When: June 19 – 21st, 2015
Race distance: 100km over 3 days (40-40-20km)
Where: Mongolia – 300km south of Ulaanbaatar, at the border of Gobi Desert.
Organizer: Action Asia Hong Kong
Registration Fee: HKD 6,900 (4 nights accommodation & meals included)
Why: Breathtaking landscape of the vast grassland and steppe of Mongolia. A chance to experience an ultra distance race in a remote place with relatively comfortable accommodation (nice real beds with mattresses and fresh showers – some with hot water).
– How to get there: from Jakarta, there are a few flight options, via Beijing by Air China or via Hong Kong by Mongolian Air. Mongolian Air has plans to start flying to Ulaan Baatar from Singapore by end of 2015
– Accommodation: Race fee includes 4 nights accommodation (3 nights in Mongolian gert camps and 1 night in a hotel), all meals, and group transportation for 4 nights
– Visa: Indonesian passports’ holders need visa while most of other countries do not. My visa took almost a month to be processed, mostly for the long waiting time in getting approval from the Mongolian Central of Intelligence. Get a good Mongolian travel agent to help in this. I used Goyo Travel for my visa application and to arrange subsequent trip extension in Mongolia
This is the first multi-stage and longer-than-a-marathon-distance race I have ever attended, registering this on a whim (thanks to Anu’s optimism on everyone’s ability!), thinking that I might not necessarily end up doing it (I did have a few Did_Not_Start races on records). My objective of doing this race is to simply finish it and enjoy the experience. Going in, I did not have much expectation on this race and did not do proper training other than my regular weekly runs since it did not have a Cut-Off-Time. Looking back, the overall trip has been one of the highlights of my year so far.
Arrived at Chingis Khan International Airport Ulaan Baatar on-time at noon after a long overnight flight from Jakarta via Singapore and Beijing, only to find that we would need to wait 6hours plus to wait for the group arriving from Hong Kong. Since the organizer is based in HK, most of the participants came from HK. We ended up leaving the airport after 8pm heading to our camp-site for the next 3 nights. There were 4 big busses and the bus-journey took almost 5 hours on a combination of asphalt and dirt roads.
Photo credit: Anuroop’s camera. In front of the Ulaan Baatar International Airport
We arrived after midnight, headed to our assigned gert camps, and attended a very late dinner and race technical briefing for the first-day race. A long day and certainly a shorter night than I expected to be. But a glimpse to the night sky when I walked out to the toilet in the middle of the night erased all my worries. There I was in the middle of nowhere looking into the brightly illuminated sky with stars, a luxury compared to night skies I am used to in Jakarta. I did not even know why I was doing the race, no real preparations for this, no long runs done before this, but right then I knew I would have a memorable and enjoyable experience no matter what.
Day 1 (Supposed to be 42-43km but I had 36.3km on my Garmin)
Total elevation gain: 626m, average altitude: around 1,500m above sea level
Average temperature: 22 C
The race started a little late, 8am, due to our late arrival the night before. The weather and temperature were perfect, a good change from Jakarta and I felt amazingly enthusiastic. The plan was to try running the whole course at slow pace. The first 10km went very well, I managed to maintain a good pace between 6-7min/km across flat terrains and power walked any uphill, while enjoying the unbelievably BEAUTIFUL landscapes, a combination of steppe and rocky mountains, that seemed to be endless. The course was very well marked with friendly and enthusiastic marshals at every 1-2km. We passed a small Buddhist monument at the top of a hill at around km 20. Fortunately, I was running with a friendly guy who used to work in Jakarta, which gave us the opportunity to help each other take a nice photograph there. After that, we had a nice downhill run all the way to checkpoint 2 at around 25-26km (but at 22km on my watch).
Endless steppe wherever I looked
Friendly marshal along the course, hiding under a big umbrella
Did not want to miss a photo moment in front of this stupa
Then things got a bit more challenging from there. The whole course from CP2 to CP3 was a slight uphill with sandy course. I was starting to have a pull at the back of my right knee which was hurting (thanks to high heels), so I ran and walked the next 9km until we reached CP3. Refreshed by a banana and a quick stretch, the last 8-9km felt much easier. Of course, the soft downhill also helped. The only challenging part was that I was all by myself. During a downhill course, just a few km before the finish line, I spotted the photographer, Lloyd, taking some snaps, which resulted this picture below, a nice memento, thank you!
At the end, I finished the first day in 5 hours 21mins, 30th position overall and third in my category. Over my target of 5 hours but overall I was quite happy with my efforts then.
Day 2 (40km)
Total elevation gain: 770m, average altitude: around 1,550m above sea level
Average temperature: 24C
The race on second day started one hour earlier at 7am. Despite of a good night sleep, I still felt lethargic and still had pain on my right knee. I knew from the start that it would be a difficult day so my strategy was to have people with similar pace to run/walk together until the finish line. In addition to my lack of energy, we had much more climbs (or what felt like it – it certainly does not look so on the statistics from my Garmin!) But the pictures below proved it. Each km felt very long so I was very thankful to my companies of the day, especially to the kind father-daughter pair.
I must have walked at least half of the distance the second day that I finished it in more than 7 hours, but still third overall in my category.
Photo credit: Adrian Dunner. With the high-spirited and friendly father-daughter runners
Photo credit: Adrian Dunner. The longest 10km of my life…..
Day 3 (20km!!)
The participants voted to have an earlier start time on this final day so we started at 6:30am. Never before I was so looking forward to do a 20km run and felt the distance was so short. Adding to all those factors, we also had almost no climbs on the last day. The only challenge I still had was the lingering pain at the back of my right knee, which has gotten better but was still there.
Overall, the third day went fairly well, I could ran most of the course, although at slower pace that I would like to and completed it below 3 hours. I still finished third for my category for a total time of 15 hours plus. I felt that I could have pushed myself more especially on the second and last day but anyhow happy with the learning I had from the experience. Truly, that was really where mind over matter ruled. All three days I was only racing against myself and the other competitors were there to support me.
I was really thankful that I had the opportunity to do this race with a group of great friends, old and new, and met some really inspiring people. I would not be able to do this if I have not found a strong running community in Jakarta (Jakarta Free Spirit) who has always been very supportive and fun (the key word!) since the start of my running 2 years ago, when I could not even finish a 10km run without walking. So this summer, I just completed a 100-km race with a big smile at the finish line and I am pretty damn happy about it. I would definitely do it again.
Last day landscape – looking very happy
Photo credit: Antoine Izard. At the award ceremony