RUNNING 100KM AT MINUS 40 CELCIUS. JOB DONE

Having found the Genghis Khan Ice Marathon both arduous and spectacular, it was with some trepidation I looked at the map plotting the route that Genghis Khan took hundreds of years ago from the Tuul and Terelj gorges at the base of the Khenti mountains, the land of his birth to the modern day capital of Ulan Batar. Estimates of the distance varied wildly, from 100km, to 100 miles depending on the route taken, and the estimation of locals.

On the run in Mongolia-Credit John Graham

It is a route laced with history and scenic beauty, but perhaps one also that carries an element of jeopardy. To that end, Sandbaggers had provided a vehicle, and a highly experienced driver to set off from the rugged interior southwards, with the van fully stocked by my parents who had come to Mongolia not only to help, but to experience riding huskies, playing wild golf and this most beautiful of countries for themselves. It was bitterly cold driving across a frozen expanse to the start.  We were not on a road, but cutting tracks across the frozen landscape. Frozen really did mean frozen, with despite the engine having been on all night, everytime the vehicle stopped, the diesel and radiator froze, forcing our driver to defrost it with a blow torch.  I didn’t say anything when I saw this, but it would be fair to say that the prospect of an immobile vehicle, off the beaten track, in temperatures below minus 40 was not attractive.

An easier form of transport

Reaching the start felt like an achievement, when I set off following the historical route south, jumping out the vehicle exposing zero flesh to the elements, and just putting one foot in front of the other until the sun came up offering up improved temperatures in the minus 30’s.  It is amazing the difference that this can make, and I slowed to a more sensible rate at daylight having ran faster than I did in the marathon for the first hour simply to keep warm. 50 odd kilometres elapsed before we hit the junction for the road to Ulan Batar, a road sign that brought me more joy than any of the other road users. The fact that there was actual consistent traffic brought me some baffled looks, while I just concentrated on eating frequently, and warding off the early signs of frostnip I had in my right hand.  I had the Merrell All Out Terra Ice shoes, and decent clothing on which kept the rest of me toasty.  As a stiff headwind picked up, I was joined by a friend Ally, who knocked out a few miles with me and kept me sane until the high rise of Ulan Batar emerged.

Having jumped in the support vehicle to warm up and refuel a few times, I felt relatively OK at the finish.  By that I mean that I was not completely wrecked but still mentally and physically shattered as the signs for Genghis Khan International Airport emerged from the dark that had fallen. I had covered a distance of 104km in a none too speedy 11 hours, although to be honest I was extremely happy with that given the terrain and conditions.  It would have been a tonne slower without having my folks feeding and helping me.

This week’s adventures have been captured by Johnny Graham, and award winning adventure photographer from DigitalPict, and Rich Alexander, a TV presenter and producer who is making a film about the adventures.  Having seen some of the footage already, these guys are awesome and we are all looking forward to seeing the finished products.

We have also been raising some cash and awareness for the Scottish Association for Mental Health and for Riding for the Disabled. People have been hugely generous in donating already, for anyone that would be kind enough to spare some pennies the link is below

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/donate/makeDonationForFundraiserDisplay.action?fundraiserActivityId=628029

As always these adventures are only successful with the help of many. In particular thanks to my family in Mongolia, and back home (our 1 year old Nina did not fancy the trip!), Sandbaggers for their utterly first class organisation, Merrell for providing the best kit and their support, Arnaud Le Marie for his excellent work on the website, my coach Donnie Campbell, and the many other people that make these things possible, and most of the time enjoyable.

Trying out husky riding the day before

THE GENGHIS KHAN ICE MARATHON- PUT IT ON YOUR BUCKET LIST

Put it on your bucket list, but pack your gloves and balaclava. I have just completed the inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon in Outer Mongolia, which is just an incredible event. Standing on the start line it was -34 celcius.  This was better than expected, with temperatures of -47 celcius recorded the week before the event which took place on the Tuul/ Terelj frozen river systems in a country with the lowest density of human habitation on earth, in an area where wolves are more prevalent than people.

At the finish

Mongolia in winter is a place of dreams as well as nightmares. Perhaps it is unsurprising that few have attempted any serious endurance challenges there in winter, given the consequences of anything going wrong out there.  But fortunately a real expert in adventure, and Mongolia in particular was behind it. Dave Scott from Sandbaggers had brought together a hardy group of athletes, many from the UK but others from further afield. Dave has led expeditions to Outer Mongolia over 20 times, and had hired staff, vehicles, and even huskies to ensure the event whilst intimidating was as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Virtually no frostbite!

We huddled on the start line listening to the howl of huskies, before everyone set off at a rapid pace simply to keep warm. I set off with Doug Wilson, who I had met at the Antarctic Ice Marathon in 2012. Since then Doug has had major brain surgery to remove an acoustic neuroma and also developed meningitis, but post recovery has won races like the Volcano Marathon a couple months ago. I pulled clear and headed up the ice river, highly impressed with my footwear the Merrell All Out Terra Ice Waterproof which gripped the sheet ice surface with their tungsten tipped spikes slowing me far less than many of the other competitors.

All Out Terra Ice

With 20 odd km gone I had a 14 minute lead, and reassured by this enjoyed looking around at the mountains, and scenery that dwarfed the vehicles and competitors. With a full complement of fingers, and only the smallest amount of cold damage to my nose I crossed the line 1st in 3 hrs, 7 minutes, with Doug second in 3-42, and Lucja Leonard taking the women’s title in 4 hrs 19. The course was exceptional, but with difficult visibility due to goggles steaming up, and the extreme cold there were a couple wrong turns taken by a couple of competitors, leading to a Search and Rescue which efficiently found the remaining competitor, which would not be part of my usual recovery strategy but highlighted what a slick operation Dave leads. By way of celebration, I planned to spend the next day riding the huskies, followed by a 100 odd kilometre run in the hoofprints of Genghis Khan back to the modern day Mongolian capital of Ulan Batar.  Obviously that distance in the terrain and weather expected may take a while.