Gobi March Blogs 2023
Gobi March (2023) blog posts from Josh Tebeau
23 June 2023 01:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar
4:35 marathon after 120 or so miles— not bad. The rest day and lots of chicken bullion broth brought my intestines back to functional and with the cooling rains and thunder evacuations the next day opened nice and cold.
Taking advantage of sideways rain with intermittent hail and the anguish of a 40 minute gap in the ranking to make up 4 spaces I started off with a rapid pace. No music. No extra layers. Just grinding out the miles at 10 minutes per pop and I was rewarded with a 2:20 first half marathon.
Afterwards we ran into a section of the course titled Switzerland. I cut off the run and held my steady power hike which served so well on the long day and got passed but the rejuvenation was worth it. I reached the top and was reminded of Park City hikes and finally loosed my legs for a steady downhill ride. Made up most of my spaces and powered through with tunes for the last 5 miles. Great day.
The day ended with a river crossing and I see Elise nearing it. There is also an Eagle in camp. Content for my one second video but first have to see Elise through the end of her world record and then deal with the cramping that the GU gels are causing.
22 June 2023 02:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar
What a brutal, brutal day. After yesterday, we assumed it would be extremely hot so I started the day off quickly. I saved my favourite dehydrated meal and electrolyte powders for the morning and took extra salt so was quite nimble out of the start. Preserving yesterday made a difference and I ran clean through to checkpoint 1. Electrolyte management was good and managed to have a small snack.
Soon after, the sun came out in full force and halfway to CP2 I had to stop running entirely. The hillside from CP1 to CP2 caught no wind and the air was totally still, raising the impact of the heat substantially. I began overheating and by the time I reached CP2 I needed to sit and rest for a few minutes so that I could and cool off. After a spritz and a drink I added electrolytes and started the climb to CP3.
In this section, a few recurring trends started. First, the climbs were the easiest part of the day as, for some reason, only these sections got wind. As a result I was able to stay cool on the most technically challenging sections and move quickly. On the other hand, downhills into the valley were completely baking.
Second, I started to suffer abdominal cramps from the heat. I was hammering electrolytes but at a certain point these too upset my stomach and I completely lost control of my bowels. Anytime I drank or ate anything, I would cramp . At some point, in the later CPs, I developed an involuntary reaction to drinking and eating and would throw up anything that I got down.
Between CP2 and CP3, I was following a runner without a nationality tag who executed some of the most egregious course cutting I have ever seen. Additionally, it seemed the only time he actually followed the course was to pee on the flags. I would pass him, and then when we would reach a turn, I would turn and see him passing me, taking a shortcut to save 200 or so meters. I asked the volunteers at CP3 to remind him to follow race rules, but it seemed to make no impact. Later in the evening, in the tent, both Cyril and Elise noted their frustration with this.
CP3 onwards was excruciating. Temperatures reached their heights and the winds were as brief and relieving as they were frustrating. The valleys deeper and the climbs steeper I could see curtains and curtains of convection between myself and the quivering racers in the distance. A well halfway to CP4 provided some cooling, followed by a great climb and a downright sadistic descent which ended with straddling the sides of a gully filled with Mongolian stinging nettles.
I met up with Cyril at CP4 and we started the fun game of me us meeting at a checkpoint, me shouting something in French at him, leaving together, him “placing an attack” and running off, me catching up with my steady 16 minute mile deathmarch, then him zooming off on the downhill going “zombie mode”.
CP4 to CP5 represented the most challenging section of the course. At about 8 miles long, it started with the only airless ascent and then a long, grievous and deleterious downhill into the village that housed CP5. The heated reached the low 40Cs and cows watched curiously along the snaking pack as green Mongolian beetles flew up to pester. On my first attempt I swatted one out of the air with my pole and then kicked it back into the mountains so I swung punch drunkenly at every beetle that came to taste my salts and missed and wasted more and more energy. The cramping became increasingly unbearable and I started retching as I reached for more electrolytes and then forget them at the side of the road. Occasionally, an RtP vehicle would come by and provide a little water but it soon would start boiling in the bottle and one of my soft flasks melted and decomposed.
When I walked into CP5 I shouted at Cyril “Je suis melting!” Before downing coke and chips, the only thing I managed to get down all day. I instantly felt better but it meant there was more for the diarrhoea. This helped the progress to CP6 for about 30 minutes and I realised that in the prior section I stopped sweating and I was sweating again. Some gravel entered in and embedded between my socks and I could not extricate it and I developed blisters along the entire sole of my feet.
I made battle with the beetles and the heat finally grew less oppressive by CP6. Again I saw Cyril splayed out at the checkpoint The doctor gave me a nausea tablet as I was throwing up water again.
The sun started to set and the infernal steppeland pastures turned pleasant. A motorbike and a horse raced each other back and forth across the hill with the remnants of the day’s heat falling behind the teasing clouds far and low over the horizon. In the distance I saw the camp and placed my attack. I bombed out the last 1.5 miles and finished with flair into a dejected camp where Elise sat, tending to her blisters. She executed today perfectly, I am so proud. With the rest day today we are cleaning our wounds and replacing electrolytes for a final stretch that hopefully will not be as testing.
20 June 2023 08:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar
I slept 1 hour in the yurt, a disappointing way to spend the nicest night of the race. When I woke up I told Elise and she gave me a pep talk that referenced one of the letters I wrote in Antarctica. That energised me more than any sleep could have and her advice on electrolytes would also prove invaluable.
Stage 3 started with a climb right out of camp. RTP runners have a habit of sprinting out the gate and so I feared a bottleneck on the climb as that is an area I make up time. I reached the climb and bombed upwards. Elise behind me until she wasn’t. Cyril, one of my tent mates, joined me. He is French and lives in the mountains so I was excited that we held stride and reached the top. I was careful on the downhill and got passed by many many runners but I would more than make it up later without dealing with the soreness of eccentric contractions.
We passed through a village on the downhill before reaching the softest sand of the race. I started cruising and felt like the runner I am when I am at my most efficient and best moving. I followed Elise’s prescribed electrolyte strategy. Electric.
By CP2 I had caught up to runners with whom I had been benchmarking myself against and then we entered the dunes. It was about 30C but the sun and still air cooked the sand. With lots of salts and the experience of ice hauling with crampons I skittered up the dunes like a Mongolian scarab and gained at least 10 places. At one of the dunes I supported another runner and we stayed together through the rest of the stage, at a brisk walking pace.
Tomorrow is the long day. No sense in over-exerting today. I am proud of my performance. Self management and injury prevention is crucial.
Early to bed tonight. Thank you for the emails!!!
19 June 2023 10:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar
Day 2 started with quite a climb. I poured 6 drip drops into a litre bottle but this was probably a poor form of electrolyte management. Nonetheless I moved well. After the climb one of my tent mates sprinted past me. I had flashbacks to me in Georgia a year ago and moved quite timidly on the downhill. It was a good choice at first, but excess timidity has a price and so my running grew stunted and afraid.
In concert with the growing timidity of stride I developed lots of malaise and entered deep into a mental hole. Even though I was making progress between cp2 and cp3 I felt as though I was dragging. Part of the challenge of this course is the visibility. I could see miles and miles ahead and so all the runners who were in front of me. My internal competitor, seeing this, desires speed and when I realise the distance to cover and how little I have moved relatively I grow dejected.
Additionally, today’s course saw quite a bit of rolling sandy road and hammering heat. Combined I grew more and more desperate and depressed with my running. By CP3 I decided to stop being soft and move and suddenly re-discovered how to run faster than 4 mph. I finished on a high note, somehow catching a runner who was adjacent to me in bib number.
In camp, I discovered I had torn my shoulders like wings of exposed flesh. At the end of stage 1, I was told that my bib strategy, a see through plastic attachment to my front pack, was not displaying the bib properly. I decided to ditch the entire front pack (345 grams) and put on my bib the normal way. Additionally, I had to find a place to store my plastic water bottle, so I cut into a front strap on my pack.
This completely changed my weight distribution and my straps now dug into my back in ways they had not before. The large bottle on the left also shifted the backpack in new ways and now I have large strips of K-Tape protecting my torn body.
We slept in yurts after the stage. Great accommodations that ventilated well due to their open structure. A moth flew in the door before we shut it and flew in circles around the plastic tarp skylight that was catching moonbeams. The whirring of its wings kept me up and as I focused on it more and more soon I became the moth and could not sleep as I identified with it. A strange mental spiral followed, building on the day’s hole. I hardly slept and the next day seemed jeopardised…
18 June 2023 10:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar
Day 1, approximately 4hr30min for 21.5 miles.
The Gobi is suspiciously green for a desert and so it kept raining through the morning (with some pauses). I slept extremely well. The best of any pre-race night at a race. Woke up 2.5 hours before starting and I had organised everything the prior night! The habits of the Yukon hold strong.
Began the day with a focus on maintaining a consistent pace through the flat terrain. Today would have one mountain.
Per usual RtP conventions, enthusiasm took hold and the crowd went out fast. By checkpoint 1, I started overtaking. I experienced some bursitis and kneecap fluid in prior weeks and some of the pain returned, but my knee brace held the situation together and I was able to maintain pace. By checkpoint 2 I found nice rhythm of walking uphill and running everything else.
Post-checkpoint 2 we encountered a steep climb, about 600 meters, over uneven bush terrain. The misguided hikes above Salt Lake City prepared me well. Since my move to Munich I have made a point of sprinting the one hill in the city and with some of this strength I was able to make great time. The downhill afterwards was dicey but I have trekking poles. Hopefully I don’t feel the effects in a few days.
The eccentric contractions from the downhill left me with bricks for thighs and I struggled to maintain pace with the racers I was trying to catch afterwards. This was a bit frustrating as I could see the camp from about 3 miles away and in moments like these I like to bear down and finish forcefully.
In this concluding stretch, in true Carlos course management style, I ran dead into a bog. I bring shoes two sizes too big so that when my feet swell I am able to avoid blistering. Typically earlier in races I wear extra socks and I was doing so today. In boggy terrain I pay for this choice and my shoes kept coming off and getting stuck. Did not get stuck in quicksand this time though!
Finished the day well. It’s a race with a fast median time and I am happy with how I did. Stretched and socialised with my tent and will be napping as I am still dealing with moderate jet lag.
17 June 2023 09:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar
Another race, thank you for following!
Transitioning from Arctic sled hauling to running through nomadic steppes was less straightforward than anticipated. I am more comfortable in the cold than the heat and, after months spent tinkering with abstruse kit in a sled, moving to a familiar lightweight set up, I procrastinated and so had a mad dash for some random items. I ended up with some second-rate dehydrated food because my favourite manufacturer does not ship quickly to Germany (Brexit!).
I rationalised some of the weaknesses in my kit with the fact that I was planning on filming the race in Super8. Then, before the start of the race, I discovered my camera didn’t work! What! I think the exposure rotor was damaged in transit. So my excuse vanished.
My new set of goals: finish faster than Atacama. My bag is about 8.8 kg, which is a bit heavier than before, so ideally I can show my progression as an athlete with a better time. I am again racing with Elise, so I would also like to be able to keep up with her, but she is a beast so we will see.
Mongolia is gorgeous. The hills at first seem small and then they are juxtaposed against 20 story social-realist monoliths and one realises they are immense.
My legs feel good. Better than before any prior race. I also like this sandy trail terrain held together by powerful grasses and bushes. The weather is variable. Rainstorm the first night after 30+ degrees in the evening.
Next blog after the first stage!