On Sunday, June 18th, I will begin my fifth multi-day, self supported ultramarathon. This one takes place in the East-Asian country of Mongolia - Racing The Planet’s Gobi March! In Part 2 of my blog series called “Endless Horizons: Nomadic Adventures of an Ultramarathon Runner in Mongolia”, I will provide you with a short cultural overview of this amazing country and also walk you through the basic itinerary for runners traveling to and competing in an event like this.
History, Geography, and Culture
Mongolia has a fascinating history, dating back to ancient times. The region has been inhabited for thousands of years, with evidence of early human settlements dating back to the Stone Age. In the 13th century, Mongolia was unified under the rule of Genghis Khan, who established the Mongol Empire and expanded its territory to include much of Asia and parts of Europe. The empire lasted for several centuries before declining and eventually collapsing in the 14th century.
Mongolia is landlocked by Russia to the north and China to the south, east, and west. The country’s geography is characterized by vast open spaces, with large areas of steppe, desert, and mountainous terrain. Visitors can expect a continental climate, with extreme temperatures ranging from -40°C (-40°F) in the winter to 30°C (86°F) in the summer. The country is home to many important natural landmarks, including the Gobi Desert, the Altai Mountains, and Lake Khuvsgul.
Ulaanbaatar, the vibrant capital city of Mongolia, offers a unique blend of ancient traditions and modern developments. Nestled amidst rolling hills and vast open plains, this bustling metropolis serves as the cultural, economic, and political heart of the country. The city is a melting pot of diverse cultures, with a rich tapestry of Mongolian, Russian, and Asian influences. Visitors can explore intriguing museums, immerse themselves in the lively atmosphere of the central Sukhbaatar Square, and indulge in the flavors of Mongolian cuisine like buuz (steamed dumplings filled with meat), khuushuur (deep-fried meat pies), and airag (fermented mare's milk). Ulaanbaatar will serve as the initial meeting place for all of the runners participating in the Gobi March..
Getting to the starting Line
It will take me two full days to get to Mongolia from the United States. All competitors are required to arrive in Ulaanbaatar by Friday, June 16th. That’s when everyone is required to check in with the race organizers. Following a night in a hotel, we’ll complete a mandatory gear/paperwork inspection before heading out to the start of the race by bus.
The Gobi March takes place in the Karakorum region of the country. The start of the race is the Khar Bukh Balgas Fortress ruins which is about 230 kilometers west of Ulaanbaatar. It will take us a little over 3 hours to get to what is called Camp 1.
Upon arriving at Camp 1, me and my fellow competitors will be greeted by the race staff, volunteers and, possibly, some local residents. We will get our tent assignments for the week, and then start preparing our equipment and settling in for the first night in camp.
The first evening is typically spent sitting around the campfire catching up with old friends and making new ones. This community of runners is pretty small so I am expecting to see a couple dozen colleagues that I raced with in 2022. I’m sure the atmosphere in camp will be energetic and light. Afterall, this will be more like a reunion and less like a highly competitive race.
A Day In The Life
The race officially starts on Sunday morning. Typically, each day’s race starts around 8 am and ends when the last competitor crosses the finish line. Like the other races, the Gobi March consists of six stages over seven days. Normally, four of the stages are each about 25 miles long (+/-), the “long march” is typically around 50 miles (+/-) and the last stage is usually somewhere around five to six miles. Runners normally get an “off day” following the long march.
The camps - or bivouacs - are moved every day. Sleep tents are normally set up in a semi circle around an open “courtyard" with small tables, folding stools and firepits. Sometimes there are pop-up tents for shade. There is a medical tent where runners can get care from the medical staff for blisters or other minor injuries. There is usually a centralized firepit where race volunteers keep kettles of boiling water ready so runners can prepare hot drinks, broth or freeze dried meals. In the evenings the race staff provides access to a “cyber lounge” where runners can read and send emails and even write blog posts. Primitive latrines are provided for runners but that is the only luxury. There are no showers and nowhere to wash clothes (unless there happens to be a nearby river).
When the race is over there is normally a small finish line celebration with beer, soda, local food and entertainment. After everyone is finished we will load the buses and head back to Ulaanbaatar. That night there will be a banquet for all of the competitors where awards are presented and everyone will have the chance to reflect on the past week by watching a slideshow and video produced by the media team.
Doing these races is a great way to see the world. Throughout this race I will have the opportunity to experience Mongolian culture in ways that most normal travelers never have. I’ll even get the opportunity to spend the night in an authentic Ger (Yurt)! I can’t wait!
In part three of this blog series I will cover how I plan, train and equip for events like this. Part four will come after the event is over and will include a photo journal of my experience before, during and after the race.
Thank you again for following my story! If you have any questions or want to know more about me or the Gobi March, post a question below or send an email to email@example.com