Rat Race Mongol 100 – Mongolia

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What is the Mongol 100?

Well to put it in simple terms, it’s a challenge to make your way 100 miles, by any means, be it walking, running, skating or on a fat bike over 4 days, along the length of the frozen Lake Khovsgol in north west Mongolia,

I was in two minds whether to blog about my adventure on this, my wild camping blog but to be fair, we did camp out, in the wild and anyway, it’s an experience worth sharing with like minded people.

Why?

About a year ago, my son Daniel came across an advert on social media regarding the event. A keen runner and having completed many Rat Race events here in the U.K. it appealed to him. He enrolled, paid his entrance fee and started training.

My role in all this was born solely out of jealousy, I really wanted to go but due to far too many injuries over my many years I knew completing it wasn’t going to be an option so I decided to ask the organisers if I could join the event as volunteer crew.

After months of waiting I got the email to say I had been accepted to be part of a 6 person team who would crew the checkpoints along the route.

We began to prepare and decided to use the event to raise money for Children in Need. We were approached by Land Rover Explore who asked if they could help in anyway so we asked them to sponsor the hiring of our cold weather kit which they very kindly agreed to. So we were set and ready to go.

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Let the Games Begin

On the 1st of March we departed Heathrow bound for Moscow and an onward flight to Ulaan Baatar (UB) in Mongolia. I’ll be the first to admit, it wasn’t the best flight. It’s been a long time since I was on on aircraft with absolutely no in flight entertainment, last time was in the back of a Lynx helicopter I think and at least the Lynx pilot gave us a song!.

On our arrival in UB we were picked up by staff of a U.K. based company called Sandbaggers who were hired to run the logistics for the event. They had kindly organised a day trip for those wanting to see a tiny bit of Mongolia so we got straight off the plane and onto a bus and off we went. We got to visit the famous stainless steel statue of Ghengis Khan as well as spend time with a group of nomadic people who were kind enough to give us lunch.

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After a long day we checked into our hotel in UB and prepared our kit for the flight to Murun the next day. After our arrival in Murun we took to the road for the drive to what became known as our Base Camp in a small town called Khatgal. Base camp was where the challenge would finish.

We formally introduced ourselves to everyone involved in the event, challengers and crew, although having already got to know everyone, some in Heathrow, some on the flights and on the day trip we had, this was all but a formality. We were allocated our first accommodation, for the challengers that was in the form of a Mongolian Ger;  for the crew it was wooden sheds. We had a final kit check, a walk to the local ice festival and a good meal. A couple of beers followed by a good nights sleep prior to our drive to the north of the lake along the Ice Road.

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The journey up to the start point on the north shore of the lake was something I will never forget, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. The lakes frozen surface was a myriad of a billion small cracks, at first quite daunting but within a short space of time it became the norm. We drove past snow peaked mountain ranges, forests that went on for as far as the eye could see and the odd ice seam that had been created by a thunderous break in the ice. Lunch on the ice seemed very surreal and it was a taster of how low the temperatures were going to get.

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We arrived at Khank early evening, carried out the final kit checks, set up the start point and had our final fresh food until we reached the finish point in four days time. Nerves were now starting to show, the guy doing the challenge on his fat bike let out a sigh of relief as his bike showed up after being lost by Aeroflot and he wasn’t really sure if it would get to him in time. Unfortunately some bags failed to turn up leaving one challenger no choice but to complete the task wearing his brogues and jeans.

Early next morning, in freezing temperatures, everyone made their way to the start, many observing the island in the far distance where we would spend our second night on the ice. It was around 80km away!

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The first day’s marathon was all about kit orientation, learning what worked and what didn’t. For myself and the other 5 support crew, we set out on the ice to set up checkpoints at 10 km intervals where we would provide hot water, cold water, snacks and what soon became obvious to me, support and encouragement. This played a big part in the event and was very much appreciated by the challengers. Providing a hug became my main job!

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Turning boiling water into snow!

At the end of the first day everyone finished in good spirits, Dan came in with a twinge in his left knee but at the time it wasn’t a concern. Pete (Rogue in Brogues) had a good day and finished in fine style. The stand out challenger for me was a lad called Dan C Jones from Newquay, he performed excellently, as did team USA, Bret and Kerry on skates.

Our evenings were spent eating our freeze dried rations sat around the camp fire trying to keep warm.  Swapping stories of things we had seen,  the different surfaces of the ice everyone had to contend with  and any twinges people were feeling.  Although, beers and vodka were available, only the hardy participated late into the evening.  The warmth of our Ger’s and sleeping bags were too much of a temptation for most.

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Day two and the target was the island in the middle of the lake, in view from day one it didn’t seem to get nearer, sapping morale from those about to engage in their second marathon in two days.  It quickly became apparent to us in the support crew, today was going to be a tough day for all competitors.  There was an 8km stretch of ice towards the end of this section that was really difficult to traverse.  The only way I could describe it is to imagine a stretch of road, 8km long which contained a million broken wooden pallets randomly dropped on its surface, pour on a million gallons of water, then freeze it…

As I stood at the finish point on day two I had nothing but complete admiration for everyone traversing that last 8km.  Tears were aplenty and hugs needed as they crossed the line, tired, hungry and cold but not broken.

The second evening, the halfway point was spent on Modon khui island, this was celebrated in fine style with a feast of Reindeer meat cooked on hot stones by our Mongolian crew served with fresh veg, a welcome break from the high calorie freeze dried adventure meals we had been consuming over the past two days.

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Daniel informed me his race to finish in the top two had all but gone.  His knee was now so painful he couldn’t walk without a limp.  He would now be walking the remaining two marathons.

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Day three started with a split start; runners and walkers starting an hour before the skaters and the lone cyclist.  The first test would be the walk back across the 8km wide uneven ice to the ice highway. This was my favourite day, running checkpoint three alongside Shane who I had worked with on the previous checkpoint. We were located at the 30 km point alongside a newly formed ice seam. Is was so new, there was access to water as it hadn’t yet had time to freeze.

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The surroundings were breathtaking and I made time to take a few photos and managed to get my drone into the air. Due to the ice seam we had to deviate off the ice highway so we could safely guide the participants across it. Crossing a new ice seam can be incredibly dangerous so we had to find a safe place. This probably added a few hundred metres onto the course but safety always had to come first. Our driver did actually spot a couple of people clambering over the ice seam but they were too far away to hear our calls to stop.  Thankfully they made it safely across.   The evening was spent in a nature reserve on a hill by the side of the lake, the views were amazing and thankfully I still had some battery power to put my drone up for a couple of minutes filming (Link at the bottom of the page).  After yet another freeze dried supper we all sat around the campfire to keep warm and relax a bit.

Day Four – The Final Push

Today was a short distance by comparison, just 32 kilometres to the finish line so only two support checkpoints were set up one at 10km and one at 20km.  My job today was to keep in front of the leaders but not to close, we always wanted to give them the feeling of isolation whilst out on the lake to make their experience of it more personal.  I did take with me a good pair of binoculars so we could keep an eye on everyone and make sure they were OK.  Today one person decided it was 32km too far and opted to travel in one of the vehicles.  I had watched this persons progress throughout the whole four days and I have nothing but absolute admiration.  Its not very often I have seen an individual push themselves as hard as this person did.  By the end of day 3 she was utterly broken, not able to put another foot in front of the other, she 100% made the correct choice.

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Daniel’s progress took a massive hit, with just 10km left his knee popped out of its socket and left him out in the cold.  For 20 mins he sat and contemplated putting it back, the wind was picking up on what was by far the coldest day with temperatures plummeting well below -20.  The windchill was actually painful.  He finally built up the courage to push his knee back and with the aid of a couple of hiking sticks someone loaned him, he was able to hobble the last 10km to the finish line where I personally placed his Rat Race Mongol 100 medal around his neck.  A fantastic achievement under the circumstances.

Summary

This was a once in a lifetime experience the first ever Rat Race Mongol 100 which will now feature annually as part of the Rat Race Bucket List of events.  Make no mistake, its not easy and you need a hell of a lot of mental and physical strength.  For me as a member of the check point crew, I realised how massively an important role that is.   I had people fall into my arms in tears through complete physical exhaustion.  Our job was to lift their spirits and bring out every ounce of determination they had in them.  Standing on the ice for up to 9-10 hours a day in absolutely freezing conditions was a challenge in itself.

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What impressed me most was the attitude of everyone involved, we were all equal whether it be challengers or crew, old or young, man or woman.  What was achieved by so many was down to the team spirit that guided, encouraged and embraced the whole event.  Friendships were made that will never be broken, that was what the Mongol 100 is all about, its not a race, its a once in a lifetime experience.

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Finally, a special mention should be made of Rat Race, the organisation that came up with the idea, made a plan and executed it.  Without these creative minds, challenges like this would never exist.

I have loads more photos to see if you’re interested just follow the link below:

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Until next time……………