to Sunset 2003, 100 km and Marathon
The 5th Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset marathon and ultramarathon had a cold start and a surprising finish. For the first time since the inception of the Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset ultramarathon foreign participants won both the 100 km and the 42 km races, with new time records being set in both the 42 km men's category and the 42 km women's category.
The seasoned group of runners participating in this year's race made for a highly competitive race, an end to the day long before sunset, and another injury free year. Proceeds from the race continued the garbage project undertaken last year. The project was designated by the Mongolian government as an example to other parks and will be rolled out across Mongolia in the coming year.
An unusually slow start to summer meant that the lake had thawed a mere week before participants arrived for the race. The colder weather and a small storm the night before the race put snow on the top of the two mountain passes in the first 42 km of the run, giving participants a taste of Christmas in the middle of summer. Many commented that it was one of the most novel, surreal and beautiful experiences of this year's run.
Participants started their day at 3:30 am by a local musician playing bird calls on his flute as he wandered through the sleeping camp. A wolf sighting near camp, crashes of lightening and sporadic rain throughout the night were a foreshadowing of the sharp undercurrent of energy felt at the 4:30 am start.
The start through the forest behind the camp was led by last year's 100 km winner, Mongolian runner Nuuree Enkhtur, and seasoned US ultrarunner Steve Bremner. The fast pace they set along the dark wooded path brought both of them, and two other Mongolian contenders, into the first aid station at 12 km in under an hour.
As runners started the challenging 5 km climb of the first mountain pass, they entered a winter wonderland of snow and fog. With horsemen emerging from the fog as beacons, all made it safely off of the pass. After Chichee Pass the battle for the 100 km started, with honeymooner Clive Jones of the UK only 30 minutes behind defending 100 km champion Erkhtur, and all other contenders at least 30 minutes behind Jones.
A tight pack of 42 km runners were trailing Erkhtur, with only seven minutes separating Bremner from the two top Mongolian 42 km runners, Batnyam and Otgonbat, at the 25.5 km mark. Bremner set a consistent pace for himself that the others couldn't keep going over the Khirvesteg pass, the second mountain pass in the race. Weather conditions made the downhill off of the pass slick causing Bremner to take a head-first spill that brought him across the finish line with a bloody chin and a record-setting time of 4:20, breaking the previous 42 km men's record.
Coming in at 5:01, last year's women's 42 km winner Sudvmaa, of Mongolia, bested her own time setting a new record. An amazing feat considering she had traveled all night and arrived in camp at 2 am, only hours before she began the race. She was 5th overall in the 42 km race.
The men and women's veteran's race was won hand in hand by last year's 42 km winner Mongolian Guraragchaa and first-time MS2S runner Maggie Allan of the UK. Their time was 6:02. Allan was also 3rd overall in the women's 42 km race.
The true battle for the 100 km race began to play out. As the 100 km runners entered the Jankhai aid station (55 km) heading into the second half of the race, Jones had closed Erkhtur's lead to a mere 7 minutes. Less than 30 minutes behind Jones ran a group of three: Mark Progin, Catherine Worth, and Trevor Goh, respectively. Progin was a third time participant of the Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset ultramarathon , who in preparation for the race had bicycled 1,600 km across Mongolia to get to Lake Huvsgul, and had run the 42 km race course days before as a warm up. Worth had run the 100 km race the previous year, winning the women's category with a time of 15:16. She was bent on breaking 13:00. This was Goh's first 100 km race.
By the time the runners reached Uren aid station (65 km) Erkhtur had begun to lengthen the gap between himself and Jones. Goh began to show his strength as he passed Worth and entered the aid station at about the same time as Progin. Goh and Progin were 30 minutes behind Erkhtur. It was as they were entering the aid station that seasoned Progin counseled novice Goh he was not far behind the leaders and should make a bid for one of the top places.
By Jankhai (88 km) Goh was running side by side with Erkhtur, having passed Progin and Jones. The first-time 100 km runner explained his amazing performance the second half of the race by saying he was running along enjoying the gorgeous scenery and he would spot a person in the distance. His focus became irresistibly drawn to the person ahead of him and before he knew it the dot on the horizon had become another runner and he passed them, and just kept on running. Goh crossed the finish line 20 minutes before last year's champion Erkhtur, winning the men's 100 km race with a time of 12:23.
Worth came close to her goal of 13:00 hours by besting her time of the previous year and winning the women's 100 km race in 13:36. Progin finished with a time of 12:52 putting him in 3rd place overall, and winning the veteran's 100 km race.
All photos Copyright Clement Marin.