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ULTRA RUNNING I 06.09.2018 I Nina Koch - DYNAFIT Athlete

Ultrarunning Himalaya: 9 days of pain at the Manaslu Trail Race

"7 stages, 92 miles and 28,500 ft of climbing. Myself and 52 additional people were on a mission to finish the Manaslu Trail Race, which takes place on the eighth-highest mountain on earth. Compared to the Transalpine Run, I thought this race would be very doable from a distance perspective, but before the race even started I found that the altitude was already giving me headaches. We weren't exactly sure what we were getting into just yet!

The race kicked off on November 11th, 2017. Prior to the race beginning, all of the Manaslu Trail Race participants had two days to spend in Kathmandu for sightseeing, shopping in the Thamel retail area and getting to know each other. After our short time spent in Kathmandu, all 53 of us were eager to get out of the dusty, overcrowded city and head out to the Himalayas.

In order to not overload the mules that would be bringing our bags to our destinations everyday, we were limited to 22 lbs. of gear, per person. In Nepal, the “comfort” of “teahouses” are offered to you along the trekking trails for a place to rest. However, the "teahouses" don't have showers or warm water, unheated bedrooms and standing toilets - so, as soon as the sun set around us, we immediately felt how ice cold it was and how small a 22lb allotment of gear really was! These situations made this race feel like a true adventure, which was precisely what attracted me to do it! I wanted to get out of my comfort zone!

The race

1st stage: 23k, 1,900 meters of climbing, 1,600 meters of descent


I had a great start! At first, the course was very steep and snaked slowly into the mountains, but towards the end it followed a river all the way to the finish. I finished as 2nd European woman, behind the unbeatable Ragna Debats; trail world champion. The noodle soup at the finish was to be my last meal for awhile. Not even three hours later it completely destroyed me and my digestive system. So, I took antibiotics and think positively that everything would be better after a good night’s sleep.

 

2nd stage: 33lk, 1,750 meters of climbing, 785 meters of descent


Nothing was good here! I decided to check out every tree along the route and to mark the entire 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) all over again….  These were the longest kilometers of my life – fighting stomach cramps I dragged myself to the finish. Unfortunately I can’t say a lot about the course since my focus was primarily on bushes and trees. Think positively! What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger! Tomorrow will most certainly be better!

 


3rd stage: 26k, 1,950 meters of climbing, 710 meters of descent


Now, finally, the stomachache was gone, but they gave way to joint pain. Any thoughts of racing I had competely kissed goodbye the day before. But you can also look at that positively. When you are racing, you always have on bliders. Now at least I had time to marvel at the fantastic countryside and to simply enjoy it, or at least as soon as I started feeling better.

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4th stage: 23k, 1,350 meters of climbing, 970 meters of descent


After a night in a cloister at 3,000 meters of altitude, I finally felt better! Down quite a bit from my fighting weight on day 1 I could at least run again and that too fully without any stress since there was no chance of catching up anymore. The course went through snow drifts up to over 4,000 meters and, from there, to our base for the next two (sleepless) nights at approximately 3,500 meters. I was simply happy that I finally felt healthy again!

5th stage: 12k, 1,100 meters of climbing, 1,100 meters of descent (total vertical to the Manaslu base camp)


I had particularly looked forward to this stage! With a view out to Manaslu, we climbed up 1,100 meters, putting us at 4,700 meters, which was just before the base camp. Here, there was a checkpoint where the clock was stopped. For two hours I simply sat in the sun and looked at the mountain that seemed close enough to touch. It was utterly perfect, enjoying the quiet and Mother Nature up here.

 


6th stage: 8k, 370 meters of climbing, 140 meters of descent


After one more night without much rest and some recovery, (thanks to snoring and the altitude) we took our time getting down to our next base at 3,900 meters – with lots of stops for photos. I enjoyed the slow pace we took getting down the mountain, as it wouldn't have been possible to push my body to run any further after two days of suffering. My fighting spirit had disappeared and I didn't want to force my body into trying to move fast again.  


Rest day: 18k, 1,000 meters of climbing, 1,000 meters of descent


This day was for acclimatization. I had developed water retention in my hands and feet, so every step was painful and an effort. At about 4,800 meters, I decided to head back to our lodge as my body started becomming weak. The day prior to the highest point in the race, it was more important to me to economize my remaining personal resources.

Crossing the pass: 22k, 1,450 meters of climbing, 1,600 meters of descent


We headed out with headlamps. Since we were going up to an altitude of 5,106 meters over the Larke Pass, this was consciously not a racing day. It was still freezing cold, and I seriously was wearing every single thing I had with me, layered up from PrimaLoft to down. The quiet and the movement only by the light of the headlamps was somewhat meditative for me. It was possibly one of the most beautiful sunrises I have every been able to experience. Slow by slow, the gigantic mountains were illuminated by beams of warming sunlight. It was simply an unbelievable day. After just about nine hours with plenty of photo, tea and chocolate breaks, we arrived at our last lodging, at about 3,700 meters, before the finish. I was still very weak but simply thankful to be able to experience this.

 


7th stage: 22k, 280 meters of climbing, 2,040 meters of descent
A downhill day! Usually, my strength, but I felt as if I were running against a wall. The hope that it would get better after 1,000 meters of downhill was unfortunately not realized. I just wanted to get to the finish and was frustrated that for me the allegedly easiest stage was such a challenge.

 

 


My emotions at the finish were mixed. On the one hand, it was a happy day that I pulled through despite it all. On the other hand, it still left a bit of an unpleasant taste in my mouth that I wasn’t able to call up the hoped-for performance, and that a race was turned into to a hike around Manaslu. For me, it’s a cakewalk to fight my way through aching muscles and tired legs. But when you are simply sick and weak, there are limits.


After another week, I was home again. Would I do it again? No! I now know that altitude is not for me. Still, I would never have passed up the experience, the people I got to know, and the time spent in these wonderful mountains. That was worth all of the pain and misery.