When a group of Nepali runners started assisting foreigners who ran the Kathmandu valley rim, a 100-mile-long trail that goes around the hills surrounding Kathmandu valley, around 2018, little did they know that they were sowing the seeds for one of the toughest races in the country.
These runners ran with trail runners like Lizzy Hawker and Seth Wolpin and developed a liking for long-distance running. After years of being pacers, in 2021, a few wanted to run the trail themselves and the Manjushree Trail Race was born.
It is the only International Trail Running Association (ITRA)-certified 100-mile trail race in Nepal.
“I wanted to do it in one go like others so I approached a few friends like Jimmi Oostrum who suggested organising a race and that started it all,” says trail runner Jeevan Lama, the winner of the first edition of the race held in the summer of 2021.
Only seven people ran the Manjushree Trail Race in 2021, but the team knew that the race had potential and they were right as the next year saw 36 people run the 100 miles and nearly 100 took part in other events of the race.
Now, the team is gearing up for the third edition as it hopes this one will be bigger and better. The team aims to ensure that it becomes one of the premier races not just in Nepal but also in Asia.
“It’s going to take time, but we want it to be a reason why people come to Nepal,” says Ashish Mishra, one of the team members of the race.
The beginning of the Manjushree Trail Race
The first person to run the Kathmandu valley rim loop, in November 2015, was Seth Wolpin. After Wolpin, Lizzy Hawker completed her first loop in March 2016. Following them, Simon Castro, Jocelyn Powelson and Raj Pradhan did the loop in March 2018. It was around then the idea to create a race started brewing in the minds of Nepali runners.
Even though the idea started then, work did not begin until 2020 when the country went into a Covid lockdown. The team says as the restrictive measure were in place, most of them started to run the trails around the valley to get fresh air.
Hawker had taken Rashila Tamang as her pacer in 2018 and told her the trail might be useful for her for training purposes. But, there were issues with the complete loop and that was an issue for them.
“When I ran with Lizzy, we ran most of it on road and that wasn’t fun. That is why in 2020, we set off looking for alternatives to the roads because we wanted the race to have more trails as possible,” says Tamang, who is also a part of the Manjushree Trail Race team.
As they started circumambulating the trail, their concept started to get broader and in 2021, they decided to mark the trail permanently, which would not only help them during the race but also people who enjoyed hiking or cycling.
“We wanted people to feel what Manjushree, a Tibetan saint and ruler who believed to have visited Kathmandu and drained the water from a big lake here to establish a valley, did when he walked around the valley. That is why we named the race in his honour,” says Mishra.
The race route
The Manjushree Trail Race route takes runners along the Kathmandu valley rim ridge line and across the seven peaks that surround the valley – Jamacho, Shivapuri, Nagarkot, Phulchoki, Champadevi, Bhasmasur and Chandragiri. It covers 175.18 km, with an incline of 12,695 metres across the seven peaks.
“Over 85 per cent of the route is on the trail, most of which is in the jungles. Even though you’re still within the Kathmandu valley, you will feel like you are far away from urbanisation many times during the race,” says Mishra. “Runners encounter dense forests and the occasional view of Nepal’s capital from the exposed ridges and peaks.”
Manjushree Trail Race is also the only race in Nepal to which the ITRA has given six points. “This means anyone who wants to enter the UTMB lottery can come and run the race. It’s an opportunity for us to ensure many people take part in it. Great for tourism too,” says Mishra.
After the first year, the team also decided to put in other events on the race. As running a 100-mile race is not for anyone, the team, from 2022 onwards, included 21km, 50km and 50-mile races.
“We get many people running shorter distances and we’ve also applied for ITRA points for these races,” says Tamang.
When asked if it can be a part of an international event like the UTMB in the future, the team says it is a long shot as the government needs to be involved for the same.
The tough trail of recognition
Annapurna 100, a 100-km race held in Nepal, was a part of an international event like the Golden Trail Series in 2019. But following that, Golden Trail Series stopped coming to Nepal, which is disappointing as continuing it would have been great for the Manjushree Trail Race, the sport of running and for the country’s tourism, says the team.
“All the top runners take part in these international events, which are watched by millions of people. We missed something there,” says Mishra.
The Majushree Trail Race team hopes that the government will come on board as it needs governmental help. For now, the event has been done with help from the supporters and sponsors but for the race to reach the next level, it needs the government’s support.
“We’ve been to Nepal Tourism Board to talk about this, but they didn’t take it seriously. Maybe they will in the future,” says Mishra.
Another challenge has been maintaining the trails. Due to unplanned development, most of the trails the team has marked have turned into roads along with the locals making concrete steps on parts of the trail.
“This is a major challenge because it kills the beauty of the trail,” says Lama.
He says one of the aims of the Manjushree Trail Race is to spread the message about saving trails around the valley that have disappeared in recent times. The team feels saving the Kathmandu valley rim could be an important step in that as it joins all the prominent peaks of the valley.
“We also want the Manjushree Trail Race to be a platform for the future generation. Everyone comes to Kathmandu and having a race like this here is great for the sport as it gives us chance to see the younger generation test themselves against the best,” says Tamang, who feels the race can be good for training for races abroad too.
All photos: Manjushree Trail Race