Kathryn is writing to us from Nepal where she’s living out the NMLFF mission to the fullest extent. She works for a women’s empowerment non-profit and explores the ultrarunner's paradise that are the mountains of Nepal. We asked her to speak to both of these adventures in her latest inspiring tale.
On September 1st, 2012, I was one of six women to complete a 50-mile trail race, scaling 10,000 feet in the Tetons. After sixteen hours, I finished second to last in a hailstorm. I am not your typical distance runner, but I have discovered a deep love for a sport that has led me to the mountains. Ultrarunning has become a medium for getting to know myself not only as an individual, but as a woman—a strong woman who can endure.
The paragraph above is excerpted from my grant application essay. Last year I was awarded a public service fellowship from my college to work with a girls’ education organization in Nepal, Her Turn. Her Turn runs month-long empowerment and education workshops for 10-14 year old girls in rural Nepal. Curriculum consists of a week of health and hygiene (covering topics such as water purification and menstruation management), a week of social issues and how to deal with them (with focus on issues like domestic violence, human trafficking, and child marriage), a week of leadership and communication, and a week of the participants creating a community based project to conclude the workshop. I feel so blessed to be involved with an organization as effective and transforming as Her Turn, that empowers girls with knowledge and skills.
I began my fellowship application with an ultrarunning anecdote because for me, running is empowerment.
I’m not good at it. I’m not fast or quick. I’m exceedingly clumsy (read: technical trails = guaranteed fall). I don’t think that running ultramarathons is always good for my body. And oftentimes I don’t enjoy it. I’ve said in the past, only half-joking, that I run far because I like to walk the uphills and eat snacks and sit in the sun.
But I choose to run. I choose to run because it’s hard and because it’s good to do things that are hard. I run because it’s accessible (usually) wherever I am. I run because its the perfect way to see and learn and get lost in a place. I run because I love and respect myself, which means loving and respecting my body through movement. I run because it’s art. Running is self expression at its most beautiful, primal, and natural. Like handwriting or thumb prints or the shape of your smile, the way you move is one of a million forms of your uniqueness. It’s the way you interact with and present yourself to the world around you. And I run for the moments of joy— the moments when the the movement becomes effortless, when I can Be and not think or worry or plan. Those fleeting, treasured moments when I feel my existence now, not yesterday or tomorrow.
Above all else, I run because it reminds me of my strength and ability. That I am a powerful and capable woman. It doesn’t take great physical strength, lots of training, or athleticism to run far (though all certainly help and the training bit is advisable). It takes heart and will and courage, recognizing and politely ignoring the fear that I won’t finish or that I’ll be embarrassed. Running far reminds me to do the things that scare me, to gently push my ego aside, to move slowly, and to not make fear based decisions.
At the start of every single race, I feel self doubt. During every single race, I think of quitting. I recently participated in the Mustang Mountain Trail Race, an eight day stage race through the Upper Mustang region of Nepal. The course winds through high red desert with Annapurna and Dhaulagiri in the background, connecting villages of as few as twelve households. The distances are manageable— the longest day is about 20 miles— but combined with a lot of climbing at altitude for eight days, it’s tough.
The journey was humbling. A harsh reminder to “stay within myself,” as ultra runner Lizzy Hawker wisely said to me. To push myself from the inside and not from external motivators or for external gratification. To silence that little voice of doubt or of “better” (see Dr. Steve Peters’ Chimp Paradox). To be in this moment and soak in the magical, fleeting experience. Because that is empowerment — moving deliberately and courageously and facing life here and now. And that’s at the core of what Her Turn teaches girls — that they matter, that they are just as valuable as boys, and that their unique voices should be heard.
And so I run. It’s a privilege and a blessing, one for which I am endlessly grateful.