Ultra marathon man Kevin Lin from Taipei is famous for awe-inspiring feats. He crossed the Sahara Desert in 2007, followed the Silk Road in 2011 and now he has conquered the Gobi Desert in northwest China.
Lin, whose mission is nvironmental protection, is the only man to explore the world’s three biggest deserts on foot.
“I run across deserts because I want raise people’s awareness about the shortage of water in those places. And I want to challenge myself,” 37-year-old Lin told Shanghai Daily in a recent interview. He was in Shanghai to attend a banquet celebrating his 40-day Gobi victory, and to visit his parents who live in the city. He lives in Taipei.
On June 21, Lin started from Buir Lake at the eastern end of the desert in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. For the next 40 days he covered 3,000 kilometers, finally reaching Guazhou County, Gansu Province, on the western side of the desert. He ran around 75km a day. It was scorching during the day, freezing at night.
He and his motorized team, including documentary cameramen, stayed in tents and ate canned food. Showers were rare.
Lin didn’t see any difficulties.
“Maybe it is very difficult for ordinary people, but I am a trained athlete,” he said, “and through my Sahara and Silk Road expeditions I am accustomed to the environment.”
The worst thing that happened was injuring his left ankle when he stepped into a hole. There was no doctor on the team, so Lin treated and bandaged it himself and then ran on.
“Once I start running, I won’t give up as long as I’m still breathing,” he said. “And the wound gradually healed.”
One of the purposes of the expedition was to take a look at water resources in the desert. Lin observed Mongolian herdsmen and talked to staff of a Taiwan-based water-processing company in the desert.
The herdsmen don’t speak Mandarin and Lin doesn’t speak Mongolian “but we could see they tried their best to save water.” Lin said.
“They kept using the water, after washing their face, they used the water to wash clothes. The point is I could see they are happy.”
The water company told Lin that the big problem in the desert is not quantity but quality — much of the water is polluted by heavy metal from industrial development.
“It’s quite deceptive because tainted water looks clear and clean, but actually it causes great harm to human health,” he said.
His team documented both his run and the lack of drinking water. A film is still in work and will be released soon.
This is Lin’s latest effort to raise public awareness about scarce water resources. In 2007, the UN Development Program sponsored Lin and two other runners, American Charles Engle and Canadian Ray Zahab. They covered 7,300 km in 11 days, starting from Saint Louis in Senegal to Cairo in Egypt.
They crossed sand and rock, plains, oases, and nomadic settlements, all recorded by academy Award winning director James Moll who shot a documentary.
“We could see how people struggle for limited water resources. Their living situation epitomizes the condition of all people in developing countries where water is precious,” Lin said.
Lin started running in primary school and never stopped. More than 20 years experience taught him not to give up in the middle. “Even if you stop only 50 meters from the finish line, you fail,” he said.
The 2011 silk road expedition in 2011 was the most difficult, covering 9,700 km in six countries in 150 days, along with Bai Bin, a runner from Guizhou Province in southwestern China.
When they reached Turkey, police didn’t allow them to continue on foot in Kurdish areas, and gave them a ride. Lin and Bai sneaked back during the night, however, and ran the route according to their original plan.
“If we had quit and didn’t run that section, then we couldn’t say we completed the expedition,” Lin said.
After they reached Iran, their Iranian guide and driver got into an argument and the food was poisoned. Despite food poisoning, they ran for 30 km to keep their schedule.
“We really couldn’t think much, because if you think too much, you would break down,” said Lin. “We never really thought about what we ate or how many hours we slept.”
Lin said he never talks about his running with his parents, who live in Shanghai, and would worry about him.
“They just need to watch TV to know that their son is back in one piece, and that’s enough,” said Lin.
Lin said that he plans to keep running, despite his age, and is planning his next expedition, probably in Siberia.
He plans to promote marathon running on the mainland. “This is the best time for Chinese marathon running to develop, since an increasing number of people are interested in the sport,” said Lin.