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Tackling the Gobi March in China

  What is the Gobi March?

Launched in 2002, the Gobi March is a seven-day, 250km footrace that takes place in northwest China. It is part of the 4 Deserts series, named by TIME magazine in 2010 as the world’s number-one footrace, and one of the world’s top 10 endurance events.

The race is held in the Turpan Basin, which is not only the second-lowest point of land on earth (after the Dead Sea), but the hottest place in China, and the world’s most distant point from an ocean. Temperatures during the event are expected to range from 10 to 45 degrees Celsius.

Thirty countries are expected to be represented in the Gobi March 2011, approximately a third each from North America, Asia and Europe. The UK has the strongest presence in this year’s race. The total number of competitors is kept to a minimum (less than 150 in 2011).

The three other 4 Deserts footraces are held in Chile’s Atacama Desert, the Sahara in Egypt, and Antarctica.


This Sunday, French expats BERTILLE TILLOT and JOACHIM LUMBROSO will be waking up in a tent in the forbidding desert landscape of China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, hefting backpacks onto their shoulders, lacing up their sneakers, and setting out into the heat of the day to run a marathon. And they will be doing this for seven consecutive days.

Some might call it an endurance event or an ultra-marathon; others, madness. Officially, it’s referred to as the Gobi March.

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Why run 250 kilometres in a desert in China? Really, why?
Because it will be a unique experience that allows us to push our limits further, share strong and unforgettable moments with other people, and see wonderful landscapes.

How long have you been running?
About three years, though we only seriously started training in October 2010 when we registered for the upcoming Gobi March. Before that, we’d never run longer than a half-marathon.

It’s all about training, increasing the distance slowly and allowing the body time to get stronger and to adjust. The longest distance we have done so far is 70km. We run about 8km per hour, so that we can last as long as possible. We stop regularly to stretch and enjoy the run.

How are you preparing for the race?
We run three to four times a week, with at least one long-distance run, between 20 and 30km. We try to vary the terrain: Mount Faber for hill-training, MacRitchie for trails, and so on. As the Gobi March is a self-supported race, we have to carry all our gear and food for seven days, so we also train with backpacks.

We work on muscle-strengthening on a daily basis (sit-ups, push-ups, stretching) and do a weekly session with a coach.We also swim twice a week and cycle once a week.  

What about diet?
Diet plays an important part in our training. We haven’t made a lot of changes to our diet yet, but we are increasing carbs and proteins. During training, we usually drink a product called Perpetuem by Hammer Nutrition and we take endurolytes to get enough carbohydrates, sodium and proteins to keep us moving. Weight management is like a bit of alchemy to lose fat and put on muscles; we try our best. A bit of fat is also necessary as a great source of calories.

Diet is another story during the race. As we need to keep our backpacks as light as possible, we can’t just load up with any food we like. We will be burning between 6,000 and 7,000 calories a day, so we are getting help from a nutritionist to plan our diet and optimise every gram of food.

Are these full-time preparations, or do you also have day-jobs in Singapore?
We’re working full time, so we train in the evening and over the weekend. We are both working for AXA Insurance [Bertille in the Project Team and Joachim in Financial Risk Management]. AXA Healthcare is sponsoring us with an International Exclusive policy, so whatever happens in the remote Gobi Desert we will make it back home safely.

How long have you been here, and what do you like most about it?
We’ve been here since 2007 and 2008 respectively. We love the greenery and the activities available in Singapore; they make life very enjoyable. Singapore is definitely a great place to live.

Tell us a bit about your expectations of the actual race.
Tough, hot and intense! About 140 people from 20 countries will be participating. It will be a great opportunity to mingle with professional athletes and crazy novices like ourselves. We are looking forward to discovering these remote places, experiencing the silence, running on a desert of salt and being surrounded by beautiful nature.

What will be the single most difficult aspect of the race?
We don’t even know! The lack of food, the distance to cover, the weight of our backpacks, potential injuries or blisters – or not showering for seven days?

Heard any memorable stories from previous Gobi March events?
A few competitors got lost at night during the long stage because children of local villages stole the flags marking the race itinerary!

How did you link up with Club Rainbow?
We got in touch with Rajakanth, the director of Club Rainbow. He was very supportive of the project, so we decided to work together. It means a lot to us to support a cause helping kids. Through Gobi March, we are discovering what we are capable of, beyond our known limits and beliefs. In a way, these kids are going through the same challenge every day.

How will you celebrate once you cross the finish line?
We’ve heard they’ll be serving pizza …

Visit Bertille and Joachim online at http://racingthegobi.weebly.com.