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