Ultrarunners Preparing To Run Across The Gobi Desert

by Kraig Becker

A pair of ultrarunners are preparing to run across one of the largest and most inhospitable deserts on the planet. Beginning this Sunday, June 23, Canadian adventurer Ray Zahab and Taiwanese endurance athlete Kevin Lin will attempt to run across the Gobi Desert at its widest point. Their journey is expected to take up to 35 days to complete and cover more than 1430 miles in the process.

Bounded by the Altai Mountains in the north and the Tibetan Plateau in the south, the Gobi covers more than 500,000 square miles across parts of China and Mongolia. It is a rugged and unforgiving place, despite the fact that it is relatively cool in temperature. The desert averages less than eight inches of precipitation each year thanks to the large rain shadow cast by the Himalayan Mountains. Those massive peaks prevent most storms from passing into the north, bringing much need rains with them.

Ray and Kevin are accustomed to dealing with extremely dry conditions however. A few years back, the two men – along with fellow ultrarunner Charlie Engle – joined forces to run across the Sahara Desert. That endeavor took 111 days to complete, covering 4300 miles. It was also the subject of a gripping documentary entitled Running the Sahara.

The Gobi brings its own unique set of challenges that will be completely different from some of the things they faced in the Sahara. For instance, the Gobi is so remote and unsettled that there will be few opportunities for resupply each day. In fact, the support team is anticipating that they’ll only get the chance to make one water drop per day, forcing Ray and Kevin to carry more water with them at all times.  As they prepare for the start of their expedition, they know that there will be little room for error along the way.

In order to cover the 1430 miles in 35 days, the runners will need to average nearly 41 miles per day. That is the equivalent of a marathon and a half, day in and day out, which would be  a grueling pace under ideal circumstance. In this case they’ll also have to overcome the extreme conditions of the desert along the way. These world-class endurance athletes are use to those kinds of distances, but the Gobi will still be a formidable challenge none the less.

While a long-distance run of this kind is an adventure in and of itself, Ray and Kevin have other aspirations as well. While they are in the desert they will interact with the indigenous people who have learned to live in that harsh environment. Not only do they hope to gain valuable information about how to live in the desert, they’ll also discover how climate change and increased desertification is effecting the Gobi. That information will then be shared with students from around the globe via satellite uplink.

Once they get underway this weekend you’ll be able to track Ray and Kevin’s progress on the expedition’s official website at Gobi2013.com. Throughout the journey they’ll post videos and other updates to the site keeping us well informed of their experiences.

[Photo  Courtesy Ray Zahab]