Williamsburg fitness guru finishes 8th in Mongolian ultramarathon

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Running and yoga in Mongolia
Local runner Julia Moffitt recently completed her third ultramarathon in northern Mongolia, and hopes to participate in the 62-mile race again in 2017. (Photo courtesy Khasar Sandag)

Mountainous terrain on the other side of the world is a challenge just to hike for 62 miles. Williamsburg resident Julia Moffitt went a step further by running it.

Moffitt, a 38-year-old fitness trainer and yoga instructor, ran the Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset Ultramarathon in August in Lake Hovsgol National Park, located in northern Mongolia near the Siberian border.

With mountains that offer spectacular views, the park has a pristine alpine lake that is one of the largest single bodies of drinkable fresh water in the world. The lake supports a flourishing population of grayling, a salmon-type fish, according to information provided by race organizers.

“There is extreme beauty,” Moffitt said. “The sky is so big and the culture is so different [from Western culture].”

Going the distance in northern Mongolia
A runner in the 2016 Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset Ultramarathon, which bills itself as “the world’s most beautiful” 42K and 100K trail run. (Photo courtesy ms2s.org/Khasar Sandag)

This was Moffitt’s third time running the ultramarathon. She finished in eighth place in a field of 80 runners from approximately 20 countries, including Mongolia, Brazil, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and many European countries, according to Bernhard Hagen, who handles public relations for the race.

For the past 18 years, ecoLeap Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland, has sponsored the race as a fundraiser to help preserve the northern Mongolian wilderness, which still has many indigenous people, according to Hagen.

In order for their herds of yaks, goats and horses to graze, the indigenous people are constantly on the move, Hagen noted.

Moffitt noticed the native people have a diet heavy in meat and fat, due to the harsh environment.

“They do not understand a vegetarian diet,” she said.

Moffitt, a Tufts University graduate and National Academy of Sports Medicine certified instructor, said the ultramarathon is just part of the journey.

With layovers, it takes about three days to get to the race site. A flight is just the beginning, followed by a flight on a smaller plane. After the second flight, there is a three-hour jeep ride to the camp, Moffitt said.

Most runners arrive about three days before the ultramarathon to adjust to the altitude, she added.

Moffitt said the trek is worth it, but it’s not without challenges, including medical treatment. If an injury happens during the race, the injured person must be brought down from the mountains by horse.

In addition to running, Moffitt also served as a yoga instructor for other race participants. Many runners she taught had never tried yoga before.

“It was great doing it for the first time outside on with lake with the snow in the background,” she said.

Moffitt hopes to make next year’s ultramarathon her fourth.

“It is like no place I’ve been to before,” she said. “The race is tough, but worth it seeing a part of the world that is so unspoiled.”

Correction: Moffitt’s residence was erroneously stated. She lives in Williamsburg, not Toano.