Race report: Lily Dyu reports from her first stage race, the Manaslu Mountain Trail Race, Nepal - November 2013. Also taking part were Lizzy Hawker (her first steps back to training, after injury) and Trans-Vulcania winner, Anna Frost
Photo: 2013 group shot in front of Manaslu © Richard Bull (Race Director)
A deep rumble echoed around the valley and below me, the cloudy debris of a small avalanche swept over the grey, crevasse-crumpled glacier that snaked around the base of the mountain. At an altitude of nearly 4000 metres, the morning sun was intense, loosening ice and rock and making the surrounding Himalayan peaks dazzle. Breathless and heart pounding, I was making slow progress up the steep zig-zag path.
My eyes followed the trail up into the snow line, and here the first runner appeared, bounding towards me on the dusty path. I recognised the ever cheery Nepali runner, Phudorjee, his face grinning as he flew past. He was on his way back to the finish line before I was even a third of the way up the mountain! This was stage five of the Manaslu Mountain Trail, a sky race of 25km, climbing nearly a vertical kilometre, from the village of Samdo up to Manaslu Base Camp and back.
Photo (cw, l-r): Autumn Himalaya, a Buddhist Stupa and a laughing monk © Richard Bull (Race Director)
The Manaslu Mountain Trail is an eight stage race along the challenging and beautiful Manaslu circuit trekking route. Starting at Arughat and ending in Dharapani (both an 'exciting' day's journey from Kathmandu) the event covers a total distance 212km with 13,500 metres of cumulative ascent, in a part circumnavigation of the 8,156 metre mountain, the eighth highest in the world.
Devised by Richard Bull, a British trail runner living in Kathmandu, the race was launched in 2012. It takes place each November, attracting global participants, ranging from elite endurance athletes to marathon runners with the goal to 'just get round'. Richard set up trailrunningnepal.org to bring more people to run on Nepal's fantastic trails and to support the country's talented trail-running athletes.
Photos: Childrens mini marathon and Anna Frost enjoying the descent © Richard Bull (Race Director)
With rocky and often technical trails, huge climbs and descents, and the challenges of altitude, this is a demanding event, and set in beautiful Himalayan landscapes of a scale that is hard to absorb. Supported by a fantastic Nepali team, our baggage and supplies were moved by mules and staff between trekking lodges whilst we completed the days leg, carrying spare warm clothing and food. The race stages usually ranged from 20 to 40km, whilst a rest day in Samdo aided acclimatisation, with spectacular, high level walks up towards the Tibetan border. The highest day takes the runners over Larkya La pass, at 5135m, and down to Bimtang.
With the motto 'Run for light', the Manaslu Mountain Trail also works to improve access to reliable lighting in the area. Partnering with charity LED, solar lights were carried, along with our baggage, and distributed to selected villages. These, as well as donations to local hydro-electric schemes, are funded by a portion of the race profits. It is hoped that within the next two years, all homes in the Manaslu valley will have a solar light, to counteract erratic and unreliable power, and allowing children to do homework in the evenings. We had a small taste of the tough conditions here, staying in very basic trekking lodges, often with no electricity, and bitterly cold when the sun dropped.
Photos: 2013 winner Phudorjee Lamasherpa. The final stage from Bimtang © Richard Bull (Race Director)
A highlight of the race is the close interaction with the Hindu and Buddhist villages and their people along the route. This included an overnight stay at the secluded monastery of Hinang Gompa, whilst squeezed in between lung and leg-busting running, there were visits to village homes and the monastery in the Tibetan village of Samdo. The team also organised a mini-marathon for the children of Samagaon school during our stay in their village.
The 2013 race was won by Nepali runner, Phudorjee Lamasherpa in an astonishing time of 18 hours 42 minutes. Taking second place, in 21 hours and 45 minutes was top New Zealand ultra runner and winner of the 2012 Transvulcania race, Anna Frost, who had just finished the Everest Sky Race before joining the Manaslu event. Anne-Marie Flammersfeld of Switzerland, in 2012 the first woman to win all four races in the Racing the Planet series, took third place in 22 hours 34 minutes. Lizzy Hawker, recovering from injury, was using the event as training, and was always generous with encouragement to those of us nearer the back of the pack, before flying past like a gazelle!
Photos: Lizzy Hawker © Richard Bull (Race Director)
For many of us taking part, this was the toughest thing we had ever done. And yet it was also the adventure of a lifetime, giving us a different perspective on our privileged and comfortable lives. We took away new friendships and life-long memories of beautiful scenery, fascinating villages and, most of all, the wonderful people we met along the way.
Whilst running around towering Manaslu, the country and its exceptional trail-running cast a magical spell, that will draw us back to Nepal for many more adventures on her sky-high paths.
The next Manaslu Mountain Trail Race takes place November 8-21, 2014
For more information visit manaslutrailrace.org
Photos: Moonlight and sunrise on Manaslu © Richard Bull (Race Director)