Chaotic Kathmandu Marathon

I like races that differ from the norm. I like doing races that only a few others would ever contemplate doing. That’s why, despite swearing that I would never ever do another road race ever again, I signed up for the Kathmandu marathon that took place yesterday.

Kathmandu Marathon race start. Photo courtesy of Pradeep Shakya.

You might think that the Kathmandu marathon would attract hordes of runners. And you’d be totally wrong. A total of 95 people ran the marathon yesterday. And there are a few reasons why the race, in its current format, will struggle to attract the thousands that normally participate in such runs. Though admittedly I had quite a nice day out and quite enjoyed it all.

The main problem with the race is that do not close the roads. This is do-able when the race starts early and gets finished before the traffic starts. But for the marathon, runners are bound to run into traffic. Yesterday I ran slap bang into one of Kathmandu’s infamous stand-still traffic jams. I ended up slaloming around cars, motorbikes and tractors, eventually ending up on the uneven pavement on the side. Even the pavement wasn’t easy running with pedestrians walking between shops, cyclists parking their bikes there, and even cows and dogs lying sprawled across my path. And once I had passed the grid-lock traffic, I ran straight into a protest march of over a thousand people (hence why the traffic had come to a halt in the first place). It was impossible to go around them, through them or beside them. Eventually I managed to pass them, but only to find that, in my efforts to circumnavigate the crowd, I was over a kilometre off the course and running in totally the wrong direction.

I ran into a Kathmandu traffic jam just like this one. Photo courtesy of Sijan Khadka.

Once I did get back onto the course, I ran straight back into the traffic on Kathmandu’s ring road. The traffic at this stage was industrial and I found myself running right behind trucks spewing out thick, glutinous black smoke. It meant I had to run at a pace where I didn’t have to open my mouth that often. And even then my lungs feel this morning like I’ve smoked a pack of 20. And then there were the minibuses that pulled to the roadside and stopped right in front of me to pick up some passengers. Fortunately at this stage I had got my own little motorbike escort as I was running in 9th place. The escort would beep his horn angrily at them for making me change my course. But it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference as the minibuses continued on with collecting fares regardless.

The other issue with the marathon is that it’s not a run through the UNESCO world heritage sites or close to the mountain views. It’s through the city and straight on the busy ring road, not once, but for two laps. I knew the course would bore my brains out until a friend suggested running with music. I don’t have a ipod so I tuned into the BBC World Service on my mobile’s radio and listened to the news repeating itself for 45 kilometres (seeing that I ended up adding on 3 kilometres due to the previous impromptu diversion).

Fortunately this year the course didn’t run out of water. I had heard ghastly stories from last year of rising temperatures as the race progressed and not a drop of water to be found. The only thing was that they provided cups which meant stopping and downing the water there and then.

Water stations Kathmandu marathon style. Photo courtesy of Pradeep Shakya.

I know the organisers tried their best to put on a good race. But a few things conspired against them in its run-up, in typical Nepali style. For example, they had made it very clear to the printers what they needed in terms of race numbers. But 4 days before the race start, the numbers were still not properly printed. It was only 72 hours before the race start before I was able to pick mine up. And then there was the time of the race start itself. The website clearly stated that the marathon would begin at 6 am. I got up at 4.45 am and was there in time for a few stretches. But 6 am came and went and the runners were still milling around the stadium. The race was finally called to the start at 6.45 am. The late start meant that more of the marathon was run in the high 26 Celsius heat, meaning that on the second lap I swerved to try and run in any possible shade I could find. That meant even trying to run alongside trucks that provided the slightest bit of shade from the ever rising sun. The race was also to finish back in the main stadium. But due to some scheduling and booking errors, the stadium was double booked. So when I arrived in to do my final lap, I was greeted by hordes of people, music bands and armed police who were not attending the marathon but the “Global Peace Day Celebrations in Asia”. That made me do a few more slaloms before I finally manage to cross over the line.

But in the end, I like races with idiosyncrasies. I like a race with a good story in the end. And that’s Kathmandu marathon to a tee. So if you enter it with low expectations, if you’re grateful for water being available and the road being vaguely clear of people, cows, and trucks, then Kathmandu is definitely a marathon to do.

Coverage of the Kathmandu Marathon results in Republica newspaper can be found here.

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22 thoughts on “Chaotic Kathmandu Marathon

  1. Loved this write-up. I’m signed up for this year on the 24th Sept 2011 so will be interesting to see how things have moved on …. or not.

      1. Hi there, you need to contact the race organisers of Kathmandu marathon directly if you want to register. Sorry, I only ran the race and blogged about it!

  2. I just moved to Nepal two weeks ago and I was hoping to get in a few races while I am here for the year working on a PhD. I am a marathon pacer in the US but have not done the ultra distance so I doubt Annapurna would work for me. Any other suggestions? Thanks!

    1. Hi Laveta, there aren’t that many races in Nepal – which I quite liked as I spent more time having fun relaxing runs.

      For excellent long trail running, contact Roger or Richard at http://trailrunningnepal.org/ . Nepal is also a nice place to get into ultra running, so I would highly encourage you to do the Annapurna: http://annapurna100.com/. It’ll also be a chance to get to meet some fellow runners and find out what the scene is like.

      Alternatively, the hash house harriers do very good long runs and they are nice and friendly (not too crazy like other hashs): http://aponarch.com/hhhh/

      Enjoy Nepal – its hard not to!

    1. I’m not sure I’d totally agreed Nilendra. Its good that Kathmandu has a marathon event as a capital city. And its only fair that Nepali athletes get a chance to race each other over a marathon distance on home turf. And it was only the 5th running of the race, with each year improving. However I think there’s a point to looking at the course route again. There are other roads that are much quieter than city centre and ring road that could be used e.g. out toward Godavari, through the World Heritage sites, and by using quieter roads there wouldn’t be the big issue of closing the roads (that is kind of necessary if you want to run in city centre).

  3. Can you please provide me with Pradeep Shakya, Photographer’s contact. I need to speak to him on our upcoming project……………..

  4. Bit of an experience, I’d say it’s a good thing you’re used to competing and running in unusual conditions. Am kind of surprised that even 95 people did it with the traffic – though the protest was probably unexpected??

  5. Sounds like a great marathon for a personal best (not!). Sounds a bit offbeat alright. Rather you than me with this one.

  6. Good write up – we should petition to get them to make a better route next year. Email info@kathmandumarathon.com and ask them to consider it. Would otherwise be great to organise an alternative ‘green’ marathon, or Roger’s UNESCO marathon – though the latter will probably take 15 years to bring to fruition.

  7. Totally agree with you. I came all the way from Doha, Qatar and almost got run over by a bus during the race.

    Poor race organization and would never run this again…. although loved my stay in the valley.

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