Training for the unknown – Genghis Khan Ice Marathon

Cold & I don’t really see eye to eye, so when David Scott (Sandbaggers) and Doc Andrew Murray approached me mentioning the two magical words; adventure & challenge; with an invitation to join them on the inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon in Mongolia I jumped at the chance to run in -40 degrees!

Why?  Because it’s a challenge and I love a challenge! A chance to explore a completely iconic destination with an entirely unique culture with scenery like no other place I have ever been before while challenging the body and the mind in my favourite way, running.

Icy - Photo from Sandbaggers
Icy conditions in a stunning landscape – Photo from Sandbaggers

Who – Obviously David and Andrew, but we will also be joined by my dear friend and partner in adventure crime, Marina Ranger, and gal pal Lenka Istvanova.  As well as Shona Thomson, Maurice Donohue and Doug Wilson.

What – Starting from the iconic Genghis Khan statue in the plains east of Ulan Bataar we will find our way onto the frozen tul river from which point we will run, in expected temperatures of -40 degrees along the frozen river finishing up in a local nomadic camp where we will recuperate with some warming fermented mares milk (WTF!).  A lot of the route is impassable by vehicles so we will be supported by teams of husky dogs which will also aid in ensuring the local wildlife, aka wolves, keep well away (otherwise my rucksack has a whistle, that will work right!?).  We will also have the opportunity for even more fun when we tackle the husky sleds ourselves, race local mountain horses and even play a spot of wild golf.

Husky Sledding - Photo from Sandbaggers
Husky Sledding – Photo from Sandbaggers

Where – Mongolia!  During the week we will have the experience of sleeping out in a Mongolian Yurt (Gur as it is known in Mongolia) which are apparently designed to keep you warm and withstand the coldest of winters.  I certainly hope so otherwise Marina and Lenka will find me cocooned between them to keep warm!

Mongolian Ice Camp - Photo from Sandbaggers
Mongolian Ice Camp – Photo from Sandbaggers

When – 23rd – 30th January 2016

How – That is the interesting bit!  Having never run in arctic conditions such as that it has meant a lot of research for me into how I can ensure I not only cope in those conditions but be able to run a marathon competitively.  Let’s break it down into the main two parts, training & kit.

Training – I have just stuck to my normal training regime as I would do leading up to an ultra.  My average week consists of about 50 miles of running, made up of a speed session, hill repeats, hilly 7-9 mile run, 6 mile tempo run, long run and whatever else happens along with crossfit and yoga once a week for strength work.  It hasn’t been stuck to entirely, leading up to Christmas the mileage has dropped to maybe 30 miles a week some weeks and the eating habits (as well as drinking) have suffered somewhat, but I am conscious that from January I have a 3.5 month build up to Marathon Des Sables so all in good time.  I have made sure I have got outside in the cold, although to date we have been having an unusually mild winter which normally I would appreciate but I was banking on a cold Scottish winter to acclimatise.

But how will this get me ready to run on ice?  Have you ever tried running on ice?  You know when the footpaths freeze over and you hit a black spot of ice, well I was assuming it was going to be like that, for the entire length of a marathon.  On advice from David I got myself a set of Due North ice grips to put on over my normal trainers (Brooks Pure Flow 3) and  I managed to get myself an opportunity to run on the St Andrews Xmas ice rink to test them out.  A special thanks to Mark, Fraser and Ruth at Underbelly for allowing me this privilege, a strange request at first but they welcomed my craziness and on my birthday, myself and fellow runner Maurice, hit the ice!  See the action here on STV (available to view until 30th December 2015).  I am pleasantly surprised that the grips work a treat, they grip really well and you can actually run properly so that is a big relief.


First tentative steps onto the ice
First tentative steps onto the ice

Kit – Utmost importance for any event, but I am taking extra concern for my extremities as I don’t want to end up with frostbite.  I suffer from Raynaud’s as well so my hands get cold even when I’m running in a balmy 10 degrees, so my biggest investment was in gloves, I’ve gone for a pair of PH Designs Kappa mitts as they are also waterproof so will no doubt get some wear out in the Scottish mountains too.  These will be worn with a pair of base layer gloves (eGlove) underneath and I’m going to slip in disposable Hot Hands Instant Hand Warmers, I tried them out the other day and they get seriously hot!  I’ll probably get these into my shoes and possibly on my nipples (girls you know what I’m talking about here with freezing nips!).

Action Shot
Action Shot

My sponsor X-Bionic have been fantastic in providing me with great kit that I am sure will keep me toasty warm.  Potentially looking at 2 pairs of socks, but one pair for sure will be the X-Bionic Ski Metal which reflect body warmth made with the finest merino wool.  For leggings and top I have the Energy Accumulator series and will layer the top with a 2nd Accumulator top and finish the layers with the Beaver top which is half as thick as a traditional fleece but still manages even better insulation.  I will wear just the one pair of leggings or throw on a 2nd pair over the top, the 2nd pair will just be usual running leggings from Mirelle.   I will be wearing a balaclava to ensure all my extremities are fully covered, and have my Soma cap to hand in case the full face cover is not needed, along with a buff for my neck.

Stay tuned after January to find out how the team and I get on over there.  No doubt there will be loads of great photos to share with you all.

Fun & Games on the ice
Fun & Games on the ice

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