to Sunset '99
Participants in the 1999 Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset ultrarun awoke in their gers (yurts) in the pre-dawn hours of July 8 to the noisy barrage of the heaviest rainstorm of the week. Fortunately, as first light slowly seeped into the sky, the rain stopped and the 4 a.m. sunrise start of the race was in dry skies and temperatures in the mid 40s. Runners splashed in a fairly tight pack over the first 2 km of slightly hilly trails and most took the optional extra minute to circumambulate the ovoo (ceremonial cairn) near the trail in true Mongolian spirit, paying respect to local animist deities.
Hitting a dirt road parallel to the shores of 1,645-meter-high Lake Hovsgol for the next 10 km, runners strung out considerably and an early lead was taken at Chichee aid station (12 km) by marathon entrant Biambadorj Chogosom (Mongolia). Chogosom&'s 12 km time of 1 hour 7 minutes (1:07) was followed a few minutes later by Tsogtbaatar Norov (Mongolia) in 1:12. Sub-3 hour marathoner Mari Takemura (Japan), came in after 1:23, carefully pacing herself for the grueling hills ahead where she passed several runners who started out faster on the first flat section.
At Ongolong aid station (25 km) -- after 2,300-meter Chichee Pass, the first, highest and most spectacular of three mountain passes traversed in the 100 km course - Takemura continued to run a cautious pace, with five runners still ahead of her, while Norov continued to hold a lead that never closed to less than 5 minutes.
At Ongolong, Norov was followed by Gurragchaa Tavaa (Mongolia), Klaus Dieter Muttke (Germany), Gerard Verdenet (France), and Erdenebayar Bayansan (Mongolia). The order of top runners held during the very steep off-trail ascent through mossy forest to 2100-meter Khirvesteg Pass and Tavaa continued to run strongly until around the 80 km mark where he faded to an eventual 6th place finish.
Top race finishers did not fall into place until around Uren Aid Station (65 km) with several runners going off-trail for a loss of up to 20-25 minutes between after the 65 km aid station. After 100 km and 3365 meters of cumulative elevation gain and loss, finishing times were Norov in 12:22, Takemura (Mari, top female finisher) in 13:00, Bayansan in 13:19, Muttke in 13:27, and Verdenet in 14:00.
A group of three Japanese runners, Nobu Takemura, Kunihiiko Tsunamura, and Masaaki Yoshikawa, were the last to cross the finish line, hand-in-hand, 17 hours 50 minutes after the start, just as the last light of the day faded from the sky. American 100 km participants Tyler Pike (finisher in 1998 Leadville 100), Kristina Irvin (3-time finisher of Western States 100), and Mary Ritz (second woman to run a marathon on all seven continents), finished the course in 15:39, 15:41, and 16:20, respectively. World record holder for the number of 100 km runs completed (408), Henri Girault of France, finished in 17:08./p>
Organisers Nicolas Musy (Switzerland) and David Bernasconi (Ecuador) finished together in 17:30.
In the marathon event, American Chris Hazen finished in 5:47, good enough for 3rd place in the shorter event, behind Chogosom and and Battsengel Lhuvsandorj (Mongolia) in 4:45 and 5:15, respectively. The female marathon winner was Banchimeg Baatar in 6:07, followed by Tamsin Angus-Leppan (Australia) in 6:35.
Three entrants in the 100 km event dropped out after completing the marathon course, while 68-year-old Hideo Numazaki (Japan) held out until 55 km when aid station doctors determined a sharp drop in blood pressure; Hideo vowed to all to return in better condition to complete the 100 km when the race is held again in July 2000.
The morning after the race was spent resting and recuperating, following which event participants boarded two MI-12 helicopters for three noisy hours skimming the tops of mountainside birch forests and miles of grassy steppes.
By late afternoon, the group had arrived back in hotels in Mongolia's 600,000-inhabitant capital city, Ulaanbaatar, where German-brewed Chinghis Beer sponsored an all-you-can-drink awards/celebration dinner. According to 63-year-old Girault, "the celebration dinner was the hardest part of the event," although that was presumably because of the many toasts made in his honor! party: "The Takemura Sisters (Mari and Nobu) celebrate with Kunihiiko at the Chinggis Beer Pub, venue in Ulaanbaatar for the awards dinner."
Mary Ritz had this to say of Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset '99: "What can I say! This was one heck of a fantastic event! All the race folks were nice, helpful and fun. They did everything to see that the runners were taken care of on and off the course. The course was excellent and the people staffing the aid stations did a great job. About the only way to improve this event would be for it to be free or you pay me to run. I can't say enough what a great job you did. This race should be on every ultra runners' list. Mongolia is truly a special place and I feel honored and extremely lucky to have been able to run here."
In all, 36 participants from six continents participated in the first presentation of Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset '99. With television coverage of this year's event provided by the video arm of IMG, Trans World Sport, potentially reaching 185 million viewers, organizers are optimistic that the event's 100 openings for July 2000 will be filled early. Organizers of Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset '99 are Nicolas Musy, Tyler Pike, Christopher Hazen, David Bernasconi and Angie Eagan.
Organizers are grateful for the generous sponsorship of Montrail (www.montrail.com), Altrec (www.altrec.com), and Chinghis Beer as well as the sponsorship of Hovsgol Travel (on-site organisation), Tsolmon Travel (photos), Daatgal Insurance Company (event insurance), Laboratory Brunhof AG Dr J-P Musy (medicines).