In Meghalaya, a marathon is catalysing an inherent but hidden talent among its locals

Welcome to the hamlets of Mawkyrwat, where everyone has a new hobby: running 

Swonding Molong first started running because it made him feel good. Later, he realised that it even helped him work better. Yet, for the longest time, Molong — a 55-year-old ginger farmer from Meghalaya — kept it a secret. “It started in 2015,” he says, “I would be up by 4am, when it was still dark.”  A little before 4.30am, Molong would put on his gumboots — the same ones he used in the fields — and set out into the dark.

Over the next hour, the farmer would run up and down the undulating roads of his village, only stopping to catch his breath, or quench his thirst at the little creek he would come by. “It was too early for anyone to see me,” he says, “if they did, they would laugh at me.”

In Molong’s village, Shngimawlein, in the South West Khasi Hills District’s Makyrwat area — running, something that came naturally to most of its residents, was always considered a means to do a chore. You ran to the market to buy something. You ran home from school at the end of the day. When other people in the world walked, in Mawkyrwat, you ran. But you never ran for no reason. “And that was what I was doing,” says Molong.

But things changed for Molong, when in 2015, he participated in his first “professional” run. He had heard about the “Run for Democracy” organised by the Meghalaya Athletics Association in Shillong from a friend. “I didn’t tell many people about it. It was a 10km run. I do not remember my timing but I won,” he recalls.

Post the victorious race, running was no longer a secret Molong had to stealthily indulge in at the crack of dawn. Later, he went on to participate in several marathons across the country: Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Manali and most recently, the Mawkyrwat Ultra 2018 — a high endurance marathon across the dense forest of the Mawkyrwat region — which began and ended in Molong’s village, Shngimawlein, itself.

“Seeing me, many youngsters in the village started running too,” he says. For Molong, the best bit was that his wife and kids started running too. On many mornings, Ephenida, a mother of 12, can often be seen trailing her husband, in her traditional jainkyrshah and rubber slippers. “I am not as fast as him. Often I just end up walking. But it still makes me feel good about myself,” she says.

This article was originally published in The Indian Express in November 2018. Full article here.