Eight participants were selected for the race in October 

Choki Wangmo

Twenty-six runners took part in the Snowman Race (SMR) selection run from 22 to 23 April. The real run, which will happen on October 13 this year, will cover a distance of 222 kilometres in about five days, from Gasa to Bumthang, crossing 11 passes, six mountains over 7,000 metres above sea level, glaciers, and two national parks.

SMR is His Majesty’s vision to convey climate message to the world. Climate change continues to have a significant impact on the Bhutanese highlands. 

The run was deferred last year due to Covid-19. The Snowman Race Secretariat (SMRS) introduced a 40km virtual run on October 13 to commemorate the ninth Royal Wedding Anniversary.

Pema Zam, 39, came second in the Snowman Race selection run. She has participated in more than 40 lowland marathons since 2015.  This time, however, running for two days covering a distance of about 40km above 4,000 metres was not easy.  She is among eight people—five men and three women—selected for the Snowman Race from Bhutan who would be competing with 22 international runners. 

At Bjimilangtsho, about 20km from the starting line, the runners met with heavy snowfall.   Two runners withdrew due to altitude sickness. Drenched to the bones and fighting the blizzards, Pem Zam was greeted by the SMRS officials with a smile at Bjimilangtsho. Pem Zam took heavy snowfall as an auspicious sign.

“The timing was perfect. The snowfall signifies tendrel,” she said.

For Pem Zam, running at this altitude was the first time. She would have to scale greater heights and higher points. “With training and practice, I am determined to run the Snowman Race. I want to experience changing situations in the mountains.”  With her four children, Pem Zam wakes at five in the morning every day and jogs for about two hours. 

The marathon will take runners across the pristine landscape of Lunana lakes, glaciers, majestic mountains, shrubs, isolated villages, and the highest place along the Himalayan mountain range.

Jigme Tenzin, a corporate employee, is a self-trained runner. He has completed the Jomolhari trek thrice, Druk Path twice, and many other short hikes in Paro. 

Although he wasn’t selected for the Snowman Race, he said that he was content with running the selection race. “This run is a race against climate change. I wanted to experience Bhutan’s glaciers and mountains.”

 He was called crazy for his love for running but nothing could stop his passion that started since high school days. “It is a personal achievement. When we run through these trails, we understand nature.” 

Sangay, 27, was a champion of the selection run. To prepare for the Snowman Race, he wants to get trained professionally. “I am excited because the race is unlike any other marathons that I ran until now.” 

He completed the race in about five hours. 

Gawa Zangpo wants to compare the changes in the highlands when he runs the Snowman Race with the Laya run that he participated in 2017. 

“Training would be more important,” he said. 

He said that Bhutan is known to the world as a peaceful, carbon-negative country but local people don’t know much about it.  “Tourists come paying a huge daily tariff. Bhutanese have the freedom to explore our pristine environment.”

Tashi Chozom topped the women’s category during the selection run. A single mother and a laid-off tour guide, she finds time to hike.  “I was fit for hikes but not for a marathon. Snowman trail is known as one of the toughest trails. I am worried and excited at the same time.” 

She also wants to relay the message about women’s participation in such events. Only seven women participated in the selection run. “I want more women to get into nature and experience our mountains.”

According to officials from the SMRS, the selected participants will be trained rigorously for the race. 

Officials from the SMRS, health, Royal Bhutan Army, Bhutan Amateur Athletic Federation, among others, were involved in the preparation of the selection run.