepal.

What made you move to Australia?
I moved to Australia in search of an education. I was able to attend school up until the age of 10 in Nepal and then I was forced to leave my village. i went to Kathmandu where I became a child slave for a wealthy family. I then became a street seller and eventually a porter and a trekking guide. I received sponsorship to come to Australia where I began my studies and in 2014 I graduated from University with a Bachelor of Creative Industries. I was the first person from my village to achieve.

How would you compare Nepal with Australia when you think of its citizens? 
Australia gave me opportunities that I never imagined were possible for a poor boy from Nepal. The people are amazing and have shown their kindness and compassion through supporting my humanitarian projects. Many Australians come to visit the people of my village and it shows that there are more similarities than differences between both cultures, we are all human and we try to be good people.

How did you get involved with running?
The Earthquake that destroyed Nepal in 2014 had a huge personal impact on me. My 24 year brother was killed as were many other people from my district. Every home in my village was destroyed. I came into contact with Samir Tamang, Samir is an accomplished trailrunner from Nepal. I started helping his village which was also destroyed by the Earthquake and through spending so much time with him, I started to develop a strong interest in trail running. I started running long distances and realised that it was helping to relieve the emotional pain and stress that I felt from the damage caused by the Earthquake. Once I hit the trails, my stress started to leave my body and this felt great. I then introduced trail running to the other villagers, who also recognised the benefits of running. 

What has been your biggest achievement as a runner yourself?
My biggest achievement has been to introduce the benefits of trail running to others and to then begin organising races in Nepal. I am not out to be a champion, I am doing it for the benefits and the connection to nature. Another achievement has been the hugely successful trail running events that I have organised in Nepal; many local and international trail runners have loved running in the mountains in my beautiful country.

Do you have any sports idols, athletes you look up to?
Samir Tamang is undoubtedly Nepal's best trail runner. He inspires me and motivates me, Samir is also a really great person, with a big heart. Lizzy Hawker is another athlete that I look up to, her achievements are unmatched; she shows true grit and determination in her ability to be the worlds greatest endurance runner. Lizzy is an inspiration to the village girls of Nepal who Lizzy supports and trains.

Do you often take part in trail races yourself?
Yes! I participate in races in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. I do this for enjoyment and participate whenever I can. As a race organiser, i am often too caught up with networking at other events to be able to participate.

In a nutshell, how would you describe UT Nepal? 
Ultra Trail Nepal, in my opinion, is a race that will appeal to anyone who is happy to challenge themselves and to humbled by the highest peaks in the world. UTN is unique, our runners pass through traditional villages and get a true understanding of the culture and the people of Nepal. UTN provides our local, talented runners with the opportunity to run with international runners, this is a rare opportunity in Nepal. UTN also aims to empower young women to hit the trails through providing running gear, support and entry into the race.

Is it a race that basically any runner can do, or do you need to have sufficient trail experience? 
This race is perfect for everyone! We encourage people of all ages and experience to participate. the trail is well marked with plenty of support along the way to ensure a successful outcome for everyone. Trail experience will of course allow the runner an easier and more enjoyable experience, we do recommend that you train well before participating.

When will you be a happy organiser? 
I will be happy when we can support our Nepali runners to race internationally, when the event is as popular as the big events in Europe, US and Australia, and when we have over 3000 runners running through our mountain villages who are gaining an understanding of the issues faced by the average person in Nepal. I also want to be able to fund the rebuilding of villages along the trails which has been affected badly by the Earthquake.

What would you advise for international runners who come to join UT Nepal in April?                 Do not have any expectations, come with an open mind and heart; this will ensure a positive experience for you. The trails are challenging but the rewards are greater. 

Two years after the big earthquake, how has reconstruction been going? 
The reconstruction is slow, most people are still living in corrugated iron shelters. Most schools have not yet been rebuilt. The country has a very long way to go to rebuild. I am the founder of the not for profit organistion "Friends of Himalayan Children Inc." and through our fundraising efforts, we have been able to assist in caring for 40 children who were left disadvantaged after the Earthquake. The charity also pays the wages of school teachers. In the wake of the Earthquake, we provided remote villages with a huge amount of emergency relief. 

How has the quake affected the spirit of the people?
The Earthquake has caused a huge amount of emotional turmoil for the people affected. My own Mother fell into a deep sadness and is only recently feeling better to cope. The people of Nepal are by nature resilient, life was tough before the Earthquake and now they have had maintain their strength to get through this difficult time. Everyone who visits Nepal are always taken by the kindness of the people of Nepal, and the Earthquake hasn't changed that.

How important is running for the Nepalese? Is it a big sport in media?  
Trail running is not a big sport in the media, the people of Nepal are naturally built for trail running but due to a lack of information and exposure to the sport, they are unaware of it. Ultra Trail Nepal is working hard at a governmental level, for trail running to be recognised as a sport in Nepal.  

What is the influence Mira Rai has had, and are there any potential successors?
Mira Rai is an amazing role model to many young girls in Nepal. Mira visited Batase as a guest at our first UTN event, she inspired our young people to get involved. There are many potential successors and we are working hard to provide them with the opportunities to gain much needed exposure to trail running events around the world. 

Can Nepalese runners in trail running become the equivalent of Kenyans and Ethiopeans on the track and road? What is needed to arrive at that situation? 
Absolutely! Due to our genetic make up, we are naturally built for running amongst the mountains! I strongly believe that Nepalese runners can dominate the trail running scene. What is needed is the correct training support which includes access to required nutrition, sports equipment and opportunities to challenge themselves in international events. Most people in Nepal are living in poverty, this prevents potential champions from being able to fulfill their potential and through UT Nepal, we want to support our runners to achieve their goals.

How do you see the future development of trail running in Nepal?
I recently met with the Minister of Sport in Nepal, he attended our last UT Nepal event; this is to provide him with an understanding of the sport in the hope of having a trail running association in Nepal in the near future. I am working hard on this one!

Running, and trail running, has seen a boom in popularity. Can the same be said about Australia?    
Trail running is becoming very popular in Australia. UTA is a huge event which attracts runners from all over the world. This event inspired me to start events in Nepal. It is nice to see more people getting off the roads and into natural environments!

Many athletics federations in Asia do not recognise trail running as a genuine discipline.How is this in Australia? 
I believe that Australia still have a long way to go in comparison to Europe. Australia does have a trail running association and we have many talented ultra runners who are not recognised by the media for their amazing achievements. I think within 10 years this will change!

What do you think of the Asia Trail Master series?
The Asia Trail Master series is fantastic, the concept of bringing all of the races together to culminate into a championship is amazing. We feel very excited and proud to be involved with the Asia Trail Master Series. The organiser, Kris Van Der Velde is a great organiser and also a wonderful humanitarian, he provides opportunities to people who are often in a position not to participate in such events.

What is your favourite piece of running music?
Would you believe that I don't listen to music when I run?!! I love tuning into my natural environment when I am running! When I'm not running, I love listening to the music of U2, my Irish wife influenced me there!