An open to all competition called the Laya Run is held in Laya during its two-day Royal Highland Festival. Runners have to run the 25 km race crossing mountains, jungles, river and narrow Himalayan tracks.
The run starts from Punzhithang and ends at Langothang in Laya. It is considered as one of the most difficult and toughest race competitions in the country. The participants have to run through muddy trials, making it more challenging.
This year, Laya Run saw 93 participants, of which 34 were women. In addition, 17 foreigners, including eight men took part in the competition. Many of the runners were affiliated with the military.
The winners were awarded cash prizes of Nu 70,000, Nu 50,000 and Nu 30,000 for first, second and third places respectively. The fourth runner has also received Nu 10,000 as consolation prize. Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering awarded the prizes to the winners.
26-year-old Pema Choki from Laya bagged the first prize in the women’s category. This is her third time winning the race. She stood first in 2017, while in 2018 she stood second. In 2018, a woman from Lunana took the first prize. However, this year, Pema Choki is the only woman participant from the highlands.
She has a son, and did not study in a school as she had the responsibilities of looking after her home and herding the yaks.
She said, “I am always excited about the festival, and I decided to take part in the run to represent the highlanders, and women in particular. I wanted to contribute something. I feel proud.”
She said that she did not practice for the run like the other women did. Highlanders are used to the walking as we have to walk everyday with horses and yaks, she said.
It is challenging and difficult to run in mud and up the hills she said, and added that nothing is impossible if one tries.
“Women can compete in the same race as men, the same distance and without much time difference in between,” she said.
She wants to continue to participate in the run. She said, “I did not participate because I won in the past, I did because I feel proud and privileged to be part of the festival which was instituted by His Majesty The King for the highlanders. At first, I never thought I would take the first place. Even if I lose in future, I will continue with my participation.”
She had also encouraged her friends to participate in the run, but they did not want run because of the difficulty level and high endurance required for the race.
She said, “Being a woman, I wish to see many women taking part in such an event. This is a platform where we can showcase our strength and capacity which we, the women, have. We can perform equally like the men. This is yet another way to keep fit.”
Pema Choki said although she liked running uphill, however, it was challenging for her to run through the plain area. She completed the 25 km race in 2 hours 30 mins, followed by Chimi Dema, 25, from Thimphu who completed the race in 2 hours and 50 mins. A 32-year-old foreigner, Juliana Mamola from United States of America, stood third and completed the race in 3 hours and 15 mins.
Pema Choki said it gave her an immense pleasure to compete and run along with the foreigners who can be very competitive. “I am happy to be part of it, and I encourage other women, highlanders in particular to take part and make the community proud,” she added.
Pema’s family is supportive of her running the race. She said seeing hundreds of people cheering for her brought much energy and happiness. “The feelings are something great and I thank His Majesty The King for the opportunity,” she said.
Meanwhile, the participants from the Armed Forces took all the prizes in men’s category. 30- year-old Gopa Pema Jamtsho, RBA completed the race in 1 hour and 55 mins, followed by 32- year-old Peljab Nim Dorji who completed the race in 1 hour and 56 mins.
36-year-old Peljab Sangay Wangchuk, a physical instructor at Tencholing MTC, stood third, completing the race 1hour and 57 mins.
The rest of the runners who completed the race were awarded with certificates and medals.