Running Into Nothingness

The Gobi Desert is known for its nothingness and harsh existence.

There are snow leopards and Bactrian camels, although Bennie Roux is not holding his breath on spotting any when he competes in the Gobi Ultra later this year.

The sandy mountainous landscape sits between Northern China and Southern Mongolia, expanding more than 1.2 million square kilometres, and rumour has it that fireworks will light the sky during this epic race.

Much like the Munga Trail in Mpumalanga South Africa, of which Bennie is three-time winner and undefeated champion, he will run for 400 kilometres, non-stop.

He will line up with about 50 runners, and around 70% of them are expected to finish; only 30% cross the finish line of the Munga Trail.

“The Munga has given me the confidence to go the distance, go through the night, and trust my gear. It’s about standing at the start line knowing I have done this before.”

But unlike the Munga Trail, he will be running at an average altitude of 3000 metres, peaking at 4300 metres.

“I think it’s going to be really cold and windy,” he said, still managing a grin on his face.

This Ultra, which starts on August 7, has been a few years in the making for Bennie. He first found out about it in 2017 when he was seeking advice before running his first Munga Trail, subsequently coming across someone who had run this race, which has been going since 2015.

The running part of Gobi Ultra isn’t actually what scares him, claiming he can’t wait to get to the start line, and is estimating that if it all goes well, it should take him around 70 hours.

Unlike the Munga Trail, the aid stations are much more regular at every 10 kilometres, and some aid stations have drop bag points so Bennie will have the luxury of dry clothes and socks replenishment.

The food differences and language barrier in China is what Bennie is more concerned about, (although he will take some of his own race nutrition) and having to make sure his visa and flights are all sorted.

“I’m really terrified, I haven’t travelled since 2014!”

The route will also be a different challenge. Unlike the Munga Trail which had a GPS-coded route for the whole race, the Gobi Ultra only has GPS codes for the aid stations.

“You must use your own navigation in between. My plan A, or 0.11, is to plot all the aid stations on Google Earth, look at the contours, then work out the shortest route between the points.”

In the privileged position of being an invited runner, thus not having to pay the hefty entry fee, it was only recently that Bennie found out this was going to be on his 2019 race agenda.

“The rest of the year was supposed to be just plain sailing.”

Currently, on the back of The Munga Trail which was just last month, Bennie is running a maintenance weekly ‘active recovery’ distance of 40/50 kilometres.

He will have to put aside his planned three-month rest now though and plans to start picking up the miles again this week.

“I’m aiming to do lots of local miles, and altitude training in Lesotho, if time allows.”

He has a couple of 50 and 100 miler races lined up, which he sees as quality time on his feet.
Bennie will go to China for around 20 days, and is looking forward to seeing The Great Wall of China, and doing some hiking in Mongolia and the Himalayas.

“I think it will be very interesting coming back and telling people about it.”

He is very grateful to have Nevarest and the aligning sponsors behind him and is looking forward to making them proud on his journey.

Bennie said the Gobi Ultra will give him a good gauge of how good he is on the world scale.

“I’m aiming for a podium position, and if it’s possible to win it, I will. I have to back myself.”

Bennie Roux