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The Skyrunning Series is an attempt at professionalizing the determinedly dirtbag, proudly lone wolf sport of trail running, with high-altitude races on five continents and a hefty prize purse.Ultra Pirineu is the final event of the Skyrunning Series, and the de facto coronation of the year’s best mountain trail runners.Boys are in school studying; girls go to the forest collecting fodder for the animals.
By the halfway point, the women’s field was narrowed to a tense two-runner contest between upstart Nepali Mira Rai, and Sweden’s Emelie Forsberg, who’s been in the top ranks of trail running for more than five years and is generally considered one of the best in the world in her sport.
The two women put on a harrowing, gritty demonstration of endurance, Rai relentlessly chasing, sometimes drawing even; Forsberg pressing on, hour after hour, calm but cognizant she could never falter.
To get this far, she had to take on both the extreme demands of competition and the intransigent limitations of Nepal’s male-dominated, caste-based society.
Barely stopping to breathe, she set her sights on the very pinnacle of the sport, and very nearly achieved it on her first try.
Rai was born 26 years ago in a three-house village perched on a mountain ridge in eastern Nepal. As a girl and a member of the Rai ethnic group, she came into this world with limited options and a number of parameters.
“After a girl is born, the separation starts,” she told me through an interpreter in a recent interview. Girls are brought up to be sent to someone else's home for marriage, so they’re not worth the investment.