The most beautiful race in the world

Trip Start Sep 2005
Trip End Sep 2006

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Flag of Mongolia  ,
Monday, June 26, 2006


Mongolia is and outdoor lovers paradise. One of the last remaining natural resources in the world. There's no roads, no people, no pollution. Say what you like about Genghis Khan but he was a strong evnironmentalist, and his legacy remains to this day. Itīs thanks to his law that people were not allowed to put any impure substances into the water, that the rivers and lakes are of such high quality. Presumably the penalty for pollution was a Genghis Khan short back and side, with an axe.

One of the main attractions that brought me here was the marathon they hold in the northern region. It's called "the sunrise to sunset marathon", as it's a 100k event. They also do a 42k event for the more sane. The course goes through mountains, valleys, forests and wildflower meadows. It's pretty spectacular. It's also bloody tough. During the first 42k you do the equivalent of climbing Slieve Donard two times.

For once in my life I didn't do the stupid thing. I was smart enugh to resist the temptation to upgrade to the 100k. Though it was a close call. What with the peer pressure, excess pre-race positivity, everybody claiming that they hadn't trained much....

Needless to say an event like this attracts a fairly interesting group of people. And just hanging round the camp talking with the other competitors is pretty entertaining. One guy cycled here from France, via the Gobi desert (over 3000k). One motorbiked it from Germany. There was even a 76 yr-old doing 76k. Our camp was called Toilogt, pronounced "tallogged", not "toilet". It's about 25km from the middle of nowhere. We stayed in Ger's which is the housing used by mongolian nomads. They are structured like a tee-pee, with a fire in the middle, and are surprisingly cosy.

You start the marathon at 4:30am in the pitch dark through a forest. A great spot for spraining your ankles nice and early in the race. Iīd heard that the mongolians usually win, and it's no wonder. At the starting whistle they tore into the forest like a herd of startled deer. After 5 seconds you couldnīt even see their nightlights.

All in all, the race itself went fantastically. They say it's the most beautiful course in the world, but it's got to be one of the most difficult. When it's over you're both glad and sorry. The hills are "demanding" so after 42k I had nothing left. Saying that I ran the last 10k faster than I've finished any marathon before. Once I sat down, nursed the cramps, and watched the 100k competitors hobble off to do another 58k I started to really bless my commonsense for once. When the first guy got back after 12 and a half hours I was even more grateful. The last ones didn't make it back till 02:20am the next day. They have my utmost respect. A couple of hours more and they will have to call it "the sunrise to sunrise" marathon.

The night after the race we had a party which kicked off with a traditional mongolian folk band. Some Mongolian music sounds surprisingly like Irish trad. They even play the "Sheeps Ankles" similar to how we play the spoons. One of the highlights was the mongolian throat singing which has got to be heard to be believed. It's like Popeye singing a song on one long note. I was lucky enough to get playing along with the band. They taught me some mongolian music, I taught them some John Denver and Beatles. Then we played along together with myself all decked out in the mongolian traditonal garb (Dell and Malgai). The singing and dancing went on till the wee hours. An excellent end to a great week.
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