My love for running is taking me to places around the world that I have dreamed of visiting. I love the challenge the races provides and the opportunity to visit somewhere new and beautiful, it is so rewarding and inspiring. While I do these challenges I also want to support The Gracias Foundation as a charity close to my heart, please feel free to support their many projects by donating on the link below.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Manaslu Trail Race – Part 1
Its 5am in the morning, it’s dark, cold, and I am not really sure where I am going.   I am following the headlights of the person in-front of me hoping they know where they are going and that they can see the path ahead.   My head is thumping, my stomach churning, I am cold, I feel nauseas and I am tired.  I haven’t had a good night’s sleep for the last 3 or 4 nights and I am dreaming of a soft bed with fluffy pillows and a big cosy duvet.

The trail just after the sun came up
I am slowly putting one foot in front of another, although not making much progress.  The air is thin at this altitude, making every step an effort.  The sun is about to rise but until it does the air remains cold. I’m thirsty but my water hose, from my camel back, is frozen so can’t get any water and I didn’t fill up my water bottle.  I feel weak and the landscape around the path is fairly barren with large rocks making the trail technical at times and doing little to motivate me to be positive and strong for the long trek and run ahead.  It’s one of those paths, where you can’t see the summit or the route that you are following.  Around every corner or summit reveals yet another summit to aim towards.  It seems, and is, never ending.
 Further up the trail, before the Larkya La pass 

Ahead and behind me, spread out over miles, are dozens of other runners making their way up to up to Larkya La at 5160m.    I am taking part in the inaugural 212km, 7 day Manaslu Trail race.  Its the final, the longest, and the highest day before we reach the end in Tilije which is some 36km , 760m ascent and then 2,860m descent away.   

10 days ago, before the race began, approximately 40 runners from around the world gathered at the Manaslu hotel in Lazimpat , Khatmandu.   This is where I first met the other racers who represented 13 different nationalities, with a wide range of experience.   As we got to know each other, stories of some iconic races such as Gobi,Badwater,  Tor des Geants and UTMB were shared.   These are big challenges and if the competitors had completed these I was beginning to question my ability and experience and was wondering if I would make the challenge.  

At the start in the grounds of the Manaslu Hotel
As I listened and got know the other racers I found out that there were some very experienced racers like:
·         Lizzy Hawker 5 time winner of The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), world record holder for 24hrs (road), and  the 2006 100km (road) World Champion 
·         Holly Rush road marathoner, having represented England at the Commonwealth Games in Dehli and forming part of the bronze medal winning marathon team at the European Championships in 2010
·         local runner Upendra Sunuwar having finished top in many of Nepals mountain races  and eventual winner of the race
·         New Zealand ultra runner Lisa Tamati who has completed numerous races such as Marathon des Sables, Gobi, La Ultra-The High. 
The runners at the race briefing
On the other side of coin, there were many slower or less experienced racers, some of whom had only completed a marathon.   As we took it in turns to stand up and introduce our self these were the runners, who outwardly said that they were “shitting themselves”.  Their fear was not without warrant as we were planning on covering approx 212 km during our race days with thousands of metres ascent and descent.   The majority of the race route follows the Manaslu trekking trail which circumvents Manaslu, the world’s eighth highest mountain.   Lonely planet says the route should take 18 days and is ranked “medium to hard” and states that is harder than most in Nepal.    We were covering the trekking route and more over 7 race days.   This was going to be one tough race.  
The experience of the race started when I left Khatmandu and took the 7+ hour bus ride to the Arughat where the race starts.  This was my first time in Khatmandu and, while I have experienced 3rd world countries, I had not taken a bus and I was amazed as I experienced the journey.  The sudden stops, constantly falling forward, bright coloured trucks, goats atop of buses and this is the only the start of the experience, we haven’t even started racing yet.
Our buses to take us to the start
Driving along the roads here is a bumpy experience; it is almost like a fairground ride where you are thrown around.  Up, down and forwards I go with every the braking movement that are made to avoid collisions, while others overtake and pull back in just at the last minute.  I have a seat at the back where I see right the way through the bus to the road ahead and I am constantly braking hoping our bus will slow down and miss the oncoming traffic, the bike to the side of us or people going about their day.   In Switzerland I am a bad passenger, in Nepal I am almost screaming in fear but need to appear strong in front of my fellow racers.
As we slowly rumble up the road I love seeing how life is lived here,  2 girls sitting outside brushing their hair, the drying of grass and corn, colourful wares for sale at the roadside.  I am starting to adjust to the pace, after winding down from budget season at work.  This is something as the race progress you quickly get used to.  When a time is given for departure, this can mean that we will leave somewhere in approx. of 1or 2 hours.  Swiss time does not have a place here!  I have left that behind.  Now it's Nepalese time, which can mean anything.
In the days before the race we have been asking each other why we came to do this race.  I wasn't quite sure but I think it is so many reasons.  I guess I wanted to do something special on my birthday.  I like to celebrate my birthday and wanted to find an experience I could do while doing it.  I searched for a race in November and came across the Nepal trail running site.  From there the manaslu trail race.  It looked amazing I my interest was quirked.   The thought of taking part wouldn't go away.  I thought the aspect of being in the Himalayas, a place I always want to go, was amazing and that I could take part in a run at the same time was the cherry on the top.  If i am honest with myself I think from the first time I read about the race I knew I was going to do it.  The only problem was that it was in the middle our busiest time at work ...budgets! Somehow I managed to convince my boss that I would be able to make it work and got the time off to participate.  

Stage 1 Arughat (600m) to Machha Khola (900m) – Distance : 25km   Time: 4:07

Nice clean shoes

 The start of the race was very unusual. It was Tihar,( also known as Diwali in India  and popularly known as the "festival of lights”) and the villagers wanted to bless us before we started.  A group of men from the village played music and all racers walked together behind them to the holy place.  Once there, each runner was blessed and given a scarf and a red dot or tika as it is called, which is a bright red mixture of rice, yoghurt and vermillion powder.   From there we walked back to start, one group photo and with a bang of the gong, we were off.  The run out of Arughat was relatively easy, flat runnable trail but it wasn't long before it turned more technical.   This was a shock to a number of people as they had not expected this type of terrain, for me it was very similar to the terrain of the Swiss Alps where I had done most of my training, so I felt at home and it was great to be running again after so many days travelling.

The trail goes through amazing landscape, following the Budhi Gandaki River.  Although relatively flat the trail does have some small steep ascents and descents, it passes forests, a few waterfalls, crosses many suspension Bridges and in the horizon the beautiful Mount Shirangi/Sringi Himal  (7187 m) appears.    I ran through beautiful little villages where the whole village would be outside to cheer us on and the little kids would run with us, some for a good 1km or so.  Very often the kids could speak some English and I remember having wonderful conversations with them as we ran along the trail.  These were special fun moments!
Another special moment was getting to wash.  After I finishing the run, of what I had initially thought would be 18km, but later learned it was at least 25km, I was lucky to go to the river by the village and have a wash.   Jumping  in the cold glacier river was amazing and washing off all the dirt and sweat of the day felt fantastic.  Little did I know that this would end up being only one of the 3 washes I would have on the entire trip!