Ben's extreme 250km Gobi desert trek

Ultra runner Ben Dame faced another extreme challenge when he travelled to China for the 250km Gobi race.

The self-supported, seven day race is part of the ‘4Deserts’ series which sets competitors the challenge of a marathon a day for 4 days followed by a rest day an 80km day, then 10km following a rest on the same day. Ben has already completed similar events in Madagascar, Sri Lanka and the Atacama.

Early stages

Day one included 2000 metres of height gain including a huge sand dune which the runners climbed and had to cross the peak for about 20 difficult minutes. Ben finished first of the 100 runners and earned the leaders’ bib.

A woodland run on day two saw Ben finish first alongside another runner with the third runner close behind.

Keeping the bib

Day three saw the temperatures climb to around 35 Celsius. “The last few kilometers to the finish were throwing some steep and steady inclines at us” said Ben “but I managed to conquer them in a moderate running effort. I was proud of myself winning this stage that strong and I happily transitioned into my camp routine.”

On day four an intervention by cows caused some disruption. Small pink flags used to mark the course intrigued some of the cows who tried eating them, so Ben was unsure of the route at points.

“My goal was to finish this stage even stronger than the previous stage” said Ben. “I was awaiting a full day’s rest the day after this stage. This not only gives your body some time to recover from the strenuous week so far, but also to prepare for the big day to come, 82k on day 6. Your mind is also reassured and lets you push your body a little bit more with this ‘rest day’ buffer ahead. Once I crossed the finish line I was relieved and happy to have won not only this stage, but every stage so far this week.”

The ultra day in ultra temperatures

The 80km stage offered new challenges other than the distance. Starting in the dark at 5:30 am if was already 30 degrees, and the runners were warned of 50 degree temperatures later.

After running until midday, the runners faced a mandatory stop for the hottest part of the day.

“I felt like I was trapped in a 50C oven with a handful of blow dryers directed at me. Maybe I should move away from these extreme desert races into more moderate or colder climates? I have done the Lake Baikal Marathon across the frozen lake a few years back and was reminiscing about that experience right now. Everybody around me seemed to have (at least marginally) more energy than I. Did I go out to fast the last few days? There was doubt in every pore of my body and I was not able to shake it off. The dreaded end of the 3-hour stop approached and my fellow runners (the top 5 at this point) and I had to get ready.”

“The 10k between CP6 and CP7 {checkpoints] were probably the toughest of the whole week, but I was just following my marching and hydration strategy and not thinking about anything else. I was able to control my breathing and in return my heart rate.”

“I loaded up a few more calories via Clif bloks to be able to finish with some energy in the tank. With about 1k to go I decided to speed up and try to run through the last stretch. I quickly cancelled this mission as the heart rate ramped up exponentially. With about 200 meters left, I did go ahead and transitioned into a quick jogging pace to cross the finish line. Wow, I was relieved.”

Three runners finished ahead of Ben, but Ben was just glad to have completed the challenge.

Reflections

Going into the final day, Ben had a 40 minute lead, but this was unravelled by the second place runner who dealt excellently with the heat and beat Ben into second place by less than a minute.

“It’s crazy that a weeklong race of 250k can be decided by less than a minute, but that’s what racing is all about. I’m happy to be 2nd and hungry for the 1st position in my next race. The awards ceremony back at the hotel was refreshing as you and 100 other competitors look relieved, freshly showered and well fed after a week long race in the elements. I cherish these races as one is fully unplugged and as close to nature as it gets. Huddling around a campfire at night, meeting a crazy bunch of people and running through beautiful and remote terrain during the day sum up a great week for me.”

There are plenty of vegan foods available for extreme distance runners. Ben drank the Vega recovery shake and ate some of the range from Backpackers Pantry and LYO, including their Barley-Lentils-Risotto.

This is another milestone for Ben who is emerging as one of the most interesting runners in extreme racing. With four stage wins of six and a second place he has cemented his reputation, and seemingly more important to him (and hard to imagine for some of us) he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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Short interview with Ben

 

Video: Ben prevents blisters

 

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