We caught up with Richard Ball, founder of Trail Running Nepal, to talk about adventure, mountains and, of course, his thoughts on wearing Merino for the very first time during a 200+km race through the Himalayas.
Q: How does someone from the Netherlands come to call Kathmandu home?
A: I came here to climb a mountain in a remote area of Dolpa in 1999. Seems long ago – the date from another century feels like something written in a history book, and back then we navigated on a partially completed hand-made map with large blank sections. Many aspects of Nepal have changed radically since then, but much is the same too.
I returned in 2007 when at a career hiatus and stayed for 5 months of ‘thinking time’. It worked temporarily but I had to do more thinking at the end of 2008 and I have largely been here since. It is a fast changing place and there are lots of opportunities to do, start, be involved in things I could not possibly do back in the UK.
Trail Running Nepal came out of meeting Roger Kenke, a keen runner and director of the renowned Summit Hotel in Kathmandu. He was trying to turn the Annapurna 100, a 100km race which ran mainly on roads from Pokhara to Poon hill and back, into a respectable trail race. We did a lot of running together and we tried to collect that information on a website to share it with others.
Q: Having been involved with the Annapurna 100, you now help organize several new races in Nepal. Tell us a little about them.
A: I help organize the Manaslu Mountain Trail Race and Mustang Trail Race, both long multi-stage races in the mountains of Nepal.
I also work with some local friends in Kathmandu to develop some single day races (from 10km to 80km) to try and help develop the trail running scene. It’s working slowly.
Q: Clearly you love your new home in Nepal. What is it about the place you like so much?
It’s a difficult question, or a simple question with a complicated answer. The weather’s pretty good for a start. Essentially I like interacting in a culture that is very different to my own, with often very different values.
Q: You wore an I/O Merino Altitude long sleeve zip on the Mustang Mountain Trail Race, how did you think it performed?
A: Great. To be honest it was the first time I’d worn Merino and I wore it factory fresh for, I think, 12 days straight, just to see if it was true what you say about it not smelling. I was won over basically and didn’t consider changing it the whole time. It was just very easy to wear, very comfortable, no smell to draw your attention, good in cool evenings and under hot sun. I go to the Manaslu Race in November and again would happily wear it for the 12 days from Kathmandu to Kathmandu. I do know how to change my clothes, my Mum brought me up properly of course. It’s just a really good way to travel uber light and simple.
Q: So if you’ve never worn any type or Merino before, how did your I/O Merino measure up to your previous base layers?
A: I’ve worn other base layers in some pretty expensive hi-tech fabrics, some of which are immensely comfortable. But for one reason or another, I always feel aware that I am wearing it. The I/O Merino was great as it was just wear and forget, and for those like me who go into the mountains for a long time, no armpit whiff to remind you.
Q: As someone who spends a fair bit of time up in the mountains, what do you look for in the equipment you use?
A: I am not someone who likes to talk too much about ‘stuff’. I don’t really upgrade. If I find something that works for me then I keep it until it falls apart then try to get the same again. I like simple in preference to hi-tech. For instance in the monsoon rain here I wear a $4 poncho rather than a several hundred dollar hi-tech jacket.
Q: You help organize the kind of events even people like Lizzy Hawker, on of the National Geographic’s adventurers of the Year say should be on people’s ‘bucket lists’. Are there any runs or adventures on your ‘bucket list’?
A: For the moment I want to spend time getting more people running here in Kathmandu, organizing more small events for people to partake in. Also a few people here are working on a project to get girls running, from the confidence boosting side for those new to running, to enabling talented runners to flourish. Early days yet but this is sounding like it’s also going to be a pretty cool adventure.
Next year I hope to do a high traverse across around eight 5000m passes through Dolpa on the Great Himalaya Trail.