Fred Chang's 2001 Race Report

There were about 50 pilgrims brought together from all corners of the earth to the world's most pristinely remote venue (Lake Hovsgol close to Siberia) by the Masters for the Sunrise to Sunset (so named because at this latitude a June day lasts from 430 am to 1030 pm).

Tyler Pike, Nicholas Musy, David Bernasconi and Chris Hazen are the Masters. Chris is the grizzled Californian environmental consultant who believes that the human desire for the sanitary and the virginal is the stuff of which business is made. David is the Swiss Ecuadorian with the boyish looks, the passion for Nature, and legs that just won't quit (unfortunately he was injured for this year's edition and instead gave us succour at the aid stations). Nicholas is the poet physicist who is the quiet Prime Mover behind this now three-year old event. Tyler is every bit the rugged aesthete-mystic his name conjures (he taught yoga and played reveille on the trumpet on race morning at 3am; he also was interlocutor between us pilgrims and a rare appearance of a Tsaatan family near the venue, Tsaatan standing for "reindeer people", a nomadic, shamanistic and very inconspicuous race that wends around Mongolia and Siberia.)

In the interests of brevity (by my standards) I will only impressionistically suggest only some of the marvelous diversity of talent and determination that found itself assembled north of Khatgal for the several days before and after the race date, June 20 (Khatgal is reached by Mongolian Air Beijing-Ulan Bator flight, chartered Soviet plane from UB to Khatgal and then boat or 4WD to the race venue).

First, there were some locals of whom one was the winner at 12 hrs something. For them we must reserve our greatest admiration--rich in the
resources of nature, but not so as to other material, their passion is expressed through the fierceness of their attack on the course and then, afterwards, in their uninhibited consumption of the beer and vodka that is beyond their means to consume on a regular basis. It wasn't pretty, though in a way it was.

There was an awesome array of internationally acclaimed ultra-participants. The German who has run 90+ marathons in his still very young life and who, when we (i.e. yours truly and my two by now familiar colleagues, Dan and Sark) invited him to join us to do the Adelaide 100-k in October, declined: "I really vud like to but I believe I have a schedule conflict vis zee ultramarathon in New Caledonia". (By the way, a constant in the many mealtime conversations were the veterans' allusions and references to various "super" events around the world, in various exotic locales including Morocco, Africa, Jordan, Siberia, Peru; Dan--ever the friendly wag, after hearing one veteran cite his event schedule for the next few months after this race, asked him, "Impressive. And when are you going to get a job?")

The Brit who ran an ultra or something of similar extraordinary length in England less than a week after completing the Marathon des Sables.

The American who has herself done 8 Marathons des Sables and 2 or 3 Eco-challenges (incl Sabah).

The third place finisher was a woman of approximately my vintage (but far greater athleticism) who was constantly the life of the week in Hovsgol, and also an expert on massage (she provided massages to all participants who wanted them the day before the race). She could be heard laughing and chatting at all times, taking little seriously. Never grim, before the prospect of a grim race.

There was a trio from Japan, the average age of which I would reckon at just under 60, including a 70 year old! They drank beer every morning at breakfast (which typically consisted of "sausage" of unknown provenance and which incorporated significant amounts of blood, boiled eggs and nescafe; as for other meals, I have tried to erase their memory but I still cannot forget the amount of mutton I was asked to consume; I am grateful for my foresight in bringing five large bowls of instant noodles of the most nutritious kind, with actual chunks of fatty pork that tenderized by action of the hot water, that turned hell into heaven). I could not discern that any of them carried any water during the race, though at one of the aid stations one of them pleaded to be allowed to drink beer instead of the water on offer. The two youngsters both finished in the top 10, while the septagenarian finished the marathon portion.

Then there was the veteran ultra-marathon doctor whom we all cherished for his terse words of advice and his hard-nosed approach to medical
prudence--basically and thankfully his brief message to us was drink lots of water and unless we broke our hip, he'd make sure we finished the race.

A word about Dan and Sark--they finished the race on completely decimated feet (thanks to the rocks), and additionally, Dan had a strained knee from before the race and twisted both ankles going down the second big hill. I tip my sweat-besotted visor to their guts.

The venue is at 1600 meters elevation on the shore of Lake Hovsgol, home to teeming pike and the world's largest salmon. Snow-capped mountain peaks are close at hand. The course winds over rich grassland and hills, pink and orange and white wildflowers in riotous bloom with the melting of the seven-month snow cover and the underlying permafrost. Roughly 1/2 of the course is on this soft bed, which can be marshy in parts. The other half is on cruel, rocky riverbeds and jeep tracks under blistering 30-degree sun with nary a tree for cover. Wild horses, reindeer and yaks roamed throughout, and occasionally a local herdsman on horseback would greet us to relieve the loneliness (I was luckier than most since I had two companions--this is not a team event, and ultramarathoners are, by nature, loners). At every 11k or so a rudimentary aid station with unlimited water drawn from the lake, boiled potatoes and wonderful ripe red tomatoes dipped in rock salt provided an opportunity to refuel.

There are really only three significant hills, of which two occur in the first quarter of the race. These hills--under tree cover--were a contrast to the balance of the race, where there were either endless stretches of grassy meadows and valleys or endless stretches of rocky track. This race is made for thoroughbred runners. Due to the desire to leave the least human imprint possible, there are no stairs, no markers (other than biodegradeable green marks made a few days before the race).

This is not consciously a fund-raising event. The entry amount we each paid to the Masters was used to defray travel, lodging and food expenses with the balance being invested in environmentally-friendly energy and sanitation devices for the local community. And so I offer to you the reader this paean to the site, the event and the companion pilgrims without any strings attached. Another time, perhaps.

Fred Chang
July 2001

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