What are your aspirations for 2013? What are your hopes for this spring? Are you looking for something different? Are you looking for a physical challenge, or maybe a freedom of mind, or a lightness of spirit?
Aspiration: a strong desire, longing, aim; the act of breathing ….
This spring, my friend Richard Bull is organising a multistage trail running challenge through the enigmatic trans-Himalayan landscape of Mustang in Northern Central Nepal (27th April to 10th May, 2013). The Mustang Mountain Trail Race will be an awesome experience, a wild and wonderful challenge of exploratory racing!
Mustang. Just the sound of the word conjures up images of a harsh yet beautiful landscape, full of culture and religious heritage. This wild, spiritually rich ancient Himalayan kingdom could be described as one of the Himalaya’s Last Frontiers. It holds an almost mystical allure, a place where ‘the soul of man is still considered to be as real as the feet he walks on’. Lo Monthang, the medieval walled city that was the ancient capital, means ‘the southern plains of aspiration‘ in the original Tibetan. The region has only been open to tourism since 1992, and still has an incredible air of mystery. It is a beautiful, open, wild landscape, an enclave of pure Tibetan Buddhist culture. With the coming of the road through to Tibet, this is an area that will change markedly in the years to come, so it is a great opportunity to explore as it is now.
To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to. Kahlil Gibran
For those of us who love to explore (whether our own physical limits, our mental strengths, different cultures, or new landscapes) Mustang is for sure a place to dream about. Perhaps a place to realise a deep yearning within us. A yearning, that back in our ‘everyday’ becomes buried under the layer after layer of ‘normality’ with which we all too often hide ourselves.
Holy sites, remote villages, canyons, mountains, cave monasteries, grazing pastures, surreal arid landscapes, cave upon cave sheltering Tibetan Buddhist paintings, labyrinths of bizarrely contorted crags, a walled city and the longest mani wall in Nepal. You will experience all of this and much, much more.
The race will be giving the gift of (solar) light to one of the remotest villages, usually ignored by the tourists. Reaching out to the local community is so important, for it is their ‘home’ that racers will be privileged to visit and experience. Aspirations mean so much more when they go beyond our own personal ambitions and passions?
Quite apart from the challenges of the (multi-stage) race itself, it will be a journey of mind, body and spirit. It might shake you up, it might change you, it might humble you until you reach deep into the core of who you are, and then strengthen you to let you go far beyond where you thought your limits were.
And then the running (just remember to breathe deeply) …. on those trails in the sky that make even the yaks smile!
You will experience to every extreme and all the variations that lie between. There will be moments when you feel like you can run forever, there will be moments when you feel like you can’t take another step. You will feel the honesty (and sweat) of working hard on a climb. You will feel the joyful abandon of a swift descent. You will sometimes feel like you are barely moving forwards, you will sometimes feel like wild horses couldn’t hold you back. There will be nights when you are too tired to talk at dinner, yet wake raring to go even before the morning call. There will be mornings when you want to hide in your sleeping bag, and nights where you sit for hours talking. There will be mornings of hard work (racing) and afternoons of sitting in the sunshine (or exploring). You will have moments of being entirely alone (maybe) and many, many more moments sharing with friends. You will get stronger day after day after day as your body gets used to the effort you ask of it. Your mind will get quiet. You will push yourself and find out your limits are never where you think they are. This is multiday stage racing.
You can race your heart out, or you can sit on a rock and stare at the clouds. You can be fast, or you can take your time and enjoy being where you are. The only thing that you need is to bring a smile, an adventurous spirit, and a willingness to experience something special. Oh, and high heels will be strictly forbidden.
Do something different this spring. Take a look at the compelling race website, be inspired, breathe, take the challenge, follow some of the aspirations that are deep within you.
“When you have come to the edge of all the light you have
And step into the darkness of the unknown
Believe that one of the two will happen to you
Either you’ll find something solid to stand on
Or you’ll be taught how to fly!”
- Richard Bach
A few words from Richard Bull, the race director, who is currently living and working in Kathmandu:
What is the pull of the Mustang for you? I once read Mustang: A Lost Tibetan Kingdom by Michel Peissel. It was written only in the 1960s but conjures up an atmosphere of hundreds of years ago. Visiting there was not a disappointment and it has retained that other worldly feel. A favourite moment was crossing the last windy pass and finally getting to see the walled city, the forbidden city or whatever you wish to call it, bearing in mind it is really a village of around 1000 people. It’s the only trek I know in the Himalayas where the destination is a settlement. Generally the walk in is along a series of connected village oases. The views are ever changing, the light is incredible, the people are friendly, it has lots of places to explore. You can even meet the king there. It is a place to experience timelessness.
What is the future of trail running in Nepal? Given the numbers of people taking up running on trails, I guess good! It’s a relentlessly hilly country though, to risk stating the obvious, and running here does require stamina. There is the altitude factor too. But there are very few places in the world where you’ll be so high in the mountains yet still in inhabited places and able to experience the way of life of different cultures. It will never be as popular as the trails in France for example, but it will always have something to offer the person who is looking for something different.
How can we as runners or racers give something back to the places we are privileged to visit? Often just by using local services, buying food and lodging, or hiring local people as guides and porters. It’s always possible to make some donation to a local organisation, but research is necessary to find one that will do what it says it will. For our last race we made a donation to a hydro-electric scheme, and gave some really well made portable solar lights.
What will be the hardest part of the race? Different things will feel hard to different people. Some of the terrain will be rough underfoot, there are plenty of undulations, and the air is a little thinner at 3000-4000m. But those things are details. Like any multistage race, there is the challenge of going substantial distances day after day and winning the battle against tiredness. Unlike the Manaslu Mountain Trail Race though, the course is more level and runnable, and perhaps the magic you find (see next question) will help maintain motivation.
Will there be any magic? That all depends on your own mind.
What is your hope for the race? I think it will be small as a first event, but I think (and hope) it will be a great personal experience for all the competitors. As usual with events like this, the entrants are all looking for something, perhaps a complete break from their normal lives, a personal challenge, or to learn something. So I hope that the people who come will find what they come for!
What does running mean to you? For me it is a way to travel, in the sense of the journey, rather than the destination. When I lived in Amsterdam, I used to both enjoy running my standard 10km route to gauge my fitness, or to take random right and left turns to see new neighbourhoods, or to do laps of the main park (Vondel Park) to people watch. I can still find it a struggle to get out of the house away from the ‘to do’ list and run. But I am always glad when I do, it puts things in perspective, and it’s entertainment!