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From Yorkshire to the Wilds

From Yorkshire to the Flower H’mong Trail

You might think that David Annadale and Emma Dawber were an ordinary British couple, even if Annadale is built like a northern bear and Dawber can run 100 kilometers like a deer.

But the Annadale-Dawbers have a penchant for adventure and a history of extraordinary travel.

If they seem at home in the highlands of northeastern Vietnam, working as volunteers for RacingThePlanet: Vietnam, it is because their world includes remote and out of the way places as a matter of course. They are veterans of some of the world’s foremost adventure and endurance races, including Marathon de Sables, the Himalaya 100, and RacingThePlanet’s 4 Deserts races.

While Dawber’s job was in the medical tent, Annadale had to fit the course concept into a jigsaw map of trails, roads and footpaths – each one of which he personally walked and evaluated for the race. “With all due modesty, in some respects, the job I’ve done this time is harder than being a competitor,” he said.

Part of the attraction “is areas that most people don’t want to go to,” said Annadale. “It’s about being physically fit and active, and being outdoors in the countryside,” said Dawber. “I enjoy every minute of it. I’m quite happy when walking or running, quite peaceful.”

At home, their life is as tranquil as rural England. They live in Lockington, a village of 120 households and no streetlights, in a rural area of East Yorkshire. Annadale, 51, is a trustee of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, and every one of their pets – Jerry and four cats – is a pound dog. Twenty years ago, he entered the family business manufacturing and importing products for kitchens and bathrooms. Dawber, 42, is a doctor specializing in women’s health and palliative care.

They train every night, running with headlamps in the Yorkshire mud, with their dog Jerry. On weekends, they head for the hills to camp and hike with Jerry. “We’re made to be out there,” said Dawber. “We’re hunters and gatherers after all.” She describes running as “a spiritual thing.”

“I don’t wear an iPod. Part of it is about listening to the wind and the river and being at one with nature.”

Their trips, however, take them far from Lockingdale – very far – to pursue their mutual passion for running, hiking and mountaineering. In 1994, when they married, the couple planned their wedding so that they could leave immediately afterwards to take advantage of the prime mountaineering season in Nepal. They spent a month on their own on the rooftop of the world, climbing Kala Pata, a 20,000 ft. peak with grand views of the Himalayan massif.

They met on an expedition to climb a little known mountain in Iceland, organized by the Yorkshire Exploring Society. Dawber was the physician to the expedition; Annadale was the climbing director.

Mary Gadams, C.E.O. of RacingThePlanet, came into their lives when they met her at the Sunrise to Sunset race at Lake Hovsgal in Mongolia. They struck up a friendship over a bowl of porridge.

“Mary told us about her dream to set up a race series,” said David. “Mary has done a lot of races and we have as well. We had a bet on porridge that I lost.” Annadale said the soup was Scottish; Mary insisted it was American and was right. He ended up trying to send two cans of porridge to her in Seoul at a cost much greater than the soup itself. Years later, he heard about her first Gobi March and signed up. Since then, the rapport has grown.

Annadale and Dawber have been both volunteers and competitors with RacingThePlanet. Dawber won the women’s title in the Atacama Crossing in 2007. Annadale has raced in the Gobi March and Atacama Crossing. Both have worked as volunteers before as well – Dawber twice in the Gobi March, and Annadale on a Gobi March as well. 

Dawber’s warmth and ready laughter, and her medical skills, as well as Annadale’s robust sense of humor and professionalism have left their imprint on RacingThePlanet: Vietnam. They have special memories as well.

For both Dawber and Annadale, the highlight of RacingThePlanet: Vietnam were the unusual cultures in the misty Hoang Lien Mountains, whose tribal people have had little contact with the outside world. The entire region has been restricted from tourism until recently, because it is so close to the Chinese border.

Annadale spent nearly a month in Vietnam during the race and pre-race preparations. In one trek along trails he was considering for the race, he stumbled into a village in an area where no one had seen an outsider for many years. The people ran into hiding, until he smiled and waved – at which point “everyone came out with a big smile on their faces,” he said. 

 “The women come up to you and talk to you and want to bond with you. That’s really special,” said Dawber. “These were really magic moments.”

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