How about running in -40C ?

We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong.

After cycling across Scotland, running around Mont Blanc and doing my first Ultra mountain race I wanted and needed a new adventure.

Something new to focus on, big enough to challenge me and totally unforgettable. 

There were a few ideas crossing my mind but I couldn’t decide so when an invitation to be part of a Genghis Khan Ice Marathon expedition hit my mailbox, the choice was made and the deal sealed.  Call it ‘perfect timing’.

Genkhis Khan Ice Marathon Expedition 2016 - mushing huskies

Mongolia is the 8th largest country in the World, but with a population of fewer than three million it’s Earth’s least densely populated. Bordered to the south by the mighty Gobi desert, to the west by the imposing Altai Mountains and with the huge expanses of steppe and forest across the central plains it remains a true rugged wilderness.

If you’re looking for solitude, wide open spaces, clear blue skies and a true wilderness experience, Mongolia is the place to go.

Rare wildlife, pristine scenery and unique culture it’s exactly what I wanted to see and experience first hand. The northern part of Mongolia is mountainous, forested and, in winter, a cool – 40°C.  Who doesn’t like a good winter, right? I come from the north part of Slovakia where winter temperatures can reach up to -30C. And YES, I do find it very funny when the whole UK shuts down because of the 0.00001cm of snow. But having said that, I’ve never ever run a marathon across a frozen river in -40C! 

Genkhis Khan Ice Marathon Expedition 2016 - huskies

So let’s recap…

A full marathon, not on land but on iced river, in -40 degrees!

On the 27th January, I’ll be running the inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon in Northern Mongolia, the least densely-populated country on earth. Mongolia is considered one of the most beautiful, yet savage places on earth, not only due to the tough conditions but the area is also heavily populated with wolves.


So let’s recap again…

A full marathon, not on land but on iced river, in -40 degrees and in the area heavily populated by wolves.

Inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon - Running on ice river in Mongolia


Our team leader David Scott, also Mongolian Honorary Consul for Scotland, said;

Effort alone will not be enough.  Competitors will need to prepare themselves thoroughly for the frigid conditions, have the necessary quality clothing, and need a fair slice of luck, particularly with the weather. We have several teams of huskies to resupply runners, and ensure interactions with the local wildlife are safe.  And although there is a chance of failure, this is an area of extreme beauty, of vast skies, unique culture, and a rich history. It is also an opportunity for a world first. The runners are no strangers to extreme endurance, and they come from all corners of the globe. Doug Wilson and Lucja Leonard from Australia, Lenka Istvanova from Slovakia, and Shona Thomson from the UK have a huge number of impressive achievements, whilst Andrew Murray has won cold races including the North Pole Marathon, and Antarctic Ice Marathon. It’s a real privilege to be involved in furthering relations between Mongolia and Scotland.  This is the latest in a series of sporting and cultural events and I’m particularly honoured to be attending the 5th Ulan Bator Burns supper with such illustrious company, in advance of the event itself.


The Dream Team

I’m part of a superb gang led by David Scott and Dr Andrew Murray from Sandbaggers, the creators and organisers of the whole event. Our dream team will be running along the frozen Tuul gol river and we’ll have the privilege of experiencing what running at temperatures as low as -40 degrees looks like. One of the trickiest part of the adventure will be the weather and how the river freezes. This could be detrimental and impact the whole expedition; bad weather could turn our trip into an interesting experience…

Our dream team consists of big names in the adventure and endurance world. AND I’m definitely the least experienced and the weakest link but hey that all adds up nicely making it a bigger challenge 😉

  • David Scott
  • Dr Andrew Murray
  • Lucja Leonard
  • Marina Ranger 
  • Shona Thomson 
  • Maurice Donohue
  • Doug Wilson
  • and me!

The Mongolia Adventure 

Mongolia is the perfect location for ice running, huskie mushing and outdoor sports and so it’s not all going to be about running. We’e got a pretty busy schedule waiting for us from the day one – different activity and new experience every single day! It’s 100% my kind of holiday – lots of running, exploring and being outdoors. 

Inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon - running along ice river in Mongolia

Day 1 – VIP guests at Ulan Bator Burns Supper

The first day will be all about exploring the sights of the coldest capital city in the World, Ulan Bator. Later in the evening we’re invited to attend the legendary Ulan Bator Burns Supper, as VIP guests. An evening full of traditional food, malt whisky and entertainment! YES, please!

Day 2 – Cold acclimatisation and Wild Golf Open

On the second day we’ll have the chance to experience the bitter cold of the tundra, test gear and enjoy some
Mongolian hospitality in a stunning location. After lunch we’ll host round three of the Wild Golf World series – The Genghis Khaan Open. This is played entirely on the frozen surface of the Mongolian tundra! 

Genkhis Khan Ice Marathon Expedition 2016 - Putting up a winter ger

Day 3 – Cold Acclimatisation and Terelj National Park

Day 3 is all about wild hiking and exploring the stunning Terelj National Park, home to wolves, lynx, eagles and yaks. After lunch it will all get a bit serious with pre-race briefings. 

Day 4 – Race day!

On THE day ‘D’ we’ll hook up with our huskies and the rest of the support team before beginning our ‘journey’ up the frozen Tuul River. We’ll be running not on land, but on the frozen river supported by a medical team, and by huskies that are necessary to offer proper support. Clear skies, and temperatures of between – 35C, and – 40C are expected, in an event that will challenge and reward in equal measure.

Genkhis Khan Ice Marathon Expedition 2016 - Mongolian Ice Camp

After finishing this epic marathon we’ll spent a night by a log fire in a ger camp, complete with victory speeches, medals and a feast fit for a King. We’ll be staying with a nomadic family and so will get a chance to witness a truly unique way of life, firsthand.

Day 5 – Mushing Huskies

A recovery day will see us continue our journey along the river. We’ll be able to try our hand at mushing huskies, and as the scenery becomes increasingly wild we’ll likely hear, and possibly see, wolves in the trees on either side of us! Hmmm!

And that’s not all – we’ll be sleeping in our own gers, on the banks of the frozen Tuul!

Genkhis Khan Ice Marathon Expedition 2016 - Mongolia

Day 6 – Nomadic Ger Camp experience

Today we’ll head south, driving the husky teams toward the home of a nomadic herder where we will spend the night. 

Genkhis Khan Ice Marathon Expedition 2016 - Ger camp accomodation

Day 7 – British Embassy Dinner

After typical nomadic-style breakfast we’ll continue on return journey back at the Ghengis Khaan Horse Statue. There is another gala night waiting for us on the day 7, at British Embassy Bar. Here, hopefully all alive, we’ll round off our adventure.  

Day 8 & Day 9

Goodbye Mongolia! 

The itinerary looks amazing and I’m so excited…BUT I’m also a bit scared and worried as I’ve never done anything like this before. Although I’ve experienced what running in -24C feel like, Mongolia will be a next level. 

My Fears and worries

Worry: Training 

There is no chance I can ‘copy’ the conditions for training here in London so I’m going home for a few weeks in December. A typical winter in my home town includes tons of snow and -15 up to -30 temperatures so I’m hoping to get in as much running in the snow and in freezing conditions as possible. 

Apart from that, I’m going to follow my usual running training;

  • Weekdays: hill reps, speed work and tempo runs 
  • Weekends: long and steady runs and/or races 

On top of the running I aim to add the following 

  • Gym (lots of squat-ing and core work) – 3-4 times a week 
  • Yoga – Once week
  • Bikram Yoga – 3-4 times a week from mid November

I’m hoping this will be enough. Although I also think that if the bad weather hits us, training won’t help much. 

Worry: Kit

This is the greyest area of my whole adventure – total 100 shades of grey. I’ve ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what I should wear for the run. There will be a lot of researching and testing going on. The quality of the clothes and layering will be a key to this madness. Ice grips are on top of my list. 

Please, please, please let me know if you have any experience and/or kit advice.  

Fear: Wolves

No need to explain. Please God make them stay away from us.

Fear: Weather

This is pretty much self-explanatory. I guess, I just need to pray… 


Our expedition will support Scottish Charities Riding for the Disabled Association and SAMH, whilst legacy work in Mongolia will see the building of gers (homes) for needy families, and the donation of medical equipment to rural communities. You can help too – on our fundraising page HERE

Lenka Istvanova

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