“No Pain, No Gain” - Running Through the Gobi Desert with a Mission

Wednesday, 4 July, 2012 - 09:08

Much has been written and said in recent weeks about the 2012 SANGONeT “No Pain No Gain” fundraising campaign. With SANGONeT CEO, David Barnard, running approximately 750km through three deserts on three continents - Namib Desert, Gobi Desert and Antarctica; the campaign aims to raise R1 million in support of SANGONeT's work. Having recently completed the six-stage 250km Gobi March in China, this is David’s story in his own words.

SANGONeT celebrates a very significant milestone in 2012 - our 25th anniversary. We have much to be very proud of and would like to celebrate our achievements in the appropriate manner throughout the year. But 2012 is not about SANGONeT and our achievements, only. The services we provide and the activities we implement are a direct response to the challenges facing NGOs in South Africa and beyond. Without the activities of other NGOs, and their need for information, communication and technology services, there will be no role for SANGONeT.

We are therefore using our 25th anniversary to celebrate SANGONeT's achievements, as well as recognise the unique contribution made by NGOs to South African society in general. And the annual “No Pain No Gain” campaign is the perfect platform to create and maintain the necessary interest and momentum in this regard throughout 2012.

But this means only one thing. In order to make the campaign and our 25th anniversary celebrations extra special - the campaign will have to be tougher and more extreme than before. Simply put, more desert races!

As a result, now in its third year, the 2012 campaign include both sand and snow linked to three footraces through three deserts on three continents - Namib Desert, Gobi Desert and Antarctica - and will require me to run approximately 750km in some of the toughest and most demanding conditions on the planet!

After completing the Namib Desert Challenge in March 2012, the focus now shifted to the second desert race of the 2012 campaign – the Gobi March from 10-16 June 2012 in China.

Having completed similar races in the past two years through Africa’s three mighty deserts - Kalahari, Sahara and Namib – the Gobi March was my first race on “foreign” soil. It was therefore going to be a totally new experience with its own unique challenges.

It took almost two days of flying from Johannesburg via Beijing to Kashgar, in the far west of China, and then a few hours by bus, to get to the starting line of the race. In between, I also spent two days in the smog and pollution of Beijing en route to Kashgar.

But having done these type of races before, including the Namib Desert Challenge earlier in the year, I definitely started the Gobi March in the best possible physical condition given my work and family commitments, and the time I had available to train and prepare for the race.

But a six-stage desert footrace in extreme conditions does not always follow the planned script. The first two and a half days of running were great, followed by a real struggle during the latter part of day three, most of day four and the start of day five, and then it all changed again, with my running on the latter part of day five and the final day definitely some of the best that I have experienced in all my desert races.

Ultimately, I am grateful that I survived the challenges of the Gobi March and the mighty Gobi Desert.

I finished the race in 36h18 and 28th position overall. The Gobi March, like any other desert race, is tough, very tough. The undulating and rugged terrain was very hard on the feet and body in general. But driven by a “No Pain No Gain” attitude, and because everyone suffers together, the spirit and camaraderie between competitors, organisers, medical staff and the support crew, made this a truly unique experience.

George Chmiel, one of my tent mates during the race, refers to competitors in these desert races as “warriors”, because unless you are willing to “fight”, you will not survive the physical and mental challenges of a race such as the Gobi March.

Although my words can’t do justice to this experience, I have tried to capture it in a manner - three parts in total - which will hopefully provide you with some insight into the race, the Gobi Desert, my overall experience and the meaning of it all - both personally, and to the work of SANGONeT and the South African NGO sector in general.

Part 1 covers the build-up to the Gobi March, including my preparations, the “No Pain No Gain” fundraising campaign and the final countdown to the start.

Click here to read more.

Part 2 covers the actual race, with a day-by-day account of my experiences and observations while running 250km through the Gobi Desert.

Click here to read more.

Part 3 covers my reflections on various issues related to this unique experience, including the challenges of completing an extreme event of this nature and why I would do it all over again.

Click here to read more.

Although the Gobi March is now something of the past, the “No Pain No Gain” race to R1 million is far from over. We still need more donations, and you have until 30 November 2012 to pledge your support.

Please make a donation and encourage others to do the same.

Next up is my third and final desert race of the year, the “Last Desert” race from 16-22 November 2012 through the snow of Antarctica.

Click here for updates about the build-up to this race and for general information about our “No Pain No Gain” campaign.

Also view the various NGO Profiles which we continue to publish as part of the campaign.

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