Meet Mongolia’s new top runner

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International Sports Master B.Munkhzaya became the first Mongolian and the second Asian runner to win the New Taipei Wan Jin Shi Marathon, which took place on March 19 in Taiwan. Completing the 42-kilometer marathon in 2:38:08, B.Munkhzaya received a trophy and cash prize of 10,000 USD.

The state record holder in three, five, 10, 21 and 42-kilometer races spoke about the 15th New Taipei Wan Jin Shi Marathon in the interview below.

 Only one Asian athlete has been able to win the New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon before you, which shows how competitive and challenging the marathon is. How were you able to take part in this event?

The New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon is one of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ bronze label marathons and allows only runners who are capable of completing the course under 2:40:00 to enter. I met this requirement and was able to compete in it for the first time by invitation. The marathon was held in Taiwan and attracted more than 10,000 participants, and 16 of them were professional runners.

In the past, runners A.Gantulga and B.Battsetseg represented Mongolia in this marathon. I have become the second Asian participant to win since its launch 13 years ago. The organizers were very surprised but impressed that an Asian runner, a Mongolian on top of that, triumphed.

 Mostly Estonian and Kenyan runners won previous editions of the New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon. It was your first time participating, were you confident that you would win?

I can’t succeed if I disparage myself thinking that I can’t beat high-level runners. Since I was the only Mongolian in the race, I motivated myself to do my best and show them how brilliant Mongolians are.

Prior to the marathon, I carefully studied its course and trained in Mongolia according to a special strategy I came up with. Thanks to that, I was able to win.

 Athletes from which country were hardest to compete against?

Kenyan, American and Estonian athletes were equally strong competitors. My main goal was to stay in the lead from start to end and it proved to be a very good plan. The course consisted of many intense uphills, downhills, and rough road sections. I didn’t get exhausted as a result of my intense training.

 You’re one of the few runners carving the history and development of athletics in Mongolia. Can you tell us how running has impacted your life?

To be honest, I hated physical education and always tried to find an excuse to skip it. I started doing athletics in 2010 under the guidance of coaches Sukhbaatar and Lkhamjav, who taught physical education at General Education School No.12 in Dornod Province.

A few months after I started doing athletics, I won silver medals in three and five-kilometer races at the Dornod Province Championships. That was the first time I won anything. In 2011, I enrolled in the sports coaching course of the National Institute of Physical Education. Since I moved to Ulaanbaatar, I’ve been training under coach A.Gantulga.

Some people worried that I started doing athletics a bit later than most athletes do and advised that I take up another type of sport. I guess it was hard for them to imagine a woman racing in a 42-kilometer marathon. Most people are intimidated by the long distance. I like marathons because it demands extreme persistence and stamina.

It’s hard to imagine that a woman can run 42 kilometers even in three hours. Have you ever felt discouraged or wanted to quit running?

I used to get depressed at the beginning. I will not hide that I had my fair share of times when I just wanted to quit. I guess you put it all behind you once you start improving your skills and making achievements. I don’t have the right to hesitate or turn back now. I’ve fallen in love with this sport so much that I can never quit doing it.

However, training becomes harder during cold seasons because I don’t have a proper training environment and going abroad to train costs too much. I have big aspirations for myself. I’ll be able to realize them only with sheer hard work and diligence.

 Mongolia doesn’t have indoor tracks for off-season and winter training. How do you train during winter?

I usually train abroad. I trained for three months in Japan right after the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics and it proved to be very effective. I’m really looking forward to a new track to be built in Nalaikh District this year. It seems that officials have made the necessary preparations and are waiting for the weather to become warmer.

 You used to run short distances but started taking part in marathons in 2015. What’s the main difference between them?

As you might know, they require different skills. You need the ability to sprint or drastically increase your speed for short distance running, whereas you need stamina and effective tactics for marathons.


 

…I have big aspirations for myself. I’ll be able to realize them only with sheer hard work and diligence…


 

 Your career peaked between 2014 and 2015 as you set new state records for all distances that you take part in. Can you tell us about that?

That’s right. My achievements have been improving one by one since then. I hold state records for distances between three and 42 kilometers. I renewed the state record for five and 10 kilometers at an international competition held in Russia in March 2014, and in the following year, I set new records for 21 and 42-kilometer marathons.

I’d like to use this opportunity to thank the national team, the National Institute of Physical Education, Aldar Sports Committee, my family and coaches A.Gantulga and B.Turbat for always supporting me.

 L.Otgonbayar used to own these records before you. Is it true that you looked up to her as a role model?

L.Otgonbayar was the first Mongolian female athlete to be able to participate in the Olympics. We have so much to learn from her. I’m proud to be able to train with her. I’m striving to make high achievements and become a brilliant athlete like State Honored Athlete B.Ser-Od and International Sports Master L.Otgonbayar.

 How many times did you win the State Championship?

I actually don’t keep track of my medals. Besides five and 10-kilometer races, I’ve won the State Cross Country Championships more than 10 times. As for the Ulaanbaatar Marathon, I won silver in 2014 and have been the reigning champion since 2015.

 Which achievement brought you the most joy?

I was very happy when I finished the 2015 Asian Athletics Championships marathon in 2:45:00 and came in fourth place. I was disappointed that I couldn’t win a medal but that feeling was soon replaced with joy as I found out that I became eligible to enter the Olympics.

 Were you satisfied with placing 72nd at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics?

No, I wasn’t able to become one of the top 20 runners as I’d hoped. I suddenly couldn’t keep my pace after running 30 kilometers in the marathon. I became more tired as I ran. I believe that the long-haul flight impacted my performance.

 You recently became a member of the national team. What are the advantages of joining the national team?

It encouraged me a lot. It lifted a huge load off of my shoulders as I don’t have to worry about financial problems. As much as it boosts my reputation, it gives me loads of responsibilities.

Being able to make it into the national team gives me so much more support and motivation to work even harder. B.Ser-Od’s wife Otgontuya has been assigned as our head coach with Gantulga, Battsengel and my husband B.Dorjpalam to help as assistant coaches.


 

…To be honest, I hated physical education and always tried to find an excuse to skip it. I started doing athletics in 2010…


 

 Since your husband was also an athlete, he must understand your struggles well. How much support do you get from your husband?

Coach A.Gantulga made my training routine and my husband makes sure I complete it every day. He gives me psychological advice besides technical assistance. We first met each other in 2012 when we were training for a marathon. He’s the biggest gift I received from the running sport.

We hardly have misunderstandings because we do the same sport and workout together. My husband B.Dorjpalam became the Asian Champion for 100-kilometer marathon and came in 17th place at the World Athletics Championships. He also holds state records in 50 and 100-kilometer running.

 Do you plan to train your son into an athlete?

I will not force him to become a runner just because my husband and I are athletes. I will respect whatever decision he makes in regards to his profession.

 When do you think Mongolian runners will be able to win medals at the World Athletics Championship and Olympics?

Currently, Japanese runners are the best in Asia. The fact that B.Ser-Od was able to become one of the top three runners in Japan shows that we have a chance. Apart from training, support is very important. Mongolian runners can increase their speed and sprint skills if the state and large companies help out a little.

 Will you race in any competitions this month?

I’m preparing to compete in an international competition to be held in South Korea on April 9. I will depart to South Korea three days prior to the competition.

 Are you looking forward to the World Athletics Championship?

I qualified for the World Athletics Championship after running the full distance marathon within 2:33:00 and placing 17th at the 2017 Osaka Marathon, an IAAF silver labeled marathon.

So far, State Honored Athlete B.Ser-Od, International Sports Masters Byambajav, Munkhbayar, Khishigsaikhan, and Tsanjidmaa have qualified for the World Athletics Championship. I plan to train here in Mongolia for the championship to be held in August.

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