Going the extra mileAt 4am on a chilly autumn morning, a troupe of 23 students and teachers from the Ambika Secondary School gathered in Panauti. The crowd stirred—ready to get on the bus to Kathmandu where the students were to take part in the Kathmandu Marathon set to kick off later that morning.
At 4am on a chilly autumn morning, a troupe of 23 students and teachers from the Ambika Secondary School gathered in Panauti. The crowd stirred—ready to get on the bus to Kathmandu where the students were to take part in the Kathmandu Marathon set to kick off later that morning.
When I met them at 5:15 am in Satdobato, they were mostly quiet, a little tired and hungry. I had managed a simple runner’s breakfast for them—milk, peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a boiled egg each. They were happy to have it.
As we headed towards the Dasarath Stadium, from where the marathon was starting, they began to throw curious questions my way. Pointing at the walls along the Pulchowk-Kupondole stretch, they asked, “What are these murals about? Who did this and why?” before they lost themselves to the sight of monkeys hanging on and swinging from one wire to another.
After we arrived at the stadium, which was full of debris and rubble, the kids looked at the site with quiet resignation. It’s a shame that it’s been like this since the earthquake, I thought. But that, it seemed, had not kept the runners from warming up for the upcoming contest. Despite the debris and the rubble, the lack of changing rooms, toilets and proper storage for runners, the Kathmandu Marathon was celebrating its 12th edition.
After the minister came and inaugurated the event, the 14 boys and nine girls from the school appeared excited. Not long afterwards, the contenders walked up to the front of the stadium where separate lines had formed for the full marathon, the half marathon, the 5k run and the wheelchair race. It was the 5k race that our kids were taking part in.
The ambience heated and in no time, the road in front of the stadium turned into a sea of people wearing white marathon shirts. It was great to see so many people running together and it transported me back to the time when I used to be a half-marathon runner myself. I know what it feels like to have people cheer for you, the motivation clapping gives when you’re in the home stretch.
As I was ruminating over this, our students started showing up at the finish line, one by one, which jarringly brought me back to the present. After all of our kids passed the finish line, we made a circle and congratulated them. However, none of them came in the top five. But they were undeterred, proud that they had at least completed the race and echoed that it was more important for them to run rather than win.
I have been coordinating and bringing these children from Panauti for the last four years, and this was the most humble response I have received in all these years.
After the event, we took lots of selfies and group photographs and then went to Patan Durbar Square. Seeing the garbage and waste littered around the Banglamukhi temple, the kids ventured to clean the space. I smiled and thanked the kids for their environmental consciousness in a city they don’t live in.
Many of the students who had run in the marathon for the last four years have gained an amazing sense of confidence and the trip provides them with exposure that helps their overall growth.
The brainchild of this idea is Dariusz, a friend of mine from Seattle who has run in more than 50 marathons. He told me over email that he wanted to run the Kathmandu Marathon and also about his interest in working with children and introducing them to the marathons. Then we talked with the school administration which happily agreed to let the kids run the marathon.
The decision paid off well when one of our students, Asmita Shrestha, 14, won second place at the school-level 5k run in the women’s category. Later that same year, Asmita went on to bag the title prize in the 10k run.
Many students have made it a habit to run every day and if you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, alongside the usual ‘doctor’ and ‘engineer’, you’ll also get ‘runner’ for an answer.
The marathon is a retreat for the children, what we call ‘Marathon Day Retreat’. On that day, students engage in cooking, dances, poetry recitals and singing. Later in the day, we cut a cake which is shaped like a perfect, green stadium with a marathon track, in honour of their passion and persistence, and for the promise of a lifelong habit of running.