As a first-timer I found posts like this particularly useful from past races so thought I would throw in my tuppence-worth, in the hope that someone might find it vaguely helpful.
Now that the hangover has dissipated from the awards banquet and subsequent frivolities in Kashgar and I am forced to return to the real world and my 4 screens, I find myself reflecting on a week that surpassed all my expectations. Sure, my results were a surprising cherry on the cake, but more importantly these races are about experiencing places and cultures you might otherwise never see, forming bonds with like-minded people, and witnessing the best of the human spirit. Rookie tent 13 has to go down in history as the most fun tent ever- to Piers, Blinky, Cox, Davids, Hendo, Julian, Pam, Lisa, Paul and honorary tentie Steph, I just loved all the banter and bad jokes (Hendo) and you all absolutely made the week what it was. For anyone out there currently sitting on the fence as to whether to sign up for one of these events, just go ahead and pull the trigger- I promise you won't regret it. I signed up for Iceland less than a week after the Gobi finish!
Things I did well and would do again next time:
- arriving a day earlier than recommended, therefore avoiding baggage traumas and allowing extra time for gear organisation/ consolidation
- getting my friends to burn me playlists that I had not listened to before the race... absolute GOLD if you are flying solo
- running my own race, listening to my body, staying totally within my own limits and not following anyone else
- being insanely anal about every single piece of kit on the list and hunting down the lightest possible option... every impulse purchase will add up on your pack weight
- planning, weighing and portioning each day's food and supplements into ziplock bags (yes, yes, like the OCD nut job that I am, but it worked)
- organising my kit into 3 dry bags: 1) food, 2) all the soft stuff like clothes, socks, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, 3) everything else... this keeps everything compressed and easy to pack, and means you always know where to find things... plus #2 also doubles as a pillow
- a fresh pair of Injijis for each day that I threw away... an expensive and weighty indulgence but hey, I was back in my stilettos two days after the finish
- compression tights for recovery... I don't know why they work, they just do
- poles... I was really on the fence about bringing these as I don't train with them, but they were absolute gold dust on some of that terrain
- snacking at every checkpoint, alternating sweet and salty... especially on the long day
- a sturdier pair of camp shoes than hotel slippers, which fell apart on most people
Things I would do differently:
- if I never see another orange packet again in my life it will be too soon... next time I will go with Mountain House- not as calorific, but at least it looks and tastes like real food
- I bought the small-sized Thermarest Neo-Air X-Lite thinking it would save me weight, but I didn't have one good night's sleep as I kept toppling off it... a full-length, or a Z-Lite, or even nothing at all would have been preferable
- gaiters definitely make sense- there isn't much sand, but there is still a lot of dust and shingle that can do damage... however finding the right ones is tricky- I had the Raidlight desert mini-gaiters, they were too tight on my cankles and painful, plus they were shredded after only two days
- a spare camera battery is definitely worth the weight, I was gutted when my camera died on day 4
- I went one size up from normal on my shoes, next time I would go two sizes up
- pre-emptive paper taping of potential foot hotspots, and taping my back and hips right from the start rather than waiting for chafing to emerge
- silk-screening the patches onto all my tops... makes them easier to pack down and saves weight!
I can probably think of a million other things but you are doubtless all bored of me by now... so until I see you in Reykjavik, stay well. xoxo
Well, I did it. Even if I have to crawl over that line tomorrow I know I will finish. That's all I came here to do, anything else is a bonus and a complete surprise. I honestly did not think for one minute when signing up and training for this that it would go this well, so the results are the icing on the cake of an amazing experience.
I'm struggling to think of something witty to say about the Long March... to be honest it was just a hell of a slog and I was seriously chuffed to cross the line in daylight. No real low points, thankfully I got that out of the way on Stage 4, but I just got my head down, iPod on, and kept up a consistent pace with no mishaps. The scenery was beautiful but sadly my camera battery had died on day 4. The terrain was pretty straightforward so I managed to jog maybe 80% of it. Catching up to Virginie and Steph briefly at about half way was a big boost, but soon they were specks in the distance again. I got hit with some pretty crazy weather about 55km in crossing a huge flat plain, starting with a heavy side wind, then a dust and sand storm, followed by rain. I tried making a joke to the folks at Checkpoint 6 thanking them for arranging the exfoliating facial followed by shower, but I don't think they were too entertained since they had to stand out there for hours in it. The last 8km seemed to go on forever for my achy legs but the poles came out and got me through. After a good sleep (despite the drums pounding through the night welcoming people across the line) I bizarrely feel pretty good again.
We are now having the rest day at a stunning campsite with the snow-capped Kunlun mountains in the distance. The stars last night were just unreal. The camp looks like a bit of a war zone with everyone hobbling around but we are all in high spirits and enjoying hanging out chatting. Tomorrow is just an easy 15k to the finish and more of a formality than anything. Steph and I are trying to see if we can cobble together the top 5 girls to run it together, I hope they all agree to that. I just can't wait for a shower, a big greasy pizza and a beer or 5.
Playlist of the day: Loni and Iccle. You were with me every step of the way girls. It did entertain me how many common songs there were!!
Song of the day: What a feeling. Do not judge unless you too are out here trying to pull this off.
Blister watch: Strangely enough my feet are in better shape now than they were after day 1??!!!
Glam-O-Meter: Well it's good that red Gobi bandanas (which hide a multitude of sins) and compression tights are de rigeur here. My running shorts now stand up by themselves... yum.
First and most importantly, a big birthday shout out to my not-so-little-any-more brother Jacob. Sorry I can't call but I'm thinking of you and hoping you have a brilliant day. Same goes to my brother-in-law Nigel for tomorrow as I won't be able to blog tomorrow with it being the looooooonnnnnng day.
So I'm going to rename today's stage "The thank f*** I brought my poles" day (sorry Mum but it was necessary). We began with the climb up to Heaven's Gate at 2930m which was absolutely spectacular and totally worth the schlep up. Even better we were allowed to ditch our packs at the bottom for that part, due to the somewhat hairy ladders we needed to scale. The next 10-15km or so was a continuous string of: climb a mountain, run along the ridge and down the other side... repeat several times. My poles were absolute golddust on the downs and thanks to the hilly terrain in HK standing me in good stead I was feeling strong on this section and the scenery was incredible. By the next checkpoint I was in about 14th place and 3rd girl. However these races have a way of humbling you and from that point on I had my first mega low of the week. We had to go down a never ending river bed full of loose rock and shingle which I am just awful at running (think Bambi on ice) and my icky toe was starting to hurt. By the next checkpoint I'd had a bit of a sense of humour failure, which did not improve with the subsequent river crossings, and I didn't manage to get rid of my grump until the finish when the lovely Matt and Stuart ran back up the road to bring me in and fed me sweets. 19th on the day and 5th girl. A wet wipe shower and a foot bath and I'm back in the right headspace now. I'm actually glad this happened today and not tomorrow.
Tomorrow we have the Long March. About 75.5km I think. This is the day that generally makes or breaks the race. The strategy is to start steady and hammer it towards the end if I'm still feeling good. I won't be able to blog tomorrow as I'll probably get back in the middle of the night, so don't worry. I'll next be able to blog on Friday's "rest day" (assuming the Long March doesn't take me two days which I bloody hope not). Please keep those positive vibes coming!!
Playlist of the day: Natasha (followed by a continuous loop of my own "emergency, for low points only" concoction). Batgirl, am loving the bangra tunes, I would have busted out some Bollywood moves if I didn't think they would cart me straight off to the medical tent for observation.
Song of the day: Survivor. Over and OVER again.
Blister watch: Nothing new, but my toe hates me especially on the downs. Am off to get that looked at now.
Glam-O-Meter: Let's just say I'm glad there are no mirrors here. I will probably be minus two or three toenails by the time this is done, nice. Oh, and tonight we are sleeping in a field that stinks of cow poo...
Well I don't know about farmlands, today was more like running 36km continuously uphill on shingle similar to that on Brighton beach. Not as pretty as the first two days, so I kept my head down. It was rated the same difficulty as yesterday but most seem to agree it was harder. My pack doesn't seem to be feeling any lighter despite slowly eating my way through it!! Funnily enough I felt stronger than yesterday despite starting with stiff hammies and taking a while to warm up. I ran the first 10-15km and marched the rest as it was pretty impossible to run, especially some of the evil canyons full of loose rock where you can't get a grip going up nor down. I got my one moment in the sun though, coming in 3rd place girl today. Even if I drop back 100 places from here I will go home very very chuffed about that. I'm sticking with my strategy of only running when I feel good and marching when I don't ("run your own race Emily"- how true and my constant mantra). I was near the lovely Stephanie for most of the day which was great. My tent mates are being so supportive and fun and I have been finishing close to two of them, Matt and Stuart, who I keep bumping into out on the course.
I'm both excited and apprehensive about tomorrow: Heaven's Gate. Both the most stunning and the most difficult day on the course, going past the tallest natural arch in the world which is allegedly taller than the Empire State Building. I expect to drop back a bit as it's apparently full of the steep shingly canyons that I hate... but that's ok, I'm just pleased at how it's gone so far and taking each day as it comes. We're camped at the highest camp of the week right now, about 2500m altitude, and it's already cold at 3.30pm which doesn't bode well for tonight and the lack of warm clothing I have.
Thank you SO SO much for all the messages, I love you all. I got a bit emotional reading them today and got a hug from a fellow cybertent member in response. Please please keep them coming!!
Playlist of the day: Loni (love you Wooooo)
Song of the day: Don't Stop Believing (yes I am a cheese queen, don't judge- whatever gets me through the day ;) )
Blister watch: I haven't braved removing the tape yet but the second toe on my left foot probably needs some TLC. Got the back chafing taped up in the medi tent yesterday and no issues today.
Glam-O-Meter: my very grubby running top is starting to smell delightful and everything is developing a nice salty crust. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Here I am in one piece at Camp 3 after 39km through what literally looked like Mars on Earth. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking today with lots of vivid red and orange rolling canyons... although this made the terrain more challenging. I definitely put the "March" into the Gobi today, taking it easier and walking maybe 2/3 of the course vs running most of yesterday. I had a minor low point in the middle where I ran out of juice but managed to rally in the last 10km and somehow ended up in exactly the same position as yesterday surrounded by the same people.... so I guess everyone found it harder. Everyone is brilliant though, it's such a privilege to be surrounded by people who are wired the same way as me and everyone takes care of each other.
Thank you SO much to everyone that has sent blog comments and emails... they couldn't download them yesterday due to satellite issues so I got double the fun on arrival today. You can't imagine how much it lifts your spirits knowing that people are out there rooting for you and thinking of you. Si Rob, I'm loving the bad jokes, they are going to go down a storm in tent 13. The cybertent were all very amused when I shrieked with laughter at the bear joke. Cesca, ask me again in a few days ;). Mum, Loni, the Woodlands, Iccle, thank you so much for the endless support. I will definitely be picturing the pink balloons next time I feel like crap. WTF girls, I love you millions- although Gigi I might need to have a word with you on my return about your email!!!
One thing I forgot to mention, I was reading Ranulph Fiennes' book on the flight on the recommendation of a colleague. At the beginning he talks about his SAS training and the chapter finishes with a comment along the lines of "at the end of it all, I felt like I could take on anything short of the Gobi Desert". Umm, ok, so I'm just skipping the SAS training part...
Playlist of the day: Becks (you ROCK girl!!)
Song of the day: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger". Amen to that, was that song written for me???
Blister watch: On closer inspection yesterday I actually had two small ones on the ends of my freakishly long second toe on each foot. Nothing serious, and they held up ok today after some taping. I do have some lovely chafing on my back though that needs attention.
Glam-O-Meter: My hair is a matted mess and the tan stripes on my ankles and thighs are starting to look pretty special. Am amused that I felt the need to get various things tinted, threaded, waxed and manicured before embarking on this feat. God bless Shellac (hey, I'm allowed to at least try and still feel like a girl!).
PS what did they say about me on Breaking News? I don't get access to that.
PPS can someone update me on my fundraising please?
Wowowow what a great day. Perfect weather, blue skies but enough breeze that you didn’t feel the heat. The dryness of the air will take some getting used to compared to HK, and the headwind in the last 10km no matter which way you turned was hard work, but I am assured it will get much worse!! Oh well, they don’t call the Gobi the windiest non-polar desert in the world for nothing! The scenery is absolutely amazing. Most of what we ran today was through a flat rocky basin surrounded by distant mountains… I’m guessing that’s where we are headed next. I managed to “run”(a.k.a. trudge) most of it until the wind got the better of me with about 5km to go. Tonight we are staying in huts in a local village which is pretty special (if you don’t count the bathroom which is in the cow shed). I hope that means I sleep better than last night!!
For those race veterans, please don’t get excited about my time today, they had to cut 10km off the stage because of a flooded canyon so we only did 32km. I heard a rumour that I came in 5th girl (haven’t seen the results yet) so am worried that I peaked too early. I will be winding it back a notch tomorrow so don’t expect the same please!!! It’s going to get a lot harder from here, they were kind to us today and the terrain played to my strengths.
Playlist of the day: Bubbles (LOVED it!!)
Song of the day: Beautiful Girls (in tribute to all my gorgeous ladies out there rooting for me)
Blister watch: all clear on the western front
Glam-O-Meter: well I just had my first wet wipe shower and had to share a toilet with a cow. Nuff said.
So I completely miscalculated on my allowance of 6 blog entries and just realised I could send an update tonight, hurrah... so greetings from Camp 1!!! The journey here was amazing, a convoy of jeeps and buses snaking along some pretty hairy winding dirt roads through spectacular mountain scenery. We were greeted by all the local villagers cheering us into camp which was such a great buzz, and they are about to put on an opening ceremony for us. The campsite is surrounded by a ring of mountains and is just stunning.
My tent mates are brilliant fun, two wonderful ladies from the USA and a few friends from HK. All of us are first timers and it feels a bit like the blind leading the blind, but the cameraderie is great. I somehow seem to have inherited the nickname "Creature" (a.k.a. Woodland Creature) which I'm not overly happy about but have a horrible feeling it's going to stick.
One afterthought... I swore I would never cross the line and do this but I have to own up to joining the toothbrush brigade.... those people who cut off the handle of their toothbrush to reduce weight. Oh... the shame...
I better hop as the show is starting and there is a queue for the computer. Thanks so much for the messages so far, love to all!! xoxo
Why are you competing?
It seemed like a great new challenge after three
consecutive HK Trailwalkers... it made sense at
the time anyway!!