So last night in the Gers was hilarious, mainly due to the fact that they were SO HOT I ended up taking most of my clothes off and sleeping in my sports bra and leggings. The fire fairies had done such a good job that it was hotter than the sun in there. Opening the door was quite a shocker. We were set to leave at sunrise around 8.30am so got up and got dressed in all my layers and went up for a breakfast of coffee, some kind go solid cream and eggy bread. Classic ultrarunning food. Today was the first day of running and there was a palpable nervousness around the table. We still didn’t know what to expect on the ice. At around 8.30 we gathered on the lake - the boys were looking epic.
L-R: Jim, Rob, Darren, Lee and G-Law #lads
And then we started to run.
I felt quite overwhelmed at the start of the run. I thought I might cry. The little bells on on the harnesses of the horses tinkling as they ran just in front of us, and the beauty of the lake and the sun coming up was beyond anything I had been part of before. The crunch of our spikes on the ice and the feeling that we were doing something so epic was humbling. I felt very lucky. I managed to keep a decent pace for around a mile and a half and then decided to have a little walk. Mainly because I already looked like this…..
Turns out running on ice in -45 is a lot harder than running round the trails of Victoria Park in +10.
Kit wise I had made an error. I was wearing 3 pairs of tights but no salopettes as I thought I would warm up. In addition I had 3 pairs of socks on and my feet were freezing. At about 6 miles my glutes (that’s my arse, guys) started to feel cold and it got to the point where they were SO cold that I couldn’t feel them - every step was agony - it felt like I was running with two huge bruises on my legs . Can you get frostbite on your bum? Would it fall off? (Hopefully….). I needed another layer and why were my feet so cold? In the meantime, Lee’s spikes, which were made of plastic, decided to snap in half. LOL. We had been running for just over an hour. We stopped at a support van to sort ourselves out. I needed to put on salopettes but I didn’t have a belt and they kept falling down. Lee needed some new spikes (I had a spare pair) but no belt. The broken spikes had been held on with two straps so Lee suggested that I fashion a belt out of them while he took the spare spikes. God, we are geniuses. I also couldn’t work out why my feet were so cold - surely more socks means more warmth. But thinking about it, my feet couldn’t move because they were so compressed. Maybe if I took OFF a pair and they could move better they would get warm - bang on the money, it worked.
After picture of Lee’s spikes. One out of five on Amazon reviews….
As I stood at the van, faffing and trying to make things better, one of our Mongolian support crew came up to me and started pulling at my tops, none of which were tucked in. I couldn’t work out what he was getting at, until I saw that as he was shaking my tops, snow was coming out of them. Because I hadn’t tucked them in, my sweat had turned into snow INSIDE my jacket and was falling out onto the floor. It was mental. After a while, he managed to tuck me in, and on went the jacket and we were off again. The Mongolians know their shit, even when it comes to ultrarunning - I didn’t make that mistake again. My bum cheeks started to come back to life under the salopettes.
Darren and G-Law were a lot faster than me, because they are a lot fitter than me and are men and are just all round legends, so myself and Lee stuck together for a while, running and then walking and talking shit as usual. I wanted to run more, and so eventually the group spread out.
There were points on this run where I was completely alone. It was both brilliant and terrifying to be out there with not a person in sight. But these are the times that I can think clearly and I appreciate them. They are also the times when you can dip, the demons come, and the thoughts get too much and start to take you the other way. But this was day one, and I was able to focus on the glory of the surroundings and bask in what I was trying to achieve, which was get to the camp before dark and in one piece. There are a lot of very different types of terrain here. All ice, all different. Here are a few.
Looks like water - is ice……
Snowy ice with big cracks in….
As the day got warmer (up to a balmy -38 at one point!) the ice started to do it’s cracking bang bang fun times thing. Lee had caught up by this point (he’s a fan of jumping on the pony sledges….) so we had a sit on the ice to take it in and feel the vibrations - I tried to record some of the noise but it didn’t come out. I like the fact Lee is sitting in this video like a petulant child though…..
I spent the last third of the day on my own. Navigating the lake was easy in that we followed the lead of the ponies and the van tracks, and after 5 hours of running I could see that camp for the night was in sight and it was beautiful.
Camp is in sight!
Home for the night…..
View from the front door….
Heating for the night….
Our Mongolia crew had gone on before us to set up our makeshift Gers for the night. These were simply tents set up on the open ground with mattresses on the floor. I didn’t realise what an issue this would be until later on that night. They were busy chopping up wood for our fire and getting it stacked, so we helped ourselves to hot water and I thought about getting changed. But I didn’t get changed. Because it was too cold. Off came the salopettes and on went the onepiece and North Face over the top of everything else. This is how I would stay for the rest of the trip. I didn’t get changed once.
That night we all sat around the roaring fire in the freezing cold, trying to stay warm. As we settled in, we could hear the wolves in the hills howling. It’s something I will never forget. Magical. We were rewarded for the 26 mile day with a wild boar stew and some frozen beers.
The Mongolians joined us, and encouraged us to take part in an after dinner ritual that involves boiling a pan of cow bones and then seeing which of the men can break it with his bare hands. This was a BRUTAL thing to watch. The guys just punch it until it breaks and this bone took a particularly long time to break. Darren had a go, but was relieved to see that it took another half hour for one of the natives to break it after he’d tried. Then it was to bed - we had another long day ahead of us and so sleep was important. The Mongolians went out looking for a wolf to shoot for our breakfast. We had no idea how difficult that sleep would be.