Ben Sarno Notches Another Crazy Adventure

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Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Ben Sarno, 2001 graduate of Suffield High School (and member of the 2000 Class S Boys Basketball Championship team) apparently agrees, because he has undertaken one daring adventure after another, with no end in sight! His latest challenge occurred this past February/March when he ran in the Mongol 100, a four-day 100-mile trek across frozen Lake Khovsgol, one of only seventeen ancient lakes in the world over two million years old.

Just to get to Mongolia can be a challenge. Flying fourteen hours from JFK to get to Seoul, South Korea, he then took a three-hour flight to Ulaanbataar, the Mongolian capital. A land locked country in East Asia, bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, its mountainous elevation makes it one of the world’s highest countries and with a population of only 3.3 million, the world’s most sparsely populated sovereign state.

Submitted by Ben Sarno
Ben Sarno ran 100 miles over four days across frozen Lake Khuvsgul in northern Mongolia in an adventure race called the Mongol 100.

Ben went a day early to ensure his luggage would arrive and partook of the typical tourist activities in the capital, which included viewing a huge metal statue of Genghis Khan, a camel ride, eagles resting on his arm and a history of Mongolia museum. On a side note, Khan, who united the steppes tribes into a vast Mongol Empire was born in 1162 and forged a reputation as the greatest military commander in history, having reportedly never lost a battle.

The day after arrival, Ben and the group of about 40 participants, most of whom were from Australia or England, took a sixteen-hour van road trip to the southern part of Lake Khovsgol where they camped out in teepees for the night.

The participants slept four to a teepee which contained a wood stove which the crew would come in and add wood to during the night. On the first and third nights the group camped on the edge of the lake, but on the second night they camped on an island in the middle of the lake. Between the snoring of his “roommates”, the cold, the barking dogs who followed the group on the whole trip looking for scraps, and the crew coming in to stoke the fire, Ben did not sleep well. The worst part, however, was getting up in the morning and having to go to the “bathroom” which was a three sided tent type structure into which one had to wear a head torch because it was pitch black out.

“You could not take your gloves off for five seconds without your fingers freezing,” Ben reported. “The first night it got down to -40 degrees and my sleeping bag was only good to -20 degrees. Even with all my heavy clothes I was uncomfortably cold.”

In response to why he wanted to do this, Ben replied that it “looked interesting.” He had apparently seen it on someone’s Instagram and decided to check out Rat Race, the British organization that runs these crazy adventures. “Sounds awful”, I said. “It was”, agreed Ben, although on a scale of one to ten, ten being the best, he rates the trip an eight. “It was really a pain to get there, but the scenery was worth it!”

Due to the snow depth covering the ice, it was difficult to run even with crampons attached to one’s boots, and most participants opted to hitch a ride for part of the way every day with one of the vans or sleighs which would travel up and down the route to check on people. In fact, only about ten people (Ben included) managed to complete the entire 100 miles without assistance, spending six-seven hours on the ice in a walk/jog mode.

“It was the coldest I have ever been,” Ben exclaimed, and “I have been to Mt. Everest base camp and Antarctica! Also, starting on the second day, the ice cracking sounded like cannons going off and was a little unnerving. I wasn’t too worried about falling through though since the ice was about three-four feet thick.”

Participants were advised to bring their own freeze-dried meals and energy bars for the four days. The crew provided hot water. “The meals weren’t that bad but the Clif bars I took were frozen solid and difficult to eat so I didn’t really eat lunch. Also, it was difficult to drink the hot water without cooling it down with snow. I lost about twenty pounds on the trip.”

On the fourth and last day when the course had been completed the group adjourned to an ice sculpture festival in town and got to sleep in a warm(er) ger (yurt).

I asked Ben how he got started doing these trips. He reported that in his early 30s he started doing half Ironman marathons, progressed to full Ironman marathons and went from there. His goal is to run a marathon on every continent. He doesn’t count the Mongol 100 as an Asian marathon since technically it was only 25 miles a day and not the full 26.2, so he will be running in Tokyo in 2025 after he runs this fall in Queenstown, New Zealand. After Tokyo, a marathon on an African game preserve is on tap.

When asked to name his favorite trip, Ben has a hard time. He really enjoyed the most beautiful scenery on the trek from Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp, but running in the Peruvian jungle and canoeing on Lake Titicaca was special also. Patagonia was by his account “amazing.” The one trip that he would like to take but hasn’t scheduled yet is a snowshoeing, hiking, and biking trip in the Arctic Circle where the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland meet. I’m betting that will happen.

Sometimes the quote you pick for your yearbook picture is telling. Ben chose “Some succeed because they are destined to. Most succeed because they are determined to.” I don’t know about destiny, but I do know he has proved he has the determination to succeed! Good luck in your travels and don’t forget to bring “Where in the World is the Observer”!

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