THEY ran more than 26 miles along a frozen river as wolves howled in nearby forests and vultures circled overhead.
But now two runners from Edinburgh have won first place – in the men’s and women’s section – in the first Genghis Khan Ice Marathon in freezing brutal conditions of minus 34C in Outer Mongolia.
Dr Andrew Murray, 35, a sports and exercise doctor at Edinburgh University, completed the gruelling 26.2-mile marathon in three hours and seven minutes – then, a few days later, decided to see more of the remote country by running 64 miles to the capital city of Ulan Batar on the route used by Genghis Khan centuries ago.
Sustained by Jelly Babies kept warm in his gloves, Dr Murray finished ahead of Douglas Wilson of Australia, who finished in three hours and 42 minutes, while third place went to Paul Dunstan of England at four hours and 12 minutes.
Lucja Leonard, 37, general manager at the Crowne Plaza Edinburgh – Royal Terrace hotel, won the women’s section in four hours and 19 minutes.
Dr Murray previously won the North Pole Marathon, and the Antarctic Ice Marathon.
To me, running is a way of exploring, a form of transport and a way of seeing the world. While I concentrated on not getting lost I was also enjoying the incredible Mongolian people I met.Andrew Murray
Describing the challenge he said: “It was perfect conditions. We were expecting minus 40, and there was virtually no wind, which made it feel a bit colder than Antarctica, but a little warmer than the North Pole when I raced there.
“I was wearing special ice shoes with spikes, because for the majority of the time we were on frozen ice on the Tuul River. It was frozen over but I could hear it splintering and cracking up beneath me.
“To me, running is a way of exploring, a form of transport and a way of seeing the world. While I concentrated on not getting lost I was also enjoying the incredible Mongolian people I met.
“The Mongolians really ‘got it’. They are a very hardy bunch. They were fascinated by what we were doing, moving so far and fast in winter.”
Ms Leonard, a Dutch-born Australian, said: “That was brutal. A total unique race – it is the first time I have had to cover every inch of flesh to avoid frostbite, and being greeted by 40 huskies at the finish was pretty special. Outer Mongolia is beyond spectacular.
“It goes to show that the British winters are not so bad. The race is more than an event, it’s an entire adventure in a vast and rugged landscape which brings a special and unique feeling of solidarity and camaraderie with the entire team of runners and supporters alike that have developed into strong bonds to last a lifetime.”
Dr Murray added that sub-zero running involved tricking the body into thinking it was in warmer climes by wearing lots of small layers, covering much of the skin and having sufficient supplies of food and liquid.