Ultra-marathoner crosses desert

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Eric Lahaie, an American living in Hong Kong, who won a 60-mile ultra-marathon race through the Taklamakan Desert in China.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Coming up, the new new-wave of Italian folk music, but first an update. Last week, we spoke with an ultra-marathon runner in China. Eric Lahaie is an American businessman living in Hong Kong. And he was about to start a race in the Taklamakan desert. Competitors had 48 hours to complete a 60-mile race in this shifting-sand desert, the largest in China. Eric Lahaie, apparently you did pretty well.

ERIC LAHAIE: Yeah, I did. It was a tough race, but I was able to stick it out and finish it well and come in first. I was pretty happy about it.

WERMAN: [INDISCERNIBLE] coming in first. And you won in eleven hours.

LAHAIE: Yeah, just over eleven hours. We started on Friday afternoon at 6:00 pm, right before sundown. It's pretty late days there so we got about three to four hours before the sunset and then I finished on Saturday morning 5:00 am.

WERMAN: And apparently the final competitor came in Sunday evening at 6:00, so a lot of abilities out there in the Taklamakan desert.

LAHAIE: Yeah, definitely. I mean the final competitor came in about just under 48 hours.

WERMAN: Right, the final competitor coming in just before the deadline to actually complete it. And one of the interesting things is that when you spoke with my colleague Jeb Sharp last week, you told her that you thought another competitor from China was going to beat you, but you won by a wide margin. How close was that competitor?

LAHAIE: Well, I didn't say I think he was going to beat me. I thought he was the favorite and he was going in because he'd won a couple 100k races in Asia. I think I just had a great race and was able to push through sort of a tough terrain that maybe he wasn't used to. And I was able to beat him by about two hours. I think it was two hours and forty minutes was the difference.

WERMAN: I didn't mean to undermine your ability by saying you thought he was going to beat you. You must feel pretty good, though.

LAHAIE: I feel great. I mean it's just a huge sense of an accomplishment. I mean it's not only running 100 k's in such a harsh environment, but it's the training you put in before that.

WERMAN: So, Eric, I'd just like to know kind of what you saw during this massive 60-mile race. I mean what were the best parts and worst parts for you?

LAHAIE: The best part I would have to say was the beginning. I mean we were standing there. It was overcast. The wind was blowing. The sand was shifting over these dunes that we were about to embark off into and they were [SOUNDS LIKE] growing as far as I could see and it was just a real ominous kind of feeling. But it really got your blood pumping and adrenaline going. And then after that we went into more undulating sand, not really dunes, which wasn't that bad and then the sun had sort of set and the moon came up and that was a real kind of tranquil and peaceful feeling just to be running in the desert on your own via moonlight. And then that quickly changed and we went back into the dunes and maybe 1:00 am in the morning it was completely dark. So this time going over the dunes wasn't as fun because you couldn't see where you're going. It was basically just running into the dunes and throwing yourself over them and stumbling on to the next one. We went into a village and all the villagers would come out to meet us and giving us fresh fruit, fresh watermelon, which is a huge surprise.

WERMAN: Was there any time that you wanted to give up during the eleven hours that you were running?

LAHAIE: I always think about when I'm running possibly giving up. More just thinking how nice would it be to be in bed. Why am I doing this?

WERMAN: I can understand that.

LAHAIE: But in this one, not really giving up because you're already in the middle of nowhere. There's no real option I think. You could get a SUV ride out to your checkpoint, but you're all the way out there. You've made such a huge commitment that you want to keep going. But I definitely thought about stopping to rest or to walk. I mean that was going through my head constantly and I just sort of kept pushing it out of my head and just kept running and putting one foot in front of the other.

WERMAN: What did if feel like when you crossed the finish line?

LAHAIE: It was, because I was so early and I'd been in front of everybody, the floodlights that light up the finish line had gone off because the generator ran out of gas. So all of a sudden I just came over this sandy dune and there it was like 20 feet in front of me. And the only person there was our race organizer who I know. So she welcomed me in and it's like 15 to 20 minutes of exhilaration followed by your body sort of goes into shock a little bit afterwards. Freezing cold and I started cramping up a little bit. So then I go into my recovery process which is just drinks tons of water and eat food.

WERMAN: And knowing what you know now about the Taklamakan desert, would you do it again?

LAHAIE: I definitely would do it again. It was an amazing experience. I got to meet people from all over the world. I think there's people from about 20 different countries and we got to share our stories and what we went through. And the interaction with the villagers, the local [SOUNDS LIKE] Uyghur population was amazing. It's just a part of the world I had never seen before and I'm glad I got a chance to.

WERMAN: Eric Lahaie won the Racing the Planet ultra-marathon in the Taklamakan desert in China. Eric, congratulations.

LAHAIE: Thanks, Marco. I appreciate it.