Allie Bailey is a world first. And there’s not many people who can say that. She’s the first (and only) woman ever to run 100 miles across the frozen surface of Lake Khovsgol in Mongolia – the second largest body of freshwater on earth. It was -50 and she’s just about defrosted.
So can you tell us more about this amazing run and the team you did it with?
Back in November I was asked by someone if I wanted to go on an adventure, and I said yes, ALWAYS, as long is it “wasn’t cold”. That’s how I ended up running 100 miles across a frozen lake in Mongolia in -50. This was a recce for Rat Race Adventure sports, who want to put the event on as one of their Bucket List events in 2019. We were basically guinea pigs. There were a team of seven of us and we spent three days running across the second largest body of freshwater in the world, sleeping in Gers at night and trying to stay alive with the help of the Mongolian locals. The team was made up of myself, two guys from Rat Race, a camera man and four other ultra runners who are also very suggestible to idiotic ideas. I was the only woman to complete the run entirely on foot – the first woman to do this in history.
This isn’t an all comers type of thing is it? You’ve got a ton of experience in long distance running, haven’t you?
You could say that. I have done 60 marathons and ultra marathons over the last six years, and my aim to reach 100 before my 38th birthday – I may even reach that number this year! Ultra distance is my favourite – that’s anything over 26.2 miles but usually in the 35-50 mile bracket. I completed my first 100 mile race last year in 23 hours and 30 mins and have another two or three of those lined up this year. In amongst the madness of various marathons, I am hoping to complete the Thames Path Ultra this year (184 miles in four days), the Jurassic Coast Challenge (82 miles over three days) and the South Downs 100 (100 miles in one day). I am also taking part in the Ultra Tour of Arran – 66 miles across Arran in two days. The list is getting longer by the day – I actually can’t help myself…
What did you wear? I’m thinking trainers would be kinda slippy…
What didn’t I wear? We had no idea what it was going to be like in that cold, and no frame of reference. I ended up not getting changed for five days because once I had found my outfit that worked there was no point. I wore four layers on my legs – compression tights, base layer tights, winter running tights and salopettes and four layers on my top – compression, base layer, fleece layer, puff layer and sometimes windproof on top. On my feet I wore Altra Lone Peak shoes, two sizes too big to cope with the extra socks and Kahtoola Spikes (that look like something you might find at Torture Garden) on my feet for traction. At night I would put a one-piece over the top of my entire outfit, a North Face down jacket on top of that and then get into my four season sleeping bag with a huge wolf fur over me. And still we were cold! The temperatures dropped to between -47 and -50 at night and the tents have holes in the top of them to allow the smoke from the fire to get out. The natives helped us all they could to stay warm – we called them the ‘fire fairies’ – coming in at night to put wood on the burners every couple of hours, but we still had to watch ourselves. It made sleeping very difficult, which isn’t great when you are on your feet for at 6-9 hours a day running. Also, if you like showering or being clean this most definitely isn’t for you. Turns out wet wipes and toothpaste are hard to defrost.
Did the ice crack at all?
It cracked all day, every day. We could see it and hear it constantly. The lake is completely stunning, but deadly at the same time. It is 85 miles long and 25 miles wide. It’s 243 meters deep and the ice on top is around 70cm thick. There is water moving underneath it, and that causes it to expand, crack and split. It was something we got used to – a lot like the sound of thunder – but when you hear a crack like lightning you know you’re in trouble. It’s about having respect for your environment and taking the necessary steps to ensure that you and your team are safe. I did have a huge crack appear under me when I was running but I kind of hopped over it and got on with my day! Even though I was running with other people, there were times when I would be totally alone – we all run at different paces – and those times were both terrifying and some of the most special in my running career. It’s an overwhelmingly beautiful place.
What was the best bit?
I think it was the shared experience and the immersion in Mongolian customs that got me. Here were a bunch of idiot runners from the UK, some Scottish blokes looking after us and a huge team of Mongolian locals that didn’t speak any English at all, all working as a team to look after each other, keep each other happy and most importantly, alive. The Mongolians live an incredibly stripped back lifestyle and it works. Nothing goes to waste. They find it, shoot it, eat it and wear it. They have great respect for their environment and its power. They would go out and hunt our dinner, find somewhere to camp, strip it back, set up our Gers, fell a tree for us to have fire and cook up a stew on that fire. They treated us as equals and taught us their customs as well as learning ours. One night we had a Shaman come to camp to perform a blessing ritual, and it was one of the most intense experiences of my life. The level of love, care and attention we got from them as our hosts was overwhelming. Once night we sat by our fire in the woods, trying to drink frozen beers as the sun went down, and we could hear the wolves howling in the forest. That is something I will never forget.
And which bit was the hardest?
As an Ultrarunner (and someone that struggles very hard with their mental health) I know all about the ‘mind over matter’ game. It’s ironic that someone that has such problems with depression then forces themselves into one of the world’s harshest environments to do something like this, but it is the running that has saved me. Running is about putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how slow, to get to your end goal, and that is what struggling with mental illness is like. On the final day of running – which was also the longest – I found myself alone on the ice for long stretches of time and started to fall down the familiar dark hole of ‘what the hell am I doing, I’m not good enough, why am I here’ etc. It wasn’t until I managed to catch up with one of my fellow runners that I was able to shift this – but shift it I did, and I ended up finishing that final day feeling like another tiny battle had been won. It’s hard not having enough food, it’s hard being cold, it’s hard when your water freezes 90 seconds after you have put it in its bottle, but the real battle is with yourself and slowly but surely, with support, you can always win that.
You ran for charity, right? Which one?
I’m running all my races for Mind Hackney this year and I’m hoping to raise £3K for them and the amazing work they do. Last year was not great for me mental health-wise, and I ended up having a full on nervous breakdown in the middle of Liverpool Street Station. It wasn’t pretty but it was a huge learning experience in not trying to deal with things alone. It was only with the help of my local mental health services that I was able to get back on my feet (excuse the pun) and start to rebuild myself so I want to do everything I can to help this brilliant local charity out. You can find out more here https://www.mindinhackney.org.uk and donate here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AllieBailey
You can follow Allie’s adventures right here @AB_Runs