Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gobi March closing ceremonies.

Gobi March closing ceremony

Saturday we run the last 10k of the Gobi March in Kashgar city. We arrived by bus to Kashgar from Upal around 11am to the start line and we started running about 30 minutes later. Kashgar is a remote vibrant city west of the Gobi’s Taklamakan portion of the desert. Of all Racing the Planet races, Gobi March is the race that you come in contact with the most culture, the race happens in areas so remote that not many foreigners will find their way to. For the last leg of the race, every competitor was allowed to run, it was nice to see fellow Canadian Leonard Stranmore who had dropped out on day four because of foot infection, and severe foot pain at the start line again for the last 10k. It was amazing running thought town, we must have been a sight to locals, and the local authorities redirected or stopped traffic for us to navigate the city, the smells, the sounds of people going around their business on Saturday morning, then having 110plus sweaty and dirty runners with backpacks making their way to Kan Mosque. It sure feels amazing having people cheer you along the way. I wanted to run hard the last leg of the race but my legs are so use to long distance that they seem to have a mind of their own thinking that we where going yet again for an other 40k run. I still managed to run in about an hour, crossing the finish line holding hands with 45-year-old Toronto native Louie Santaguida. It was nice getting my medal, especially since there where some days that I struggle just to finish feeling lousy from a nasty virus that made it’s way around camp.

There were about 13 Canadians on the race, three had to drop out. Stefan Danis was the fastest Canadian and 40-49 age group winner and I placed third female after Diane Hogan-Murphy and Shirley Potter both of Ireland, the overall winner was American Eric LaHaie.

The awards ceremony was help at a square across the Mao Statue in Kashgar, I had to give thanks when receiving the award and as usual I had trouble speaking in front of so many people, it feels weird to be recognize for something when I feel that it’s hardly me why it’s not me who needs to be recognized here, there are so many people that has made my journey to all 7 continents possible, I know that without their support I wouldn’t have been there standing receiving an award. There are so many people in the world that are living their lives everyday with so much courage, I volunteered in Calgary for an event hosted by Foundation Fighting Blindness call Comic Vision there I met a lot of parents who just like me are raising children with visual conditions, and some of them are raising them being legally blind themselves, I feel hardly like I am the hero on this story, my mission is to spread the world about these amazing individuals.

I felt a bit sad last night when I left the ceremonies, coming back to a hotel room, too late to call my kids and share the great news I just sat in front of the computer trying to put my thoughts in order, I am glad to be almost done my races, I am glad I am still healthy to run my last continent in less than two weeks, but I am having a hard time finding my place, I now feel this is as much part of my life as it is being at home with my kids, I am sure I can ever go back to an office job anymore, when I started I though I was going to be mentally done with living such a stressful and emotional quest but I have found that it has made me a happier healthier person. My favorite poem is the Road Not Taken by American Poet Robert Frost and his words have never rung so true to me, “two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the less traveled by and that has made all the difference”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gobi March Day 5

Yesterday I did the long 80k stage in about 13 hours and 20 minutes, good enough to finish 31st. I felt great and run most of It and the last 30k hard. Camp as usual looks like a war zone with people limping and walking around looking shell shocked. The first finisher crossed the finish line in a about 6 and half hours and the last finisher finished in about 28 hours.

I love camp the day after, people have amazing stories to tell, and if It's your first time doing and event of such, people go home changed. It's amazing how the boundaries of what's possible expand.

This race had a lot of first timers so emotions where raw everyday, It really feels unnatural to push your body so hard, and mentally the struggle is even bigger. We experience pain as an alert mecanism to prevent injury or death, the problem is that it shows up way before there is any damage, sort of like the empty gast tank on a car shows up before you run out of gas. The trick is to know how far is too far.

There are many amazing stories of courage, one in particular will linger with me because She happens to be my tent mate and I watched her go through the pain and the doubt. When she walked to camp the first day, people probably bet She was going to drop out just like the way She looks, sort of the Susan Boyle syndrome, Hanna Sandlings is an UK TV personality so She is extremely beautiful, her skin looks like it has never seeing the sun. But day after day She pushed trough and did it, She was ready to quit after the first day but I wouldnt let her, I know that all she needed was somebody to believe She could do it, I could see She was starting to doubt, my advise was to take it one check point at a time, never to think that she had 250k, if She had enough to get to the next check point then She had to to it, then ask herself that question over and over again, You never want to go home thinking that You had 10 more kilometres on You.

I had a great run yesterday, I crossed the finish line 31st overall and second female again, I just looked at the results and I am currently at 3 place 27 minutes behind second place giving that is only 9k tomorrow it seems that that will be the final results. Way beyond my wildest dream, I though at most was going to place first on my age group. Ray Zahab my coach and founder of impossible2possible did predicted top three, I have to say that I though He was nuts when He told me that after Namibia, but that's why He is Canada's top ultrarunner and one of the top in the world.

Tonight is the last night on camp, then We run only 9k in Kashgar, the mood is light and fun, in our minds we have done it, talks revolve around what We are doing as soon as we get to town for me is a nice long bath, changing into clean clothes then laying on clean sheets, for other is a beer, or pizza.
Gobi March race a trully unique experience, We are in such remote towns that foreigns arent allowed, so its truly an experience of a lifetime.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gobi March Day 4

Today was a tough day in Gobi, the stage was 41.2k and it's called Starway to Heaven, We climb a total of 1,175 feet of elevation. At the top we where treated to Heavens gate in a canyon with ladders, It felt more like the ultimate challenge.

I definitely feel better after antibiotics so I guess is great to know that Namibia didn't leave me trashed, it was a virus that it's going around camp. I am glad that the antibiotics are working, today's stage was very tough, as usual there where several river crossings and We also had to run along the mountain ridge, the path was narrow, single track and the wind was very strong, at one point It picked me up and threw me about a foot over.

I kept thinking about the people behind me, like my tent mates that are by now struggling severely because of blisters, as I write this at almost 7pm some haven't crossed the finish line. It took me also longer than I expected but I surprise myself to find out I was second female across the line and top 40 overall.

I had a chance to chat with some of the other Canadians on the race, there are a total of 8, since everybody retreats to their tent to rest after the race I haven't talk to everybody. when I got to camp Blain Davis a personal trainer who live in Edmonton was chatting with Louie Santaguida of Toronto, they both had a great race considering that Louie is suffering from a sprain ankle he still managed to run both enjoying a great dehydrated meal, since the race is self supported We have to bring our own meals with us for the entire race, We are only provided with hot water for our meals.

Blain has a story similar to mine, He is here to fundraise for cystic fibrosis, his 6 years old son suffers from the disease, It sure put things into perspective for me when He told me the prognosis is death eventually.

When I started my seven races I have met amazing people that are refusing to sit down and ask the question that first comes to mind when you here a life changing diagnosis,"why us" instead they are creating a small army of people that are determined to do whatever It takes to change things for the better.

Here I am in Gobi, China with one long hard day ahead of me then I am done, I am feeling blessed for the wonderful experiences i am adquiring, when I started I wanted to do something for the cnib, Foundation Fighting Blindness and Operation Eyesight because I truly believe that the work they do is amazing but in return I am receiving so many blessings.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gobi March Day 3

Today was a tough day, I woke up feeling sick but couldn't figure if it was because I am run down or if it was the virus that it's going around camp. I took some pain killers and decide to push through today's 38k.

The first 20k went fast,I was feeling fine and run most of it, we went through Langerville a very nice small town, it was fantastic to see everyone in the village come out to cheer us on, they wanted to shake our hands or offered fruit. The second leg we went trough rivers, mud and farmland, it's hard to believe this is a desert, I run though what I tough looked like rice paddies, but turned out to be wheat.

It was after this stage that I hit the wall, I started to feel dizzy and short of breath, I had only 18k to go so I knew I was going to be ok so I just pushed though, slowed the pace significantly and all I could do was walk . In no time runners behind me quickly caught up, Todd Handcock of Red Deer became my company for the next while, Todd's wife grew up in Calgary and they now live in Hong Kong with their 3 kids, they still have family back in Calgary and they are following the race closely, like many others, this is Todd's first endurance event, you wouldn't know if you saw him, he seem to know well what to do and has finish around the 30th place since the start surprising even himself.It was nice chatting later back at camp with Todd, Eddie Naylor of the UK and Mitchell Stock of the USA all being begginers at endurance events such as Gobi March, it's always nice to hear their comments and observations coming from a fresh perspective.
even I felt like a begginer crying the last 7k totally destroyed, and this is my 6th race in 6 monts, I felt like a begginer not feeling like I was ever going to master the art at all.

Katrina Follows of Toronto and my tent mate kept me company for the last leg and tried to distracted me, she had dropped out of the race yesterday feeling sick herself so She was fantastic at making me feel better.

I am on antibiotics now and the doctor said I should be better by tomorrow, just two more hard days to push through and I should be crossing the finish line on Saturday, as I am writting this three ours after I finished, people are still crossing the finish line so I am feeling guilty for crying knowing what everybody is going though, and at the end that's why we form such a strong bond.

We are now a society that look for quick fix to any discomfort, but hardship and pain sometimes can be cleansing if it has a higher purpose.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gobi March Day 2

Day two in China, todays stage was 41.2 and it was named Mars on Gobi referring to the red canyon river bed we crossed.

It took me a lot longer to finish than yesterday, i droped to 6th female, i feel fine but had a ard time running my legs felt like bricks, otherwise i am healthy.There where not a lot of flat seccions and that takes a lot of oxygen to fuel the legs.

The scenery still takes my breath away, I am trying very hard to do my best but I also need to stay focus, I have a race in two weeks and I need to remain healthy, some part of me feel like I am letting my friends and family down when I see my times dropping.

We still have some tought days ahead, so I am just going to run my race and what evertime I finish that will be my right time.

I am missing everybody back home, I feel like the last 6 months I have hardly been home, living out of a suitcase in strange hotels around the world, I know this is an amazing opportunity for me and my kids are well look after by my mom when I am away.

As usual I am making fantastic friends, some that I am sure will be my friends for life, that's the best part of it all, when this is all forgoten, the record and all, what it will remain will be the lasting friendships I am making.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Gobi March Day 1

It's a hot day in the Gobi desert. Today's stage was 42.5k of canyons with river crossings, mountain trails and gravel roads. The area itself is very remote but this is the fist race of Racing the Planet where I have seen other people. Usually We are in areas where there is only the participants of the race on the course.

I did OK today, I felt great the first 20k then I was in a lot of pain everywhere for some reason, I kept telling myself hurting was good, being hurt not, since I wasn't hurt only hurting I kept going. I am not sure why I felt the heat more this time, it could have been that it was snowing in Calgary when I left.

After some pain killers at the 30k mark I felt better and increased my pace, I am becoming an expert on positive thinking, when I am forced to slow down because I am tired or hurting I tell myself I am lucky since I can now enjoy the view in more detail and even take great photos. I arrived at Tiznap Valley after 5 and a half hours and third female to cross the finish line.

Other change from previous races is that We are sleeping in local homes instead of tents, we sleep in our sleeping bags on the floor but we are shelter from sand storms and the desert coldness.

Since last night We have been very warmly greeted by the local villages, They have gone out of their way to come and cheer us and perform fantastic dances.

The villages are humble but clean and since It's communist everybody has access to running water and electricity. I wonder what the locals think of this crazy, weird looking and incredibly tall foreigners that are staying at their village. It is nice to see everybody dressed in their Sunday best, quite the contrast since We are all hanging out in our shorts, t-shirts and hotel sleepers.

There are a lot of first timers on this race and that makes It a bit unique, I get asked constantly about tips, like I am the veteran, Stefan Dani of Toronto is a participant, He said that He heard me talking about this race at an event and decided to sign for It, He is fit but has never run this distance before, at camp last night He said He was ready to blame me and curse my name every step he took, when I arrived He was already in, I asked him if he happened to mention my name during the race, He said He forgot, to busy running and taking in the breath taking scenery, that and the fact that He finished 9th overall and will probably win his age group, Stefan is 46, I am sure He never dreamed of participating on anythign like this, it reminds me of a song that I heard not long ago, It is by Bon Jovi, It says "wake up, where ever you are, this is the life You are suppose to live".
There are 135 participants in this race I hope that we can in place convince 135 more people to wake up and go for their dreams.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Continent six

Its been about a week since I got home from Namibia and in no time I was back on being Norma the mom not Norma the Ultrarunner. As soon as I got home I was inundated with chores, Dr’s appointments and bills. No matter how far I run I seem to return to the same old stuff. On my first day back my niece Marianna was eager to pass the baton, she said that she felt like in a horror movie where the more laundry she did the more it remained to be done. Then there is my car, I need a new one and I kept researching what kind of vehicle I can afford, specially now that I am not working, and I found just the right model for me, it’s call a bus pass, and don’t even get me started about my leaky basement.I sometimes feel like I am running on a treadmill never really arriving anywhere.
I was mopping around the house tired of the endless chores when something caught my eye, there is a life size drawing of me on my bedroom door, my best friend’s middle son Jake gave it to me, his grade 6 class at St Gregory school did a project about heroes and he chose me, I was speechless when he presented me with the drawing, I felt honored to have been nominated and chosen by Jake and his team members. I felt totally undeserving of such honor but what it really matter is that they though I did. If I were a hero, or a super hero, my power would be of resiliency; I could have a Teflon shield that I could activate if I needed something to just rub off.
Silly of me to be worrying about stuff like not having a car when in life all we have its our integrity, my father once said that at the end we are all remembered by our actions not our wealth, he said this when one of his five kids complained about him welcoming a poor relative to live with us, we were poor ourselves so things just got even tighter. I have never forgotten that and try to follow his example. I did got a new car, a red Jeep Wrangler, as soon as I finish my races I can find a new job, given the economy I might not find what I want but there are jobs, I like working and I have never felt that certain jobs are beneath me.

I am due to leave to my next race in China next week. As could not be happier that I have 250K to run soon. I have been reading the race road book and feel like I need to be pinched, I can’t believe I am so fortunate to be once more participating in such an amazing event.

Here is a bit of the history and culture of my next race in China.

The Gobi March was founded in honor of three missionaries, Mildred Cable and two sisters -- Francesca and Eva French. Mildred Cable and Eva and Francesca French were Christian missionaries who began their work in China around the turn of the century. After more than 20 years of doing routine missionary work in China, the trio headed northwest – to the Gobi Desert and beyond. Many of their colleagues were shocked. In the words of Cable, "Some wrote, saying in more or less parliamentary language, that there were no fools like old fools."

They were not deterred, traveling for months by ox cart before arriving at the City of the Prodigals, the last city inside the Great Wall, named for its reputation for attracting criminals. Here they set up a base where they spent winters. The remaining eight months of the year they evangelized, traveling the vast trade routes of the Gobi Desert in Gansu and Xinjiang Provinces. They made a point of visiting the lonely, the rejected and the poorest of the poor, feeding orphans, healing the sick, and educating girls. More than once bandits assailed them, caught up in local wars, or the occasional blinding blizzard.

Mildred Cable once said: "Only a fool crosses the great Gobi without misgivings." But with every painstaking step Mildred took, she was to see parables for life … a life that embraced the message she had come to bring. "In this trackless waste, where every restriction is removed and where you are beckoned and lured in all directions. One narrow way is the only road for you. In the great and terrible wilderness, push on with eyes blinded to the deluding mirage, your ears deaf to the call of the seducer, and your mind un-diverted from the goal."

A special award will be presented to a competitor who best exemplifies the characteristics of Mildred Cable and Eva and Francesca French.


The host city and location of the Gobi March are specifically chosen for their rich and ancient culture, and this year's host city and location of Kashgar and Tashkorgan, respectively, are rich in history and traditions which are present today much the same way they were hundreds of years ago. Competitors will experience Ugyur and Tajik culture throughout the Gobi March. A brief history of each culture is provided below.

The Uygurs

The Ugyur nationality is mainly distributed in the Ugyur Autonomous County (Xinjiang Province). With a population of more than 8.9 million, Ugyur people speak Ugyur and have their own writing characters. The Ugyur nationality believe in Islam. Their households are characterized by a flat roof with trap door on it. Within their house visitors can find a parlor, bed room, handiwork and storage rooms. The exquisitely decorated niche, carved from plaster, has a rich flavor of the Ugyur nationality . The Ugyur nationality has something called the "Roza" Festival (vegetarian diet-breaking festival). Ugyur people are known as "the singing and dancing nationality," famous for its "Twelve Muqams" dancing performance, which is a musical epic. The Ugyur nationality attaches great importance to clothing – they are always tidily dressed. All the Ugyur people wear small four-corner flower hats. The Ugyur people have the famous bridal-veil raising ceremony. The Ugyur language is a Turkic language spoken in Xinjiang, China. The language traditionally used the Arabic script since 10th century. The government introduced a Roman script in 1969, but the Arabic script was reintroduced in 1983.

The Tajiks

Since ancient times the Tajik people have lived in the Tashkorgan area in the Pamirs, which was both a gateway to China's western frontier and a key communications center between the West and inland China. They speak the Persian branch of the Indo European language family as well as the Ugyur language. The written Ugyur language is most commonly used. "Tajik" means "royal crown." The origin of the Tajiks can be traced back to an ancient Persian speaking tribe in the eastern Pamirs.

The Tajik nationality has maintained a long-standing friendship with the Han people. In 643, when the Monk Xuan Zang of the Tang Dynasty brought home Buddhist scriptures from India, he stopped over in what is today's Tashkorgan and listened to local Tajik fairy tales. Later he recorded these tales in his 'Notes on the Western Region of the Great Tang Dynasty.' In modern Chinese history, the Tajik people often bore the brunt of imperialist and colonialist invasions of China's western borders, and fought courageously to defend the frontier. On September 17, 1954 Tashkorgan Tajik Autonomous County was established.

I will be doing my best to update daily but sometimes coverage is sporadic so don’t forget to check the website for pictures and news about the race.