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Gold collars not too spoiled to trek
By Nie Xin

Wealthy "gold-collar" Chinese, especially young people, are typically topics of gossip because of their ostentation, indulgence and private lives.

But not all of them are wastrels, throwing away family money.

Some successful businessmen and businesswomen take a break from hard work to take on some of the most challenging environments on the planet in grueling competitions. Of course, it takes a lot of money to participate.

One of the competition is RacingThePlanet, founded in 2002 by American Mary Gadams, a former investment banker and strategist.

The competition features four annual desert races, the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Gobi March in China, the Sahara Race in Egypt and the Last Desert in Antarctica.

These races cover some of the world's most inhospitable terrain, around 250 kilometers in each case.

Competitors racing foot are provided only with a tent and water each day.

Four participants in the Sahara Race 2012 in Egypt last October described to Shanghai Daily the seven-day endurance event that began in the Valley of the Whales and ended at the Pyramids of Giza on the western outskirts of Cairo. And other exhilarating experiences.

Singaporean Ken Wee, around age 40, spends his time between Hong Kong and Shanghai and he's hooked on the Sahara. Wee is head of strategic projects in China and Northeast Asia for SME Banking Standard Chartered.

"It's an emotional roller coaster. It's a lot of fun and a lot of pain. The place is beautiful and I met some lovely people," he said of the race in the Egyptian desert.

Wee served in the Singaporean military for 10 years and back then he used to run 5km to 20km in regular training. After that he continued to run for the love of it.

Then he heard about the Sahara run. "Sometimes you need to pace yourself in life, and that's so true," Wee said of his "personal journey" in the Sahara.

In his first race, he took the wrong food supplies. He didn't have enough salt to help him retain water to compensate for sweating. He planned to have cereal and hot chocolate for breakfast, but it was too sweet.

From the third day, he felt stress, pain, hunger, aching joints and muscles. He was dehydrated and exhausted for lack of sleep.

He didn't consider quitting.

"I can slow down, I can walk, I can crawl, but I want to finish. I want to be out there having fun," Wee said.

Asked what he achieved during the period, he said the time was like a period of self-conversation in a new environment with unforgettable memories.

"My wife is very proud of me and I tried to set a very good example for my little daughter, so I can tell her that if her father can do it, so can she," Wee said with a laugh.

Cheng Huaiyu, who owns an interior decorating company in Shanghai, is another veteran of the Sahara. But before she got in shape she was "so afraid of any sports that even crossing pedestrian bridge seemed tiring."

Volunteer start

Cheng, now around 35, said she started out with friends in an EMBA program who went to Qinghai Province a month after a devastating earthquake. She and her friends in the China Europe International Business School helped survivors and volunteered doing whatever was needed. At one point, the friends wanted to get off the bus and walk 10km at a high elevation to the Sanandaj National Projection Station, which had been heavily damaged.

"I was so shocked and thought they must be crazy to walk so far at such an altitude, but now that kind of exertion is just a piece of cake for me," she told Shanghai Daily.

Then her friends suggested a mountain climbing race near the tents where they were staying. Cheng gave it a try and at 3,000 meters above sea level she had to be supported by friends as she finished the climb. Looking back, she said it was easier than she had expected, and it was fun.

After returning to Shanghai, she decided to cycle around Taiwan, choosing the most difficult route. "That helped lay my foundation," she said. She had been booked in a five-star hotel with hot spring, and she survived the luxurious settings, but said it was "meaningless" since she was "in no mood for indulgence."

After that she started to work out and train. She ran marathons in Shanghai and Xiamen, Fujian Province, and near spectacular Erhai Lake and snowy mountains in Yunnan Province.

A trip of learning

Before going to the Sahara, she tackled the Gobi Desert in China, one of the driest in the world.

"I remembered while crossing the sands and stones, I found a little yellow flower blooming in the crevice between rocks. It was fabulous. I never thought in such a harsh environment there would be something like this," she recalled.

During her adventures, Cheng said, she realized the satisfaction of helping people. She called the race in the Sahara "more like a trip of learning," in which she learned about different nationalities and cultures. Her English also improved.

Another "gold collar" who braved the Sahara is Xing Bo, vice president of Neusoft, an IT solutions and service company.

On the first day, Xing realized he wasn't in good shape and couldn't keep up with his two teammates.

"I kept calculating how long they would wait for me to catch up without getting impatient. I had to rest for the next day in case I had an accident if I ran too hard. That was really annoying," recalled Xing, who is around 40.

At night he considered his problem and was annoyed with himself for not being able to keep pace. He also realized he was being selfish and recognized that his friends also consumed energy waiting in the heat for him to catch up.

On the second day, his teammates had to wait for two or three hours. That night he told them not to wait for him.

"So the next day, when I started out, they had already gone," Xing says. "It was disappointing and winning the prize was impossible. On the other hand, all the mental torture was gone. I loved it and hated it at the same time while I was running," he laughed. He then decided to relax, go at his own speed and enjoy the scenery, singing to himself to keep his spirits up. Surprisingly, he almost caught up with his friends.

"Sometimes, you have to stop trying so hard," he said.

Xing started to run in 2007, when he was 44 pounds overweight. At that time, all he did was work, eat and drink with friends. He even described himself as "too lazy to go to the bathroom." He needed a change, started to work out and went on a diet. Eventually he ran the Shanghai Marathon and ran in the Gobi Desert, when he mobilized every cell to complete the "mission impossible" he had set for himself.

Women's champion

Wu Yihua was former China general manager for World-Check. Back in school, she never passed her PE class, but later she started walking, hiking and then running when she was working and wanted to meet more people and explore the city.

Last year, she won first prize in the Sahara race in the women's 30-40 age group.

She took leave from her World-Check job in search of something challenging. In 2011 she entered the Lhasa half marathon to see if she could run 3,700 meters above sea level.

"Not only did I finish the marathon, I also wanted to learn about Lhasa and other cultures. I wanted to go to Nepal and India to see more," she said.

There was no way she could take an extended break, so she resigned. "I wanted to enjoy life," she said.

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