Tandlis´s notes from the Manaslu Trail Race

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19. 3. 2024

The Manaslu Mountain Trail race is an annual multi-stage trail race set in the challenging terrain of the Himalayas. Covering a distance of 140 km with an ascent of over 10,000 meters in altitude, the route traverses some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Nepal, with the imposing peak of Manaslu, the world's eighth highest mountain, towering over its path. In 2023, our ambassador Honza Tandler, also known as Tandlis, participated in this race, securing an impressive 3rd place overall. Get ready to be captivated by the following engaging retelling of his experiences and emotions that will truly draw you in.

Tandlis conquers one of the many peaks on the Manaslu Trail Race 2023

Manaslu Trail Race

They say that sometimes in life, you need to slow down and take a breath! Some people do this by taking yoga classes, traveling to the rainforest to rejuvenate themselves with ayahuasca, or embarking on seven years of meditation in Tibet... I tried to find my own universal solution, where I could stretch during running while also incorporating a rainforest and a touch of Tibet and finding inspiration in the views of mountain peaks. I hoped that all  of this could come together within the Manaslu Trail Race 2023, which took place for the tenth time, and the trail partially led along a tourist route around one of the eight-thousanders.

As I was gathering the gear and clothing needed for the ultramarathon in Nepal, I quickly realized that I would need much more stuff than for races here in Europe! Athough it's necessary to look beyond just the direct correlation with the altitude at which the Manaslu Ultra Trail is run, I definitely made sure to pack warmer base layers just because of that one stage of which a highlight was the Manaslu base camp at 4,800 m a.s.l.

It's also important to say that we were gradually ascending to that altitude from six hundred meters above sea level over four days and then descending back into the valley for three more. In total, seven stages with a total length of 140 km and over 10,000 meters of elevation gain. In addition, and unlike the Tour de France, there was a twenty-kilometre acclimatization hike on the rest day and immediately after that, a crossing of a pass       at 5,160 m a.s.l. 

The Manaslu Trail Race is challenging mainly due to its altitude

And all of this took place in a country about which I only knew before departing, that it had incredibly high mountains, people greet each other with "Namaste", and not everyone practices yoga, and Brad Pitt lived a stone's throw away for seven years!

So yeah, I had to prepare a lot of clothing and not lose faith that the mules would carry all those vital things during each stage!

The First Enlightenment, November 8th, 2023

The first enlightenment I reached upon arriving in Nepal was that you have to be prepared for anything! And it only took two acclimatization days in Kathmandu, a full-day transfer along dusty roads to the start village of Soti Kohla 140 km away, and the first stage out of seven.

During that initial crash course, I managed to acquire the necessary skills enabling               a relatively safe visit to the local combination of toilet and shower, plug in a charger, securing its position with a mask so as not to blow the fuse in the entire Tea house and avoid being knocked down by a gas bomb tied to the back of one of the mules (ubiquitous means of transportation) into the Budhi Gandaki River.

beautiful landscape of nepal mountains

In the first two days, we ran over 50 km and climbed more than 3,700 meters in elevation. During that time, we crossed about ten suspension bridges, encountered countless waterfalls, landslides, and, to top it off, descended 600 meters of elevation on stone steps from the village of Labsibot. Until then, I probably hadn't had any idea that there existed      a universe beyond 'the comfortable suffering' of running in European mountains.

Running ultramarathons in Nepal probably isn't every local child's dream... All the more reason why I was in awe of three young Nepalese girls who ran with us, and they actually ran really well!

Stage Three, November 9th, 2023

After three nights in the mountains, we reached 3,200 meters above sea level, spent two days without access to the internet, and were still alive!

Nepal is truly incredible. As you run through villages along the Budhi Gandaki River, you can see people cooking tea over open fires in their kitchens. Whatever they want to eat, they simply grow it here or wait a few days for the mules to deliver it to them. It was funny to see a man ploughing the fields in the traditional way with a mule while his wife was sitting nearby on a stone wall, FaceTiming a friend from the neighbouring village. But as you run farther, you can find more places where time seems to stand still.

expedition of runners of the Manaslu Trail Race 2023 ultramarathon

We ended up finishing the third stage at the Hinang Monastery, which you won't even find properly marked on the map. It sits quite high under the watchful eye of Himal Chuli (7,893 m.a.s.l.). It's hard to describe this place... It just is. And after another two thousand meters of elevation gain, we got there, had dinner, drank tea, spent the night, and set off among more smiling but mostly surprised Nepalese people who couldn't understand why we were in such a hurry in those funny running outfits... And we explained that we wanted to see how it feels to run at such a high altitude because during the fourth stage, we would climb above 4,000 m.a.s.l. and then we would be really fast, with less air resistance up there!

Stage Four and Four Thousand Meters, November 10th, 2023

The fourth stage, which started at the gate of the Hinang Monastery, was also the first one that left me gasping for breath. In order to give the mules a head start, Richard and his team took us beyond the four-thousand-meter mark to the abandoned Pung Guyen monastery near the Punggen glacier.

I'll definitely remember this ascent! Climbing 600 meters in elevation normally leaves you quite breathless. But you soon realize that the essential thing you need to even take a breath is missing here - oxygen.

monastery in Nepal

Once I had clambered up the steepest ascent to the plateau, I enthusiastically strapped poles to my backpack and eagerly tried to start running. Well, you wish! My legs were just sluggishly dragging along the trail, despite my fervent encouragement. Out loud! It was quite funny to clearly perceive myself trying to run, but in reality, looking like I was stumbling home after a decent party.

At the checkpoint near the monastery, we had a chance to catch our breath. Well, I mean to let the remaining breath be taken away when the summit of Manaslu first appeared through the clouds. Somehow, it charged my batteries enough that I could actually run back across the plateau. The finish line awaited us after 23 km in the town of Samagaon, the starting point for the ascent to the Manaslu base camp.

Stage Five, November 11th, 2023.

Up to this point, everything had been smooth sailing! The sun was shining, condors were chirping cheerfully overhead, waiting for the first fallen runner, and at least as we passed through the villages along the Budhi Gandaki River, one could pretend that running brought joy.

However, the profile of the fifth stage could easily be mistaken for one in the World Skyrunning Championships. Almost 1,200 meters of elevation gain in just under seven kilometres! And because you're in Nepal, it's not the same as running up Ještěd three times.

The summit checkpoint, and thus the turnaround point, was just a stone's throw from the Manaslu base camp. My watch then showed that it was at an altitude of 4,813 m.a.s.l. But getting there meant almost two hours of intensively trying to move forward.

Even female runners are not afraid of the Manaslu Trail Race

I didn't really enjoy the beauty of the glaciers and surrounding peaks on the way up because, apart from seeing spots and the effort to save my breath, it also started to cloud over, and snowflakes began to romantically flutter around us.When I pulled myself together at the checkpoint, awakened by the greeting: ‘Namaste, your number?!’, surprisingly, there was no well-deserved hot espresso and crème brulée waiting for me. I just threw on my jacket and gloves and hurried back down.

The cold made me quickly forget about the altitude, and get to the finish line with the third fastest time... But I don't want to claim that I would need any of that as motivation for any future opportunity...

November 13th, 2023, Recovery day?!

But before that, surprisingly, there was still some running to do. Before heading out for the sixth and last stage before the rest day, we had the opportunity to show Nepali children how running uplifts. Although the school principal said how happy they all were to participate in the race and receive cheers from the Manaslu Trail Race runners, I could see in the eyes of some that they might have preferred to be sitting in class. However, chocolate helped remedy the situation for most of them.

Manaslu Trail Race is for hardened and brave runners

Encouraged by cheering from mules, yaks, and grandmothers carrying back baskets filled with dried dung, we then set out from the lake for the last, sprint stage before two recovery days in the village of Samdo at 3,850 m.a.s.l.

But recovery actually means acclimatization because from here on, you either continue to Tibet, which few recommend due to the barbed wire, or cross the Larky La pass at 5,150 meters above sea level.

The vast majority chose the Larky La pass, and everyone managed their acclimatization in their own way. As usual, my Norwegian colleague Tore and I, with manly optimism, chose the nearest and highest mountain, which can definitely be reached without ropes, and headed for the smaller peak of Samdo. The photos from there are fantastic, but I prefer not to go into detail about the situations that almost made me soil my pants.

Unfortunately, the day ended with the evacuation of two MTR participants by helicopter to Kathmandu due to acute altitude sickness. It just happens here, even if you try to prepare for it as best as possible.

November 14th, 2023, Transfer across the Larkya La Pass

There's not much to add! Perhaps the pictures will give you some idea?! During this crossing, there was no racing, but it was possibly the most emotional part! Why? Because crossing a pass at approximately 5,150 m.a.s.l. is not like popping out to a store to get a yogurt in the morning. Even though it's just under 23 km from Sando to Bimtang, you'll remember that altitude. And yes, you could race here, but who can say at what cost it would be?!

Now, there's only the final stage left, along with the question whether the famous phrase ‘We'll bring those medals to you!’ will become true or not. Goodnight...

landscape views as part of the Manaslu Trail Race

November 15th, 2023, Nepalese Finale

That afternoon, I could finally say: ‘That's it!’ Nepal, the Manaslu range, 9 days, roughly 192 km on foot with an elevation gain of about 12,000 meters, including crossing a pass at over 5,100 m and ultimately securing the overall third place among a group of people of all ages and from all corners of the world... Manaslu Trail Race 2023!

Before embarking on this journey, I was asked, "What's next? The far side of the Moon?" After the final day of the Nepalese race, I can humbly and honestly say that I'm definitely not prepared for that yet! Actually, now I know I wasn't even prepared for Manaslu! If I narrowed my eyes, heck, even if I closed them and held my nose, covered my ears, and disregarded all the things one must learn in Nepal to not only survive but eventually run here, there is still that darn altitude!

So it can be said that your performance and success in such a running event depends primarily on whether you can relieve yourself in a hole in the ground, regularly wash your hands in water just above the freezing point, sleep in a room that may or may not have glass in the window frames, and where the temperature definitely drops below freezing at night, or survive without a regular dose of espresso and updates from any network?! If you can make this, then all you need is to win the lottery and not need medication or air transportation due to acute altitude sickness.

Manaslu Trail Race 2023 finish line

But don’t worry! In the case of the Manaslu Trail Race, the above applies to only five out of seven stages! The first and especially the last (seventh) were runnable. And I must say, I really enjoyed the last one! My legs were quite stiff after starting in the tourist village of Bimtang at 3,800 m.a.s.l., but as we descended, the forest increasingly reminded me of the Jizera Mountains, and my body moves began to resemble running.

‘Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambitions to achieve; they are cathedrals where I practice my religion.’ Anatoli Boukreev

Those last 18 kilometres flew by incredibly fast. Just as fast as Ida Nilsson, who passed me about three kilometres before the finish. Thanks to that, I finished third in the final stage and didn't want to let it go without retaliation. So, in the end, we took a regenerative, twenty-five-kilometre walk above the Marsyangi River instead of waiting for jeeps to take us back to civilization.

It was unbelievable - the mountains, the people, the conditions, the challenges, and the experiences! Thanks for everything #manaslutrailrace and to all the fellow runners from Perth to San Diego!

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Interested in Tandlis and want to know more about it? Take a look at his page

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