Marahau kindergarten teacher to take on 1000km wild Mongol Derby adventure
Marahau adventurer Marie Palzer is readying herself for the world's longest, toughest horse race – the Mongol Derby.
Come August, the 22-year-old kindergarten teacher will strap her gear to a semi-wild Mongolian Pony alongside 40 riders in a race that traces a path of military leader Genghis Khan.
Palzer will rely on her own navigational skills, and the kindness of locals, to traverse 1000km in 10 days over rugged terrain.
She will be confronted by vast grassy steppes, looming mountains, marshy plains and deserted wilderness that is home to some of the oldest nomadic tribes.
Only a third of the riders complete the journey and Palzer intends to be one. "I'm pretty determined I'm getting myself across the finish line and I wouldn't be disappointed if I won."
Palzer is pumped to immerse herself into new experiences: from different horses, culture, landscape, language and food. "I'm excited about seeing how hard I can push myself."
She said ex-Mongol Derby competitors told her the race was hell – a mental test as much as fitness but also the "best thing you ever do".
Success will come down to luck of the horses Palzer rides, her fitness, ability, race strategy and mindset. That's why she's preparing for anything from wild dogs to the horse bolting without her into the horizon. "I think my parents are pretty scared."
Palzer's course is secret until shortly before her arrival in Mongolia. It roughly follows the 13th century path tracked by hardy messengers who galloped from Kharkhorin to the Caspian Sea in a number of days creating the world's first long-distance postal system.
Riders are tracked via satellite and required to swap horses every 40km. At checkpoints the horse's metabolic rates and physicality is monitored and the rider penalised for any abnormalities.
A 5kg gear limit adds another element to the challenge. Palzer doubted she would be able to carry supplies making low energy and lack of sleep a high possibility and any day "pretty damn hard".
Local herders may offer Palzer a place to sleep and traditional Mongolian food like fermented meat and dehydrated goat's milk but it's unlikely she can carry food on horseback or take showers.
Riders who don't make the checkpoints or fail to find a local to stay with before the night cut-offs are prone to the elements until sunrise.
Palzer said most of her training has involved running so she can save her horse's energy by making her way on foot. It will also provide a safety net if her horse bolts without its rider. "It's likely if a herd comes past the horse will join the herd and I've lost my horse."
Mongolian horses are hearty, semi-wild animals that take "short, chubby strides". Each rider chooses an available horse at a checkpoint, saddles up and heads off on their own.
"You don't know what they're like. You might have a wild horse, you might have one that's been handled a bit. I guess that's the excitement in it because you can't predict that."
"It's pretty amazing having a bond with an animal, such a big animal. It just gives me the biggest sense of freedom. It's always been my grounding, [my] release time."
Why the Mongol Derby?
Last year Palzer travelled the length of the South Island from Marahau to Bluff on her appaloosa, Spirit. She had been studying in Auckland for three years and felt the need to take charge of her life.
She'd heard about the world's toughest horse race while planning the South Island trip but had no intention of doing it.
"I kind of got into a bit of a rut, I guess, after doing such a sweet thing. It's pretty hard to just go back to work and sleep in a bed and have a shower every day." She thought "Well, I'll just do the Mongol Derby."
As soon as she applied her heart began to race. Palzer received news she would be a competitor in November and has been training and saving money for the entry fee, flights and added costs since.
"It's super expensive, so I'm working hard-out to be able to fund it and training as much as I can."