Gawa Zangpo of Bhutan wins the Ultra-marathon Snowman race

Shailesh Khanduri
18 Oct 2022
Gawa Zangpo of Bhutan wins the Ultra-marathon Snowman race

New Delhi: Gawa Zangpo from Bhutan was announced as the winner of the recently concluded five-day snowman race.

He took 31hrs, 53mins and 26secs to complete the 203 km race-- touted to be the toughest trail race in the world.

Zangpo was followed by the first runner-up of the race Sangay Wangchuk who completed the ultra marathon in 34hrs,18mins and 02 secs. Second Runner-up Sangay completed the race in - 35hrs, 23mins and 06secs.

However, Sangay, who is in the Bhutan Royal Army, was the leader of the race on the final and fifth day of the race. He took 4hrs, 50mins and 48secs.

He was followed by Gawa Zangpo in 4hrs, 56mins and 5secs, reported Daily Kuensel newspaper of Bhutan.

Sangay Wangchuk came third with 4hrs, 57mins and 37secs. Most people take two days to travel from Julay Tsho to Chamkhar.

In the women's category, Kinzang Lhamo was the first female to reach the finish line at Chamkhar town on the fifth and final day. She completed the fifth-day race in 6hrs, 57mins and 04 secs.

Tashi Chozom came second. She took 7hrs,4mins and 59secs. Karma Yangden came third. She finished in 7hrs,10mins and 59secs.

The overall winner, completing the whole race- all five days, in the Female category was Karma Yangden with 48:01:49 timing, followed by first runner-up Kinzang Lhamo with 49:27:30 timing and the 3rd position was claimed by Lhamo with 50:03:38 timing.

Bhutan's Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji was the chief guest at the Prize distribution ceremony at Chamkhar, where hundreds of people came to cheer and welcome the runners amid cultural programme and music. It was like a celebrated festival, with children waving flags and singing on a sunny day.

Bhutanese had a home advantage

International race director, Luis Escobar from the USA, said that Bhutanese runners had a home advantage and were familiar with running on such challenging trails and high altitudes.

Nine Bhutanese runners, five men from the armed forces and four women – two from the Royal Bhutan Army, a villager and a tourist guide, participated and dominated the snowman race.

In the men's category, Bhutanese runners dominated the Race from the first day of the five-day race. Among the women, an international runner Sarah Keyes came first in the first leg of the five-day run.

At the end of the five-day run that covered 203 kilometres, only eight of the 20 international participants were left in the Race. Some of them withdrew because of altitude sickness and were shifted to the city hospital.

Kunsel newspaper took several interviews of the winners and their experiences. The Gawa Zangpo, Sangay Wangchuk and Sangay, the top three athletes, said that Bhutanese athletes are acclimatised and prepared for the Race. They said most Bhutanese athletes are experienced, and the training helped them.

Sangay, the winner of the last two days, said that he lost track three times in five days. He started running in 2016 by participating in local marathons. In 2017, he trekked from Sephu to Gasa in five days.

Gawa Zangpo, 27, from Mongar, said that the second day was the most challenging as the uneven track. "I have never been in such a difficult race."

For Karma Yangden, a villager from Laya, Race was a part of life. The 30-year-old participated in the Laya run twice and was confident of completing it, if not ahead of all the participants.

"I had no problem running uphill," she said. "Climbing down was a challenge," said the youngest among five siblings.

A-23-year-old Lhamo from Lingzhi is a soldier based at Damthang, Haa. Running was a part of her life. Lhamo said that the Gophula trail was the most difficult. "I felt restless but didn't give up. Some of my international friends provided me with energising jelly."

Kinzang Lhamo, 24, from Trashigang, was worried about wild animals. "I lost track, and people in Lunana told me to give up, but I didn't," she said.

The Race is an initiative the King of Bhutan took to generate awareness about the climate emergency and effects of global warming, particularly on the planet's most threatened ecosystems, such as those of the high Himalayas.

The competition had twenty-nine international athletes, including nine Bhutanese runners. The athletes were from the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Singapore, Tanzania, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The Race navigated through the most challenging trekking route in Bhutan, the Snowman Trail, passing through some of the most stunning areas in the Kingdom, including the remote Lunana area, home to nomadic herders living between glaciers.

Athletes competed for over 203 kilometres across five days at an oxygen-sparse average height of 14,800 feet above sea level, with the highest point of 17,946 feet.

This run for the world is about climate change that is affecting countries like Bhutan. The Himalayas, also known as The Third Pole, are becoming increasingly volatile. Bhutan is saying to the world that climate change is a serious issue.

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