Jul 21 2010

Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset 100km/62-mile Ultramarathon Race Report


 Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset 100km (62 Miles) Ultramarathon Race Report

8th Place Overall


July 21, 2010


YouTube Video of Mongolia trip 


by Israel the Runner



I raced and completed the Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset 100 kilometer/62 mile ultramarathon run on July 21, 2010 after training for 8 months in preparation for the race.  Some of the most experienced ultra runners from across the globe made their way out to the western shores of Lake Hovsgol – one of the deepest, coldest, and clearest lakes on the planet – accessible only by 4 wheel drive or horseback, to take part in arguably the World’s Most Beautiful 100km run.  The journey to get to Mongolia was arduous and involved much learning.  Below are the details of how I went from running 7-mile long runs to 8 months later racing 62 miles and placing 8th place in an international ultramarathon event.


Late in 2009 and early 2010 I set out a regimented training plan following Dr. Tim Noakes guidance for novice ultra runners in his book Lore of Running and hoped to be trained enough to complete a 100km race having never run over a marathon, nor ever having run below a 4:55 marathon either.  I planned on using a series of difficult monthly trail runs in Southwest England and Wales as the foundation and experience for the mountainous portion expected in the Mongolian race.  I would also use a series of increasing race distances in May and June 2010 to let me know if I was prepared to make the leap to a 100km race.


Training started slow, but in March 2010, I was able to finally log a 200+ mile training month and I could notice myself getting stronger with every run.  April brought my first marathon of the year, and also first ever sub-4 hour marathon.  Sometime in May, I realized and took a conscious step in my training to transition from “pace and miles” training to “hours and time on feet” training.   For 5 consecutive weeks I was able to slowly run 20+ mile long runs and race a very difficult trail marathon. June brought my first ultramarathon where I managed to finish the 35 mile race Go Beyond Northants Shires and Spires Ultramarathon toward the back of the pack, but still giving me desire to go further.  The last test of ultra-endurance running came 3 ½ weeks before Mongolia also in June where I ran the 44-mile Endurance Life Classic Quarter Coastal Trail Race run that had nearly 8,000 feet of elevation gain and featured 13 hours of blazing hot sun.  Though I finished the race, I felt I did poorly and should have done better.  The biggest lesson I took from that race was the need to start off a little faster in the beginning of an ultra because I’d been starting the ultra/trail races very slow trying to conserve energy.  This would be my key to Mongolia (in addition to getting a few weeks adequate rest and recovery).  The last couple races also solidified the confidence I needed that I could and would finish the 100km race under any condition presented at the time.


Finally in mid-July I knew I was ready and flew off from London through Moscow and into Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  Meeting up with various other runners in the capital (and missing our flight to a remote airport called Moron in North-West Mongolia), we eventually made our way to picture perfect Lake Hovsgol province.   We spent three days acclimatizing to the 5,300ft attitude and scouting out the mountainous passes the course would follow.  Specifically on Monday, Maurice “The Canadian,” Amanda from Stanford, and I took the bikes out for a short stroll.  That turned into a 17 mile bike ride that left our unaccustomed legs very sore afterward.  I also went out on a 3.5 mile run with Run Like Crazy phenomenon Tristan Miller to get the lungs used to breathing the thinner air.  To top off Monday, a few of us went on a 90minute horse ride, which Tristan and I were not fond of due to the painful stirrups and saddles.  I just hoped all the training was not ruined by a crazy day of reckless activities when I should have been resting.


 Early Wednesday morning on July 21, 2010, all runners started in the dark at 4:30 am, hoping finish later that night at by 10:30pm – under the 18 hour time limit.  The first 7 miles seemed like a good warm up for everyone as runners let the nervous race jitters pass and settle into a rhythm and groove.  Meeting up with Amanda, it turned out she re-broke an old injury just 1 mile or so into the race and was still running, though in noticeable pain and with a small limp.  She was determined to finish the 26.4-mile race, and pressed on eventually finishing in an impressive 6th place in the women’s category with a broken foot!


Starting up the first of 5 major ‘hill climbs’ between about miles 7-9, I made my way to the top of the 7,550 ft. Chichee Pass passing every runner who was within my sights.  I was somehow using a hill climbing/running/scooting technique that seemed to work with ease and not expend excess energy.  Maybe it was the half dozen races I’d done earlier in the year on similar terrain.    I was not sure how the race would turn out because anything was bound to happen over the next 16 hours, but it was here that I started to do the math in my head and start making goals for the next stages of the journey and realized I might do ok in this race.  All the runners knew the first two climbs were the most difficult, while the descents would be especially punishing on the knees; this was the case as I descended the second major decent into thick fog and clouds, some rain, and ever so slowly.


Passing one of the aid stations at mile 18, I knew I could probably pick up the pace and make it to the ‘marathon’ point (26.4 miles) within 6 hours.  I thought I remembered hearing by the race director that if a person could make the marathon point in 6 hours, the runner might be able to finish the full 100km in 15 hours.   Still carrying my 15 lbs pack, I raced toward this mental obstacle and did reach the 26.4-mile point in exactly 6 hours. 


I was elated to find out I was in 7th place overall, which came as a shock.  Here I spent 10 minutes re-mixing my endurance drinks, adding some salt, changed my water soaked shoes, and made a short video clip for fans before continuing on for another 36 miles.


From mile 26.4 to 33, the course was flat and somewhat boring, but offered great views of the Lake.  I was passed by 4 runners on this stretch, including Anna who was running with such a strong stride it was hard to imagine how someone could look so fresh after already running 31 miles! I was also passed by George from Hong Kong who had just run a 250km run across the Gobi Desert the week prior in where it was so hot a runner dies this year.    I was hoping I could re-pass a couple of the runners once the course took us back off the flat portion and up the next mountain pass.  Everyone had trouble on this flat section of course, just something about it (the third quarter of every race is always the most difficult for any runner).  But after making the 3rd trek up a mountain for the day, I did manage to catch three of the runners at the top and we took some photos before continuing on.


 Miles 33-44 brought a second wind to me, as I continued along the trails at a good pace and was happy to be off the road.  So much ground was covered it’s hard to remember all went on during these miles.  My main goal was to stay ahead of the runners I’d passed at mile 33 and was still crossing my fingers for a top 10 finish.  Though I’d passed them, I knew they would probably come up sometime at any moment, but I ended up running alone for about 20 miles until George caught me just before the 55 mile aid station.


At about mile 47 as I started to ascend another hill and my energy levels slowly dropping, the heavens decided to open up, and I experienced a massive down pouring of rain, thunder, and lightning – someone troubling in areas as I was exposed and didn’t want to get struck! I was also reminded of a safety speech we heard a couple nights prior that the closest ‘western’ hospitals were Beijing or Tokyo, and we were many hours/days probably from them if anything serious happened.  I donned my rain jacket. This did little to help.  So I continued on to keep warm and cause there was nothing else to do:)  Because of the combination of muddy terrain, tree roots, marshes, steep climbs, I basically walked miles 47-51 which probably took nearly 2 hours to do.  It was hard, lonely, surreal, and everything to do to keep up a fast walk/slow trot. 


Finally cleared the last forest and trail portion of the course and tried to re-fuel as much as I could at the last aid station – km 88 (55mile). Only 7+ miles to go, and I knew they would be the hardest steps of any race I’d attempted in my life.  The last 7 miles was along the same road by the lake where most of everyone struggled coming out.  At this point, it felt like my body was shutting down, not able to eat or drink as much as I had been, and kept myself going by counting the kilometer markers along the side of the road and trying to do math figuring out how long till I was done.   Every ultra runner seems to reach this point of exhaustion, delirium, and basic survival mode only. I would never quit, but each mile and kilometer seemed to take so long.  It was good to see the miles on my watch go past 51, 55, 59, etc., but at this point I no longer cared and only wanted to be done.


At some point a Mongolian in a car drove by trying to offer me a ride.  It just pissed me off because he was wasting my energy.  A few miles later a herd of cows or yaks (I don’t remember) blocked most of my way, but I still ran through because I didn’t want to take any extra steps more then I had to.  A few other runners (who finished the actual marathon portion and had rested for 8-10 hours) said they drove by and waved or encouraged me, but I never responded cause I was so focused and in a zone of just putting one foot in front of the other.  I must have repeated the count 1-2, 3-4-5, a hundred thousand times as my breathing pattern and foot strike would get me 5 more steps further… the whole race came down to repeating 5 steps again and again.


About a half a mile from the finish I could hear people shouting for me, and a little while later some Mongolian kids came running out to run with me in.  Lots of emotion swept over me as I did manage to sprint the last 400 or so meters and finished in 15 hours 49 minutes (my goal coming to Mongolia was to finish in 17-18 hours).  I also managed to hold off and finished 8th over all, for the first time I’d ever placed in the top 10 in any sort of high-profile event. 29 other amazing runners finished the 100km race and each of them put on a monumental effort also.   Luke and Ramon both finished a few minutes behind me, and they must have finished very strong.


I weighed myself (about 179lbs – lost only 4-5 pounds) and then really could not do much else from all the pain and numbness in my body.  I was helped to the warm refreshments area but could still not take in any food or drink.  I have not shared with many people, but about 30 minutes later, my body went into shock, started hyperventilating, and numb for about 2 hours.  It finally subsided a couple hours later after sort of getting forced to take some soup with salt, soup with sugar, and breathing into a brown bag to increase carbon dioxide levels of the blood.  It all went away and by the next day I was back to normal with a couple massive blisters, stiff legs, but emotional joy after completing my first 100km race.  The doctor suggested that I had probably not taken in enough sodium or food or liquid especially in the last 15 miles of the race, in combination with running almost 16 hours, the body is bound to do some weird things.  Aside from that short episode, the actual leg muscles took about 2-3 weeks to recover started feeling normal again.  I was able to race a hilly 5 mile race two weeks later finishing in just 32 minutes, and also raced 36.6 miles in 6 hours, 5 weeks after Mongolia. 


What is the next challenge?  After spending nearly 8 months on the goal of just finishing a 100km race, it seems hard to try to find something to top a 100km.  But in the last few weeks since recovering, I’ve decided to stick with my crazy unorthodox type of racing trails, ultras, marathons or shorter races just to challenge myself and to show have fun.  I would like to race some back-to-back races either two days in a row, every weekend, or any combination of running that is out of the ordinary for most runners.  Multi-day Adventure races really appeal to me and would like to do one or two late in late 2011.  I will be running many races around England from September 2010 through Spring of 2011, while hope to start branching out more in international competitions early next year.  From December 2010 through May 2011, I plan to race marathon or ultra distances in England, Wales, The United States, Israel, and Morocco.  Thank you for reading and hope to see many of you our there at the next race!


Videos below made by {me, Tristan, George} of the 100km Mongolia Ultramarathon



Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset 100km / 62mile ultramarathon – 2010 Slideshow and Video





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