The toughest endurance race in the world – the Gobi March has begun

June 14, 2009

We love bringing your attention to anything extreme – and this race … the second of the Four Desert races, began today. We covered the Atacama Crossing (Chili) in March – so now it’s time for another of the most extreme races in the world – The Gobi March.

The Gobi March is known to be the most unpredictable and hostile of the 4 Deserts events with ever-changing weather and terrain, including sand and dust storms, floods and extreme heat and cold.  Competitors will be required to ascend 3,000 m above sea level to Shipton’s Arch (also known as “Heaven’s Gate” by the locals. It’s a phenomenal landmark said to be the tallest natural arch in the world. The arch once figured in the Guinness Book of Records for its exceptional height, but editors of the book could not verify the location of the arch exactly, so the listing was dropped.   It was only recently rediscovered out of obscurity by a National Geographic team in 2000.

View from the base of the rubble pile

A little trivia on the arch:

Trivial perhaps but astonishing figures… The height of the arch is estimated to be 1,200 feet, about the height of the Empire State Building. The span of the arch is roughly 180 feet. The “true” height of the arch is debatable: viewing the arch from the east (normal approach route) it appears to be 200 feet tall from the top of the 100 foot rubble pile; from the west side (approachable via a technical canyon ascent), the height is closer to the estimated 1,200 feet. The height depends upon what constitutes the base of the arch, which is either the base of the rubble pile (which is partially under the arch and where the span achieves its maximum width) or the floor of the west side canyon head, 900 feet lower.

Back to The Gobi March:

127 competitors from 28 countries have set off on the 20th RacingThePlanet event. This is the youngest and most inexperienced field to date  with 101 competitors competing for the first time in a 4 Deserts event. however, these aren’t raw recruits – so to speak. Several have summitted Everest, one, 24-year-old Wei Weichao of China, came 7th in a 100km race in Beijing. These are competitors, albeit new to RacingThePlanet, who have tried their hands at other extreme pastimes. Wei Weichao is hoping for a top ranking to become the first-ever from China to win the Gobi March.

Many competitors will be raising money for charities throughout the world.  RacingThePlanet in conjunction with The Esquel Group has donated sporting goods and computers to schools in and around Kashgar.

Against the backdrop of the 2nd largest statue of Chairman Mao in the world, competitors completed their check-in. After check-in, most competitors returned back to their rooms to pack, and re-pack, hoping to shave off those last few grams off their load, before loading onto a convoy of buses and making their way to the site of campsite 1: Gazi. The lightest pack is being carried by experienced ultramarathon runner Diana Hogan-Murphy of Ireland  who carefully counted her daily calories and weight down to the most minute detail. “I realised that it would just be too hot to eat most of the things I thought I might want to, so stuck to basics and made sure that it was high calorie, and light.”

The bus-ride took the competitors to the start of race – the first campsite. They were greeted by a huge gathering of clapping and cheering local Uyghur and Kirghiz people and entertained by local Uyghur men on horseback playing an what is probably an early form of polo, with a sheep’s pelt being the instrument for scoring.

The race got off to a good start and now, at the close of the first day, the last competitors  have  all reached camp successfully, some visibly exhausted and relieved to be able to drop their loads at camp 2, but spirits were good. “I feel like I have run 26 miles,” joked Sean Abbott of the United States, as he stretched out his legs. “Well I feel as I have done more,” responded Matthew McLellan from Australia…

The first competitor to pass through the finish line at Stage 1 was Eric C. LaHaie (United States). In second place was Riel Carol (France) at 13.19.30, a seasoned athlete having paced for the London Marathon for the past two years. Third was Chinese National Weichao Wei at 13.27.53, whose speed was testament to his success at the North Face Race 100km earlier this year where he placed seventh overall. In the women’s division, Diana Hogan-Murphy (Ireland) who passed through check-point 3 at 12.49, is expected to arrive shortly, having lead the race as a woman for the whole stage.

You can follow this race directly on the Racing ThePlanet link (www.4deserts.com/gobimarch) or keep reading our Blog as we will be bringing you updates.

With thanks toracingtheplanet for the videos.


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