GENGHIS KHAN MARATHON 2017 DONE

Some like it hot, but they would have been disappointed by the mountains of Mongolia which hosted the Genghis Khan Marathon in temperatures of minus 32 Celsius.  The task was to navigate through a frozen river network, before enjoying traditional Mongolian and Scottish festivities.  Nowhere can beat Mongolia for the sense of space, and remoteness, almost immediately this grabs you as we drove out of the capital Ulan Bataar.

There were multiple purposes to my visit, first among them was to further experience the charm and culture of Mongolia, which I enjoy more every time I come.  The advantage of small race groups allow a genuine insight into daily life in temperatures that often dip below minus 40 in winter.

As the horn signified the start of the race, conditions were perfect. Minus 32, and very little wind was certainly a good deal more pleasant than a windy minus 40 might have.  I set off at around 3 hour pace, but quickly realised that underfoot conditions (either snowy on the trail, or very slippy on the ice river) meant I wouldn’t be under last year’s time of 3hrs 7 mins.

There were certainly more husky dogs and yaks than humans on the way round, and fortunately no sign of wolves.  The ice occasionally splintered a little beneath my feet, making me a little nervous until pop- though the ice my right foot went, plunging into the frozen river. Instinctively I pulled it straight out my heart racing.  Wet feet at minus 32 is no joke.  I waited to feel the wet and the cold, but it never came.  The gaiters on top of my Merrell All Out Terra Ice had stopped anything coming through.

Race Director, and Honorary Consul of Scotland to Mongolia Dave Scott (Sandbaggers UK), was there to greet competitors at the finish.  I finished ahead of Chris from England who had avoided wet feet.  A special mention should be given to Audrey McIntosh who finished the marathon having the week before ran in the extreme heat of the Namib desert.  Dave had some innovative recovery food lined up.  Haggis, as well as traditional Mongolian delicacies such as goat and potatoes could well be ideal for recovering for the rigors of a race. It is actually not bad from a technical perspective, with carbohydrates as well as protein.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the north, we head back to Ulan Bataar- at least I don’t have to run back this year!

 

MINUS FORTY IN MONGOLIA MARK 2

Very few places excite taxi drivers, but Mongolia seems to do that to everybody.  Pavel was chock full of questions, of a place that at this time of year is one of extreme beauty, temperatures and terrain.This time last year, I was running from the reputed birthplace of Genghis Khan to the modern day capital of Ulan Bataar, thinking it was much easier to run in the extreme cold, than it was to drive.  Temperatures had dipped to minus 45, and the driver had the blowtorch out to unfreeze the radiator and the diesel tank.  Interesting.

In addition to the longer run, last year I took place in the inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon.  There is something very special about running on a frozen system in Outer Mongolia, with a yurt as the base camp, and the howls of huskies ringing in our ears. Eleven hardy competitors took to the start line, and only two got a touch of frostbite in temperatures of minus 35 (it was a beautiful clear day).  The question I get asked most is what I wear.  In short I use lots of thin layers, including two pairs of gloves, and a special ice shoe with studs in the bottom (Merrell All Out Terra Ice).

So this year, I am joining Sandbaggers at the World’s Coldest Burns Supper, followed by the Genghis Khan Ice Marathon mark 2.  We will have the opportunity to catch up with old friends, and to update on the various Yamaa trust projects that are ongoing.

It will not be boring, and it will not be warm.

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. 

THE COLD COURSE. GOLF AT MINUS 40 IN MONGOLIA

 

Golf_finalGreenGolf has been played for centuries, and is played by 55 million people, in 206 countries worldwide.  A little known fact is that a study from Sweden showed that the average golfer lives 5 years longer than those that don’t play, regardless of age, gender, and earnings.

But while conditions in Scotland were tough for professionals at the Old Course in St Andrew’s leading to the British Open finishing a day late, they were positively clement compared to what awaited us in Mongolia. The Genghis Khan Country Club is elaborately named, and hosts one of 4 golf courses in Mongolia. However it was not golf as we know it, with temperatures dipping to -40, where celcius and farenheight meet and the greens were completely frozen just as we hoped.

Driving Range and clubhouseAfter a few rapid practice swings, with the Terelj Gorge and the Khenti mountains as a backdrop we set off  to play. Standard equipment would not work in these conditions, so we were grateful to Titleist for the bright yellow golf balls, and winter beanies, and to Footjoy for their winter gloves.  These have now been tested in the coldest conditions and helped us enormously.  Nevertheless preferred lies were in operation as the balls frequently lodged in the snow, and the ball travelled a shorter distance possibly due to the extreme sub-zero temperatures.  A new form of golf has emerged called speedgolf- a combination of golf and playing as quickly as possible, which is pretty much what we did to counter the conditions.

Paul_TitleistPaul Dunstan, an associate championship director with the European Tour golf played the best round of the day, including chipping in off a TV camera, taking the crown from David Scott who had come out on top at Wild Golf Namibia, where golf was played in temperatures of +40 degrees, in the world’s largest bunker, the Namib desert. Future events are tentatively planned for the Himalaya, and the Salt flats of Bolivia.

BRITISH ADVENTURERS TO BREAK NEW GROUND IN MONGOLIA

There is starting to be a bit of press interest in the trip to Outer Mongolia. Here is a little info, in case it is helpful.  Currently at the airport, it should be a cracker!

With average temperatures of -40 Celsius, and the lowest density of human habitation on earth, Mongolia in winter is widely considered one of the most beautiful, yet savage places on earth.  Perhaps it is unsurprising that few have attempted any serious endurance challenges there in winter, but January 2016 will see a band of hardy British adventurers attempt the inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon, run not on land, but along the frozen Tuul gol river, an area heavily populated with wolves, with the route patrolled by teams of huskies to ensure their safety.

Genghis Khan Ice Marathon start

These challenges have been set by expedition leader David Scott of Sandbaggers (www.sand-baggers.com) , a veteran of over 20 trips to Mongolia, and Dr Andrew Murray.

Scott, 42, from Glasgow, who is also Mongolian Honorary Consul for Scotland:

“Effort alone will not be enough.  Competitors will need to prepare themselves thoroughly for the frigid conditions, have the necessary quality clothing, and need a fair slice of luck, particularly with the weather. We have several teams of huskies to resupply runners, and ensure interactions with the local wildlife are safe.  And although there is a chance of failure, this is an area of extreme beauty, of vast skies, unique culture, and a rich history. It is also an opportunity for a world first. The runners are no strangers to extreme endurance, and they come from all corners of the globe.

It’s a real privilege to be involved in furthering relations between Mongolia and Scotland.  This is the latest in a series of sporting and cultural events and I’m particularly honoured to be attending the 5th Ulan Bator Burns supper with such illustrious company, in advance of the event itself.’

Murray, 35 from Edinburgh, who works as a Sports and Exercise Doctor with University of Edinburgh and is a Merrell brand ambassador added

Training in Scotland

“It is human nature to test yourself, and try and test your own body’s limits.  I can’t say that my support crew has ever been a pack of huskies before, but I’ll be giving it everything I have to get to the finish and avoid frostbite and hypothermia. Conditions are expected to be -35 to minus 40, but it is likely to feel a little colder with the wind chill. But all those hours training up in the Scottish hills in winter whilst everyone else is enjoying their Christmas festivities will be worth it. Everyone will look to do well, but the principle objective is to finish, and have a full complement of fingers and toes to go home with- Dave Scott is the best in the business and will give us every chance.

Outer Mongolia is beyond spectacular. Where else could you run down an ice river in an area so steeped in history, with the prospect of a Burns supper, complete with a pipe band to look forward to when we arrive in Ulan Bator. In this endeavour, many of us are looking to promote the value of regular exercise for health. Even walking 30 minutes 5 times per week, makes you on average happier, and helps you live 7 years longer than couch potatoes.”

Shona Thomson, who has run marathons on all seven continents and the North Pole, is heading up the fundraising for RDA. Shona, who is sponsored by Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports, said,

Mongolian community on the Tuul river

“It’s incredible to be involved in this expedition and I’m looking forward to meeting old and new friends. I’ve got several objectives for the trip. Primarily, I want to raise a lot of funding for Riding for the Disabled (RDA) and the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH). In addition to running the marathon, I’ll also be riding a Mongolian pony to help raise awareness of RDA. I’ve not ridden for years so I’m hoping that at a minimum the pony has been broken in!
I’m also looking forward to experiencing a new culture and visiting a country I might never have otherwise got to see. It’ll be wonderful to see the beautiful landscapes on the marathon course.

The expedition will support Scottish Charities Riding for the Disabled Association and the Scottish Association for Mental Health, whilst legacy work in Mongolia will see the building of gers (homes) for needy families, and the donation of medical equipment to rural communities

Our fundraising link and video can be seen here:

Fundraising link http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/GhengisKhanIceMarathon

Fundraising video https://youtu.be/TuO5ZQKXTGc

The event will be supported by expedition organisers Sandbaggers, while Paisley based Digitalpict Photography will provide event & expedition photography, and HUTC will capture documentary and news video footage.

Fundraising link http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/GhengisKhanIceMarathon

For further information, please contact

Dave Scott (expedition organiser, logistics/safety/Mongolian liaison) david@sand-baggers.com 07717755166

Andrew Murray (athlete) docandrewmurray@googlemail.com

Shona Thomson (RDA) shonat25@hotmail.com 07967975872

RACING NEXT WEEK! AND WHAT’S AHEAD

In 2012, I fancied trying out the extremes of temperature. This included running in the chilly North Pole, the Antarctic Ice Marathon, the searing heat of Outer Mongolia in their summer, as well as doing 7 ultra marathons on the 7 continents in under a week. I guess it was a form of extreme sightseeing. The year was pretty full on from a work point of view, never mind the bonus of travelling.
So for 2013, the plan was to spend a bit of time in the hills with Jennie doing our own thing, and sharing these sights with her. We’ve been in the hills of Skye, the Dolomites in Italy, as well as a whole range of other places in our trusty campervan.

Running in Dolomites

Running in Dolomites- Andrew Murray

I also wanted to spend a bit of time with my family, so an ideal solution was to head to Kenya, where I was brought up, learn a load from the best athletes on earth, as well as running up and down mt Kilimanjaro, mt Kenya, and running ultras each day we were out there. I also ran in the Scottish Championship race, managing to be first Scot home (although I hadn’t formally registered with Scottish Athletics so didn’t get the trophy.) Another part of the world I’ve always wanted to spend time is the Giant’s Causeway, so the chance to race and perform well out there was one I looked forward to.

Running that volume of ultras in the summer (18 in 18 days) killed any speed I had so it would have been pointless competing before now, but next week sees the IAAF/ IAU World Trophy 50km series come to Austria. I’ll hopefully  be racing for UVU/ Merrell out there in what promises to be an epic.

Having said that my knee flared up running in the hills at the weekend, so I will have to treat it aggressively, and see if it responds.  I’d planned to run Cairngorm and Ben MacDui , and felt ok until MacDui. At this point my knee hurt enough to make running painful so I just walked back. The weather had clagged in and i traversed around to get back quicker- but got myself a few hundred yards off course. I was pretty cold, and was pleased to see a couple climbers from England who not only pointed me in the right direction, but seeing i was shivering actually offered to walk me back to the furnicular for a ride down. I was offered a hot chocolate and a warm blanket by incredibly helpful staff at Cairngorm Mountain. I would have got myself down but the kindness, jacket and hot chocolate were most welcome. Even though I’ve spent time in some famously cold places, the wind and drenching rain in the hills can be as cold as anywhere, and has reminded me to make sure I pack extra clothes and food. Scotland has some of the most breathtaking and beautiful mountains (as well as some of the friendliest walkers) on earth, but it can get cold fairly quickly.

My right knee currently is twice the size of my left due to a pre-patellar bursitis, so hopefully this settles in time.  If the knee doesn’t settle- i’ll go out to Austria but not race.

2014 is quite a hectic year work wise for me, with the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, along with my usual work. But to be honest I am not sure I would cope with not having a challenge or two on the horizon, so I will definitely go out and race in the 50km World Trophy Final (qualification permitting), I’ll be doing an exciting challenge with Donnie Campbell in Scotland, and have an exciting speedclimb in Asia up my sleeve.
So I’m looking forward to next week, and year. This year I’ve benefitted from so much support not only from principal sponsors UVU racing, Merrell, and the Balmoral, but from friends, family, and all those that have collected shoes for Running Across Borders, or money for APCA, and SAMH. Together we’ve managed to send more than 800 pairs of shoes, and vital medical supplies to many locations worldwide, and raised well over £100 000 for the Yamaa trust, APCA, and SAMH. It’s also great to have established links with excellent organisations like the John Ngugi Foundation.

Andrew