Earlier this month I ran and completed the Gobi March, a 5 day, 250km staged race held in the western province of China, essentially next door to Mongolia. I made up my mind to do this over 2 years ago. I had started running to get some peace and quiet , to find a part of me again , and to process the recent news of my Dads cancer diagnosis. I need a goal to get out running and my usual form is to choose something big. The Gobi March certainly met that criteria!
And it did not disappoint. The location was amazing, the route took us through a huge variety of landscapes, but what really made this a wild adventure was the weather. There were times we felt like we were in the Hunger Games with someone above pressing buttons on a remote control. Here is a quick summary of my 7 days of Gobi. Arrival at Camp 1. We were bussed about 3 hours from Hami to a camp in the rocky foothills. All the locals were waiting for us to welcome and cheer us into camp. This was followed by local dancing and performances. For the next 3 hours until sundown the locals took as many photos of us with themselves and every relative they could find, while we just drank in our incredible surroundings and pinched ourselves that we were really here. When it came to setting up my sleeping bag and eating, I just watched and followed what everyone else did. There were plenty of first timers like me, but there were also a number of competitors who were on their 3 or 4 Racing the planet event. They were always willing to offer advice or answer questions. The sun set about 9.30pm but most of us were in bed well before then. Day 1-36km. It had snowed overnight so we set off in our warm gear. Fortunately because after 20km we were met with a huge blizzard. I was crossing lovely, green plains and had intended to run but the blizzard stopped that. And as soon as the blizzard started it stopped and we were out in the sunshine drying and warming up again. A few changes to the route due to the weather meant I did not have to climb the huge sand dune, and I arrived at Camp about 4pm. Tired but very happy. We slept in Yurts that night. 14 of us on a wooden platform around a wood fire stove. Day 2 -40km. It dawned still cold and cloudy. We could recognise snow clouds now so all put on our warm gear and set off straight up over a pass. 1000m elevation in 3km. There was no wind and the snow was floating down, so it was all quite magical. On the other side of the pass was a gradual incline of 12km and the road was quite good so I ran. This was a 40km day which passed quite quickly as I had found a similar paced buddy to chat with. In camp by 4pm again and very happy as a village had given us their homes to sleep in that night. Very basic, one big room for 10 of us but thick warm rugs on the floor to sleep on. Day 3 – 43km. We continued along the foothills, not quite in the desert which we could see stretching out beside us. There were lots of dry rocky river beds, which I could not believe anyone could run over, before coming to a road. I broke into a run and ran the rest of the day. This saved me from most of the weather conditions of that day. A storm came in blowing rain off the icy mountains. With only 8km to go when it hit I just put my head down and ran. A lot of competitors went hypothermic and spent time in medical tents. I got to camp by 3pm and dived into my sleeping bag to warm up. It was a cold, wet, and rocky night but everyone was in high spirits and the evening meal around the camp fires was as fun and social as ever.
Day 4 – 46km. Straight out into the desert today. We walked away from the heavy grey clouds and into flat, hot and rocky terrain. The rocks were black and sharp, so no running until after midday when I became bored with walking and realised I would be out there for ages if I did not get a move on. I arrived in camp about 3pm, the temps were in the 30’s, and i happily lay in my tent relaxing and chatting as other competitors arrived. I was in pretty good shape still. My knees were abit tender. I always tape my right knee but my left knee was heading the same way now. The anti-inflammatories came out and more taping. No blisters which was great. Day 5 80km. The funny thing is that every morning I got out of bed ready and eager for the next day. Our bodies adjusted to the task and there was no terrible soreness or any reluctance to get going. If you told me I had to do this from my own bed every morning there is no way! Today was the Long March and it was going to be hot. Know it was going to be hot and long I set mind for it and everything went well . Just one foot in front of the other, talking to other competitors, filling up water at checkpoints, it all helped to pass the kms and day. I arrived at checkpoint 5 at 5.30pm. I had 30km to go. It was 37degrees. The next bit was long, hot and straight so I put my music in and made myself run as much as I could. This worked for me, but I know this particular stretch got to many of the other competitors. I ran across the bottom of a canyon at 9pm. It was during sunset and I could not see another soul in the world. It was my moment and I laughed and sang and yelled and cried my way across the 3km to the other side. The sun went down and I walked the last 15km into camp, watching an enormous blood red moon rise, all by myself but not feeling lonely. It was incredible beyond words, the last 30km of that day. The memory I had hoped for was created. I arrived into camp at 12.15am. Happy and tired and complete. Day 6.This was the rest day but it became anything but restful. We were hit with high winds from 10am and it did not stop all day. Our tents were all blown down; we were trying to find helter form the heat anywhere possible. We were in the middle of nowhere in the sand, surrounded by huge rock formations. The day was spent trying to keep cool. We had no access to our gear which was under collapsed tents and sand, no fire to heat water to eat and all the water was warm. At 6pm the shout went up of a huge sandstorm approaching, we huddled into the base of rock formations for the next 3 hours as we were sand blasted form every side. Finally at 9pm the wind eased and we were told to get our gear to evacuate. All the tents were broken and the camp was a mess. In the end we were not evacuated until 4am after being rained on. The last leg 12km was cancelled, no one was particularly upset, and we were bused back to Hami. We arrived at our hotel and I was showered and asleep in bed by 10am. That night we had the celebration banquet, which was huge fun. The awards were handed out and I was amazed to discover I had come in first in the 40-49 yr female category. Now that I have completed the race I know the race itself is the easy part. Spending 7 days in an amazing location with 160 other people with a similar life outlook, with limited outside contact and no one to take care of except yourself was pretty much bliss. Yes, we did have to run 250km but that ended up not being as bad as I expected. Some people walked the whole thing, some people ran it in a time better than most road run Marathons, and a lot like me did the combo. I ran about 15km a day, and walked the rest. I walked hard and consistently, stopping only for a few minutes at checkpoints, but what I knew from a previous event was that consistency is the key. I came in before some runners, who had to take time out to rest. I also finished up pretty much injury free, which was a goal. My other goals of being blister free and a smile on my face were also achieved! I know now that the hard part is the preparation and training. In the two months before Gobi, trying to juggle a household of 5, the related fundraising events, other commitments and the training, there were times I thought I could not do it. But I just kept going. I had mantras such as “keep it simple”, “ignorance is bliss”, and my most used, “Just do it!” repeating over in my head constantly. Thank goodness, because competing in the Gobi March is one of the most brilliant experiences I know I will have. Two weeks after the event I still stop and think, “I did it.” The message I brought home for myself was I do not need to spend a fortune and months of training to experience adventure. I want adventures for my whole family. It might be camping somewhere local or road tripping to Darwin but they will definitely be trips that create memories and show my children that adventures are there for the taking. And if there is a marathon happening somewhere in the area I might just have my running shoes with me…! Jenni is married with 3 boys aged 8,6 and 3 yrs. She is a stay at home mum living in Mudgee, NSW.