Manaslu trail run magic...coming?

TrailRunMag 06.08.2012

I’m not sure how I came across it, but when I did, I was hooked. One flick through the day-by-day run itinerary, a swoon at the pictures of the landscapes to be trotted through, and I was there in spirit already. And while the spirit flew to Nepal months ago, champing at the bit at the thought of the inaugural Manaslu Trail Race, I’ve got between now and November ten to get the body prepared. Stop the donuts. And the excuses. Get out and run more. Because I know this is going to be the adventure run of a lifetime. First, a bit of research – speak to the Race Director, Richard Bull, to get the inside line on what we reckon is going to be a Wish List race for any trail runner worth their salt…

There are now a few trail events in Nepal – it’s become a bit of a trail hotspot – what brought you round to thinking a Manaslu event would break the mould? They have a mould for these things?! Breakable ones? I am not sure this will break too far away from any of the other events being held in Nepal, I just know that Manaslu is a very special and relatively untouched place in the Himalaya with a lot more to offer than just views and trails. I hope all of the competitors will come away with a great appreciation for the people of the area and their culture, as well as having enjoyed running through their valleys.

You’ve got nine days on trail – seven racing and two ‘rest’ days that still require a decent trek for participants . Those two days are the two high pass days – why not run them as the pinnacle days of the  event? I’m thinking about it! I’d like to give people the option of a rest if they need it. I’ve run at altitude before and it wears you down. Additionally, it is nice to slow down and enjoy the stupendous views in these areas. One option is to run these stages and have a compulsory 15 min stop at checkpoints where competitors are forced to enjoy the views.

Image: Oleg Bartunov

Nepal has long held a special place in the hearts of travellers – what is it about the place that makes it special for trail runners?
it is a special place indeed. Beyond the culture, the spirituality of the place and the enormous mountain landscapes that trekkers and runners alike will experience, I think trail runners will enjoy two things. Firstly you’re an extra-special oddity in a country that walks everywhere but hardly runs, and you’ll get some admiration (as well as derision) for that. And in a place where trails are not purely for recreation, but for getting from village to village and valley to valley, there is a pleasant feeling of running being also a journey, a jatra. Something like that!

Apart from Trail Run Mag  – any other Antipodeans getting along for the inaugural race this year? We’ve a bunch which is not surprising given your sports-mad reputation. (Lisa Tamati, Robyn Lui, Marcelo Vanzuita, Steve Humphrey, Andrew Cattermole.)

What kind of factors are you as RD thinking about in the organisation phase,  given this is an inaugural race – there are a lot of unknowns… I am really happy that we have Doctor Ben Winrow running with us and Doctor Helen Clements based at the CIWEC clinic in Kathmandu. They both know their mountain stuff and are keen as mustard, and top medical support is a big weight off of the mind of any RD. Otherwise small things certainly will go wrong, but that is normal in Nepal and usually an entertaining, creative band-aid solution is to hand. The Nepali support staff can always be relied on to bust a gut to make things work which is also great. All in all, we’re preparing rigorously, but everything else will be part of the Nepal experience.

Talk to me about the route and trails – what kind of landscapes are we going to pass through?
Best to take a look at some of the pictures on the website. It’s pretty varied, but the signature of Manaslu is the lush, sometimes sleep sided river gorge of the Budi Gandaki and then the wide open valley leading up to Sama, the largest village in the area, with 8000m Manaslu always somewhere in sight.

Image: James McGuinness

Villages surrounded by fields pepper the route. Thereafter it will be a few days of mountains, with a glacial visit to Manaslu Base Camp and the pass crossing. The view from the pass is breathtaking. The trails are well used, should should be perfect for running.

What’s going to be the toughest pinches on Manaslu? Do you think people will look at the distances and itinerary and underestimate how hard it’s going to be? As always with these events, it is the compound-effect of day after day of running that is tough. The increasing altitude and acclimatization also plays a part. Some days are quite short it’s true, but I can only imagine everyone feeling properly knackered by the end, especially you Chris as I know you are underestimating it wildly! I think the second day is going to be great with marathon distance and a 1km climb. Crossing the pass (subject to question two) will certainly bust lungs.

Trail running, and ultras, are going through boom periods now – where do multiday races sit in the pantheon of big offerings across the globe now? Boom! Judging by the comments left on the registration form, people are more and more looking to mix running with travel and adventure and to experience different cultures and landscapes as well as pure physical challenge. I think multidays have a lot to offer in terms of the depth of the experience and the bonding with fellow runners. The average age in the field is around 40 I think which perhaps says something too.

Manaslu Trail Race RD Richard Bull shows his style on the Nepali trails. Image: James McGuinness.

Is a multi day more about the adventure than the racing? Or do you expect the racing up front to be as fierce as ever? I remember the first multi-day I ran. I walked, jogged and socialised on day one and came in an hour behind the leaders on quite a short day. I spent the next week clawing it back aggressively. As soon as times are written down and a leader board is established, it makes you want to do your best and pass the person in front, wherever you are in the field. I know some people certainly will be running at their limit, I know others will be creating a great photo album along the way, I know yet others will be simply enjoying the hell out of the surroundings.

Your run will benefit the local community – tell me about that? Yes, on several levels. Firstly we aim to donate proceeds of the race to the village hydro-electricity project in Samdo. It is actually up and running, but needs some upgrading to keep the lights bright. If you can imagine living at 3,500 m with only small oil lamps for light…. We’ll also donate to the charity LED who provide locally made solar lamps to villages off the hydro grid. They also provide basic medical training to villagers and specially designed educational materials.

We also hope that the race will draw more attention to the area and encourage more people to visit. Tourism, when well managed, is one of the best methods for people to earn income in such rural places without migrating out for work. It also will hopefully take pressure of logging timber, which is a threat to the area.

What is your own background in trail running? To be honest I am not a fanatic trail runner. I just love it as a method of travel and exploration, and also enjoy the knowledge that I can run for miles and miles, a fact that still surprises me. I love nothing more than a Saturday out running through new areas of the Kathmandu Valley and observing life being played out Nepali style.

There are still limited slots available to join the Manaslu Trail Race, although Rich advises there is a capped number as he wants to keep numbers down to maintain the quality of experience. So if you’re keen, get in quick… .

Trail Run Mag / Adventure Types along with Lisa Tamati Productions will be filming the Manaslu Trail Race adventure, so stay tuned post race for what we reckon will be some killer trail vision and imagery.