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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Gobi Marathon

On Friday I left to return to the Gobi desert one more time. The night we stayed in a monastery which we could explore the next morning. They had the biggest Ger in Mongolia, it was really huge. Inside there was a smaller golden Ger which was used for ceremonies. Next to it was a very nice temple which looked brand new. No wonder, the monastery was opened just one month ago.
From there we drove south, before reaching Dalanzadgad we turned west and ended up at the Ghenghis Bulls Camp. This was a first class Ger Camp. They even had showers with hot water, real toilets, stoves in each Ger and a Ger which served as a restaurant. For dinner we had Spaghetti with a dream of a sauce. I haven’t had such a good sauce in a long time...

Sunday morning was the big day. Originally I just wanted to do the half-marathon (21.1km), but after speaking with the other participants I thought: “What the heck, I can do that!” We drove 30 minutes to the starting line, which was in the steppe. We were 14 participants: 10 runners trying for the full marathon (42.195km), 2 runners doing the half-marathon and two walkers.

The first 10 km went through pretty flat steppe. After 5 km I already had stitches in the side, but I ignored them and ran on. Around km 12 we ran through a couple of sand dunes. One of them was hedged! Afterwards we came to the conclusion that it probably was an experiment to stop desertification, because there was a grid of stones at the base of the sand dune.
The running was quite hard at times, because the way was sandy and it wasn’t easy to find firm footing.
Then the steppe returned and it stayed flat till I reached the half-way-mark. It took me 2 hours 30 minutes to complete the first part and I was running almost the whole distance. By then my thighs were hurting quite badly, nevertheless I went on. From then on I ended up walking most of the way, because I was way too exhausted to run.
Soon after the half-way-mark I ended up following Joachim, the organizer of the marathon, and not really looking at the markings, he should know the way after all. Suddenly a jeep came up to us and the driver pointed wildly to the right. Joachim was pretty sure about his way and only slightly adjusted the route. After we reached the next hill we saw the refreshment station way behind us further to the right, we had done a detour!
Around km 28 I could stop the van which had my backpack and I took the iPod out. That gave me another burst of much needed energy. Labia, System of a Down, Taproot and P.M.T. helped me to forget the pain and to get on with it.
After km 36 it got sandy again. Fortunately I could see the Flaming Cliffs on the horizon and so I went on. The Flaming Cliffs were a sight to behold. Even though I was very tired and the road got hilly again, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful rocks. After a steep incline I reached the top of the cliffs, I realized that they were the same cliffs we had visited on our first trip, the ones where they sold the precious stones. Next to the place where stones were sold was the finishing line. I reached it after 6 hours and 6 minutes. I was totally exhausted, but extremely happy that I had managed to complete it, without any training or special preparation.

The next day we started at 8.45am to drive back to UB. To my surprise we headed to the Flaming Cliffs again and ended up going the same route we took on our first Gobi trip. But this time we did it in one stretch. We finally arrived in UB at 9.30pm.

Now, two days after the marathon, my thighs are still hurting. But I wouldn't have wanted to miss this unique experience.

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