FEATURE : The seven runners of the world’s toughest calibration run

THIMPHU (Kuensel/ANN) - Dorji Tshewang, 38, was herding yaks in the mountains of Sephu, Wangduephodrang, when his son, a class XI student, told him that there would be a running competition in the mountains.

His son was home on summer break.

He called the gup (county head) to inquire about it. The gup called the director general of Tourism Council of Bhutan. “I received a call from the director general and that’s how I am here today,” Dorji said.

The highlander, who has never been to school, is in Thimphu these days preparing for the upcoming ‘Snowman Calibration Run’ scheduled on October 13.

Dorji Tshewang and six other runners will cover more than 300kms from Gasa to Bumthang in one of the toughest route following the Snowman Trek with altitudes higher than 5,700ms above sea level.

Dorji Tshewang, a father of six, participated in the route survey of the 200kms Snowman Run from Sephu to Gasa tsachu in 2017. During the selection run for the Calibration Run from Jewlila (Chelela) to Kalila in August this year, he was not in the top five but was accepted as a participant to represent the highlanders.

With his children in school, he said his wife is alone with more than 70 yaks to herd. “She doesn’t want me to run, but come home and help her.”

He is not the only person to represent the highlanders.

Tandin, 28, was scrolling his Facebook page while working in his potato field in Rukubji, Wangduephodrang, when he saw the call for participants for the run. He immediately registered.

The class 12 graduate returned home to become a farmer few years ago when his contract with Dagachhu Project ended.

He said he did not participate in any marathons in his entire school life but got inspiration from His Majesty who walked to Lunana many times.

He came sixth during the selection run, but organisers gave him the opportunity to run for the Calibration Run to represent the highlanders.

Tandin said while he is enjoying his stay in Thimphu, practising for the run, he is worried about not being able to sell his potatoes. “It’s our main cash income.”

During the selection run, a soldier, Sangay Wangchuk, 36, from Khebisa in Dagana won the race.

The father of two is a physical course instructor at the Military Training Centre in Tencholing and a member of Bhutan Amateur Athletic Federation.

He has won many full marathons conducted in the country and represented Bhutan in international marathon about six times.

Sangay said he realised his running potentials while participating in marathons and track events in school and won prizes. “But my first national-level marathon was during the Coronation celebration in 2008,” he said. “I was in Kalikhola when I heard about the race and I registered. I won the race.”

Another soldier, Druptho Wangchuk, 25, from Bumdeling in Trashiyangtse, came second during the selection run.

He said he did not participate in any running events during school days but walked to and from school for an hour and half every day. “During my training days in Wangduephodrang, Sangay Wangchuk was my instructor and he encouraged me.”

His first participation in a marathon was in 2014. He came 11th in the half marathon. “That didn’t demotivate me,” Druptho said.

Another soldier, Kinley Gyaltshen, 33, from Gaselo in Wangduephodrang came third during the selection run. He is placed in Haa Damthang. He also won many marathon held within the country.

His first participation in a race was in 2002 where he participated in two half marathons. “I stood first and fifth in both races.”

The father of four was in boxing team, but is now dedicating most of his leisure time to running. “The physical trainings in the army helps us,” he said.

All the three soldiers have participated in the Laya run and bagged positions, but they will not run this time for the event.

The story is different for Singey Dorji, 29, from Yonphupam in Kanglung, Trashigang.

The administration officer of Royal Audit Authority decided to try running while attempting to reduce his weight. He weighed 93kgs at one time and realised he had to do something to stay fit.

“I tried cycling but developed an interest to run. I started running every morning and evening,” he said. His first participation in marathon was in Phobjikha this year where he came first. In the selection run, he came fifth.

The youngest of the seven participants for the Calibration Run is Karma Zamba Wang, 23, from Kabesa, Thimphu.

The sales executive of a private company never participated in any runs but a guest in his farmhouse encouraged him to participate in a 200kms run last year. He came seventh.

He was given the opportunity to replace a student who was in the top five list, but had to be dropped because if his trial exam in October.

Meanwhile, the seven participants will travel to Laya on September 28 to acclimatise. They will be practising above the treeline everyday and come down to Gasa on October 11.

The participants say they should be able to complete the run successfully in five days, as they are committed.

While the soldiers practice on their own, the four other participants are trained by BAAF while in Thimphu.