Looking to push yourself even further? How about an ultramarathon amidst the highest peaks in the world? Or what about running through a landscape more densely populated by horses than people? Incredible sporting achievements; unbelievable insights to different cultures and life-changing views to see. These are the ultimate runs in Asia.
Just to get everyone on the same page, an ultramarathon is any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles, but the two covered here are ultra in landscape and distance.
Although your body may tell you otherwise after your first ultramarathon distance, these extraordinary endurance races are better than their shorter cousins as invariably an ultra is amongst nature in a stunning landscape, as opposed to the unrelenting tarmac of a city race. So if you feel the need to get out of Singapore to push yourself a little further, take a look at these ultra-races; The Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon and the Gobi March. Described as two of the greatest in Asia, they have to be on the bucket list of a runner looking to go the extra mile (sometimes extra 50…) as well as witness incredible environments. Let’s inspire you.
Technically, the Tenzing-Hillary Everest is a marathon as the actual race itself is the 26.2miles distance, although an Ultra distance is sometimes also run. However, the three-week altitude acclimatisation and the tough ascent up to Everest base camp pre-run definitely gives this race the ‘ultra’ feel.
Competitors fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, and then embark on a 14-day trek through Sherpa villages with snow-capped mountains as the hiking backdrops. The runners can visit Buddhist monasteries such as Pangboche, one of the oldest in the area, and Thyangboche, the biggest in the Himalayas along the way before making Base Camp at an incredible height of 17,598ft. This is where the race – named after the first successful ascent of the mountain by Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary on 29 May 1953 – begins. It is the only trip, bar mountaineering expeditions, that has overnight camping right at the base of the towering Mount Everest, near the famous Khumbu Glacier.
Essentially, competitors take two weeks to hike to the start point at 5,364m, to then run down to the Sherpas capital of Namche Bazaar at 3,446m. The world’s highest marathon has two uphill sections within the race, despite the fact that most of the course is downhill and naturally, competitors are to expect snow and ice on the upper parts and the dangers of exposure to serious elements along much of the marathon route.
And don’t forget, they may have run an extreme distance in extreme conditions, but they still have to get all the way back down the mountain so there’s a further two days of trekking once the race is completed. If that isn’t intense, then really, what is?
Face the Desert
The Gobi March, part of the 4 Deserts Race Series (one of the top 10 endurance competitions in the world) is a 250km self-supported footrace through Mongolia. Taking place over seven days, competitors begin in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, follow the footsteps of the Great Genghis Khan, before finishing in Karakorum, the 13th and 14th century capital of the Khan’s empire in the vast Steppe.
Competitors who travel to the ‘Land of the Eternal Sky’ will pass through the UNESCO Heritage Site of the stunning Okrhon Valley and not only be blown away by the great rock valleys and old forests and sweeping views of the Steppes, but also the sheer loneliness of a country with more horses and cows than people. The weather is amongst the most extreme in the world with -30 °C during the winter; to +40 °C during the summer (temps during the race in July/ early August can range from 5-35 °C so competitors have to be prepared for all sorts).
Approximately 20% of competitors run the entire course (the fastest time at around 24 hours), 60% combine running with walking; whilst the remaining 20% solely walk the route which could take around 70 hours. They stay in traditional yurts along the way and get to experience a largely untouched culture, including witnessing the Naadam Festival. Mongolia’s biggest celebration, it features the ‘three games of men’ which is archery, horse racing and Mongolian racing.
It is this combination of gruelling miles and extraordinary culture that makes the Gobi March a particularly important race amongst ultramarathon runners, and those looking for a great, new experience.
By Charley Larcombe
Photos by: Anuj D Adhikary & courtesy of Shikhar Pendey