On June 27, 2010, 154 people from around the world set off on a 250km, seven-day footrace across an area of the Gobi Desert in Xinjiang, northwest China, known as the Turpan Depression. The second lowest point on Earth, temperatures can soar up to 50°C in this arid yet beautiful landscape, peopled largely by Muslim Uighurs. Organized by RacingThePlanet, the Gobi March is part of a series called the 4-Deserts, events that are "life enhancing for all, life changing for many". We caught up with RacingThePlanet CEO and Founder, Mary Gadams to find out how it all came about.China Travel: When and how did your personal interest in adventure and endurance sports come about?
MG: I have been a lover of the outdoors since I can remember. I first started running while in university and completed my first marathon around 1991 or 1992. I have participated in events all over the world since that time.
China Travel: You started out your career in investment banking, what was the pivotal moment that made you decide to give that up and focus on sports?
MG: I really got tired of finance, and felt that the world was globalizing so quickly—that if I did not leave, all the spectacular landscapes and cultures would be gone forever. I came up with RacingThePlanet as a way to see the last remaining places on Earth and to experience all the fascinating cultures.
China Travel: How did you come up with the concept for the RacingThePlanet events?
MG: I first sat down with CD-ROMs of all the past issues of National Geographic magazine. I then thought about a concept. Finally, I created a sustainable business plan based on my past experience at events and using my finance and strategy background.
China Travel: Why did you choose the Gobi as the location for the first ever race?
MG: I moved from Seoul to Hong Kong in 2002. Hong Kong was a logical choice because I had 1. met a guy here, 2. I fell in love with the city when I first visited, and 3. I had always been fascinated with the Gobi Desert.
China Travel: They’re all extremely tough courses, but is there one that you think is more challenging than the rest?MG: I think the Gobi March is always the most difficult because the landscape is the most varied and the weather can be so different from day to day. You can seriously experience all four seasons in one day, and all storms known to mankind in one day as well. We always have to modify the course at the last minute in the Gobi March and be on our toes for changes in weather conditions, including flooding from the mountains. The culture in the Gobi more than makes up for the uncertain weather.China Travel: Do you ever compete in the races yourself? If so, where and when do you train?
MG: I have done dozens and dozens of marathon, ultra-marathons and multi-sport races. I competed in one of our events in 2009, the Atacama Crossing, and hope to complete the 4 Deserts series. My goal is to compete in the upcoming Sahara Race in Egypt, and The Last Desert in Antarctica.
China Travel: The idea of endurance sports and adventure racing is relatively new in China but the number of mainland competitors for the Gobi March has been slowly increasing year by year and you are launching another event here in August, the RacingThePlanet 100 Taklamakan. Do you make a concerted effort to involve more Chinese participants and if so, how do you market to them? Do a significant number of mainland Chinese competitors also take part in your other events outside of China?
MG: We do have more and more mainland Chinese doing our events. We have not made an effort to market in China, but we do have more and more participating in our events in China and other events around the world. We make a point not to favor any one country, so you likely won't see us making a huge effort to target mainland China. Our events are already pretty much at capacity. What is so special about them is the multitude of nationalities—we don't want one dominant country.
China Travel: Tell us more about the Taklamakan 100. Why add another, shorter race to your roster of events? MG: We wanted to give people with little time, including myself, the opportunity to participate in an amazing event, but yet not have to give up a full week of holidays. Also, it gives us the opportunity to visit places that we could not through our seven-day events. The seven-day events take such a huge amount of organization and infrastructure.
China Travel: RacingThePlanet also produces a range of outdoor equipment and accessories, many of which are hard to come by or expensive in China. Do you have a lot of online customers on the mainland?
MG: We have a huge amount of customers from all over the world, and a growing market in China. Right now we sell to about 40 countries worldwide. We are constantly testing the products we sell and generally only stick to top end brands that work. We are obsessive about customer service so we do not want to grow too fast. We need to understand the China market better first, although we already have a Mandarin site.
China Travel: The Gobi March takes place in a very remote corner of Xinjiang, how do the locals respond to the competitors, organizers and volunteers that make up the group?
MG: The locals are fantastic—they really make the event. This includes farmers, government officials, etc. The only problem we have is with kids taking the markers on the course—it' s a real problem for us there!
China Travel: All of your events allow participants to see and experience the local culture and landscape in a very unique and personal way. How do you see the future of inbound and domestic adventure sports tourism in general developing in China?
MG: I am sure you will see more and more Chinese taking part in adventure sports. Again, what is so unique about RacingThePlanet and the 4 Deserts is that it attracts people from all over the world. It is not just about the culture and landscape but all the people, from all walks of life, involved in the events. You cannot replicate that experience anywhere.
China Travel: There must be some weird and wonderful stories that come out of an event like the Gobi
March, anything you’d care to share?
MG: There are so many, I would not know where to start. We have overcome so many obstacles and experienced so many laughs at the Gobi March. You should consider taking part yourself!
If you think you've got what it takes, or would simply like to know more about the Gobi March and other events, check out RacingThePlanet for full details.More Gobi March content on ChinaTravel.net:
The Gobi March 2010: Racing the Planet One Desert at a Time
CT.net Interview: Stephanie Hou & Campbell Cave Prepare to March the Gobi
The Gobi March 2010: It's hot, it's harsh and it's halfway through
Images of the Gobi March 2010
Travel Xinjiang:Xinjiang flights