Mustang trail race, what about the running?

Posted: 01/7/18 6:43 AM

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A post for those for whom this is their first multi-day event.

All this talk about the place, but what about the running? The event site‘s FAQ redirects you to some great resources for training and other stuff to think about, so that’s all taken care of. Luckily the most basic question is still wide open. Training, no training, what is really expected of a body to get through all those days without crashing?

The answer is not that difficult. Sort of the same as what is required for a similar number of days walking, sort of, plus some sense in how you go about it, plus a couple of things to watch. Sort of means that the core is hours-on-your-feet, and hours on your feet moving at the maximum speed that allows you to continue moving, not just strolling about. Also, when I say walking days, I mean that you should be comfortable with 9-10 hours of walking, and then the next day again. And then again. Basically, if a tougher trek is your thing, you should be doing fine on a multi-day trail run like this.

And what about the sense? There is a tomorrow and a day after so don’t kill yourself on day one. Approach it as a slow crescendo.

Before delving into some important things to watch, let’s frame this particular multi-day within its proper universe. Think about the important characteristics of such events: total number of days, length of the individual stages, technical difficulty of the trails, and daily ascents/descents, climatic and other condition (like the altitude at which one runs), and the level of support you receive during the race. The Mustang trail is certainly not in an extreme corner of this multi-dimensional property space. Eight stages with one rest day in between is longer than average, but stage lengths are very doable, and daily positive/negative altitude meters are also nothing crazy; most running is between 3000 and 4000 meters, which adds considerably to its difficulty, but the trails are good, and most likely the weather is nothing extreme, even better, perfect for running (don’t blame me if it isn’t though…).

And most importantly, you are looked after in ways that you’ll remember for ever. I know it’s totally grit to carry all your own gear (although, many then buy themselves out of the real hardship by spending perverse amounts of money for high-quality light-weight super-expensive stuff), and then cook your own dinners and breakfast (again, most go soft and fuel the wonder that is their body-mind by costly, and unpalatable astronaut freeze-dried, rather than carry stuff that their grandmother would recognize as food – which is Michael Pollan‘s beautiful definition of what food is). I’ve participated in a scaled-down version of such an event twice, carrying the gear, but not the food. My experience: the uphills and downhills are not much different with a weight on your back, but running the flattish stretches with it requires, well, grit indeed. I am not convinced that  persistence and grit are qualities that always top everything else. If you’re a ‘looking for something and am convinced it’s only available at the other side of pain and other misery’ person, this might not be your race. But without such hang-up you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Running with just a day pack, and then being taken care of wherever one arrives, is as comfortable as it gets; while being on the go at altitude, in such mind-blowing landscape, with like-minded companions, including Nepalese that you’ll really get to know, for so many days, is going to be a very intense (in all senses of that term, not only ‘fun’) experience.

Too much talk, so time for another musical intermezzo. This time a celebration of the way we would all like to be able to run, start with blast, vary as your heart pleases, play with the other contestants, and finish with a smile. Enjoy it to the full, but I recommend to stick to the crescendo strategy:

Now, over to some important things to watch:

  • Food, drink & rest;
  • Your running technique, especially descending;
  • Your feet;

All three are in the same category: look after yourself. Across that many days and kilometres, the running itself is kinda secondary to keeping in one piece, and that requires getting sufficient nutrition and fluids in (not easy!), getting enough rest, and not tumbling over and bruising or breaking something, no pounding of joints and tendons beyond their capacity, and not getting all blistered.

Too much to blabber about, so I’ll limit myself to running technique, or form. Personally, I’m quite taken in by the barefoot story, popularized by Chris McDougall, which in terms of its narrative about form is close to pose and chirunning. However, I really couldn’t care less, what your fancy is and/or what accompanying story tickles you most, as long as you focus on treading lightly, as in feather-lightly. The rest is going to follow, in line with how your own body’s biomechanics bring that about. For the flats that is going to help you avoid injuries and conserve energy, for the downhills it is plain life-saving. Short strides, high turn-over, tiptoeing without breaking your movement, that’s the idea.  And the only way to learn and improve is practice. I’m a flatlander. Every time I move into mountainous terrain it takes my body a while to dug out the required coordination, concentration, confidence and everything else involved , from its muscle memory storage. And I’ll never come even close to those that are naturally gifted and/or have grown up bouncing around such paths.

But I love getting close to what is my personal optimum, because there is preciously little that I find so satisfying as that wonderfully paradoxical state of full concentration, total control, and relaxation. It’s by far the easiest and most assured way to (running) flow that I know. I’ve posted some amazing footage of slick professional descending in an earlier post, so for this one I’ll go for a totally different discipline, one that I’m even more amateurish at, but that holds a similar fascination, and requires the same effort-with-maximum-relaxation to get anywhere. Viewing tip: try and hold your breath while watching (and concentrate on the music).

Note that I leave ‘the mental part is the most important’ thing unaddressed. Haven’t got much to say about it, and even if I had, I have zero credentials in that area.

  • Roger Henke has retired his blog, and this post was salvaged from it and I hope it is useful to you!


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