Undergraduate Kenneth Yau shares what it’s like to prepare for one of the world’s most challenging endurance footraces—the Gobi March.
How far would you go for an experience of a lifetime—and do good while you’re at it?
Second year political science student Kenneth Yau, 23 is part of an eight-man team which will take on the 10th edition of the Gobi March, a 250km, seven-day footrace in the Gobi Desert in China on June 2.
Organized by sporting event company Racing The Planet, the Gobi March is one of the world’s top endurance races traversing grasslands, dry riverbeds and mountain valleys in extremely windy conditions with temperatures reaching 40°C.
The team Tembusu Globe Trekkers, named after Tembusu College at National University of Singapore comprises a resident fellow, two graduate fellows and four other undergraduates.
Their aim: to raise S$100,000 in funds for the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, which provides pocket money for students from low-income families. A related program, STep UP, enlists volunteers from tertiary institutions to provide free tuition services in family service centers.
Being able to adapt to the adverse climatic conditions will be key to their success, as is the skill to manage personal resources, most of which will be borne by themselves on the move. Yau shares with City News how training and preparations have been before the team departs on May 29.
How was the team formed?
I met my teammates at Tembusu College, a hostel where we live and study. One of our friends, Nianjia, asked if we would be interested in doing Gobi March. He didn’t think anything was going to materialize from our discussion but eventually, we all decided to do it.
What was the motivation to do the Gobi March for the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund?
Firstly, we want to bring back a good story to share with others and inspire the youth to engage in endeavors which can benefit the community. I strongly believe in the value of having a proper education. It’s very heart-warming to see that the charity has benefited children from poor families.
Do you and other team members have relevant sporting experiences?
Three of us have completed a marathon; the others are more involved in other sports like triathlon and track and field. In terms of scale, none of us have done something similar to this—my closest experience would be a 70km maneuver during my army days!
What were the responses of your family and friends when they knew you were going to do the Gobi March?
The most drastic response would be, “You xiao, ah?!” (“Are you crazy?!” in Singlish) However, most of our family members and friends are encouraging and they have even donated to the charity that we are supporting.
What’s the general sentiment among your teammates?
Some of them are not sure if they are able to pull through the entire length of the race. However, we can still finish the event as a team as long as three members are able to complete all stages of the Gobi March.
Given the tough conditions expected in Gobi, how have you been preparing for it?
Last week, we went on an 80km hike around Singapore. Our team also completed a two-day 70km hike to and from Desaru, Malaysia, Occasionally, we do stair-climbing at a tall HDB flat in Clementi. Other than that, we view past event videos and read testimonies from previous participants to know more.
Give us an idea of your overall game plan.
We won’t be running throughout the whole event. We will keep to a comfortable walking pace of about six kilometres per hour and take five-minute breaks in between.
Has there been a change in your diet, due to the physical demands of the race?
We simulate race-condition diets during our 80km hike by consuming energy bars and water, and experiment with field ration packs.
What were some other non-training challenges faced during the course of preparing for the race and how did you deal with them?
For a period of time, it was challenging to get sponsorship. As there are several Christians in the team, we continually prayed for a breakthrough. Sometimes, there are conflicts of personalities within the team; I will turn to the Word of God to help resolve these conflicts.
What would be your go-to Bible verse when the going gets tough?
Isaiah 40:28-31, part of it which says, “…those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
The 5th day of the race, which covers 80km, is described as the “long march” before the home stretch. How do you intend to deal with this section of the race?
We will try to complete it in one straight-out attempt, given the urgency to finish before the cut-off time. Our main concern is mainly to keep to the right path, especially at night.
How do you think you will cope with the prospect of not having a bath for close to a week?
Given the less sandy conditions and low humidity of the environment, personal hygiene will not be too hard to maintain. Wet wipes should suffice for me.
What would be the first thing you will do upon completing the race?
Fall to my knees and give thanks to God for pulling me through the entire seven days of the event!
To support the Tembusu Globe Trekkers, you may donate to the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund through the Give Asia donation portal at http://www.giveasia.org/movement/by_youths_for_youths_tembusu_globe_trekkers_gobi_march13 If you are a student, you can also sign up to be a volunteer coach for STep UP.