Ultra Champion YiOu Wang’s Global Running Adventure
Caution: Reading this will cause extreme wanderlust.
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It was an offer ultrarunner and 50K national trail champion YiOu Wang couldn’t refuse: One year, thousands of miles, and the adventure of a lifetime. It was late 2016, and Wang, a teacher in California, was approached by a parent of a student. Would Wang want to travel with the family on a one-year global adventure? They would pay for her travel, as well as a salary for being a private teacher for their two children.
“Of course I said yes,” said Wang. “Who wouldn’t?”
Though any international trip comes with logistical challenges, Wang had an added layer of complexity: trying to keep to a training plan in unfamiliar territory. Wang knew she wouldn’t be able to race during her year abroad, but she did know she didn’t have to lose fitness while away.
In addition to making it a personal goal to log miles in every country she visited, Wang also started a training and travel journal on Instagram, posting photos and training information from the most exotic locales. She quickly became a source of #runspiration, thanks to photos like envy-inducing runs past geysers and snow-capped volcanos in Chile’s Atacama Desert, or the isolated beaches of Benguerra Island, Mozambique. On the remote Skeleton Coast of Namibia, Wang had no connectivity other than a single satellite phone. For four days, she ran across rugged mountains and some of the highest sand dunes of the world.
If it sounds like a runner’s dream, Wang confirms it indeed was. But it wasn’t without its challenges. “Between the logistics of being on the move so often, school time, cultural excursions, and activities, I often had no down time in the day,” says Wang. She also realized how much she took for granted as a runner in the United States—safe routes, familiar language, and continuous sources of clean, safe food and water. Wang battled jetlag, a lack of conventional running fuel (she would often improvise with local foods, like mochi, a Japanese rice cake), traffic in a variety of forms, and the occasional animal encounter.
All of the challenges were worth it: ”Running became a mode of exploration,” says Wang. “I met so many people throughout my travels who were curious, interested and excited by running.”
She was sometimes surprised to encounter a thriving running scene in unexpected locations. During one stop in Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar, Wang lamented the crowded city, challenging infrastructure, and poor air quality. There wasn’t much green space, but Wang found a small park on Google Maps and set out to run a few laps before school that morning. “ I was shocked to find it completely filled with runners. There were large organized workout groups, young kids, expats, all sorts of people were in the park running laps at 5:45 in the morning. I loved it, and everyone was extremely friendly.”
The end of 2018 also signaled the end of her year of adventure, and Wang returned to her home in California. Though she was laid up for a few weeks from the accumulated exhaustion of the travel, she was also excited to return to the racing scene in 2019. “I missed the camaraderie of spending time on the trails with friends. It was an incredible feeling to return to racing and feel the energy of the aid stations.”
Wang achieved her goal—she didn’t lose fitness as an ultrarunner during her year of travel. What’s more, she gained a new set of skills that benefit her as an athlete today. “I gained an ability to be calmer before and during races,” says Wang. “I am better at being flexible and rolling with whatever happens.”
Wang also gained a new fount of inspiration from her travels: “The year opened my eyes to the many challenges facing humanity and the planet. Moving forward, I want to use running as a way to impact and improve the lives of others. I want to promote the importance of open space and public land, and access to nature for urban population. I want to help get more women and minorities involved in trail and ultra running, and to help make trail running more popular in other countries. I met so many people throughout my travels who were curious, interested, and excited by running.
Yiou Wang’s Top Runs Around the World
- Atacama Desert, Chile.
“I ran past geysers at 14,000 feet and looked out onto huge snow-capped volcanoes. It was quite literally breathtaking!”
- Lalibela, Ethiopia.
“A local guide took me on an incredible 25-mile trail run through the highlands of Ethiopia. We visited rock churches, a village at 12,000 feet and secret caves.”
- 13 mile Circumnavigation of Benguerra Island, Mozambique at low tide.
- Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia.
“I ran parts of the famous “W” trail, and my favorite sections were the trail up to the Torres and the French Valley section.”
Cerro Paine Grande. So good. pic.twitter.com/324AuAda0Q
— YiOu Wang (@Magicsquid) March 2, 2018
- Makgadigadi Salt Pan from Jack’s Camp, Botswana.
“I ran with our guide driving a safety car behind us and we did a run from the edge of the Kalahari Desert on to the Makgadigadi Salt Pan. We went past herds of antelope and wildebeest and felt the vast emptiness of the salt flats. We also happened to run by the alpha male lion who was snoozing behind a bush!”