Gobi March Blogs 2023

View All Posts 2023 From : Robert Ripley

Robert Ripley
North to Alaska

10 March 2023 03:55 pm (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

North to Alaska!


Not the 1960 John Wayne movie.


Nope, I took a short trip up to Alaska last week to visit friends, ski in a couple of nordic races, and catch the start of the Iditarod.


As I may have mentioned, I grew up in Alaska, and it still holds a piece of my heart (albeit a tiny frozen piece).  So I try to get back up there from time to time to visit friends and family.  Unfortunately, the only family I have left living in Alaska, my brother Jeff and his wife Teresa, are spending this winter in Laguna Beach.  Fortunately, my friends Jay and Moira are still hardy, and they let me stay with them.


The Tour of Anchorage is Alaska’s big ski race, usually with over a thousand entrants in the different races.  The Tour is a unique point to point ski marathon, starting out in the Chugach mountains above town, traversing through urban east and west Anchorage to end in the woods at Kincaid Park south of town.  This year I skied the 10km classic prelude “masters” race on Friday and then the 40km freestyle (skate ski) race on Sunday.  

(photo credit: Jay VanAlstine)

The weather was perfect: blue skies, crisp and cold in the mornings, warming up to -6 (C) by the afternoons.  The snow was a few days old, but hard and fast and pretty skiable.  I caught a ski on some debris on the Chester Creek trail and took a faceplant during the 40km race, so I can attest that the groom was solid.  I thought I skied well, skiing both races about 3min/km which is darn good for me, but some old Alaskan guy named Richard was kicking my butt, so I could only manage 2nd in my age group both days.

(photo credit: Joselynn Finch)

On Saturday we went downtown to catch the start of the Iditarod sled dog race.  Anchorage is probably the only city in the world where they truck the snow out of the streets one day and then truck the snow back in the next so that they can race dogsleds down Main Street (4th Avenue).

These dogs are the real winter athletes.  They will pull a sled full of dogfood and survival gear (not to mention some guy (or gal) in a parka) a thousand miles in a little over a week.  And that includes a mandatory 24 hour sleepover.  And, boy, do those dogs love to run.  The energy at the start is palpable as hundreds of dogs get psyched up.  (Not to mention some vociferous barking). Each team usually has a dozen people trying to keep the dogs in check until it’s time to go.  I tried to talk my dogs (Holly and Cody) into pulling me on skis, and it worked pretty well as long as the squirrel they were chasing ran straight down the ski trail, but when the squirrel ran off piste into the woods…  Well.


Anchorage might also be the only place in America where you might see some guy in a bear suit having a conversation with his congressman.  (That’s Mary Peltola, the one without a bear's head, Alaska’s only representative in the US House of Representatives)

On Monday, Jay took me single track fat bike riding out in the BLM land near the Campbell Airstrip.  I had ridden fat bikes before on a wide packed trail, but this was a little different.  Some of the tracks were literally single track, the width of the fat bike tire, so if you were a little off track or off balance the bike would founder.  And if you put your foot down, often you would sink in up to your crotch in the deep snow.  And the bike would fall in on top of you.  But eventually I got the hang of it, and we had a great time.

But now I’m back in Central Oregon.  It’s still snowing out, but my ski racing season is pretty much over (I am signed up for the nordic ski leg of the Pole Pedal Paddle in May).  And there are only 100 days until Gobi.  (Holy camelpoop!  Only a hundred days!). So I guess I’d better get started on my running!

Comments: Total (1) comments

Mary Gadams

Posted On: 16 Mar 2023 01:01 am

Rob, you are living the life. I am so jealous. Alaska is amazing and I have always wanted to see the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. With your ski racing and fat biking, you should be a tip top shape for the Gobi March.
Robert Ripley

24 February 2023 11:09 am (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

Two packages came for me yesterday.  One from Boulder, Colorado (USA) and the other from Hull, England (UK).  Strangely enough, I’d placed my orders for the respective  deliveries on the same day as well.  Both packages looked as if they’d been drop-kicked more than a few times in the shipping process. 

Fortunately, all of the content in their interior packaging survived the trip intact.  (US Customs didn’t deem it necessary to cut anything open)


Anyway, I know the suspense is killing you, inside the packages were the bulk of the calories I will be consuming on the 2023 Gobi March (coming soon!):

From Expedition Foods in England came 11800 calories of freeze dried dinners and breakfasts.  (For some reason, probably a mistaken click while ordering, I wound up with one 800 calorie package of chicken korma along with eleven 1000 calorie meals).  I have a bunch of left over meals from previous orders, so I will have some selection options as well as meals for a simulation weekend or two.


From Skratch Labs in Boulder came packages of Rehydration Drink (lemon-lime), Recovery Drink (chocolate) and Super High Carb Sport Drink (raspberry).  The Super High Carb Drink is the re-branding of the Super Fuel drink mix that I have used in previous races.


Importing freeze dried food from England to the Pacific Northwest is pretty much carrying coals to Newcastle.  There are tons of gourmet camping food being produced all around me.  But.  After running loads of the stuff through my digestive tract (did I mention I used to climb mountains, and, have you noticed that the medical team is eating the same crap as the racers) I have chosen to race with Expedition Foods because: it tastes pretty good, my gut seems to be able to digest it, and it has more calories per gram, making it lighter to carry.


I saw in Richard’s blog a mention of calorie density.  (By the way, Richard, Congratulations on getting your pack to 6kg.  The 6 kg pack is pretty much the holy grail of RTP!). Richard correctly points out that if you keep your calorie density at 5 calories/gram that you can keep your total food weight under 3 kg.  (Whereas at 4 cal/gm the minimum required calories weighs almost 4 kg.)


A couple of words of warning, though.  


Calorie measurements are made in a “bomb calorimeter.”  Basically this is a device that sets fire to a sample of food and measures the heat produced. Fortunately for us, this is not how we derive energy from our food.  Talk about your heartburn.  Take a handful of almonds for instance.  A bomb calorimeter will tell you that those almonds have 6 calories per gram, but most people will only get 4 to 5 cal/gm out of those almonds, depending on a host of factors such as were the nuts roasted or how well were the almonds chewed.  The digestion of some foods requires more energy from the body than others, making the net available calories a moving target.


And, perhaps more importantly, as we exercise, our blood supply get shunted away from our digestive tract and towards our muscles.  This makes it more difficult to digest food and process the calories you need to keep moving forward.  As a member of the medical team, I have witnessed many times what happens when an athlete stops digesting their food.  It’s not pretty.  


The general recommendation for endurance sports is that you replace about half of your calorie expenditure while you are exercising.  For me this amounts to taking in about 200-250 calories an hour while I’m running.  And for me, I can’t digest food that’s 5+cal/gm (like chicken korma, almonds or olive oil) on the run.  I need carbs.  Which are more like 4gm/cal.


So this explains the box of Skratch Labs powders.  With the Hydration Drink and the Super Carb Sport Drink I can maintain my electrolytes and my calories during the run, and with the Recovery Drink I can get a bolus of carbs and protein at the finish line.  I have logged miles and miles with these powders, and I know that my body feels better and performs better using them.  As such, I am willing to carry the extra weight for these products.


But everybody’s different.  I would just suggest that before you load up your pack with 14000 calories of the lightest possible foods, that you try everything out.  I typically will have a simulation weekend or two (usually when Nancy’s out of town, so I won’t be tempted by gourmet meals or yummy baked treats) where I throw down a couple of long workouts and only eat and drink powders, bars and freeze dried meals.  (I also don’t bathe or change my kit!)  Again, it’s not pretty, but it usually is enlightening.


The last 2 races I went with Picky Bars (a local product) for snacking.  But there are some new energy bars out there on the market, so I’m still trying them out.


And, finally, remember that 14000 calories may be the minimum requirement, but, realistically, we are talking starvation here.  Some (most) athletes are more keto-adapted than I am, but I have serious trouble performing when I am starving.   I will probably be carrying 20000 calories on the first stage.  And I will still be starving, so, if you are thinking about tossing that mars bar that is getting heavy at the bottom of your pack.  Come find me.


We've been having a bit of snow here in  Central Oregon, so the skiing has been great.  Yesterday, however, it was nuking snow and wind such that I couldn't find the tracks, so I wrapped up in my nanook of the north outfit and went for a little jog.

Today is a little nicer.  And it looks like Cody is ready for his walk...

Comments: Total (1) comments

Keith Gayhart

Posted On: 02 Mar 2023 04:41 pm

Great information, Dr. Rob! I am going to check out the Skratch Labs powders. Thanks for the tip. The only thing I'd add is I've learned to place a high value on taste. Nothing tastes good by day three, but I've found certain high density meals unbearable. Calories don't do you any good if you end up chucking them in the bin.
Robert Ripley
Groundhog Day!!

02 February 2023 09:43 pm (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

Groundhog Day!


For those of you not familiar with the folklore and superstitions of my country, groundhog day comes in early February and is purportedly the day the groundhog  wakes up from hibernation, pops his head out of his burrow, and, depending on whether or not he (no self respecting female groundhog would be caught dead making a scene like this, and, as it is, the male groundhog is usually first to wake up from hibernation) sees his shadow, prognosticates as to the severity of the remaining bit of winter.  The groundhog, AKA woodchuck, whistle pig or land beaver, is actually a chubby rodent known in civilized parts of the world as a marmot.  (Genus Marmota, Species Momax). Groundhogs have been shown to be highly intelligent and socially oriented, which may be why they have had weather prediction thrust upon them.  Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog with the best press agent, came out of his stump in Gobbler’s Knob today, saw his shadow, and predicted 6 more weeks of winter.  Over the years, Phil has proven to be right about 50% of the time.  Or roughly as accurate as your iPhone.

Groundhog day has also taken on a secondary meaning from the 1993 film of the same name starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.  A Groundhog Day could also be a day or days just like the one before.  Kind of like deja vu all over again a la Yogi Berra.


For those of us in our retirement years, groundhog days happen fairly often.  Fortunately, I didn’t wake up to Sonny and Cher (the current alarm on my phone is the Bodeans’ Closer to Free).  I had some cheerios, listened to NPR, did the Worldle, and then took the dogs out for a walk.  The browndogs saw their shadow, confirming the 6 more weeks of winter—which is good news for the ski season and for our water supply here in the Oregon High Desert which is, as is much of the west, currently operating under a drought warning.

The browndogs didn’t see any groundhogs or marmots or other furry creatures because most of them are still hibernating.  We did see a small herd of deer.  

After our walk, and maybe another coffee, and maybe some of that yummy pistachio lemon drizzle cake that Nancy made and left unguarded, I have to think about what I’m going to do in the day, and it usually involves copious amounts of aerobic activity.  Given that it is ski season, my favorite activity is cross country skiing—either the classic technique or the skating variety.  As I may have harped on more than is necessary, I am a big proponent on low impact aerobic alternatives to running as a means of preserving what little articular cartilage I have left.  I consider running high impact.  (In the Atacama race, not only did I have high impact to my feet and joints, but I had impact to hands, knees, shins and face).  In addition to cross country skiing, I like to spend a lot of my training time on my bicycle.  And just this year, I have added another low impact exercise: swimming.


As I may have mentioned.  I grew up in Alaska.  In Alaska, swimming is what you do with the last 5 minutes of your life should you be unlucky enough to fall out of your boat.  I suck at swimming.  Literally and figuratively.  It’s basically self water boarding for me.  And it has proved to be a problem with my triathlon.  So I made up my mind that this is the year (some 50 years after a humiliating semester of swim lessons in 7th grade) that I learn how to swim.  I’ve been attending swim class twice a week.  Jamie, the instructor, has discreetly kept me near the side of the pool and has kindly kept me from drowning.


After swim class, and another coffee, I took an hour spin on my bike through Watopia (the Zwift App in my garage) and did some strength training.


I know.  I know.  There are only 135 days (!!) until the Gobi.  And I’d better start running soon.  Maybe this weekend (when the ski trails are crowded).  We will see what the groundhog says!

Comments: Total (2) comments

Rob Ripley

Posted On: 24 Feb 2023 07:35 pm

Carl! Sorry to offend! I'm not sure if I can afford swim lessons with you given our current geographical differences, but next time you are in Tumalo, or I am in Pasadena, I would be happy to accept some pointers in my self-water-boarding technique!

Carl Botterud

Posted On: 04 Feb 2023 07:06 pm

Rob, I am hurt, deeply wounded, cut to the quick, saddened, morose, down in the dumps, appalled, shocked, insulted, aggrieved and afflicted by numerous other synonyms and similar cliches that you have apparently forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that I, your friend, who worked his way through college a half century ago lifeguarding, coaching swim teams, teaching swimming, and teaching people how to be swim teachers would gladly serve as your swim instructor . . . had you simply asked* *subject, of course, to negotiating appropriate travel, living, per diem, and salary arrangements. And remember, chlorine is the breakfast of champions and oxygen is overrated. Veni, Natavi, Vici Carl
Robert Ripley
Gobi Blog!!

22 January 2023 08:42 pm (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

Well, someone ought to put a blog here.   So I guess I will.


My wounds from the Atacama have mostly healed up, the last of the black toenails finally fell off yesterday.  The finger I dislocated is still a bit fat and stiff, but, for the most part, functional.  There are some scars on my shins and knees that will be with me until the end.

There has been enough time and distance between here and now and the Atacama that I can now look back fondly and longingly.  Such is type 2 fun.  I miss the camaraderie and the sense of joint purpose of the camp and its runners moving out across the desert each day.  And I miss the absolute solitude of being alone in the sandscape with nothing but the sounds of your breathing and footfalls (okay, and maybe a little Jay-Z in the earbuds) to keep you company.

And so it is time to sign up for another race.  That race will be the 2023 Gobi March in Mongolia in June.  I’ve been on the medical team for the Gobi March twice, but I’ve never been to Mongolia.  I’m looking forward it.  It looks to be a beautiful part of the world.


Gobi (as I will be referring to it, even if we don’t get far enough south to actually touch the Gobi Desert) is less than 5 months away.  This is a bit of a problem for me since I usually don’t start my running until after the snow melts and ski season ends.  And we’ve been having a pretty good ski season here in Central Oregon so far.  Fortunately, most of the skiing I do is cross-country, and cross-country skiing is the most aerobically demanding sport out there, so I should be getting some cross-training benefits from my time on the snow.  If I make a snow to mud transition in March it should give me 3 good months of training for the Gobi.  And, really, 3 months is all you need to train for anything.  Right?  Anything?  

Well, I would also like to see if I can get a spot in the Naadam Festival while I'm over in Mongolia.  I think the uniforms would suit me.  (in fact, I think they should be mandatory for the Gobi March this year). But 3 months to train for a week long ultramarathon as well as learning and training for the 3 'manly sports' of wrestling, archery and horseback riding might just be pushing it just a little bit too far.

So, the good news is that you’re only going to have to put up with 5 months of this blog as opposed to 9 months like last year!  You can be sure that whatever comes out in this blog will be as random and off the wall as in my previous blogs.  But, if the randomness is getting to you, feel free to shoot me direction or questions.  I still don’t claim to being an expert at this multi-day ultra stuff, but I have done 2 of them, with a little bit of success, and I have formed some opinions.  Which I will gladly share.  I will try to add a little life to the process of getting ready for an ultra in Mongolia!

As with my previous races, I am going to stick with my goals:

(In no particular order)

  1. Have fun
  2. Be thankful
  3. Don’t get hurt

As some of you know, I failed at number 3 in the Atacama.  I’m going to try to do better in Gobi.  I am thankful that none of my injuries in the Atacama were debilitating.  And as always, I am thankful for my loving wife Nancy who supports me in my madness and picks me up when I fall.

Comments: Total (5) comments

Karen Wei

Posted On: 25 Jan 2023 12:01 am

Dr Rob, your blogs are definitely one of the highlights, so keep 'em coming, randomness and all. Mongolia will be an absolute breeze for you, it's a much easier course than N & A (ooops, I hope Carlos doesn't read this and change it up just to make it a bit spicier for you) although there's probably a higher chance of precipitation but hey you're from the Pacific NW so you'll be just fine!

Mabasa Mubatapasango

Posted On: 24 Jan 2023 04:47 am

Hey Rob, this is super exciting news 🔥. Glad to have shared the Namib and Atacama with you, let’s see if can make it number 3. #Legend

Earl Rogers

Posted On: 23 Jan 2023 05:33 pm

Bob: are you crazy!!! I am very proud of you. Just take care and be careful. And stay well. Take care, Earl

Earl Rogers

Posted On: 23 Jan 2023 05:32 pm

Bob: are you crazy!!! I am very proud of you. Just take care and be careful. And stay well. Take care, Earl

Jeff R

Posted On: 23 Jan 2023 04:59 pm

Way to go Robert! Good luck on your training!