Earlier this year, I was excited by an invite to travel to China and participate in the Gobi 100k. Although the course profile - hot desert sand - didn't necessarily fit the profile of race course I am competant at or really preparing for, I jumped at the opportunity to check out a new country and a new race venue.
After a trans-Pacific flight I arrived in Beijing for a brief one night layover before heading to Jiuquan where the race would be held in a weeks time. I managed to adjust to the local time pretty quickly and got a full nights sleep upon arriving. I typically don't struggle too much with reseting my internal clock when traveling, but this was about as seemless a switch as I can remember.
I didn't get much of a chance to check out Beijing for the exception of a short shake out run near the airport, but it was still fun to observe some of the local habits in China as I casually jogged along a busy road. One reaccuring observance I first noticed was the huge amount of scouters and the impressive amount of people and belongings one can stuff on such a small vehicle!
Jiuquan was my next stop, and the area I would spend most of my trip. I spent the first couple days exploring the immediate surroundings taking note of the the things that seemed routine for this area that may stick out or be uncommon back home. I alwasy enjoy doing this when traveling as I feel it is quite eye opening to see the difference in cultures and habits. It was much different from most other international trips I've taken as the language barrier was much steeper. There was little to no English used by the populace as well as the signage. It made grocery shopping and navigating quite intriguing. This, coupled with the strict internet regulations, had me quite disconnected for the majority of the trip. It was quite nice to somewhat seperate from the digital world. It really does allow you to pay closer attention to your surroundings and appreciate little things that can easily go unnoticed when you connect to the vastness that is modern day technology.
After a couple days, most of the other Gobi 100k participants arrived in Jiuquan. As a group, we planned a day trip to tour a portion of the Great Wall of China (see pics below), and with the help of our taxi drivier turned tour guide were taken to a less visited portion of the Wall that offered some spectacular views of the Gobi Desert, long stretches of the Wall, and a very steep stair case that really allowed for an appreciation of the vast archeticural endevour that building such an enormous strucuture had entailed.
The night before the event, the race organization put on a huge pre-race celebration. It was clear that the even and it's sponsored wanted the participants to go home with a very positive experience, and to feel welcome. It was a picture perfect experience of the Chinese ambition to showing all they had to offer.
Race day morning was exciting. At it's core it had all the basic pre-race infrastructure in place to get ready to run. It definitely had an extra boost from Ford - title sponsor - which surely allowed for some cool additions of a Chinese drum band, helicopter news coverage by China National Television, and a thunderous start to the race.
The race itself was well orgainized with aid stations every five kilometers or less along it's two-loop 50k route. My thoughts going in was that dispite the sand it's flat - for the exception of the sand dunes - would provide a pretty fast route. I was wrong! The soft sand is best described as two steps forward one step back, and even the described harder ground sections felt soft to a road and track dweller like myself. It didn't take too long before I realized my preconcieved thoughts of finishing under 8 hours was not going to be a reality, and as the day played on 9 hours became the reality. It was a great experience dispite not being very prepared for the sand. I quite enjoy jumping into events that don't match my skill set from time to time if for nothing else than to experience a new environment.
I was in good company with the sand incompetancy as many of the other races had little experience in sand, and the hot day took its toll on many who went out quite quick. A handful of drops and walk in finishes allowed me to move up despite a massive possitive split myself. In fact, I came quite close to dropping at one point when I had some pretty clear signs of dehydration, but decided to focus primiarily on water and electrolytes for a few aid staitons before submitting to the course. Thankfully, I was able to get a reasonable enough amount of hydration back on track to finish; albeit slow and steady. Ultimately I came in sixth place claiming the last bit of prize money for the event and one massive sunburn on my forehead.
Post race Gobi was equally as top notch as the preperation put into the festivities beforehand. The orgainization putting on the even made sure it was an experience one would go home and talk about. It was also great to chat with new friends, hear their stories of the day in the desert, and capture one last day of site seeing before heading back to California.