Japan's Kohta Araki will likely steal the show at the inaugural edition of the Mongolian International Steppe Marathon this weekend in the hilly outskirts of capital city Ulanbaataar. The winner of Echigo Country Trail last June won himself a free entry for the new race set up by a Japanese company in this for many people still vast and mysterious country. When thinking of trail running and Mongolia, only the long-time classic Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset in the very remote Northwestern Hovsgol National Park comes to mind. But that is about to change with this new event of 50 km that is meant to launch a new tradition. The naming in English may be a bit confusing still - is it Mongolia International Steppe Marathon or Bogd Khan Ultra Trail, and how does that rhyme with the applied abbreviation MSUT - but the 50k race course is crystal clear and in the hands of none other than Carole Fuchs, the French winner of Cordillera Mountain Ultra in Philippines and recent conquerer of Mount Everest. It is a hilly course run at quite high altitude between 1350m and 2200m above sea level.
A bit of background. Bogd Khan was born in Tibet and was the third most important man in the hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. Nevertheless, he moved and lived most of his life in Mongolia. In 1911 he was enthroned as the Khagan - Head of State - of Outer Mongolia after it declared its independence following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in what is now known as China. The Bogd Khaganate - the reign - was short-lived as in 1919 Chinese troops returned to Urga, as the capital city was then called. In the political turmoil that ensued, Bogd Khan was again reinstated to the throne for three more years till his death in 1924. Then, the People's Republic of Mongolia was officially announced, backed by Soviet Communists. The winter palace of Bogd Khan has been well-preserved an is now tourist attraction in Ulanbaataar.
Fascinating stories and cultural relics are omnipresent in this region of the world, and for sure adds meaning to the new trail event in August.
While Araki starts the new race as a clear favourite, everybody is hoping to see some Mongolian talents emerge this weekend. Mongolia has a strong tradition in other endurance sports such as cycling, but also its ultra road runners have been doing quite well in international competitions. Trail, however, is largely new to them.
This is a 2019 Asia Trail Master Candidate Race, and news will become available this weekend via the facebook page of the event.