Completing the 25 kilometres run in one hour 59 minutes, Sangay, 23, a soldier from Paro reached the finishing line at Langothang, Laya to become the champion of the Laya Run at the second Royal highlander festival yesterday.  His Majesty The King graced the opening of the festival, which ends today.

The first runners up, Gawa Zangpo, also a soldier completed the run, two minutes later. Another soldier, Pema Jamtsho, came third after completing the race in two hours three minutes.

The run began from Ponjothang, the point where motorable road ends. Runners have to hike along the banks of Mochhu River until the uphill point at Taktsemakha army camp. The route becomes tougher as they run to the finishing line at Langothang, Laya, the festival’s venue.

Hiking to Laya takes more than eight hours and the thin air risks commuters of mountain sickness. The run marks the beginning of the Royal highland festival and it kept hundreds of spectators looking out for the runners to descend from the nearest hill of the finishing line.

The winner, Sangay said that he did not expect to win, as he did not get time to prepare. “Although the run is at around 4,000 metres, the muddy and rocky steep trail made it tough,” he said.

In the women’s category, women from Laya bagged all top three spots. Choki, 24, from Pazhi chiwog stood first completing the run in two hours 41 minutes, followed by Yangzom who completed the race a minute later. Karma Yangden who won the run last year finished third by completing the run in 2 hours 53 minutes.

Choki did not participate in the run last year, fearing health complications as she had undergone a caesarean four years ago. “I expected to win and it’s a dream come true. I practiced the run going round the village a day before the competition. The run was not tough as my daily chores includes heavy tasks,” she said.

Seventy Three men and 23 women that took part in the run. The participants were from Gasa, Punakha, Wangdue and Thimphu including several tourists. Aaron Bayard, 35, from the US said that the run was challenging. “I prepared for the run for about a month. The run was difficult but the beautiful scenery kept me motivated along the trail,” he said.

Nima | Laya