Winner of the 2012 UVU North Pole Marathon, UVU prototype tester and Olympic torch bearer Dr Andrew Murray writes about his experiences doing the Gobi Challenge.
There can be no finer experience in running out there than the Gobi Challenge. The 218km course winds its way through mountains and ice gorges, before descending into the desert plains where the famous Fire Cliffs and sand dunes of the Gobi Desert rear up.
I’d set up the medical cover for this boutique event, but the volume and skills of the doctors and first-aiders present left me free to run also – I couldn’t resist the chance to take on the heat and the terrain.
There were 11 runners at the start as well as a walking group. A couple of good Mongolian runners blasted off on the first day whilst I struggled with a bit of jet lag and a heavy cold. I’d felt fevered in the tent prior to the start, never mind in the 41 degree heat, so it was an uncomfortable day. This was helped massively by the stunning views cutting through high mountain ranges, and the vision of clogs of ice inside the gorges, despite the heat. The stage was won by Mongolian ultra marathon champion Batargal who welcomed me with a sympathetic grin at the finish.
This 6 day event is a self-sufficient Marathon des Sables style event, so you carry all your food and bedding for the week. Each day the pack would get lighter and even on day 2 this was noticeable. Batargal and his compatriot Bayar launched off the front again, although I caught the former sling shotting out of the final canyon, and the latter eventually 2kms from the finish. Cold water and camels snorting greeted us at the finish.
Part of the joy of the trip was having my wife Jennie walking the route, and having the opportunity with the Yamaa Trust to get a bit of work done and see first-hand some of the things the charity had achieved. Day 3’s finish was high in the mountains in a small community who had lost their shelter and goats to fire. The generosity of people supporting my Scotland2Sahara.com run last year had allowed these to be replaced, and the warm hospitality of our hosts in their new Ger was one of a number of special moments for those on the trip. As a cultural experience, the Gobi Challenge is unsurpassed.
In cooler conditions I’d won days 3 and 4 by decent margins, although cool is a relative term in the Gobi. Running was punctuated by visits to local hospitals, family homes, and other trips with the Yamaa Trust.
I joined forces with Bayar on day 5, for the whole run passing a world of dinosaur fossils and red sandstone bluffs. It was something from a different world. Sandy conditions underfoot had increased the average number of blisters to 6, and forced a couple runners to retire. Day 6 again skirted towering cliffs before plunging UVU North Pole Marathon.into the plains, and the sand dunes the Gobi is famous for. I was grateful to my “Sandbaggers” gaiters for keeping the sand at bay whilst others continually stopped to remove shoe-fulls of sand. The uphills on the dunes remind me of the “travelator” from Gladiators. One step forward half a step back.
Experiences shared, fantastic photos and wide smiles were what I’d recall of the finish. There were some great runs from Englishmen Jon Gillott and Greg Harris, and I’d sneaked home in first. Conditions had been completely different, but no less inspiring than my previous race, at the UVU North Pole Marathon. With a heavy heart we left the Gobi, glancing behind us all the time…