The Gobi March 2023
This is one of those times when outside interests and work come together serendipitously!
I've been volunteering on Racing the Planet races since Mr. Dean started running them back in 2016. This race, The Gobi March was my fifth time volunteering.
As a volunteer you travel with the racers and support them during the course of the race, you set up checkpoints along the route, cheer and give them water as they pass through, rove along parts of the course in vehicles to check everyone is ok and sweep the course, walking behind the last competitors picking up the course flags and any rubbish.
How this came about
In a nutshell, Racing the Planet organise a series of races called the 4 Deserts. Each is a 250km ultra marathon run, over 6-7 days in stages across The Atacama Desert in Chile, The Namib Desert in Namibia, The Gobi Desert in Mongolia and the last desert, Antarctica. Each year they add a special edition roving race at a new location, this year, it's Jordan.
Every race is very intense, as a racer or a volunteer you enter a bubble for the week of the race, with no mobile phone or distractions from the outside world, you race, cheer, eat, sleep, laugh and support each other in this unique environment, going your separate ways at the end of each race, with new friends who you may see next at a future race and life affirming experiences and memories.
It's not often that you get to know too much about what a person does outside of this race bubble, which is what happened to me, after working on 4 races, the founder, Mary Gadams discovered I was an illustrator, took a look at my work and loved it. She then had an idea for a map of the Grand Slam (all the races, including the roving race for 2022, the first full year of racing after the pandemic)
This was the first map I did for her;
As 2023 is the 20th anniversary of Racing the Planet and the 4 Desert races, to help celebrate, Mary asked me again to illustrate a map for the races for Gobi, Atacama and Jordan
Gobi was a race I'd not worked on before so using images previously taken at the race and a list of highlights provided by the organisers, this was the map I produced;
Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia
I was very excited to land in Ulaanbaatar a few days before the race start. I'd been told of the rolling green hills and sheer space of the country but driving into the city from the airport I was surprised to see wild horses running just outside the airport. No fences, just land stretching out with the odd Ger (a Yurt type structure lived in by herders) and livestock.
The city in complete contrast is a sprawling metropolis (nearly half the population lives here), power stations are in the centre of town billowing out smoke, the traffic is horrendous, building is going on everywhere, some abandoned flats half built alongside new shiny structures with a real mix of Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Korean influences. I was also surprised by the Western influence and the sheer number of Irish bars, I counted at least 3 just in the neighbourhood of our hotel!
Out on the Race Course
During the race there was no time for sketchbooking, it really is all about helping the racers and as a volunteer you're fully absorbed with your tasks for the week.
I didn't even take many photographs, these I've stolen from the professional photographer 📷 Gabriel Heusi
Mr. Dean is on the right!
A racer running past a Herders Ger. When we, as volunteers, had a checkpoint near a Ger they would come out with homemade cheese, or invite us in for hot milk and biscuits, they were so friendly and welcoming.
Often we'd reciprocate with leaving packets of sweets and snacks, then they'd bring out more, we often ended up in a war of food!
For more photo's of the race itself please visit the RTP site here
I met a range of dogs on the course, mainy belonging to herders and well looked after with a friendly temperament a couple even joined the racers for a couple of checkpoints, ending up spending the evening in camp with us
Mr. Dean had already told me I wasn’t allowed to get too attached to any of the dogs (I think his exact words were ‘don’t talk to any of the dogs!) I was very taken with this chap who spent the day at our checkpoint, thankfully he already had a good home.
In town, on the other hand there were less fornutate dogs, strays, often in packs working together to find food and defend their territory
Finally, at the end of the race, I got to give out my maps to the racers and volunteers, it's not often that I get to hand deliver my illustrations but it was a wonderful experience and I received some amazing feedback
Mr Dean completed Gobi and he'll be racing next at the Namib Race 2024 , where I'll be volunteering again....if you fancy joining us! 😉
If you’d like to see more of my illustrations please take a look at my Illustration page here