Picture it ~ It’s a sweltering hot day; you look all around you and see nothing but sand. It’s so hot your drinking water is warm, sand is sticking to your legs, the sun is beating on your back, your body is exhausted – and you have 10 more miles to go until you can rest for the day.
Where are you? You are in the middle of a Desert Ultra Race. I had never heard of an Ultra Race until last week. I received an email asking if I would like to review a screening of the documentary of Desert Runners, and interview one of the competitors, Samantha Gash. After watching the trailer and visiting Samantha’s website – I immediately accepted the offer!
This documentary isn’t just about a one race; it’s about completing four 250km ultra-marathons in one year. Seriously, I can’t even imagine doing ONE race. Do you know how many miles that converts to? One race is 155 miles, completed over a 5 day period.
Ok, let’s really think about this. You carry everything you need in a backpack, you sleep on the ground in tents, you eat dehydrated food, you walk 20+ miles each day, you have blisters on your feet and sand in places you can’t imagine. Getting the picture? This is no ordinary event. This is extraordinary!
The 4 Desert Grand Slam includes four of the most treacherous deserts in the world: the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Gobi Desert in China, the Sahara in Egypt and then the coldest place you can imagine – Antarctica. Those are some extreme temperatures!
Watching Desert Runners was surprisingly emotional. The four Grand Slam runners were not professional athletes. They came from all walks of life and all had personal reasons for competing in the event. Even though it was a competition, it was more about competing against yourself, than others. During the race, friendships were made and the runners depended upon each other to push onward. People got hurt, bodies failed, and there were several unexpected events that made you realize just how dangerous these races can be. There were also moments of both humility and strength that made you cheer the competitors on. You do not need to be a runner to relate to this movie.
I have always considered myself to be a strong person, but I’m not sure that I could endure even one of these races, let alone 4. After watching the movie I was in awe of these amazing people, and I was excited that I was going to actually speak to one of the Grand Slammers, Samantha Gash.
Samantha was not only the youngest, at the age of 25, to ever complete the Grand Slam, but she is also the only female to have done so. She took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for GFN.
GFN: What motivated you to do an Ultra Marathon?
Gash: I wanted to challenge myself and I was talking to another runner and she was telling me about a series of ultra-marathons. She was planning on doing all four. I was really intrigued by the survival element of it, sharing a tent, having everything you need on your back.
I love to travel and seeing unusual places and this seemed like a cool way of seeing a different places. So at the first desert run, I decided to sign up for all four.
GFN: How did you train for an ultra-marathon?
Gash: I didn’t know how to train for something like that. There was no real way to replicate the deserts, so I tried to visualize how I would handle any possible challenges I might face. I tried to prepare the best I could….I ran on a beach with a backpack full of soup cans. When I trained for the Sahara I did a lot of Bikram Yoga to prepare for the heat.
GFN: Did you train differently for Antarctica?
Gash: While training for Antarctica I ran on a treadmill in a cold chamber, making it as cold as possible.
GFN: You had to pack all your food to carry with you. What did you eat?
Gash: In races you need the most highly dense calorie food you can carry. I would bring bags of salt and vinegar crisps crumbled up. They are light and about 2000 calories. Ramen Noodles, they are high in sodium and that’s what you really want. I would have hot chocolate and tea at night, a few protein bars.
GFN: Which of the 4 deserts was the most challenging physically?
Gash: The Gobi – the terrain was much different than I expected.
GFN: What are you training for now?
Gash: Right now I’m training to run the Freedom Trail in South Africa for Freedom Runners. (see below for description)
From the site: Running an average of 80km per day for 32 days on South Africa’s 2350km Freedom Trail, Mimi Anderson (UK) and Samantha Gash (AUS) will promote awareness of this issue and raise funds for the establishment of a social enterprise business in South Africa. The business will employ women to make and distribute low cost feminine hygiene products in the Namahadi Community in the country’s Free State Province of South Africa. Save the Children South Africa will act as Project Manager of the social enterprise business.
Basically, in Africa girls drop out of school because of menstruation. Gash and Anderson are running to raise money and awareness for this. Check out Freedom Runners for more information.
Check out Desert Runners to purchase the movie and use the code “fitness” for a 10% discount!
Now a question for you ~
What has been your biggest race challenge? or
Can you imagine yourself competing in an Ultra Marathon such as one of the 4 Desert Races?
More about Samantha:
Samantha is an adventure athlete, qualified lawyer and social entrepreneur. She is the National Crusader for the League of Extraordinary Women, Inspirational Ambassador of Impossible2Possible and Patron of Nutrition Plus.
She views sport as the perfect vehicle to advocate for, build awareness of and create change in relation to social issues in Australia and overseas. In 2010, she became the first woman and youngest person ever to complete four 250km desert ultramarathons in Chile, China, Egypt and Antarctica in one year. She used a 379km non-stop run across the Simpson Desert to raise money for an education program with Save the Children.