Nirmala Rai claims victory in 170 km Manjushree Trail despite no prior practice  

In the second week of April, ultra-athlete Nirmala Rai won the 100-mile Manjushree Trail Race.

Rai, 33, of Aiselukharka Rural Municipality, Khotan became the winner of the Manjushree Trail Race by beating the defending champion Anita Rai. She also broke the time record set by Anita. 

“I competed in such a long race for the first time,” says Rai to Onlinekhabar. “In the first attempt, I became a winner. I am very happy.” 

Nirmala completed the race in 34 hours, 54 minutes and 30 seconds. The second position holder Anita Rai completed the race in 35 hours, 57 minutes and 19 seconds. In the earlier edition, Anita Rai was the winner, who completed the race in 36 hours, 47 minutes and 12 seconds. 

There were altogether 13 athletes who completed the 100-mile race. Among them nine were male and four were female. Nirmala secured the fifth position among 13 athletes. 

“At first everything was normal. But once I started to appear in the news, I got excited. Everyone from the family and village messaged and congratulated me,” says Nirmala. She also received an offer to participate in the Jumla-Rara Ultra Race held on April 13. However, due to the knee injury, she could not participate. 

According to the organisers, the winners of the Manjushree Trail Race will get a chance to participate in an international 100 km race, slated to happen in Switzerland. 

Winner without coach 

It was Nirmala’s first time, participating in a 100 miles race. She did not take any training for it. So winning this race was beyond her expectations. “I never thought I would win this race because it was my first time participating in such a long race,” says Nirmala. 

She became nervous amid the race. Nirmala even thought of quitting in the middle of the race. But she somehow gathered the courage to continue the race. Rai even ran during the nighttime, and in the end, she won the title. Before winning this competition, Rai was not popular. She did not have any team or sponsors. She was running on her own. 

“I am grateful to Priya Rai and Jimmy sir. Anita had a supporter to assist her during the race, but I had no one. But Jimmy sir motivated me during the race,” says Nirmala. 

Nirmala has done a few races. Before participating in the Manjushree Trail Race, on March 30, she became the winner in the Sailung Ultra Marathon, held in Ramechhap, Sailung. On February 13, she secured the third position during the National Maurakhara Ultra Guerilla Marathon, held in Rukum West. And in the third week of March, she came second in the Khiji Demba Ultra Marathon, held in Okhaldhunga. 

Nirmala has been participating in ultra races for the last four years. Athlete Priya Rai encouraged Rai for the trail race. Nirmala Rai and Priya Rai both hail from Khotang.  

Once both of them used to live nearby in Kadaghari. Priya used to run regularly. One day, Priya took Nirmala for training. “After Priya took me to the training I got to know that even such a kind of race exists,” says Rai. 

That day became a milestone in Nirmala’s career. 

Earlier, Nirmala worked in the marketing sector. She was the breadwinner of a family. So she got involved in money making, and it took her time to learn about sports. 

Her debut race was Jhiltung Cross Country, where she secured fourth position. Later, she participated in various road races. However, due to the family issue, she could not continue to race. 

In April last year, she participated in the Manaslu Trail Race where she came second. 

Looking for sponsors

Currently, Nirmala is not involved with any of the team. She also does not have a sponsor. The lack of teams and sponsors poses challenges to the athletes. She also has an injury on her leg. These days, she regularly practises around Gokarna. 

Akin to other athletes, Nirmala also aspires to go global and she is compelled to arrange finance by herself. That is not an easy thing to do for her. She is in dire need of sponsors. 

“If any team will support me, I can improve my performance,” says Nirmala.

Due to her responsibilities in providing financial support to her family, Nirmala has been unable to dedicate herself fully to the races. She said she would commit more time to racing if she secured sponsorship.

Nirmala expects to get support from the Adventure Running Association, which was formed recently. 

“If the players get enough financial support and diet, they can do better,” she says. 

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Nepal is a sports correspondent for Onlinekhabar.

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