Stage 3: The 2015 Gobi March with Zainab and Nelofar

2nd June 2015 02:25 AM[(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Today Team Asma'i overcame immense challenges and came together during some really dark moments...but it certainly wasn't easy.

It was another slow start, but we were confident that Nelo and Zainab would pick up speed once we got warmed up. The scenery was stunning as the path followed along the Tian Shan mountains. Unfortunately, however, just when we were getting into our stride, the heavens opened up and it started to pour. And pour. And pour.

Quite simply, it was miserable. Freezing cold, wet, and very windy. Unlike the other days, the rain showed no signs of stopping. Belinda, Virginie and I tried to keep Nelo and Zainab going with more songs and by counting out 20 second runs, interspersed with short breaks, but we were all chilled to the bone. It was tough as 'vets'to keep our energy up and cheer up Nelo and Zainab, and it was really hard as their friends to see them struggle. But they pushed on, silently and persistently, through the bitter wind and rain.

To be honest, most of the day was a blur. We knew it would be tough - over 42 km today - but we really weren't anticipating such horrendous conditions. At 1pm, Nelo and Zainab stopped to pray in the rain and mud without complaint and then we carried on.

When we reached the third checkpoint, there were a number of people huddled up under the tent in plastic bags and bivvy bags, but I knew if we stopped then we would never get going again. We continued calling out 20 second runs, which resembled more of a shuffle by that point, until Nelofar suddenly started struggling. For most of the day, we had been more worried about Zainab as she had barely spoken a word, but then our focus was on Nelo. I think everything caught up to her - the physical exhaustion and the emotional journey - and she broke down into tears. In a great display of teamwork, Zainab sprung to life, grabbing Nelo by the arm and giving her a pep talk in Dari. Virginie, Belinda and I all stepped back and let the two of them work through the pain and the struggle.

Arm in arm, we finished the race - finally! As I type this, it has started to rain again so I must run to grab my clothes from around the fire. Hoping for clearer skies tomorrow.

Nelo and Zainab have shown incredible strength and resilience and are now both smiling and warm in their sleeping bags. Thanks so much for the messages - they are reading them all!

-Stephanie, on behalf of Team Asma'i

Leah Anathan