Having conquered the Sahara and Namib Desert in the span of 4 weeks, Paul and I travelled to Brisbane and Sunshine Coast Australia to seek refuge, recuperate from our ordeal, lick our wounds and upgrade our gear to better prepare for our next race in the infamous Gobi Desert.
The Gobi Desert presents itself some interesting challenges. Based on previous year’s race reports from fellow competitors, I expect drastic climate changes (0-40C) ranging from snow, hail, and sandstorms!
The Gobi Desert, which covers large parts of northwestern China, is known as the Windiest Desert in the world. Historically, it is most notable for being the location of many important cities along the famous Silk Road.
In the latter stages of the Namib Desert Race, I experienced severe knee pain and swelling in my right knee, so a solid 3weeks of rest was warranted. It’s far from ideal, but the risk of getting back into running too soon can lead to serious injury. The physicality of running through the desert sands with a week’s worth of food on your back cannot be underestimated. Just a few days into the race in Namibia, my MDS UltraBag started to dig right into my shoulders and I couldn’t even feel my arms at one point because of a pinched nerve. To rectify this, I have incorporated more core strength work and upper body exercises.
In anticipation of unpredictable weather patterns, Paul and I replaced our 2in1 sleeping bag jacket setup (WAA-Ultra, 690g) with one of the lightest sleeping bag on the market rated at 0C/32F (Western Mountaineering Summerllite 540g) and a down fill vest jacket combo (Uniqlo Down Vest 150g). It should be significantly warmer than our previous setup without incurring any additional weight. There are lighter sleeping bags out there, but I feel that it’s not worth the risk if we end up freezing my asses off for 7 days.
We also plan to improve our nutrient timing and energy distribution. The conventional marathon racing strategy dictates that we should eat a light breakfast and a bigger dinner, but with 2 races under my belt, I found that self supported stage racing is a different beast. It definitely takes more energy to cover the same distance as compared to a standard running race, so we need to ingest more calories in the morning of competition. Both Paul and I performed better in stages where we top up with higher amounts of fat and a bit more protein 2hrs before the gun goes off.
The Namib Desert had taught me how to summon the courage that I never thought I had when I needed it most. There is no doubt in my mind that at some point in the Gobi race, I will have find that special place again. Motivational quotes like “mind over matter” or “quitting is never an option” are used so prevalently that one would think a simple act of willpower is all you need. But, nothing is further from the truth. Many great champions have faltered even when they possess all the willpower and motivation to succeed.
It’s one thing to layout the blueprint on how one can overcome adversity, but quite another to execute it when the moment presents itself. Nothing is as simple as it seems on paper. It takes a great deal of physical training and mental preparation to pull it off. Magic happens when preparation meets opportunity. In the final stages of the Namibia Desert Race, I was very close to dropping out. I felt a sharp pain radiating out of my right knee whenever I tried to run, and I was overwhelmed by the possibility that I might have badly injured myself. My first instinct to this fight-or-flight response was to give up. But there was this one thing that I told my athletes to do whenever a dire situation arises. Stop, Breath, Relax, and Reassess. After taking a breather, I strategize that my only shot at success was to be inspired. It is that feeling you get when you have just listened to someone you greatly admire speak and tears start running down your face. All I could think about at the time was what Mohammid Ali famously said, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it”. I put one foot in front of the other, and never looked back.
It is unpredictable how you’ll react to difficult situations until you are confronted by it. However, your chances will always be better than someone who’s unprepared. Personally, this is what makes this journey so intriguing. I will be tested in the Gobi Desert just as I was tested in the Sahara and the Namib Desert. What will happen? How will things play out? I will have to find out. Every decision in those critical junctures will ultimately shape how this journey will be told.