Behind the Golden Trail Series Final: Interview with Nepalese Trail Running Legend Jagan Timilsina

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Trail runners from around the world are turning their attention to Nepal this Friday, October 25, for the final of the 2019 Salomon Golden Trail Series. The series consists of six iconic races: the Pikes Peak Marathon, Colorado, USA, Zegama-Aizkorri, Spain, Sierre-Zinal, Switzerland, Marathon du Mont-Blanc, France, Dolomyths Run Skyrace, Italy, and the Ring of Steall Skyrace, UK. The top 10 female and male runners from the series are invited to compete at the final in Nepal. Some of the world’s best trail runners will compete in the final, including Kilian Jornet, Maude Mathys, Sage Canaday, and Ruth Croft.

Course scouting duties at the 2018 Annapurna 100 with my buddy Samdup Gurung. Read more about my adventures with Samdup.

The media surrounding this Golden Trail Series finale is focused on capturing the compelling race among elite trail runners in dreamy Nepalese mountain landscapes, but there is another behind-the-scenes story going largely untold. For this article, I’d like to share with you a story about the amazing Nepalese people who are organizing this final event and who grow trail running as a sport in their country. For insights into what Nepalese trail running is really like, I include an interview with Nepalese trail running legend, Jagan Timilsina, who will also manage race logistics for the final this Friday.

My Trip to Nepal
In October 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Nepal and meet the race organizers of the Annapurna 100, the same group that manages the Annapurna Trail Marathon for Salomon’s Golden Trail Series. See the video below to watch speedy Nepalese trail runners set up the Annapurna 100 course the day before the race.

Photos from the 2018 Annapurna 100 races can be found on Facebook.

One of my good friends from my trip to Nepal, Jagan Timilsina, Nepalese trail runner, mountaineer, managing director for Freedom Adventure Treks, and head of race logistics for the Annapurna Trail Marathon, shares with us in the following interview a little about himself, how he discovered trail running, what trail running looks like in Nepal, and his plans for future trail running adventures.

TAYTE: Hi Jagan. Could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you discover your passion for running mountains?

JAGAN: I was born in a remote village in the Annapurnas near Pokhara, a tourist city, and was introduced to a trekking culture from a young age. I began my career as a porter for a world-renowned trekking company, Himalayan Encounters. With every trek, my passion for mountains grew. I have since then forayed different adventures in the mountains as a trekker, mountaineer, outdoor instructor and ultra trail runner. So far, I have climbed 25 glaciated peaks, including Mount Everest. In 2017, I won the Great Himal Race.

Jagan Timilsina (far left) at the 2017 Great Himal Race. Photo: Freedom Adventure Treks

TAYTE: Your performance at the 2017 Great Himal Race was incredible. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in a later question. First, how did you discover trail running?

JAGAN: Since my childhood, I have run on the hilly landscapes that are home to me. We had to walk two hours through hills just to get to school. Then, when I worked as a trekking leader, I had to adapt even more to the demanding trekking trails in the Himalayas. I was introduced to trail running as a sport after my participation in the 2012 Everest Marathon, the highest marathon in the world. This experience jump started my interest in trail running. After completing this race, I took it more seriously and became a trail running enthusiast.

Jagan Timilsina. Photo: Freedom Adventure Treks.

TAYTE: What do you love most about the sport?

JAGAN: Trail running is appealing because it is simple. No special setup is required for trail running. Nearly every country has access to trails, such as in a park or nearby wilderness. It is also a cheap sport, if you have a pair of running shoes you can go trail running. It is not a high risk sport and is suitable for all age groups. The fresh air and presence of nature is extremely therapeutic and helps relieve stress caused by spending too much time in busy city environments. The health benefits go without saying. Lastly, trail running has a strong community scattered worldwide. It’s a great way to learn, train and make good friends. All in all, for the little effort required to run in nature, the returns are manifold.

TAYTE: How would you describe the current trail running scene in Nepal?

JAGAN: Trail running in Nepal is seeing heavy growth. There is a strong sense of community among the runners and the trails that Nepal has to offer are world class. The highest races in the world are organized here. Considering that we grew up in the hills, I’d say we have a knack for trail running.

The trail running scene in Nepal also saw a big growth when Nepalese trail runner, Mira Rai, was named 2017 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Nepal has been getting a lot of exposure as a trail running paradise. Now the Golden Trail Series comes to Nepal. All this makes me believe the future of trail running looks good here.

TAYTE: I understand you motivate many of your friends to start trail running. What do you tell someone interested in starting trail running? What are the obstacles a Nepalese person might face when joining the sport?

JAGAN: I think with trail running the very first thing that people must overcome is the idea that trail running is extreme. Of course, what some experienced trail runners have been able to achieve is superhuman, but that happens in almost all sports. All one has to do to begin trail running is find nearby trails they like and to run them. Anyone can do it. If you want to get better, just keep running and loving it and you will improve.

TAYTE: Let’s talk now about your running achievements. One of the highlights of your trail running career was your win at the 2017 Great Himal Race. So our readers understand the extreme nature of this race, it’s a 45-day stage race which covers over 994 miles, crosses nearly all of Nepal from east to west through the Himalayas, and reaches elevations of over 19,000 feet (5,800 meters). Only 11 of the 45 participants actually finished the race. You finished first in 44 days, a full day ahead of the rest of the field. That’s incredible! Could you describe to us your motivations for doing this race and what the experience was like?

JAGAN: This race was the perfect opportunity to test the many skills I’d acquired over the past 15 years working outdoors. I also saw the race as a way to fulfill my dream to visit some of the most remote settlements in the Himalayas. It was not easy, but well worth it. I particularly loved the interactions I had along the way with local villagers. Our interactions were devoid of any monetary expectations — an incident often faced on more commercial trekking routes. It was a life-altering experience to see and learn about their daily lives, their happiness and contentment despite having next to nothing. I can now say I have seen the real Nepal, met real Nepali people and experienced real Nepali hospitality.

I had one crisis during the 44 days that almost made me stop. I received the news that one of my cousins had passed away. I followed the traditional Nepalese custom to fast by eating only fruits. I did this for three days but struggled to sustain my energy to race. The food made me weak physically and the news disturbed me thoroughly. We were very close. I questioned myself about why I was running in the mountains rather than being with my family at such a time. For most of the stages up to that point, I would be the first one to finish, but the fasting was taking a severe toll on my performance. It was difficult to keep up. Eventually, I pulled myself together and decided that finishing the race to the best of my abilities would be a way to show respect to my cousin’s soul.

Nepalese trail running superstar Mira Rai (right) helping at the aid station in the 2018 Annapurna 100 races.

TAYTE: What are your upcoming trail running plans?

JAGAN: I will be working as the race director for the Annapurna Mandala Trail XIX by Raidlight, organized in the remote Dolpo Valley this October 2019. I am also looking forward to working as race director for the 2023 Great Himal Race. In the next five years, I would like to run the whole Himalayan Range. The route is nearly 1,500 miles, and crosses parts of Pakistan, China, Tibet, India and Nepal.

TAYTE: Thanks for your time Jagan. Always a pleasure. Hope to see you soon in Nepal!

Follow the 2019 Golden Trail Series final here. (Formatted for mobile)

Learn more about Nepalese trail running here.

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