Kashgar, China - Former Harvard football player and All-Ivy League safety Eric LaHaie '02 won the Gobi March 2009, named by Time Magazine as one of the Top 10 Endurance Competitions in the World.
The 28 year old LaHaie finished ahead of famed marathon runner Riel Carol (France) and ahead of third-place finisher and fellow American Sean Abbott.
The Gobi March is part of The Four Deserts ultra marathon (also known as the RacingThePlanet competition). There is no other event series like it in the world.
The Gobi March is a six-day, 250-kilometer footrace (156 miles). Each individual must also carry his or her own gear, food and clothing in a backpack. The only assistance provided is water, tents and medical assistance. The average backpack weighs about 20 pounds. The course is expected to reach an altitude of about 3,000 meters / 9,800 feet.
LaHaie finished the event in 26 hours, 43 minutes and 50 second - defeating Carol by over an hour (1:10:34 difference). LaHaie, who currently resides in Hong Kong, won three of the six stages and finshed second in two of them to earn the victory.
He blistered the field early, winning the opening stage by over 34 minutes, covering the 26.6 mile stage in a time of 3:43:07. The next day, in the 25.7-mile stage, LaHaie finished second to China's Wei Weichao by three minutes and 17 seconds, finishing in a time of 3:57:55.
On day three, a 24-mile race saw LaHaie again lead the pack, besting Carol by just over six minutes in a time of 4:13:03 to increase his lead.
Stage four saw some dramatics as the competitors ascended "Heaven's Gate", said to the world's tallest natural arch, towering 3,000 meters above sea-level. LaHaie led the race going into the steep climb but was overtaken by Abbot, who outlasted LaHaie by just 10 seconds in the 25.7 mile race as LaHaie finished in 5:11:45.
Stage five was the toughest of the race as it covered a staggering 49.4 miles. LaHaie Carol crossed the finish line together at with their arms held high in a total time of just under nine hours at 8:50:29. The pair had run for the past 40km in a duo. "There was no way I could have kept that pace if I had been alone," said Riel.
LaHaie and Riel were running at a pace of just under a nine-minute mile, picking up the pace as they neared the finish line.
With the stage victory, LaHaie had all but guaranteed himself victory in the event as Stage six was a mere 6.3 mile sprint to the finish line. With drums beating, musicians playing and food and beverage aplenty, Gobi March 2009 officially came to a close. It was China's Weichao who won the final stage of the race, a 10 km race through the Old City of Kashgar.
For LaHaie, the event was completely different from participating in a marathon. "It is more psychological, especially getting up every morning, sore or not," said LaHaie. "I was looking for a different challenge - and I got it."