Hidden Talent in the Mountains – Nepali Porter Sudip Rai

He looked just like most Nepali porters. Short, stocky, sturdy from carrying loads up and down the mountains. He spoke no English, so sat there silently as the rest of us continued on with our English language conversation. Little did I know that I was sitting beside one of the world’s best mountain runners.

Sudip at Davos Ultra. Photo courtesy of Alaudere.

Sudip was going to join us on the recce of the Annapurna 100 race route. We were meeting to plan our logistics and dates. Sudip himself had just come back from Malaysia where he had competed in the world renowned Mount Kinabalu Climbathlon, a 21 kilometre route with 2,250 metres ascent. And despite having only competed in one international race before, Sudip stunned the field by coming home in second place overall in this Sky Runner World Series event.

Less than 6 months before, he was an unknown porter servicing Everest Basecamp. But in April of this year, the first Everest Ultra took place. The Nepali race participants had already been selected and were flown in for the start. Sudip heard about the race whilst higher up the trail and ran to the start to ask permission to run it too. “Have you ever raced before?” Ramesh the race organiser asked him. He found out that Sudip had previously run Everest marathon and had come in the top ten. Seeing that he was able, he let him enter the ultra.

Sudip, Ramesh (Nepali coach) and Bed. Photo courtesy of Rob Cousins.

Much to the surprise of all the participants, he was the first man home. His win was totally unexpected given that he left the Nepal Army runners trailing in his wake despite the many hours of training the army lads themselves put in every day.

Sudip’s performance attracted the attention of Rob Cousins, who came to Nepal for six months to help him train for Davos Ultra Marathon in Switzerland (which was known as Project Davos). However the likes of Rob are rare. It’s tragic that there are so many incredible mountain runners in Nepali, guys who’ve spent their whole lives high up in the mountains, and yet so few coaches available to train them to become the world’s best. Kenyans have been discovered for their running abilities and training camps abound for them to reach their peak. But most Nepalis have been left to work out for themselves how to get fast, or opt to join the army or police in order to get the training they need.

Me, Roger, Sudip, and Ramesh - the Annapurna100 recce team.

Fortunately Sudip decided to walk the Annapurna 100 route with us rather than embarrass us all and run. However he will be lining up at the start on 1 January 2011 when the proper race will start. Hopefully his continued performances will be able to attract sponsors and coaches who will help him go on to win races further and further from home. He deserves to run with the best and to show the rest of the world how incredible Nepali people are.

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