So. I did it! How extremely amazing and unbelievable is this. Inner Mongolia was an adventure, a challenge and a magical place – all at the same time. The Genghis Khan MTB Adventure and Grassland Extreme Marathon was the event of summer (thus far, I still have a few highlights ahead..).
Getting there proved to be the first major obstacle, as all flights to Beijing were cancelled, due to severe summer thunderstorms on the way.
I eventually made it to Beijing and after a very short night Clarissa and I ventured on to Xilinhot in Inner Mongolia. We were picked up by a bus together with a lot of other runners and mountain bikers and shuttled to Xiwuqi – a little make-shift town smack in the middle of nowhere, also known as the grasslands.
Being on the plane from Beijing to Xilinhot was amazing itself – you could watch the landscape go from blue to green as we ventured north.
When we arrived we realized that, once again, the early bird catches the worm (does this even work in english?) and due to us booking early we scored a room in the government hotel of Xiwuqi. This meant better food, bigger rooms (not any cleaner though) and did I mention better food? The mapo tofu was ridiculously good!
We went for a little evening stroll to get familiar with the surroundings and then went to bed early. Race time was going to be 7am.
Purple was our color – halfmarathon distance.
It was absolutely amazing. Body over mind. I didn’t train as much as I would have liked in the three weeks prior to the race as I was traveling quite a bit for work and didn’t get around to hitting the gym as much. I also hadn’t run outside at all, something that I do regret in hindsight. This run was a full-blown trail event through the Inner Mongolian grasslands. So not only was this my first race ever, but also my first trail run, first race, first halfmarathon.
It was hillier than expected, sandier than expected and a lot more fun than expected. Also, I ended up being a lot slower than expected, finishing in 2.37hrs as the 27th woman on that distance overall. That still got me into the better half of all runners, but my competitive self has already vowed to return next year to make it in to the top 10! (doable? i think so!)
The landscape was stunning and both Clarissa and I were so proud after finishing. We hung around the finish line and cheered on fellow runners and stayed for the awards ceremony. A quick lunch and shower and then off to the yurt city!
The weather there was quite intense – chilly and windy during the evening, rainstorms at night and clear blue sunny skies for the day.
We spent the night in one of the yurts, but before we even got to think about sleep, it was all about feasting! Mongolian style – meat, serious amounts of MEAT.
Clarissa immediately spotted the funnest table – thus we ended up with a bunch of marathoners, ultramarathoners and marathon drinkers. In fact, it was the hardest drinking table in the house.
Meanwhile, we were entertained by traditional song and dance in fabulous costumes.
And then it was time for the most amazing sunset of all. And.. wait for it. A DOUBLE RAINBOW! And we found gold at the end of the rainbows. And I was the happiest girl in the world.
Also, this was before we decided to get at 4.30am to see if the sunrise was an event worthwhile skipping half an hour of rest for. And it was stunning!
I was slightly exhausted the following day, but anyway, it was time to pack up, check out and get onto that horse, bus, plane, taxi back home.
Once again – all flights cancelled.. Resulting in a 13 hour over-night bus trip on gravel roads back into Beijing, missing my Shanghai connection, spending another 6 hours at the airport and finally collapsing into bed a good 25 hours later. Hands down: all worthwhile.
Next year – maybe Mountainbiking?!