Gobi calling

On June 10th, Private Equity International's Matt Pocock will be setting off on a gruelling, self-supported 250km footrace, right across one of the most inhospitable terrains on the planet.

At Private Equity International and PE Asia, we have a number of Marathon heroes in our ranks. But now Hong Kong-based Matt Pocock is set to attempt something that the rest of us have never even dreamed of: a 250 kilometre ultra-distance run across the Gobi Desert. He’ll have just seven days to finish, and carry everything he eats en route.

Matt’s motivation? To master a challenge most people would consider physically impossible, and also to raise funds for Mencap, the groundbreaking British learning disability charity. Before it all kicks off on June 10th, he explained his survival strategy to his awestruck colleagues. 

Matt, what possessed you to sign up for the Gobi March?

“Several reasons, really. First of all it’s fascinating to see how far your body can go. I’ve done some ultra-marathons in the past and realised just how amazing the human body is. Having done a 100 kilometre race last year, it seemed the next step would be to do something like this. 

Secondly, there’s the charity aspect. Mencap is an amazing charity and very close to my heart. Having grown up with an uncle with Down Syndrome, I have seen how hard and demanding everyday life can be for people with learning difficulties, and as such, really realise the things that we can all take for granted. These days it’s getting harder and

Make a donation to Matt's charity now by clicking here.

harder to raise money, because more and more people now do things that years ago would have been seen as an outstanding effort. You have to think about different ways of getting people to donate their hard-earned money. I have a personal affiliation with Mencap, which helps when the alarm goes off at 6 am and you have to go for a 20 kilometre run before you go to work. It’s a real added incentive and makes it even more worthwhile.

Matt’s race:

The Gobi March in China is part of the 4 Deserts footrace series and one of the world’s most difficult endurance events.  In just seven days, 150 participants will run 250km on dry, rocky river-beds, dusty tracks, narrow ridge paths, green pastures and even cross a few rivers along the way.

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And then there’s the Gobi. It’s a place that very few people ever get to see. It’s culturally very rich, has been the gateway to Asia back in the day. It really stood out to me from the other races in the series.

How hard is this race going to be?
“We’re going into the desert, and they are deserts for a reason. The climate is brutal, up to 45 degrees Celsius in the day and down to about 5 degrees at night. Sadly the Gobi isn’t exactly flat either, and the ground is full of shells and big boulders and very difficult to run on. But the toughest thing is not knowing how your body is going to react. There’s so much that can go wrong, you really do need a bit of luck to be able to perform and to finish.

It’s called a ‘March’…

“Some people walk it, most will combine running and walking, but really it is a race. The point is to win. I plan to run as much as possible without wasting unnecessary energy. It is all about using your training so I’ll do everything I can not to put my body under any pressure it isn’t used to.

It’s a ‘self-supported’ event. What does that mean?

“It means you have to carry enough food for six days. You obviously need to consume a certain amount of calories, but the problem with ultra-distance running is that your body doesn’t really feel like eating. Finding something to eat that your body can stomach is crucial. I’ll also carry everything else I’ll  require during the race, clothes, medical supplies and so on – everything except water. You’re given 1.5 litres at every checkpoint, and it’s a good idea to finish all of it before you get to next checkpoint 10 kilometres later. You also get 2 litres in the evening. It’s enough water to be safe – these are well organised events.

How much weight will you be carrying?

“Roughly between 8 to 11 kilos. Training with weight has been a completely new experience. How the SAS guys train with 40 kilos on theirs back I have no idea. It completely changes the concept of running, your body is pulled in different directions all the time. I’ll be running with my rucksack on my back, and water at the front to try and give me as much balance as possible.

Is Hong Kong a good place to prepare for this?

“Training in Hong Kong helps massively. What people don’t realise is that about 75 percent of it is National Parks and

Matt’s charity:

Mencap works with people with a learning disability to change laws, challenge prejudice and support them to live their lives as they choose.

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 countryside, everything is so close and on your doorstep. We have amazing trails both on the island and in the New Territories that are very easy to get on to. In terms of the weather, today it’s 31 degrees and 88 percent humidity – you simply won’t find more difficult running conditions. The humidity is an absolute killer. I am hoping that running in the dry heat of the desert will be comparatively pleasant.

How are you preparing?

“Cross training is very important, you can’t just run. You have to look after your body, otherwise you will get injured. At the moment I see a personal trainer to do gym stuff, and I go spinning three times a week for low impact training, which helps my recovery. I’ve not had any alcohol since Easter, and I try to eat as well as I can.

Are you aiming for a time?

“For me this is about finishing more than anything. I absolutely want to finish. But yes, I’d like to do well, I’m a pretty competitive person. The guys that win it will do it in 26, 27 hours. The last to finish will do in 70 hours. I definitely want to be closer to 26 than 70, and I’d love to come in the Top 30 out of the 150 people doing it.

What’s your greatest fear?

“The fear of the unknown is definitely scary. There is so much out of your control. You’re going into a desert, into one of the most savage places on earth. You’re in nature’s backyard, but that also adds to the excitement, a big part of why people do these races. They want to challenge themselves in the harshest conditions.

The other thing I worry about is how my feet will react. Of the people who don’t finish, 80 to 90 percent fail because of their feet. Get a grain of sand in your sock, and you may have your sole falling off, or get badly blistered. Looking after your feet is essential. Keep them clean, manage your blisters, make sure they don’t get infected. Once your feet go, there’s nothing much you can do.

Make a donation to Matt’s charity now by clicking here