Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gobi March Completed 2007

I'v just recently returned from racing in the Gobi March in far Western China, where I competed along with about 180 people from 23 different countries. It was another unforgettable experience and I find myself still trying to process all that I witnessed with my own eyes, and all I felt with my body and mind. There was such a huge range of conditions and emotions throughout the event....I sure as hell got my money's worth! That's right, I actually paid to run 150 miles and not shower for a week. We ran along a river, with monstrous rock walls towering above us for thousands of feet, in cool.. almost perfect running temperatures. We saw dry and desolate, flat terrain that looked and probably felt like Mars with temperatures that felt like we were baking. We ran across sand dunes where we felt like we were truly in a desert. We also ran by many a little green oasis, where we'd round a bend flanked by huge mountains, and tucked back behind a corner we'd see a lush green sanctuary....with a family tilling a small field, or someone walking a cow down a path, or a mother nursing her child, or the many children playing. It was amazing!!

When I heard the Gobi Desert, I thought of sand dunes and oppressive heat. Of course throughout my thorough planning, I didn't seem to think there would be a need to add extra weight in my pack with a silly rain jacket or anything even close. Surely we'd be going to the desert where the chances of rain are too remote to even worry about. And even if it did actually rain, it would certainly feel great, wouldn't it?? Not so fast!! In reality, the first 3 days were high in the mountains, and rain was actually quite a factor and the temps were cold at night and quite chilly in the mornings. It rained each of the first 3 nights, and during most of one of the stages. As a matter of fact, as our luck would have it....or MY luck would have it since others seemed to have THOUGHT a little more.... this mountain region was experiencing the most rain it's had in 50 years!! Our running path that was to cross dry riverbeds, many times turned out to be pretty close to a raging river and on more than one occasion, we had to hop on a donkey cart to be carried across....but most of the time, we just trudged right on through. I for one, didn't bring ANYTHING water proof and found myself running off the top of a 13,000 foot mountain trying to beat the weather. I was successful in beating out not rain, but SNOW. That's right, many of the slower people had to deal with a snow storm, sleet and hail. I didn't totally miss the fun however, and instead had to endure hours of soaking cold rain where we were nearly hypothermic when reaching that stage's end.

We spent a very cold night and as I tried to sleep in my tent, I kept thinking repeatedly of the freezing wet clothes that were soon to return to my body. That vision was just more than I could take! So I resorted to my people skills which are sometimes more important than running skills, and certainly better. At about 5am, I tip-toed down to the mess tent where the locals had been employed to provide hot water to the camp, and bribed the head cook with 100 yen, which was about $15....WELL less than I would have paid, and still probably more than he made in quite a few mornings of work...and so convinced him with a flurry of hand and body gestures trying to convey my cold plight. After a few seconds of "negotiations" I was huddled around the hot gas burners with all the locals, with all my wet, cold clothes and shoes, draped over the hot pots where they were rendered a toasty warm in no time!!! I even managed to "over-cook" my shirt with some black burn marks...oh well...better well done than rare!! I also even chipped in on some of their early morning cooking chores, and helped load eggs in the pots and cut some chicken for them. I had to laugh at one point, as I suddenly realized the ridiculousness of my I am before dawn, "working" in a tent, 5 miles from frickin' Kazakhstan, huddled around a fire with a bunch of Tajikistan locals, with Chinese guards trying to hand me early morning smokes, and patting me on the back....CRAZY!! and I wouldn't have traded it for even more Yen!!!!!!

Once again, I met some of coolest people you can imagine!. I had great tent mates who are all incredibly accomplished people in their regular lives. I made friends with people from other countries that I know will remain my friends. What we all shared is a desire to get a little more out of life than what we find in our own neighborhoods, or towns, or corner of the world! In THAT we always find common ground, no matter how different we may be in the "real" world. But believe me, nothing is more real than the world these local people live in. Despite the fact that we might have been in a sketchy part of the world, the people there greeted us with wide smiles and open arms. And unlike many of the 3rd world places I've been, I was struck that those open arms weren't outstretched in order to get something from us. I was NEVER approached and asked for anything or never once did I find a beggar motioning for anything from us. Strangely, these people who didn't look anything like Chinese by the way, seemed to be content and actually quite happy. As we ran by a little settlement, we'd witness them dressed in colorful clothing, and sort of walking through life at a very leisurely pace. We'd run by them and wave, and they'd smile and wave back, the men would rise up as a sign of respect and courtesy. Some would be going about their everyday duties....farming, herding their animals, child rearing... and they would greet us...many would clap as we ran by. And no matter how tired I was, I made sure I smiled and waved, and said hi to every single person I saw for the whole week. Sometimes, it was exhausting ...when I was miserable and just wanted to trudge on and look straight down at my feet. To look up, wave, and smile seemed like a herculean task, but I still made sure I did it so as to leave them with a feeling of good we, strangers from a different land running through their lives. And even though most had no electricity, no running water, and only little huts for shelter, they seemed to have just about everything they needed. That might be a lesson for us all!!! And so as I think back to this trip, even though the faces of the mountains were awe inspiring, it was the faces of the local people and especially the young children that will be etched in my mind forever!!

And as far as my actual performance went, I faired much better than I ever imagined. Things were very tough, but went very well right up until our 50 mile stage. We believe we drank some untreated water and so about half of our tent got sick. It was my turn (at midnight on the night before our big day) to be running from the tent on quite a few occasions to have BIG problems from both ends ....if you know what I mean. After dealing with that all night, the LAST thing in the world I wanted to do was run 50 miles....or walk for that matter. The stage started out with a monster climb up and over a mountain in the very first mile. I was literally DEAD LAST getting to the top of that mountain. And as I've used the word "we" through my summary here, I was not only speaking generally about everyone, but more specifically about my buddy Alex, who was running with me as an unofficial team. And since it was "unofficial", he certainly could have left me there when I was just above a crawl, but like the good wingman he was, he stuck with me...cajoling me enough to keep my feet going (barely at times), but not quite enough for me to say "the hell with this %#@*" which I wanted to say for hours upon hours. Honestly, it was pretty agonizing and certainly had to be in the top 5 most miserable days I've ever had. I managed to slowly and literally to gag down a few calories, but mostly just drank water and slowly recovered...and over the next 15 hours, we managed to pass well over 100 people.....INCREDIBLE!!! It was a truly EPIC day... one that I had to continuously dig WAY down and find a reason to keep going. And I never came up with any philosophical answers no matter how hard I tried...but simply...I just didn't want to quit!!!!! Of course I don't think I could have done it without Alex driving me crazy with his ever annoying optimism!!! I owe you one Alex!! But we made it and finished tied for 29th place overall and were the 2nd Americans to finish!!! not bad!!!!

Thanks so much to everyone who sent me emails and tracked our progress!

I also attached a few pics

Frank Fumich

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