We get a lot of questions from enquiring and aspiring Manaslu runners and the answers can vary greatly from person to person. So we asked our 2016 cohort of runners for their input. Their answers are slighted edited for clarity, but the sentiment is the same.
OVERALL: How was your experience – the highs and lows – with the Manaslu Trail Race?
“It was a tough and challenging race!”
“It’s a fantastic race, can’t wait to try something similar – maybe Mustang next year (although I haven’t broken the news of that plan to my boyfriend yet so don’t tell!). I can’t think of any real lows in terms of the race experience and organisation, only “lows” in terms of some parts of the race were really hard that you had to harness all your reserves of energy to get through, the type of lows that you would expect to experience in a long hard mountain race when you are struggling a bit and wondering if you are going to make it round. The group meals before and after the race in Kathmandu were a great idea. I loved the hotel Manaslu in Kathmandu. I will definitely be staying there again.”
“It unlike any other race I’ve done. In a way, it was a spiritual experience: the vastness of the landscape, time spent alone, the physical challenge, the Buddhist – Hindu culture combined in a way that was very special. The race embodied everything I love about mountain running. There was only really one low and it was my own fault: I didn’t wear warm enough clothes early on the Larkya La stage and suffered for a few hours. Luckily Richard had a spare down jacket so adding that (fifth) layer resolved my discomfort.”
“I loved every minute. It was the experience of a lifetime.”
“Amazing ! One of the best things I’ve ever done. Nepal is beautiful and so are the people we stayed with. I’m not going to lie, it’s not a walk in the park but worth every second. It’s highs – the mountain peaks, the sunrise, the group of amazing, supportive people, the experienced team organising it, the knowledgeable doctor and monk to be, and the feeling of achievement as each day you finish another stage. The organisation is professional enough to feel you are looked after but laid back enough to make you feel relaxed and not as though it’s all about the money but the experience. The lows: the never ending climbs (worth it when you reach the top), the cold…oh so cold as we got higher, and the sickness although luckily I personally did not suffer but had sympathy for those that did. If anyone is in any doubt or is in two minds about this event – do it !!! Just don’t think about it, you won’t regret it!”
“Just incredible. Highs were the cultural aspects and being immersed in the incredible mountain scenery. We met, interacted with and entertained the local people, with old ladies laughing as we ran by, people stopping work in their fields to shout encouragement and school kids running out of class to cheer us on. Visiting the monasteries was also a highlight. Running along the river, through forests, and across the plateau to Pung Gyen monastery. Lows were probably having to walk 20km over Larkya La having been puking all of the night before! But I was so well looked after, and it was still a day of the most beautiful, wild scenery.”
TRAINING : Please comment on your training regime for the race? How did you modify your training for a single vs. multi-stage race? Any tips for what worked, didn’t work, things you should have done in hindsight?
“My training wasn’t ideal as I got injured so I did a fair amount of training in the pool, on the bike, and in the gym. I kind of think that half the battle is just getting to the start line fit and healthy. I did long back to back runs on weekends earlier in the summer in preparation for Monte Rosa and in the lead up to the race when my injuries allowed it – 3 or 4 hours on Saturday, same again on Sunday with plenty of climbing. I also managed to put in at least one other hill run during the week after work.”
“I had intended to do more mountain running prior to the event but it didn’t work out. I DNFed both Lavaredo and the CCC. Technical descending is a particular weakness that needed more work. On the other hand I had a good endurance base, with four other ultras completed in the proceeding 9 months. I didn’t modify my training (for this stage race). In hindsight, I needed to improve my downhill technique for Manaslu. I’m a stomper, which means that my legs were fried on these long descents. I’m working on that now. For the race, I was very happy (running in my) New Balance Vazee’s.”
“I definitely did not do enough training, but I went into the race injured, which wasn’t necessarily a great idea. Training of distances and particularly on lots of hills would have been important. The altitude is hard to train for but an altitude training mask was very useful (e.g. https://altitude02trainingmask.com/) and I would highly recommend one of these. While it’s a little embarrassing being seen on the streets in them I used it on an exercise bike in the privacy of my own home. I didn’t modify my training for single stage race events for this multi-stage race.”
“I started with crashing and burning with UTMR training camp which taught me I needed to get really strong legs! So I worked on that through the summer and tried to do as much hilly hard runs as possible, which isn’t easy in London! I did back-to-back long runs at weekends (e.g. 15k, 20k, 20k). My mileage wasn’t mega high as I don’t have time and I get injured, but towards the end I did a couple of 56/63 m weeks within 4 runs. I’id highly recommend UTMR training camp. After that everything will be a walk in the park! Everyone is different and what I’ve mentioned above may not work for others but that’s what I could fit into my lifestyle and to avoid injury. The back-to-back training runs gave me confidence and so did doing some tough hilly runs. Also, working on my core also really helped. We can always do more training looking back but we also have to remember that this is our hobby and to be enjoyed and we have to work within remits.”
“Strength training was the most important thing, so that your body could keep going day after day without breaking down. In the two months prior to the race, we did lots of backpacking. Hiking up and down mountains with a twenty kilo pack was awesome strength training. Three to four months in advance we’d been doing more running, which was more about time on our feet than speed. We’d take a backpack with food and water, and head out for 20 odd kilometres, stopping for food and photos, and walking up the hills. Also getting to altitude beforehand helped, but that’s not possible for everyone. To train for a multi-stage race, we tried to do 2-3 days of running in a row to get used to recovering overnight.”
ALTITUDE: How was your experience with altitude during the Manaslu Race? Did you have prior experience with altitude? Did you take any medication for altitude sickness?
“I had prior experience with altitude. For the race, I suffered altitude sickness from 1st day onwards. It was challenging, but thanks to the doctor who made sure I was ok.”
“No problems out of the ordinary except very swollen hands after being at 5000m and one evening I was quite nauseous which admittedly could have been from any number of reasons and not just altitude. The cold was more of an issue for me than the altitude was. Prior to this race, up to 11,500ft (3500m) was the highest I’d been to run or walk. During the race, I only took a tablet one night to stop the nausea.”
“(The altitude was) no problem at all. Altitude played a part in my prior DNF at CCC so I was very worried about it. During the race, I took a prophylactic dose of Diamox after stage 3 in Samagaun and kept taking it until Bimtang. I had no issues at all with altitude and no side effects.”
“(My experience with altitude during the Manaslu Race was) hard, but the use of the mask in training helped a lot. I did the Mustang Trail Race in 2015 so I had prior experience with altitude. I did take medication for altitude sickness and it helped a lot.”
“(My experience with altitude during the Manaslu Race was) bizarre! It’s odd doing a flattish 5km run and struggling because you can’t get enough air in…the team dealt with it all in the right way though so I personally didn’t feel too bad with it. We acclimatised properly. If there was ever an inkling that altitude might be affecting us, we were given diamox (by the doctor) and on the day we went highest we did a slow trek. I think I took Diamox once and that was only for precautionary reasons. Prior to this race, I think the most I’ve been up to was about 3,800 m. Manaslu was certainly the highest I’ve been.”
“(I had) no problems at all. We headed to Nepal early and walked up to Annapurna Base Camp so were well acclimatised before the race started. That said, the race schedule allowed time to acclimatise too. I didn’t take any medication for altitude sickness during the race.”
FOOD & WATER: Do you have feedback on meals served during the race (breakfast, packed lunch, dinner, tea and snacks)? How much of your own did you consume?
“Food was awesome. I did not take any (of my own food).”
“All was good (apart from lukewarm soggy cabbage, I still have nightmares about lukewarm soggy cabbage). If I was to do the race again I might throw a couple pepperoni sausages or a bottle of Heinz ketchup into my packing (that goes with the mules) just to give dinner a bit of “oomph” as towards the end I found the carb options monotonous and felt I needed protein that wasn’t egg. I am not sure if that’s because I am used to the luxury of the variety of a western diet or if my appetite just decreased directly in proportion to the increase in fatigue and/or altitude. Overall the food was plentiful and adequate for the task so certainly no complaints there. The chocolate cereal with warm milk was awesome. The big fluffy pancake on the morning of the final stage was brilliant too and you can never go wrong with porridge. The tea houses all served coca cola which was a lifesaver. Some of the checkpoints had juice as well as water, which was a good idea. For food I brought: a couple of snack bars and snickers bars each day and one or two gels and some sweets. To be honest there was a decent amount in the packed lunch so I didn’t need that much of my own food. I did eat everything that I bought with me though over the course of the trip.”
“Under the circumstances in which (the food) was made, it was excellent. Very tasty and plenty of it.
For my own food: I might have had some stuff if I was waiting for the mules for a long time but this didn’t happen often. I thought (the food) was very well judged. Obviously hotter ethnic food might have been nicer, but maybe not compatible with racing in the mountains and sharing loos! As a suggestion, more protein in the form of dahl would have been good. I consumed very little of my own food: a few energy gels and some small salami sticks. The salami sticks were a huge treat.”
“There was plenty of food! It was yummy. My only comment is that I’d like have liked more local food in the evenings, but we were well looked after, fed very well for energy for the next days of running. There was often a chance to buy snacks (at the tea houses) to keep you going and to have something different. I loved the chapati and egg for breakfast. I was wondering before coming to the race, if coffee would be in short supply (I drink a lot!) because that was one of the questions when signing. There was more than enough! Afternoon tea (after the run and before dinner) was great too to keep us going till the evening. I didn’t consume as much of my own food as I expected. I took lots of gels but preferred to have the sweets and solid food we were given throughout the day. My general recommendations is to eat lots! You’ll need the energy.”
Do you have feedback on meals served during the race (breakfast, packed lunch, dinner, tea and snacks)? The food was good and varied, although the one thing I would say is that I would have preferred dhal baat for dinner on a few of the nights when the Nepali runners were served it, and we were served pasta or similar!
How much of your own did you consume? A Clif bar each day, because I love them.
Any general food recommendations? There’s plenty of food provided, both at the lodges and in the lunch/snack bags, but if you like a particular trail food (like Clif bars), then bring it from home. Your more “healthy, lower sugar trail/energy foods aren’t really available in Nepal.
RUNNING PACK: How much food and water did you carry during a stage race? What other items, e.g. clothing did you carry in your race pack?
“I packed 3 lbs water and packed lunch. I also carried a wind cheater.”
“I carried about a litre and a half (of liquid) and half of that was water and half electrolyte drink. I took some of the items in the packed lunch, especially the cheese, flapjack-type bars, and snickers bars. I took some sweeties too (jelly babies). For clothing in my race pack: it varied depending on the temperature and length of the stage. Usually a thermal top and leggings and a waterproof jacket. On the higher stages I took additional gloves and a down jacket. I used trekking poles for some of the stages. I carried my phone, a map, compass, whistle, torch, small first aid kit including foil blanket, water purification tablets, sunglasses, hat, food and drink. I also carried suncream, which I made sure to reapply when I got to checkpoints. Also, hand sanitiser and toilet roll. I also acquired a second down jacket courtesy of Richard, which was an absolute life saver.”
“I had two 750 ml bottles and iodine tablets. I brought too many gels with me and wound up giving a lot of them to other people. The first two days were hot. Then it got progressively cooler. I found that I got the hang of (packing appropriate clothing in my race pack) as the race went on – no point carrying more than is necessary.”
“I carried 2 litres (of water) every day and for me that was always enough when supplemented with drinks at the checkpoint. I also carried a light down jacket on the high altitude days.”
“I carried 2-3 litres of water, sweets, and a couple of bars. I seemed to accumulate some things I had there just in case but didn’t use such as a couple of flapjacks. Breakfast keeps you going a long time so I think I only really needed to have a gel or some sweets after an hour or so, maybe something more substantial like a bar for lunch and then another snack around another hour or so and before you know it you’ve finished the run for the day! For clothes that I carried: a fresh layer of clothes, when it was colder a hat, gloves, long sleeves, a light down jacket…you’ll need when you finish the day’s race and you’re waiting around for tea (and the mules to arrive with your other bag). I used the Ultimate Direction Anton Krupicka pack. I think it’s 4 litre capacity and it was perfect, I think that’s generally the size most people used. Then other little bits like phone for camera, some wipes and loo roll just in case!”
“For food and water: a clif bar, the lunch/snack bag provided, and a 2 litre water bladder. I used a 15L pack and carried enough warm clothes that I could take off my damp sweaty stuff and not freeze while waiting for the mules at the end of each stage. A merino t-shirt and long sleeved top, my thin waterproof/windproof running jacket, merino long johns, woolly hat and gloves. As we climbed in altitude, I managed to squeeze my down jacket and waterproof/windproof over-trousers in there too. I carried more than a lot of people but was pleased to have it when we ran a long stage and had a long wait for the mules. I’d practiced running with the pack and was used to the weight.”
OTHER GEAR: Any comments on the gear you used or brought but didn’t use? Wished you had brought?
I brought walking sticks but didn’t use very much.
“I would have brought a second down jacket. I got really quite cold during the higher stages of the race.
A thermo flask or Nalgene bottle is essential. The new sleeping bag which goes to -20 that I bought for the race was my best buy ever! I should have packed more eye drops. I wear contacts and my eyes suffered a bit in the cold of the mountains and in the dust of Kathmandu. An extra battery for my camera would have been a good idea – I was terrified I wouldn’t have enough battery to last. Ear plugs were good too for getting a decent night’s sleep. Maybe some Vics vapour rub or similar would have been a good idea. I got a bit of a cold during the race and I’m sure it caused me to snore – apologies to my roommate!”
“I wish I had practiced using my GoPro prior to the race and had brought an image stabilizer. That said, everyone shared their photos.”
“I wore wool running shirts both short and long sleeves and these were great. They kept me warm when it was cool and were breathable when it was hot. Plus they didn’t stink so I could wear them day after day.”
“I bought poles in Kathmandu and didn’t use them. Some people did though. It’s totally personal. If you want to use them I’d suggest getting the lightest pair that you can fold up and I know a lot of really fast people were using them for the climbs up and then when you get running again you can just fold away. I also wish I’d invested in a thick down jacket. It gets super cold the higher up you go and I had three lighter down jackets but it wasn’t enough…one thick one would have been better.”
“My set of Black Diamond collapsable carbon walking poles were crucial! They made the climbs so much easier. You definitely need to practice with them so you can get into a good rhythm.”
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD
“Striking a balance between “travelling light” [while running] and being warm enough at the end while you waited for your bag to arrive was a bit tricky and as I really suffer from the cold my bag was a bit on the heavy side. It’s definitely worth practicing running with a heavier bag just in case bad weather is in the forecast. Some people ran carrying very little, which is no doubt advantageous if you are trying to move at speed but at the same time it is easy to turn an ankle or similar during the race and get very cold while waiting on medical assistance.”