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The Gobi 10: What They Know


The Gobi 10: What They Know

For the uninitiated, the world of endurance racing is exotic but daunting. It’s a self-selecting world of elite athletes who test themselves not only against long-distance competition but also adverse conditions. And they come back again and again for what ordinary mortals might consider unusual punishment.

What makes them tick? Surprisingly, endurance racers are not that different from you and me. Their basic secrets are good discipline and good attitude. Training strategies vary from short to long distances. But what they get out of it seems to be in common – a fresh perspective on daily life and renewed self-knowledge.

RacingThePlanet: Vietnam included one group of endurance race alumni who were especially qualified to comment on the subject – the 10 who joined RacingThePlanet’s first Gobi March in 2003 – Robert Byrne, Robert Coyne, William Hawthorne, Vadim Khazatsky, Chris Lewis, Alasdair Morrison, Philip Mosimann, Gunnar Nilsson, Ji Sung Yoo, and Bradley Youngblood. Morrison, Nilsson and Yoo are also veterans of all the 4 Deserts races.

Consider the following:

Robert Byrne: “An ultra-marathon normally is a one-day event. Whenever you’re finished, you’re done. I approach this not as a six-day event but as six one-day events. The important things are logistics, foot care, and pacing yourself. You can’t just take off one day and have nothing left after that.”

“Your legs are carrying your brains and your eyes. On the first day, there I was trudging in the mud up and up. You could have thought you were in the most primitive place in the world. Suddenly this guy appears on a motorcycle and whips out a cell phone and takes my picture.”

“The people are so warm. They have one of two reactions – they either smile and wave or avert their gaze. But there’s this great curiosity on either side of the equation. So many places you go, people put on their traditional dress because they’re performing. Here, that’s what they’re wearing. Ten years from now, they’ll all be wearing blue jeans, and they’ll only put on headscarves or whatever when they’re putting on a show. I will leave here not with memories of mud but memories of people.”

Robert Coyne: “To me it’s all mental. I don’t care where I place. I’ll train for this once a year and at other times don’t do anything. There are only so many daylight hours. When I get back, there’s this insane focus – whatever gets thrown at you, you can handle.”

“I keep coming back for two reasons. One is that I think about absolutely nothing but the next checkpoint while I’m running. The key word is nothing. It’s meditative. I leave all the pressures behind. They only thing you have to worry about is a little bit of pain. The second reason is that it resets your appreciation of things. When you get home, and get into your ordinary routine, suddenly that slice of pizza looks really, really great.”

Philip Mosimann: “It’s a good reason to get out and do something for your mental and physical balance, to get away from home and business. It absolutely makes the heart grow fonder. It’s fantastic to test your limits, even if you mentally break down.”

“My edge is in preparing food. We have our own food – Alasdair [Morrison] calls us the Swiss chefs. We have always cooked our own food and put a premium on flavor. We bring Swiss praline chocolate with hazelnuts and pita bread. Sometimes a food line appears outside our tent. You don’t need too much food, but it has to taste right.”

“Mentally, the most important thing for me is to be disciplined with my pack. I split everything up. I do an extremely detailed inventory – clothes, toiletry, medical kit, food, everything. That gives me mental confidence. I’m already prepared for the next few days. I really think a lot about it. I started with a 14- kilo pack in the Gobi and now I’m down to 9 kilos or less. Every kilo you lose takes hours off your day. It’s nice to be back early and get to enjoy your rest.”

“I didn’t do crazy 50-60 kilometer runs. I only trained with my brother in the park. If your body feels good you feel much better too. I did run 50-60 kilometers when I trained for the Gobi. But for the last few weeks, I did 15 kilometers to a maximum of 20 kilometers a week. Six months ago, I knew I had to do 2-3 runs a week. During the week, I would do 3-5 kilometers a day.”

“How much do you have to train to feel good? Will running that extra distance just injure yourself? I do shorter but faster runs. In the future, there may be a whole different type of training, with shorter but more intense runs.”

Bradley Youngblood: “I just like being outdoors. I don’t like the roads that much. I just like nature and the camaraderie. There are people here that I’ve know for five years, on and off.”

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