Lessons From The Longest Horse Race In The World By Peter Pearson

Lessons from Bob, the oldest man ever to win the longest horse race in the world.

Guinness World Records calls The Mongol Derby the longest multi-horse race in the world.

It’s 625 miles in 10 days. In inner Mongolia. Ten days of brutal terrain and wicked climates. Each racer rides 25 different part-wild Mongolian horses.

Organizers select only 46 of the most experienced riders from a large pool of applicants.

Half fail to finish in the required time or withdraw because of broken bones, punctured lungs, concussions, heatstroke, hyperthermia, food poisoning, and more. Severe chaffing is endured by almost everyone.

So it was surprising that this year’s winner was Bob Long, a 71-year old rider who is the oldest ever entrant and the oldest ever winner.

Most who enter have the goal of just finishing.

But Bob was different. He wanted to win.

Now you might think Bob is a hard-driving Type A prickly-pear-cactus kind of a guy.

Just the opposite. Easy going, easy smile, and easy to talk to.

Our daughter, Molly, entered the race and we turned her adventure into a little adventure of our own, accompanying her to Mongolia to track her progress on i-Phones and greet her at the finish line.

Friends and family can’t follow riders as they race across desert, rivers, and mountains. We could only go to the finish line and cheer them across.

The finish line is a celebration of big hugs of congratulations and tears of relief. Over dinner in the portable yurt is where you can talk to the riders. So that’s what Ellyn and I did.

It turns out Bob had a bad shoulder even before the race and will soon need surgery. With that injury and his age as disadvantages, what was his secret to beating better conditioned, more fit younger riders?

His answer? “Preparation. Preparation will beat youth.”

And his preparation was rigorous. For several months before the race, he rode about 50-70 miles a day – 5 days a week in all kinds of weather and geography.

He trained with a previous winner and especially learned how to navigate with the maps that would be given them.

All the riders get a topographical map made by Russians – in Russian – about 100 years ago and a GPS that simply shows a red line from one pit stop to another.

Roads are shown on the map no longer exist. Features like bogs and swamps, not on the map, unexpectedly show up.

Some riders took “the scenic way” but Bob knew how to read what was there.

For weeks he ate the kind of food he would be eating during the race. He trained in cold rainy weather and slept on the ground close to his horse.

Bob wanted to win and he was willing to work for it.

Now one might think “ole Bob” might be a threat to the other riders. They knew he wanted to win. His easy personality did not make him a threat. He was just factual in his desire to arrive first.

At the finish line, Molly told us all the riders were rooting for “ole Bob” and were actually pleased and proud that he won. They laughingly labeled Bob as having “old man strength.”

Ellyn and I talked to other riders about what they learned from this race.

“I’m stronger than I thought,” was a common remark.

“I’m not as lazy as I thought,” said Molly and a few others.

Molly said, “I learned what I needed to learn instead of what I wanted to experience.”

Did I learn anything?

Yup. I learned a lot about Molly. She has more grit, more persistence, more focused drive than I imagined. She has the qualities most parents can only hope their children have. I am embarrassed to say there were times when I said or suggested she was lazy. I would like to have those comments erased from the history of our conversations. I blew that one big time.

I also learned we parents say and unwittingly do dumb things to and for our children.

We often don’t know the effect until years later. Hopefully, we learn in time to compensate, apologize and make the relationship even stronger.

What else did I learn about myself?

More than I like to admit, I am a weenie. There are times when I push myself but never to the extent, it took to enter a Derby and cross the finish line. I would like to imagine I am as strong as our daughter there is scant evidence.

Going six consecutive hours on a Sunday afternoon without a nap doesn’t count.

Neither does losing 15 pounds. Or forgoing my evening martini.

Molly has gotten well deserved and well-earned admiration from friends and family.

By the way, what does the winner of the Derby get for this ordeal?

They’re the first person to get a high five when they cross the finish line.

With an open mind we parents can learn from our children. And unlikely teachers like “ole’ Bob.”

Like most things in this life, there is a price and it must be paid.

Do you want to succeed?

Dream big. Commit. Prepare. Persist.

Even better, do it together, with your spouse. As a team.

Learn from your children and grow stronger together.

And finally, teamwork from another perspective. At the end of the race Molly said:

” It blew my mind more than once that these wild and powerful beasts would do anything we ask. But that’s what it is — an ask. Not a demand. But a partnership and teamwork”.

Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

Peter Pearson
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