Where and how to run around KathmanduKathmandu’s pollution and traffic need not be a roadblock for wannabe runners. Knowing how to negotiate the city is all it takes to pound the streets of Kathmandu.
Whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned runner, there are ways and means you can apply to enjoy a jog or run in the city.
Most people know running has several health benefits, whether they be weight loss or improved mental health, but they pass up the activity because they think the city’s pollution makes it impossible.
Kathmandu’s hectic roads and rampant pollution stop many wannabe runners in their tracks, but an ever-growing group of enthusiasts prove it is possible.
Suman Basnet believes pollution and traffic need not be anyone’s excuse for not running. The 57-year-old started running seven years ago and has been benefiting from it ever since.
Knowing how to get into it is important, however, because too many people tend to overexert themselves too early. “Just understand your body and don’t try to do more than what your body can take,” says Basnet. “Being too ambitious can lead to injury.”
Starting with shorter distances and building up over time is the best course of action, while stretching is also important to keep one’s long-term stamina.
When one decides to hit the road for the first time, Basnet says it’s important to go early. Basnet typically takes to the streets before 5:30am. Most runners tend to agree early morning is the best time for running, even though pollution is at its lowest early in the afternoon. But the traffic, as well as general Nepali working hours, is at its peak, meaning running at that time is simply too difficult.
“Once the traffic moves in, it inhibits your running and the dust kicks up.”
While one could wear a mask, it’s a hard task to take the heavy breathes necessary to keep going. Most runners opt for a multifunctional buff-style piece of headwear, which they can use to cover their faces as they run through dusty parts. The neck gaiter also helps for wiping away sweat and can be used as a head-cover from the sun and rain.
But motivations have to be equally clear, he says. While many embark on running as a form of fitness, enjoyability is crucial.
“People have to be clear about why they want to run. Unless people establish that it’s fun, it’s difficult to sustain it.”
Sahadev Byanjankar, who is part of Nepal Dynamic Running Club, regularly runs throughout the city. Since he started running, he says his life has changed—he breathes and sleeps better than ever.
“I have never felt this good in my life,” says Byanjankar.
Additionally, his blood tests come back essentially perfect these days. That’s even with the pollution levels. He believes running is not only good for health, but a great way to discover more of the city.
“It’s really hard to find a clean road because there are vehicles everywhere,” says Byanjankar, “The dust and pollution is getting worse by the day. However, you can find lots of alleys in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. It’s like running in a concrete jungle. But keep off the main roads.”
It’s on these small streets one can find small temples and other hidden gems one might not usually come across.
Basnet agrees and believes they’re best discovered in the early hours of the morning. “I live in Ekantakuna and I run around the older city of Patan. I’ve taken friends, both Nepali and expatriates, and it’s a pleasure because while I am running, it is also a cultural trip,” he says.
In terms of drivers in Kathmandu, Basnet believes no one is particularly aggressive to runners, but people generally speed and don’t give way willingly. “The culture of driving here means it should be something that runners are cautious of.” Even the Kantipur Half Marathon struggles to contain traffic, despite being one of the biggest races in the city.
With monsoon on the horizon, one must also pay attention to the weather. While there is bound to be plenty of rain, it should not be an excuse for notting bounding through the city.
Basnet says it’s important to pay attention to potholes while running the city during the rainy season because ankles could easily be mangled by the large ones.
“People are likely to get hesitant to run in the rain. You will get wet. But provided you’re cautious and vigilant about cars and potholes, you should be fine.”
Byanjankar, who ran the New York Marathon in 2017, says that he has encountered many “youngsters” who have plenty of questions about how to get into running. He attributes professional runner Mira Rai’s international success to some of the interest.
“She has been running this Trail Running Nepal, which organises the Annapurna 100 and Stupa to Stupa races. We find the numbers are growing; people are being attracted to it,” says Byanjankar.
Despite Rai finding her success in the hilly areas of the country, the streets are a reasonable place to start. Once more confident with one’s ability, heading outside the ring road and into the steeper and cleaner climes of the valley is possible.
“Kathmandu as a city is not very big. From most places it’s not hard to get into the foothills,” says Basnet.
Photo couurtesy: Pixabay
When it comes to having the right gear for running in Kathmandu Valley, there are a number of considerations one should make. Will you be running in the city or on the trails? What will the weather be like? How much do you sweat?
There are three types of footwear one should be looking for, depending on what type of running they intend to do. Trail shoes are good for the muddy and slippery climes of the valley rim, but wear down quickly on the roads of Kathmandu. While Basnet sports two separate pairs for the hills and city, he recommends going for a multi-purpose shoe for the undecided newcomers. While trail runners work in the city, city trainers will never be fit for purpose on the slippery trails.
Byanjankar believes Kathmandu runners are not catered to enough, despite having name-brand shops around Thamel and Durbar Marg, because there are very few stores with knowledgeable staff. He believes that the fit of the shoe has to be appropriate for one’s foot type, which is extremely variable. He himself wears a ‘stability’ shoe, because of his arches, while others might need other shoes.
For Basnet, however, he believes there is enough to try in the city—with enough research done on the internet—while name brands are likely the most trustworthy. “If you can afford it, and it’s comfortable, then you’re OK,” Basnet says.
Obviously one can run in whatever weather they want, but to optimise the experience, one should always don the best gear possible.
Both Basnet and Byanjankar believe getting a neck gaiter is the best start for avoiding the dust and pollution. Buff is the most popular brand, but a bit pricey, while many cheaper options are readily available at trekking stores.
When it comes to t-shirts and shorts, both agree quick-drying and moisture-wicking materials are best. This time of year especially, cotton tops are the worst for running as the heat rises and sweat drenches shirts without anyway to escape. A breathable top is also crucial, as the act of running will keep the body cool and keep it from sweating too much.
JOIN A GROUP
This club has run sporadically since the earthquake, but has been around for seven years. The club organises meet-ups and runs for its 30-odd full-time members. The club’s next event will be organised for June 6, to commemorate World Running Day.
Lalitpur Trail Running Group is an informal coming together of like-minded runners can get to know each other and organise runs around the valley.
Part of a worldwide network of running groups, the Hash House Harriers model is more social than competitive. With a vast network of members, the expatriate and Nepali group is a great way to explore the trails around the city, while also having a bit of fun with running.