In 2010, 25 year old Australian, Samantha Gash became the first female and youngest person to complete RacingthePlanet’s Four Deserts Grand Slam in one calendar year. Her adventure, along with three others, Rick, Tremaine and Dave was captured in Jennifer Steinman’s documentary “Desert Runners”.
The Four Deserts Race Series commenced in 2002 and over the course of eight months each year racers travel to four different events; the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Gobi March in China, the Sahara Race in Jordan and The Last Desert in Antarctica. At each event racers have five days to travel 250 kilometers (that’s six half marathons), with a rule that they are required to carry everything they need to survive in their own backpack.
The only support they receive is water and tent pit stops with highly qualified staff, all with experience in hiking, marathons and ultra marathons, and a medical team specializing in emergency and wilderness medicine.
I sat down with Sam to chat about her experience running four 250km ultra marathon’s in a year:
Let’s start at the beginning. Before the ultra-marathon’s, you ran your first marathon. A lady you met there told you about the Four Desert Grand slam, what made you enter?
I had just finished my first marathon and met Linda Quirk, a well-seasoned marathon runner who introduced me to the Four Desert Races. What attracted me to entering was the adventure element, sleeping in tents, spending time with strangers and the element of survival. The idea of travelling and adventure was the biggest draw card.
There was also the concept of possible failure, and see how you would go with something so unknown.
How did you train for before you started the four races?
In 2010, there was limited information on training and nutrition for ultra-marathons, let alone women running ultra-marathons. It was all trial and error, lots of error and injury, carrying random objects while running and sand running, also bikram yoga and training in a cold chamber at a University. I actually learnt more through doing the races than training for them.
Tell us a little about each of the races, what was the best and the worst?
I loved Egypt (Sahara Desert), whereas China (Gobi Desert) was the hardest and most intense; the weather was incredibly challenging, stifling in fact. It was the long stage (and on day 5) and was the longest that I had ever run before and it turned out to be 10kms longer than we expected. It was also not knowing what had happened to Nick [Nicholas Kruse was one of the runners that died after that leg of the race due to complications he suffered while getting heat stroke].
But for me it wasn’t about what was the best or worst, but was about the relationships formed with people. Everything gets stripped down, and you are doing what you love to do in a supportive environment.
To keep reading my interview with Sam, head to The Wod Life blog.