Philippe Gatta

Gobi March
250 km running race in the Gobi Desert, China

Gobi March Race: 250 km running race in China (© P. Gatta)
Gobi March: 250 km running race in China (© P. Gatta)

Content

The Gobi March Race

The Gobi March is a 250 km (155 miles) running race which takes place in the Gobi desert, around Kashgar. Kashgar is on the western part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China, near the border with Tajikistan. There are 6 stages in 7 days: almost 4 Marathons in 4 days, then 75 km, a rest day and a final stage of 16 km.

The Gobi March race is self-supported, which means that we have to carry all our clothes, sleeping bag, mandatory equipment, medical/safety kit and 7 days of food in our pack. The race organizer only provides us with water (10 to 13 liters per day) and the tents for the nights. Choosing the right kit and food is a real challenge as everything has to fit in a relatively small pack. The goal is also to keep the weight of the pack below 7 kg, without water.

The concept and difficulty of the race is very similar to the Marathon des Sables and all 4 Deserts races organized by RacingThePlanet: the Sahara Race, the Atacama Crossing, the Gobi March, and the Last Desert in Antarctica.

The temperature are a bit cooler in Gobi than in the other deserts, reaching a maximum of 35°C during the day but can go as low as 5°C during the nights. During the 2012 edition there was no sand dune but many rocky trails and many riverbed to cross. There were also many dirt roads and even some paved roads. The race took place between 1,500 m and 3,000 m of elevation with the Tian Shan, Kunlun Shan and Pamir mountain ranges in the background. Despite some nice stages, I found the Gobi March not as nice and scenic as the Atacama Crossing and the Sahara Race.

Statue of Mao in Kashgar (© P. Gatta)
Statue of Mao in Kashgar (© P. Gatta)



All competitors arrived in Kashgar (also called Kashi, China) a few days before the race. On the Saturday we had the race briefing, equipment review, check-in and we went to the first camp in Gazi, a small village Southwest of Kashgar. The race started the Sunday morning and ended the following Saturday.

Mosque in Kashgar (© P. Gatta)
Mosque in Kashgar (© P. Gatta)

Kit and food for the Gobi March Race

Since I did the Sahara Race and Atacama Crossing just a few months ago, I reused most of the kit. I just took a few things off to minimize the weight of the pack.

Here are the kit for the 7 days of race:

Kit and food for the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)
Kit and food for the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)

According to the rules, competitors have to bring at least 14,000 calories. Based on my experience on the previous races, I know that I need at least 21,000 calories but once again I wanted to carry as less as possible so I finally brought 21,240 calories (4 kg). with 17.3% of Protein, 57% of Carbohydrates and 25.7% of Fat.

The Gobi March Race 2012

June 9: Briefing and transfer to Camp 1

On the Saturday morning, 160 competitors coming from 42 different countries left Kashgar and after 2 hour of bus, we arrived in the camp 1, close to a small village. Because of the rain that occurred during the previous days, the camp 1 has been moved lower in the valley, very close to the village.

Camp 1 of the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)
Camp 1 of the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)

We have been welcomed by many locals from the village. We watched riders playing Buzkashi game. The goal of this game is to grab a dead goat, carry the carcass around a marker at one end of the field and then throw it into a scoring circle.

Riders playing Buzkashi with a goat carcass (© P. Gatta)
Riders playing Buzkashi with goat carcass (© P. Gatta)

June 10, Stage 1: "Canyons and Camels" - 32 km

At 1,800 meters of elevation, the night has been a bit chilly but sky was totally clear when we woke up. During the race briefing we heard that the race has been shortened to 32 km.

Start of the stage 1 of Gobi March (© P. Gatta)
Start of the stage 1 of Gobi March (© P. Gatta)

The race started off on a dirt road along a river. On this easy trail and slightly going downhill, the front runners started at 12-13 km/h.

Stage 1: the first section (© P. Gatta)
Stage 1: the first section (© P. Gatta)

The second part of the race was a bit more scenic with some nice views over the mountains. Some sections of the trail were a bit more rocky but overall is was an easy terrain.

Runner during stage 1 with high mountains in the background (© P. Gatta)
Runner during stage 1 with high mountains in the background (© P. Gatta)

I struggled to keep up with lead runners and passed the finished line very tired. I felt quite bad, feeling cold despite the warm temperature. Hard to tell if that was the fatigue of the trip, the jetlag or a cold.
This camp 2 was set in the village of Tashpushka. For once we slept in locals' houses instead of tents.

Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito won this stage in 2h37, I finished 7th in 3h219 and the last one finished in 8h.

June 11, stage 2: "Mars in the Gobi" - 39 km

We have been told at the briefing that this stage will be nice, especially the section in the red canyons and that was the case. As usual, we started the race at 8am with a pleasant temperature.

After several kilometers running uphill, I passed the first check point in 20th position, still tired from yesterday. Then we entered the red canyons which was definitively nice and fun. The section was also more technical than the previous day with many up's and down's.

Runner in the red canyons (© P. Gatta)
Runner in the red canyons (© P. Gatta)

At the end of the red canyons I was in 6th position, running with George for a while. Then we ran in a more open area with great views over the Tian Shan and Karakorum mountains.

Mountain views after the red canyons (© P. Gatta)
Mountain views after the red canyons (© P. Gatta)

The last 9 km were on a paved road which was not fun at all. Fortunately we still had nice views over the mountains.

The camp at the end of stage 2 (© P. Gatta)
The camp at the end of stage 2 (© P. Gatta)

I felt better and better during this stage and started to enjoy the race. The camp site was nice surrounded by fields and trees.

Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito won this stage in 3h25, we finished 5th in 5h22 and the last one finished in 9h50.

June 12, stage 3: "The Farmlands of Langeville" - 36 km

This third stage started off in Langeville village. We ran for a while in the village with a forest and fields around us.

Start of stage 3 (© A. Gatta)
Start of stage 3 (© A. Gatta)

Then left the forest to run on a hilly and extremely rocky and technical ground, with nice view over the mountains in the background. I joined Anne-Marie (leading woman) and we ran the rest of the stage together. From check point 2 to CP3 we were out of trail, doing a roller coaster and running in a riverbed.

A local in a village between CP1 and CP2 (© P. Gatta)
A local in a village between CP1 and CP2 (© P. Gatta)

Then the last 8.4 km between CP3 and the camp were nasty, going up-hill on soft gravels along a road in construction !

Camp at the end of Gobi March stage 3 (© P. Gatta)
Camp at the end of Gobi March stage 3 (© P. Gatta)

For the first time I felt the heat and was glad to find some shade at the camp. This camp was the highest of the race, at an elevation of 2,525 m.

Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito won this stage in 3h46, I finished 4th in 4h38 and the last one finished in 9h30.

June 13, stage 4: "Stairway to Heaven" - 37 km

This stage was supposed to be long and difficult... and it was. It was also very scenic, technical and fun. All started after a cold night but I guess it could have been worse at this altitude. Getting up in the dark and cold, still tired from the day before, was a challenge.

Running up toward the Shipton's Arch (© P. Gatta)
Running up toward the Shipton's Arch (© P. Gatta)

We started off by running 4 km up-hill to the entrance of canyon leading to the Shipton's Arch. We left our pack there to do a back and forth to see the arch. We ran up, climbing 12 ladders to reach the arch. I stopped for a while and enjoyed this amazing place.

Shipton's Arch (© P. Gatta)
Shipton's Arch (© P. Gatta)

Then we started the descend to the check point 1 before going for a long roller-coaster and crossing endless ridges.

Between CP2 and CP3 (© P. Gatta)
Between CP2 and CP3 (© P. Gatta)

This section was very scenic, technical and very fun too.

Roller coaster... (© P. Gatta)
Roller coaster... (© P. Gatta)

After the hilly section, we had 6 km of non-stop descent in a technical riverbed. Then we crossed a village, some fields and ended up again along construction road. We ran a few kilometers along trucks and bulldozers until an unexpected finished line 3 km before the camp. RTP decided to stop the race there to avoid crossing a dangerous river, good decision.

Camp at the end of Gobi March stage 4 (© P. Gatta)
Camp at the end of Gobi March stage 4 (© P. Gatta)

Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito won this stage in 5h00, I finished 3rd in 5h29 and the last one finished in 10h31.

June 14, stage 5: "The Long March" - 75.4 km

The long march is the most feared day of the 4 Desert races. It is almost a double-Marathon after 160 km already done the previous days.
We woke up at 5am, after another cold night. We prepared our kit and got on a bus at 7am for a 2 hour drive to reach the start. I ate the breakfast in the bus and tried to get some rest. We finally started the 75.4 km stage at 10am and it was already hot.

Philippe running around the Camels (J. Ross)
Philippe running around the Camels (J. Ross)

I started slowly running with John. We caught up Anne-Marie and Justus right after CP2.

Anne-Marie, Justus and John during the Long stage (© P. Gatta)
Anne-Marie, Justus and John during the Long stage (© P. Gatta)

The scenery on this section was very nice, wide open view over the mountain range and high peaks (over 7000 m). John was a bit faster and left us.

Justus in the sandstorm (© P. Gatta)
Justus in the sandstorm (© P. Gatta)

Then the weather became stormy, we could see the rain in distance and the wind and stand storm picked-up rapidly. We were a bit worried when we arrived at CP5 because there were nasty twisters just a few kilometers away and we were on flat terrain with no shelter whatsoever.

Anne-Marie in the sandstorm (© P. Gatta)
Anne-Marie in the sandstorm (© P. Gatta)

Then we had a long long straight cross country trail. For some reason my legs accepted to accelerate the pace. I left Anne-Marie and Justus who both were a bit sick. I passed John and kept running in a major sandstorm.

It was hard to find the trail as we could see one marker at a time in best case. At some point I could barely run against the head wind, but then I saw two women working on a field and I told to myself "shut up, stop complain and run". I passed the last check point in 60 km/h wind at least, fortunately it was coming a bit from the back. I took some extra water just in case I would get lost, constantly keeping an eye on my Suunto watch to check the distance.

Then I saw the finish line, so happy to finish 3rd in 8h38!!

Philippe finishing the Long stage of the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)
Philippe finishing the Long stage of the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)

Mo and Vincente were at the finish line to welcome me, thank you guys!
I spent some times enjoying this moment and welcoming Justus, George, Anne-Marie and John when they arrived.

Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito won this stage in 7h14, I finished 3rd in 8h38 and the last one finished in 24h15.

June 15: rest day

It is always hard to fall sleep after the long stage, probably because of the tiredness and excitation. This time was no exception. I woke up tired, fortunately we could spend the day resting in a camp that is probably the nicest one of all 4 deserts races.

Beautiful camp for the rest day (© P. Gatta)
Beautiful camp for the rest day (© P. Gatta)

I was tired... but I was starving too. According to my Suunto t6d, I burned 6,000 calories during the long stage yesterday. On top that, I probably burned another 2,000 for the rest of the day and the cold night. That makes 8,000 calories versus the 4,000 that I brought. There was a similar gap the previous days too. So, at the end of the week I probably burned two times more calories that I brought, no surprise if it takes several days or even weeks to recover.

The Kongur (7,649 m), seen from the camp (© P. Gatta)
The Kongur (7,649 m), seen from the camp (© P. Gatta)

Runners kept arriving throughout the night and the morning of this rest day. All of us were dreaming about the Pizza and shower.

The tent #3, up: Dan, Fabrice, Youssef, Sanya, Brad. Down: Nicolas, Cécile, Philippe, Frederic (© P. Gatta)
The tent #3, up: Dan, Fabrice, Youssef, Sanya, Brad. Down: Nicolas, Cécile, Philippe, Frederic (© P. Gatta)

June 16, stage 6: "The last old City" - 16 km

Until the last minute we were hoping that this stage would be shorter than the 15 km announced, but Sam confirmed at the briefing that it will 15 km long. In fact several of us measured more than 16 km.

Mo, John, Anne-Marie, Justus and Philippe at the finish line of the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)
Mo, John, Anne-Marie, Justus and Philippe at the finish line of the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)

We were all tired by 7 days of race, altitude, heat, heavy pack, stomach problems, sore muscles... We all said before the start that we will go slowly but... when the race started, everybody ran like crazy trying to improve his/her ranking. Once again I ran with John, helping each other; him to reach the 6th position and me to keep the 3rd one.

Local dance at the finish line of the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)
Local dance at the finish line of the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)

We ran the 16.4 km in 1h15 which felt more like 5hr to me. I finally kept my 3rd place overall, Anne-Marie 4th and 1st women once again, Justus finished 5th, John 6th and George 7th. It has been a real pleasure to run with all of them and it has been also super fun to share the tent #3 with Fabrice, Cécile, Frederic, Bradley Bull, Nicolas, Dan, Youssed and Sanya.

Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito won this stage in 1h08, I finished 6th in 1h15 and the last one finished in 6h15.

Local dance at the finish line of the Gobi March
Local dance at the finish line of the Gobi March (© P. Gatta)

Photos Gallery of the Gobi March 2012

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Gobi March Race Results

145 runners have completed all stages of this 2012 Gobi March Race out of the 160.
The top 10:
More information and the complete results are available on The Gobi March Race web site.

Gobi March finish line (© P. Gatta)
Gobi March finish line (© P. Gatta)


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