Joe Holland '88 goes the distance in the Gobi Desert
Joe Holland 88 spent his vacation running, walking, and occasionally crawling 158 miles across rocks, sand dunes, hills, and streams in The Oven, a region of the Gobi Desert where temperatures hit 122 degrees.
Olympic Nordic Combined skier and frequent competitor in New England triathlons
and adventure races, Holland made a 40th-birthday decision to sign up
for the Gobi March. The event in China is one of the most grueling adventure
races in the world, and Holland prepared as best he could, putting in
regular three-to-four hour runs on Vermont snowmobile trails, his border
collie, Mitzy, keeping him company. Keeping it in the family, sponsorship
from his brother, Jim Holland 95, founder of backcountry.com, helped
him make the trip.
back on last Aprils race, Holland says there was plenty he couldnt
prepare for the blackened toenails, blisters, dehydration, near
sleepless nights, sheer monotony, and the psychic battering he would face
after wandering off course. Holland led three of the first four days of
the race before starting the 56-mile Long March, through the
Turpin Basin, a sweltering moonscape with no living creatures. But as
a knee injury forced him to limp home the last 70 miles, he shifted focus
from winning to finishing. It became more of a spiritual experience
than a race, Holland says. He finished fifth, the top American in
a field of 89 competitors from 21 countries.
going got tough, Holland paired with Ben Ferguson, a hedge fund salesman
with Goldman Sachs in Tokyo. To keep sane, they quizzed each other on
state capitals and sang old Top 40 songs.
joked that the best way to prepare for the race would be to put
a stationary bike in a sauna on high and deprive yourself of water for
hours while somebodys beating your feet with a baseball bat.
and Ferguson had more in common: Ferguson had recently proposed to a woman
who declined, while Holland was in the midst of a marital separation and
needed a mental vacation.
it was a mild midlife crisis, an escape from the banalities of life,
scaling towering sand dunes, Ferguson became disoriented from dehydration
and fatigue and urged Holland to run ahead. But Holland stuck by his fellow
competitor and others who were struggling. In the end, Holland said, winning
became far less important than the kinship and the journey itself.
came back from the desert physically exhausted but mentally recharged
after a focus on surviving, going fast, thinking what to eat next and
how to get another day out of my feet, Holland says. The best
of humanity comes out when were helping each other treat our wounded
feet and encouraging other competitors to finish. The camaraderie supplies
you with endless energy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: As VQ went to press, Joe Holland was prepared to begin a 155-mile race in the Sahara Desert. Journalist Judy Holland is Joes sister and a reporter for Hearst Newspapers.