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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. 148 kilometers (92 miles) and 8,700 meters (28,500 ft) of climbing – that sums up the Manaslu Trail Race that myself and an additional 52 people took part in on the eighth-highest mountain on earth. Before the race I didn’t worry much about the distance because compared to the Transalpine Run it appeared completely doable although the altitude already gave me headaches in the run-up to the event. Rightly so, as we were to find out later…

The race kicked off on Nov. 11, 2017. Prior to the start, though, we had two days in Kathmandu – for sightseeing, running errands in the Thamel retail area and, of course, to get to know the other participants. And everybody had the same thought, everybody wanted out of the dusty, overcrowded, hectic city to finally get out to the mountains of Himalaya.


Already in advance it was pretty clear: “This was not going to be some kind of spa vacation.” In order not to overload the mules that brought our bags to us at our destination everyday, we were limited to 10kg (22 lbs.) per person. In addition, we also of course had our personal running gear. And if you happen to have already been in Nepal, you are familiar with the “comfort” of “teahouses” – no showers, no warm water, unheated bedrooms, standing toilets and, as soon as the sun sets, you immediately feel how ice cold it is. All in all, a true adventure! And that is precisely what attracted me to this: Getting 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! The course was at first very steep and snaked slowly into the mountains until toward the end it followed a river to the finish. I came in as 2nd European woman, behind the unbeatable Ragna Debats; trail world champion.

Shortly after the race ended, I decided some noodle soup sounded good - only to quickly find out that it wasn't a good idea and it would be my last meal for awhile. Not even three hours later the soup had completely destroyed me and my digestive system! So, I took antibiotics and went to sleep, hoping after a good nights sleep I would feel better in the morning.

2nd stage: 33k, 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

Finally, the stomach ache had subsided, but they gave way to some new joint pain. Any thoughts of racing I had competely kissed goodbye the day before. On the bright side, since I wasn't trying to win the race anymore, I had time to marvel at the fantastic countryside and took the time to simply enjoy it. 

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 up to 4,700 meters altitude 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 recovery, thanks to snoring and the altitude, we cruised very relaxed and chatty to our next base at 3,900 meters – with lots of stops for photos. That bit with slowing down just popped up in my head. Also, it would have been not at all possible to push my body in any way whatsoever after two days of suffering. It was all over and, the fighting spirit had disappeared. You just can’t force some things and in those cases it helps to change your perspective.  


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

The day was for acclimatization for the next two difficult days. I now had water retention in my hands and feed so every step was an effort. At about 4,800 meters altitude I decided to head back to our lodging, otherwise the day would be too long and I would simply feel too 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.