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.
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.
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.
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.