The race first took place in 2012 and was an idea of Richard Bull, who has been travelling to Nepal the past 14 years. Richard is a trail runner himself, is the race director and also a member of the organizing committee of the Anapurna 100 race. The race organizer is Dhir Priya, who is an experienced organizer and guide of successful treks and multi stage races.
Every year participants from all over the world take part in the race, and of course from Nepal as well. In fact, in 2014 both first places in the men and women category on the podium were conquered by Nepalese athletes. The race gives two points for the UTMB (4points with the new system).
The athletes trek and run among the mules in the ancient paths of the mountain, go through over 5,000 meters of passes, cross rivers in the hanging footbridges, move for many hours in silence and watch the rise of the Manaslu sun. They pass through the villages where they taste the local dishes and meet and talk me the humble and hospitable local residents.
The route and stages
The athletes are welcomed by the organizers at the Kathmandu airport and have three days for adjusting and relaxing before the race. During the race, the stages are:
4th day and stage 1: Sotikhola- Tatopani (19,5km)
Stage 2: Tatopani- Pewa (32km)
Stage 3: Pewa- Hinang gompa (25km)
Stage 4: Hinang- Samagaon (32km)
Stage 5: Samagaon- Manaslu Base Camp- Samagaun (12km)
Stage 6: Samagaon- Samdo (8,4 km)
Day 10& 11: Resting days, with trekking at the border between Nepal and Tibet, and at the Bimtang.
Stage 7: Bimtang- Dharapani (22,9km) and the finish!
Day 13: Return to Kathmandu
Day 14: Departure
The cost of the race in 2015 was $2,490, and there was an early bird discount, with an opportunity to save up to $250. The cost included three nights at Kathmandu (on a twin sharing basis) with breakfast. This package also includes the airport pickup of the athletes, a welcome dinner at the arrival date in a place with cultural ambiance, along with all the necessary permits for the areas visited in Nepal.
Also, there is a doctor with high- altitude qualification during the race, along with stage- by- stage accommodation with full board, meaning breakfast, a packed lunch, dinner and a room or tent. Finally, the participants say goodbye to Kathmandu with a farewell dinner during the award and medals’ ceremony. The cost of the race package does not include the airport ticket to Nepal, travel insurance or any other expenses of the athlete with his/ her initiative at Kathmandu. Approximately 4 liters of filtered water are given each day to every athlete on the trails.
Travel insurance is a necessary condition for the athlete, in case he/ she will need to be evacuated from the mountain by helicopter, medical care and repatriation to their country in case of severe illness which will make them unable to continue the race. For this reason, the race organizers ask in advance a copy (or PDF) of the insurance details. Furthermore, they highlight that while they take care of the athletes’ baggage in the trails, their equipment and belongings are their own responsibility.
The list is long, but not unreal! Top priority is the safety of the athletes. The list of equipment on the race’s website in divided into those that will be carried by the athlete and those that will be carried by the organizers. Such equipment carried by the athletes are some first aid items, protection from the sun, wind and cold, the food supplies of each day and the water container. Since the race is at altitudes of 800-5,000 meters, the athletes are required to be prepared for all possible weather conditions and temperatures. The organizers carry for you the sleeping equipment, clean clothes and anything else that the athlete wants, as long as the weight of those don’t exceed 10kgs for each! Athletes can purchase or rent equipment from Kathmandu.
Besides the usual clothing that the more experienced ultra distance runners are familiar with, the list of obligatory equipment includes a 10- 20 liter rucksack which has a chest strap, water bottles with a wide mouth for easier refills, water purification tablets, a survival blanket, a headlight with spare batteries, a map which is provided, a whistle, energy supplies, sunglasses, after- race clothes for each day, a first aid kit, money, personal documents, toilet paper, a small soap and a sleeping bag.
More information regarding the necessary equipment are mentioned at the race’s official website.
A VISA is necessary, but it can be issued on arrival at the airport as long as the athlete has a passport sized photograph. It costs $25 for 15 days or $40 for 30 days. This money will be used for the maintenance of the roads that the athletes will soon see and use in Nepal.
Four of the places that the athletes stay during night do not have electrical power, whilst the hydro- plant is switched on at 5pm.
Usually they are warm, especially during the first days, but upon arrival at Sando (6th Stage), the temperature falls. After arriving each day to the destination point athletes soon begin to feel the low temperatures.
There are no showers at the places the athletes stay. However, the lodge owners can give the athlete a bucket of hot water at some charge.
They are necessary! The race organization guarantees that the drinking water is safe and that a rigorous hand clean policy is followed by all volunteers. At the race’s website there are references to the Kathmandu clinic for advice concerning vaccinations.
Finally, at the website anyone interested can find all the necessary information about the race, interesting questions and answers, along with descriptions of athletes’ experiences from all around the world.
In the context of the presentation of the Manaslu Mountain Trail Race, we contacted the race organization and the race director Richard Bull was especially cooperative in answering Advendure’s interview. So, here are a few words from the inspirer of this far but unique race!
[Advendure]: Would you tell us a few things about the inspiration and philosophy behind the “Manaslu Mountain Trail” race? What is your primary vision for organizing such an event? Why do you choose the specific place on the Globe and time of the year?
[Richard Bull]: I live in Nepal so it is kind of local. The organising partner, Dhir, has a long association with the area and new it would make a great venue for a race, just as it does as a trekking route. There’s lots of variety: people, geology, landscape and altitude. The time of year almost always gives stable, clear weather which is why the photos look so good! I don’t think the vision is much different to that of other race organisers, though we try to make a special effort to get runners mixing with local communities and culture through a small local race in Samagaon which is fun.
[Advendure]:Give us some details about the structure and the technical characteristics / difficulties of the race. What are the most important issues that an athlete must take into consideration if he/she decides to travel in the Himalayas and run the race?
[Richard Bull]: The terrain is pretty rough though the distances are very manageable. But day-after-day running, with the climbs and altitude increasing, starts to wear some peopledown. Keeping good hygiene and health is critical for the runners. Any runner will be well advised to put hills in their training along with technical ground. I advise everyone to stand for one minute on one leg with eyes closed, then switch legs for a further minute to improve ankle stability.
[Advendure]: For a mountain or ultra-trail race, the beauties of the nature and of the surroundings and sometimes the historical background are very important elements for choosing to run the race. What about the “Manaslu Mountain Trail”?
[Richard Bull]: Yes, it is very important that competitors get a good flavor of the part of the world they’re in. I think people are pretty familiar with Nepal as a destination and the reason people travel there. It’s a complicated country - much is changing rapidly while much refuses to change. There are the people, nearly 100 ethnicities with nearly the same number of languages. Then belief: the World Heritage temples of Kathmandu (some damaged, some still standing) and the remote monasteries we visit in the mountains, even sleeping at one.
[Advendure]: Is the “Manaslu Mountain Trail” mainly a local event or do you have a significant number of international athletes? Are there any specific tourist packages for international runners in order to reduce the cost for them? How do they find this kind of information?
[Richard Bull]: In Nepal’s case, it is mainly international runners and we invite as many talented young runners as we can. Nepal strangely doesn’t have a great running culture, nor do people take (or can afford) holidays as such. This year’s two winners, from a remote part of Nepal learned a lot from the event, and have earned the chance to run in Hong Kong last December and China in 2016.
[Advendure]: Why do you choose the “stages structure” for the race and not a single 212 kms continuous ultra-trail race, leaving the athletes to decide if and when to stop for recovery and aid (food, liquids, rest, sleep etc…)?
[Richard Bull]: For several reasons. People need to acclimatize, that’s important. A huge part is that there are no roads - everything moves by foot or hoof. Communications are also poor with occasional phone lines by little or no mobile network. Managing such a race would require a huge number of people, and of course the number of people who are able to run such a distance crossing a 5000m pass would probably be very few. We leave this to the destinations more suited for it and have fun enjoying the time around the running in a new place every day.
[Advendure]: You don’t have any specific time limits for its stage. Why is that? You think of the race in a more “enjoy the nature and effort” perspective than a competitive one?
[Richard Bull]: Again there are no roads and even the cooks have to walk the same as the runners. There is really no need for a cut off time. We look closely at people’s running experience and take people we feel are resilient enough to complete. Certainly it is about enjoying, but people at the front still want to put in good performances and maintain their places. People seem to choose certain days to enjoy, and select others to race really hard.
[Advendure]: In April of 2015 the area was hit by the large earthquake that caused much damage to Nepal. We read that you made some changes, such as the start of the race from Arughat to Sotikhola. How were the feelings of the athletes that participated in the November race towards the local impact of nature’s destructive attitude?
[Richard Bull]: Good question. It was a difficult decision to run the event last year, and a part of that was also sensitivity - should we be enjoying ourselves in an area where so many lost so much. You could argue either way. We chose to go, spend our money there, employ local people and be able to report back to the world that the trail is open and safe for visitors in 2016. It is terrible to have an earthquake, but then even harder when tourism shuts down and the chance of employment disappears.
Plus I think runners also provide quite some amusement for locals every year. Now we’re running a campaign to buy 200 solar lights for pregnant women in the region, as an incentive for them to attend antenatal classes. It is a small project, but better to try and do what we can.
[Advendure]: If you had three words to convince a Greek runner to try the Manaslu Mountain Trail Race, which would they be?
[Richard Bull]: Altius, Altius, Altius! Actually I cannot say this as this is coined by the famous Chevaliers du Vent (Horses of the wind) who organize the 2017 Great Himalaya Trail race. Altius would be one of the three words. Adventure, Respect I think would be the others. “Adventure”, as you’ re for some time inhabiting another people’s world. And “respect”, for the people who inhabit these regions, living a tough life filled with dignity.
The Manaslu Mountain Trail Race is a very strong experience, conducted in the shadow of an imposing giant of the Himalayas and among the mysterious atmosphere of Nepal. The cost is large- similar to all races that are held in such far places of the planet- and requires a lot of organizing, but it could be “race of a lifetime” for the daring athletes. We wish that in the future some Greek athletes will be able to participate in the race and deliver to us their experience!
Photo©: Manaslu Mountain Trail Race, Mark Brightwell