Beijing-based Swede Linus Holmsater starts as favourite tomorrow to win his second consecutive Grassland Marathon in Xiwuqi. The 7th edition of the trail running race will see a record 920 runners at the starting line divided over three distances. Wang Lidong also defends his King of the Grasslands crown.
Despite the remote venue in the north of China’s Inner mongolia autonomous region the event keeps attracting more runners and adventurers. Even Asian celebrities are beginning to find their way to the Grassland Marathon, albeit often anonymously. The Xiwuqi grasslands are indeed a spectacular outdoor tourism destination. So much that an 11-year-old American girl from California has chosen the Grassland Marathon as the Asian leg of her World Marathon Tour, an attempt to finish a marathon race on every continent within one year. Blanca Ramirez, promoting and running for charity partner Operation Smile, is accompanied by her father Dimas Ramirez and has already completed the Los Angeles (North America) and Kigali (Rwanda, Africa) marathons in the past few months.
HeyRunning chief Linus Holmsater has not been sitting on his laurels since his victory in last year’s race. The 29-year-old Swede became national 100k ultra running champion last August, and finished third in the Swedish national championship in Stockholm last month. With a PB of just under 2:30 he is the one to beat on paper. There are a number of sub 2:50 runners in the field, however, and in a trail run such as the Grassland Marathon it is not always about pure speed. The course has a few hills that can drain the legs – especially if not 100% on the day. The favourite for the women’s marathon may well be Olya Kurzh. Born in Russia but residing in Hong Kong, Kurzh just won the Dali 50 trail run in Yunnan a few weeks ago.
The event also has a half marathon and 10km run on the programme for the less ambitious. Israeli Shahar Cohen will be attempting to break the national record half marathon in juggling, whereby one is supposed to run and joggle with three balls at the same time. Cohen will demonstrate more juggling skills during the Grassland Crazy Night, the traditional outdoor party following the races within the grasslands on Saturday night.
The King of the Grasslands is the athlete who finishes the Grassland Marathon AND the 3 days of long distance mountainbike adventure in the fastest time. Last year’s King, Wang Lidong from China’s most northern province Heilongjiang, returns to Xiwuqi to defend his title. The KOG competition will have 70 strong men and 4 women for the Queen’s crown, double as many as last season. Also last year’s number two, Germany’s Hauke Stockrahm, is back to try and claim that crown. Also on the start list is Kevin Lin, a Taiwanese ultra running celebrity who has run the 10.000km ancient silk road from Istanbul, Turkey to Xian in central China in 150 days. Lin also ran across the entire Sahara desert a few years ago.
The weather forecast is excellent to the extent it may actually get a bit hot towards the latter stage of the race. As every year, however, the biggest adversary in the
Mongolian grasslands is often the wind, which can blow just that tad bit more then a runner likes.
Linus Holmsater leading China’s young talent Ren Siwu in last year’s Grassland Marathon