Just Back from.... Wadi Rum Ultra 2018

C Benedict Tufnell, Ultra X

C Benedict Tufnell, Ultra X

Charlie Henson, Julien Anani-isaac and Toby Free have just returned from the Wadi Rum Ultra in Jordan. The 5-day running race covers some 250km over the gravel, compacted earth and sand of the famous Wadi Rum, which is known for its spectacular landscape of vast granite and sandstone outcrops.

The race has a slightly different format from many of the other multi-day staged runs in that it is partly supported. Runners are required to carry their gear for the day’s run – energy bars and basic medical and emergency equipment (water and medical care is provided in checkpoints) - however organisers move other equipment (bedding, general food, spare clothes) forward to the next camp.

The three ran as a Team, The Royal Lancers, in aid of Help for Heroes, the military charity that works to help injured servicemen and their families – if you would like to donate, you can do so through his link here. They were also supported by Ember Biltong.

The Wadi Rum Ultra has been rebranded as the Ultra X Jordan and in 2019 it will take place from 5th-13th October. To find out more about Ultra X Jordan and other races in their calendar, see their website. Photorgaphs credit Benedict Tufnell.

 

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What is the Wadi Rum Ultra like?
Charlie Henson
: What makes the Wadi Rum Ultra so special is the scale. There are less than 50 runners, which makes it so intimate and very quickly you feel like a family.  The group that run it are wonderful people and they really make it special.  There is a Bedouin feeling to the event which is both charming and welcoming.  

Temperatures were between 30-40 degrees and the course is run over flat open plains among stunning rock formations and features.  The terrain underfoot is mixed; about half and half between shifting loose sand and firmer, gritty terrain.  Stages vary from 70km at the half way point, to 30km on the final day. 

Another variation from other similar events is that you do not have to carry all of your equipment, only what you require for the day.  This is offset however by comparatively faster cut-off times.

 

How did it go?
The race went really well, a lot better than expected, in fact.  I was just hoping I had done enough to complete the course.  My main priorities were to not get injured and to finish, in that order.  My teammates Julien, Toby and I were fortunate to be living in Cyprus in the build-up to the event, so during training  we managed to get some good miles in with high temperatures. 

We started off very naively in terms of strategy, setting off far too quickly on the first two days.  We let the excitement and competition cloud our better judgement – which then made for very painful final stages and probably slower times overall.  Over the course of the race I found that the best way for me was to find a nice slow rhythm that I felt I could maintain all day.  I would relax and enjoy the view until the last 10km.  At that point I would put my headphones in, play my Heavy Metal playlist and see what was left in the tank.  We were delighted to finish 2nd, 5th and 13th, something we would never have believed it possible at the start.

 

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Did the race organisation live up to expectations?
Absolutely.  The race organisation was slick and professional.  The routes had been selected really well to give a balance of different terrain and to take us through the most stunning scenery.  The fourth day in particular was incredible, taking us through an amazing ravine that you almost had to climb down to proceed.  In terms of route selection, I found the second day particularly tough.  It was almost exclusively on soft, shifting sand which sapped so much energy - and it was one of the hottest days. 

The real-life support was also excellent.  There were three doctors and two physios, all working to keep us in the best shape possible.  There was even a study being conducted by a Cambridge University PHD student, his data making very interesting reading on the energetics of prolonged physical exertion in stressful conditions.

 

Were you as well prepared as you could be?
With hindsight I feel that I was about as well prepared as I could have been, though this was due more to blind luck and circumstance than anything! I started training about 6 months out.  I was not particularly scientific about it but just followed a few golden rules.  I always ran at least 53 miles a week (10 miles, 10 miles, 20 miles, 13 miles), rising to around 60 in the last few weeks.  This distance was chosen fairly arbitrarily; it was just what I was able to fit in around my work schedule at that time.  I ran during the hottest part of the day wherever possible, and was lucky to be living in a hot country at the time.  I stretched and foam-rolled for 30 minutes every morning and evening. 

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I took nutrition seriously for the first time in my life, eating as healthily as I could.  I actually did a ketosis type plan with low carbs and high levels of healthy fat.  I found this worked well but would urge others just to find what works and makes you feel strong and healthy to go and run week in week out, whatever that might be.  Two weeks before the event I ran a 50K Ultra Marathon in the mountains in Cyprus with my teammates Julien and Toby.  This was a great way to see how far we had come and to focus our minds for the big event.  For the two weeks before the race I did very little, just a couple of short runs, stretching and eating plenty.

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During the race I found nutrition to be highly important too. I had learnt in training that I really do not like gels.  I nibbled on Droewars and Ember biltong in the early miles and that kept me feeling strong.  Then later I would have Bounce Protein Balls and Velaforte Energy Cubes.  Everything was pretty natural and that prevented me feeling unwell or having to ride an energy rollercoaster. Electrolyte solution and salt tablets throughout seemed to keep me feeling relatively human.

In terms of kit I found that poles worked really well for me.  They allowed me to take the weight and strain off my legs and helped me through the more painful periods.  My trainers and gaiters (Hoka One One Challenger ATRs, Raidlight Desert Gaiters) were awesome throughout.  I did not get a single grain of sand inside and only a couple of blisters.  One thing I would change would be to get the longer straw attachments for my water bottles.  They looked much easier and comfortable to use than the normal lower ones.

 

What was the most painful moment?
Physically the hardest part was the last 10km of the 70km day.  This was a long run home down a dried-up riverbed in the full heat of the midday sun.  We had been running for 7 hours by that point and the legs and engine were really starting to feel the strain.  For the study mentioned above we had swallowed thermometer pills to record our bodies core temperature that day.  Mine recorded a (thankfully brief) peak of 40.1 degrees.  This was the only time that I felt truly awful, slowing down to a walk (or drunken-like stumble!) to take on some water and cool down.  Thankfully this worked and I was then able to continue a bit more strongly.

 

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And your favourite moment?
The long day as mentioned above was particularly really special.  It starts at 4am under the stars.  It is cold and clear and there is a real buzz among the runners.  You run as the sun comes up and it was just stunning.  Finishing that day was probably my favourite moment, the sense of achievement and relief combined with the fun of sleeping out in the open on an amazing shelf of rock overlooking the valley.  Julien, Toby and I also huddled around an iPad to watch a couple of episodes of Friends.  While not at all the sort of thing we were there to enjoy, howling with laughter at some 90s humour is a strong tonic for sore legs.

 

Overall impressions?
A very special event that is entirely achievable and 100% the best way to see one of the most stunning places on the planet.

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Just back from… the Grand to Grand 2018

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Jax Mariash took part in the Grand to Grand Ultra 2018, a 270km stage run held among the mesas and canyons of Arizona and Utah. An accomplished ultra-runner, she had an exceptional race, finishing as first woman and seventh overall in a field of 135. She was also first American overall.

The Grand to Grand has six stages over seven days and in 2018 included two full marathons and a double marathon. It is unsupported except in water and medical care, so competitors must carry all the own food, bedding and other equipment for the week of the race. In 2018 there was a lot of sand on the course and temperatures were high, making the race even tougher the usual. See more about the Grand to Grand Ultra here.


The illustration above is by Diane Shearer, an artist from South Africa who specialises in the outdoors. She is an adventure racer herself, having competed in Expedition Africa 2018. She is available for commissions. See more of her paintings here.

 

Photos courtesy of Grand to Grand Ultra

Photos courtesy of Grand to Grand Ultra

What was the Grand to Grand like?
Jax Mariash: Grand To Grand Ultra was the most difficult self-supported ultra running race I have accomplished to date - with eight now on my record and five victories. It tested all my physical and mental limits.

The 171 mile course was a great mix of terrain and very challenging, and it never gave you a break. Every single stage had difficult terrain. We crossed rugged desert, sand dunes, rocky washes, slot canyons, sandy roads and a couple of trails. Also, the temperature was 90+ degrees, so the high heat and lack of moisture along with the most sand ever, made for significantly slower times than usual.

Although the terrain was brutal throughout, it was also spectacular. The views in southern Utah are mind blowing. So when it really hurts, you can just look around and enjoy the scenery.

 

How did it go?
Very early on I slipped away from the women and as my lead over them grew I decided to start racing the men, and with a 7th overall finish and first American of either gender, I am stoked with the accomplishment. This is even more exciting due to adversity during this year’s training. Medical issues leading to inconsistent bouts and an ankle sprain just three weeks prior to the race made it extra special to take the victory by 3 hours and 20 minutes. 

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The hardest day of the race was the long stage, which took me took me two hours longer than in other stage races. It was held on the third day, so we still had quite a load on our backs still. In addition, the race was heavily front loaded, so we had already completed 58 miles with heavy packs before the start of the long day. Then add the 53 miles on the long day. IT was exhausting. The top ten did start 2 hours later, which made it a hot start, but also fun to chase down the entire field. 

Personally I was thrilled to jump out of the gate and feel strong and hustle with the boys – it was a strong pack to run with and stay motivated. I had an extremely hard 4th and 5th stage due to an error in my calorie planning. I felt bonky and struggled to recover. I kept eating at my accidentally saved food, but it just never bounced back fully.

Beyond that, I smashed my toe on day two and that caused a huge blood blister and a nagging issue through the entire race. There are always equipment failures too, such as blown sleeping pads etc, but it is funny when you write a recap they seem very minimal compared to the daunting terrain and your body literally falling apart more and more each day as you race. 

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Did the race organisation live up to expectations?
You know you’re in a really well run event when you don’t ever think about the race structure and you can just run and focus on your race. Colin and Tess did an incredible job as race directors and I cannot wait to participate in the Mauna to Mauna stage race next year with them. Every element of the organization was seamless, from volunteers through the camp crew, course marshals and medics to the course directors.

  

Were you as well prepared as you could be?
Due to a really hard year with figuring out some nausea and chronic fatigue, I was really nervous about whether I had what I needed. We didn’t dial in the issue health wise until July, so my final preparations were a hustle. Then to top it all, I sprained my ankle at UMTB three weeks before the race, so I had an obsessive recovery schedule. I was so excited when it all worked out. In a perfect world my training would have been super spot on and consistent, but in this case I had to dig a lot deeper into my grit, thousands of miles on my feet through history and my veteran know-how mentally for these races. It was a massive relief when it all worked out. 

 

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What was the most painful moment?
The most painful moment of Grand To Grand was my toe. Smashing it on day two lead to a massive blood blister that was out of control on the long stage. My toe nail was literally floating around. At Checkpoint 3 we taped it and I screamed in pain and then I just strapped my shoes on and pushed on. Shortly after that I smashed my leg in a cactus. And to finish up the painful set of three issues, I fell into a thorny bush and spent the horrendous climb to follow pulling hundreds of thorns out of my arm and legs. At this point the physical bouts discontinued and it became a new project to deal with the rugged terrain and long hours out there.

Day 4 was really hard because I didn’t eat and drink enough on the rest day, so I became bonky and malnourished. You are already starving out there but you need to know your limit and I was so afraid of not having enough calories left during bag checks that I accidentally miscalculated and paid the price. I kept falling apart emotionally at every checkpoint and struggled to continue. Thanks to the volunteers for pushing me. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and pushed through. 


And your favourite moment?
My favorite moment always seems to be the tent life, camp life, seeing folks achieve their daily goals and enjoying the epic views. My tent was particularly fun, with old friends from the 4 Deserts race series and new friends. We had a blast which always makes the racing portion easier. 

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What did you learn?
You learn something about yourself on every stage. You can learn new tricks every time with your pack, food etc, but you have a lot of time alone to think out there and the real fun in stage racing comes in the life lessons you dig through. I tend to evaluate my life and strategize new goals for my business STOKED ROASTERS®. I always strive to try to be the best that I can be and in the Grand to Grand I spent a lot of time thinking about my personal life, looking at my past and relationships and how can I be the best boss, wife, friend and family member to others, working to really open up my mind, body and spirit for a new gentleman to step on into my life.

The Wave rock formation, Arizona by Diane Shearer.  See more outdoors illustrations by Diane Shearer .

The Wave rock formation, Arizona by Diane Shearer. See more outdoors illustrations by Diane Shearer.

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Just back from... Albania Hidden Treasure ultra 2018

Oliver Waugh has just returned from the 220km Albania Hidden Treasure 2018, a six-day, staged ultra-run through Albania’s rural and mountainous countryside. The race is supported, with overnight gear and food transported between nightly camps, but with temperatures of 35 degrees and higher, daily stages of between 38 and 55 kilometres and a total 8000m of ascent, it is hot and hard work. The event was organised by GlobalLimits, who also stage running events in Cambodia and Bhutan. See more about GlobalLimits

Here Oliver Waugh gives his impressions of the event.

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Why Albania Hidden Treasure? Why now?
A number of things drew me to the event.  First I was keen to do a first multi stage race.  Going supported would gently introduce me into the disciplines of administering myself over the week. I have also wanted to visit Albania and the reviews of the past GlobalLimits events were all very positive.

I am not an experienced or frequent ultra runner.  I am 55 and completed a few long single stage events (100km to 100 miles) in the early 2000s, after which I stopped running. I started again in 2016, so Hidden Treasure Albania was my first multi stage event.

 

What is the race like?
The race uses the best of the Albanian countryside: we started in Berat, the UNESCO world heritage site, and finished in an amphitheatre in Butrint, another UNESCO site. Evidence of Roman occupation was frequent, from amphitheatres to bridges, and most overnight camps were in interesting places too: one night we stayed with an Albanian family in a mountain village. The scenery was spectacular throughout - mountainous and unspoilt. The Albanian people were extremely friendly and supportive, though no-one spoke any English or indeed a language that one could interpret.  It is a very rural economy, almost subsistence in places, and aggressive sheep dogs were a notable hazard, causing frequent detours.  Infrastructure is very basic, whether it is the roads, electricity or plumbing.  Yet everyone we met was very friendly, happy and smiling.

Oliver Waugh pounding the path

Oliver Waugh pounding the path

There were 48 runners, half of whom had run a previous GlobalLimits event.  Some knew one another already and clearly enjoyed catching up. Many also had experience of Racing the Planet events (which allowed me some useful comparisons for the future). 

The run itself was split into 6 stages, mostly between 38 and 45km, with one day of 55km and the last day of 15km, and all, except the final day, were very hilly and of similar intensity.  Water was provided at the checkpoints every 10-15 kilometres and the route was well marked, so there was no need for a map and compass or GPS, though the trails were always rocky underfoot and most people took a nasty tumble at some stage.  There was also very little shade, which was an issue as the temperature averaged 35 c in the middle of the day.  Everyone agreed that this was the toughest race that GlobalLimits stages. It was a challenge even for the hardened racers.

 

Were you as well prepared as you needed to be?
As I trained for the race I was reminded of the challenge that Londoners face in preparing for overseas ultras.  It is easy to get the miles in: we have parks, rivers and canals.  It was quite easy, by combining runs with travelling to and from work, to run 40 to 60 miles a week.  The problem is that we have few hills, and those we have are not steep nor long enough - hill reps are no substitute for a steep 6km non-stop, uphill stretch.  Running with a weighted pack went some way to building the strength in my legs, but in retrospect I should have trained in some mountains as well as doing my long flat runs.

I also wish I had entered a couple more races before Albania. I only ran a couple of 60km races in the preceding 12 months. I should have done a 100km race and maybe some more 60km races.

 

The other racers?
We were a complete mix of abilities, experience and ambitions.  There were a group of serious athletes who live and breathe ultra running; others enter one or two races each year; and then there was me, the newbie.  The youngest runner was 25 and the oldest 67.  Racers came from all over the globe.  France was well represented, as was Asia.  There were teams from both Albania and Kosovo, representing the Balkans; their live podcasts during and post each run seemed to be enthusiastically followed at home.  

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Notable personalities included Dan, a veteran ultra runner (more about him later), Kev who was running to raise awareness for prostate cancer whilst slowly dying of the condition – a truly inspirational person - and there was Joe, who drank beer before, during and after each stage. He even wore a beer belt, like Duffman from the Simpsons. I was fortunate to be teamed up with Dan from the US as my room and tent mate.  He is 67 and started ultra running at 50.  In the last eighteen years he seems to have run an event about every two weeks, specialising in 100 mile runs.  He has run two Trans 333s, one Trans 555 and Badwater, and he holds the record for the most Grand Slam 100s ever.  His support and advice was invaluable.

 

Did the race organisation live up to expectations?
The organisation was better than expected.  GlobalLimits is run by Stefan, a German, so everything was very efficient, right from the initial application to post race debriefs and photos. Stefan is very relaxed about the race itself.  You can stop and have a can of coke en route and use social media in the evening.  If you cannot do a day, due to injury or sickness, there is no walk of shame.  You can rejoin the race the next day, though you do not receive a placing at the end.

The overnight camps supplied tents, hot water, medical support, toilets and electricity for recharging phones.  There was a communal dining area and this, along with the layout of the tents, encouraged people to mix and chat.  I got to know everyone on the event and the socialising and subsequent friendships were an unexpected benefit of the trip.

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Each participant was restricted to one overnight bag weighing no more than 10kgs, which may sound spartan, but in reality was quite generous.  Indeed most runners finished the event with meals and snacks left over.

The staff were excellent and I should make special mention of the medical team, whose administration, advice and care was of the highest order.  They were selected for their experience in hot weather and mountains and I do not think that I could have been better cared for. 

 

How did you get on?
I did better than I thought I would.  The alpha male in me came out a bit and I found myself racing.  I teamed up with a great Frenchman called Damien who was a bit fitter than me and we helped each other around the course.  I finished between 6th and 9th place each day.  However I was quite sick after the longest day from electrolyte imbalance and needed to take it easy on the subsequent day, which impacted my overall place.  My final position was 9th. 

 

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What was the most painful moment?
For me the most painful moment was on the shortest leg at the end.  We finished on a long uphill stretch on a very hot day.  The route twisted around the contours of the hillside and I hoped and expected the finish line to appear around each corner.  Six long corners later it finally arrived….

 

And your favourite moment?
I think the best moments were when you found a runner going at your pace, allowing you to talk as you ran.  I enjoyed some great chats with so many different people from so many different countries and backgrounds.  They were the best moments.

 

Preparation and tip top tips
A lot has changed in the ultra world in the 15 years since I last ran.  Firstly there are so many more events, but there is also lots of specialist, expensive kit nowadays. The winners are a lot faster too.  

I would use poles for this event.  There was so much steep uphill that it made it worthwhile.  I managed to get some poles for one day and it made all the difference.

Get a good vest, especially one that is breathable and has straps for poles.  It was so hot that a vest does heat you up. Get a smaller vest, say 5l, with good breathability.

Use trail shoes with a good grip. I went for grip over cushioning and it stood me in good stead.

I would rethink my strategy on food and calories.  I would take less freeze dried food and then only Lyo, which is the only company I have found who make edible freeze dried meals.  I also took cous cous premixed with stock powder, raisins, cut up dried apricots, crushed garlic clove and some ginger - add hot water, a squeeze of a lemon quarter, a small tin of sardines in olive oil and you have calorie heaven.  Some runners were sceptical of my slightly extravagant food choice at the start, but by day three were very envious, especially those who were only eating freeze dried food.  Other ideas, take raitha bread or tortillas with peanut butter already spread on it.  Also go to a Japanese store and get high quality rice and egg noodles pre-cooked and vacuum packed, then just add a sachet of miso soup

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Just back from the Grand to Grand Ultra - Jeremy Goddard

Jeremy Goddard has just returned from the Grand to Grand Ultra, a seven-day, 270 kilometre running race from the lip of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to a section of the Grand Staircase, a mountain range in Utah. Competitors are self-supporting over the six stages in their food and equipment - water and medical care are provided by the organisers. Stages very from 12km to 85 km, a full double marathon and the ‘Long Day’.

He did well and despite a low moment on Day 2, he placed 20th overall and managed to fulfil his goals. Here he describes the pleasures and the pain of the race.

See more about the Grand to Grand Ultra here.

At the start on the lip of the Grand Canyon, photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

At the start on the lip of the Grand Canyon, photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

What was Grand to Grand 2018 like?
From registration to race-end the G2G is well organised and very welcoming, and this really makes the race. The welcome dinner on the Friday evening and then the great meal on the Saturday evening at Camp One on the rim of the Grand Canyon really help you to get to know your fellow runners and it develops a great spirit in the camp. Also it’s your last chance to stock up on real food!

In 2018 there was really good weather, which for me meant that it was warm, despite all the training I did in the great UK summer. I hadn’t managed to arrive early and acclimatise, so I felt myself overheating and had to slow down Day One; thankfully there was some cloud cover as it was really hot in direct sun.

There was a lot more sand than I anticipated, though apart from the dunes on the long day the majority wasn’t deep enough to sink into -  just soft enough to make running hard.

 

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

How did it go?
I have several goals going into any race, and with something like G2G, my primary goal is to finish. Further ambitions were to do well in my age group, and ultimately to see if I could finish within the top 20. With Day One being slower for me and then also a slower Day Two aswell because of some hip pain /ITB issues, I did wonder if I would achieve my goals. However, I knew that if I had a good run on the long day, it was still possible.

I managed to stretch and recover after Day Two, so I was able to perform well on the long day, and I was really pleased to finished it in 11th place. After that I felt I was running and pacing myself well, finishing strongly each day. In the end I managed to finish in 20th place overall which I was so happy with. And in my age group I placed 4th, which just shows how competitive the V50 category is!


Did the race organisation live up to expectations? 
The organisation and course really did live up to expectations. The scenery is as impressive as you could hope for. There is a good mix of terrain and although sometimes it did feel like there was too much on sandy tracks, that is just a necessity of getting from A to B. There were so many great spots – the Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase, slot canyons - too many to list, really. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t stop and take in the view.

The long stage was the hardest day – not just because of distance but also the variety of terrain. There were steep climbs and some technical descents. And then the sand dunes (twenty four of them!), which started around mile forty. They were big, steep and the sand was really soft! It was a case of crawl up as best you could, catch your breath at the top, jog down and repeat! As hard as that section was, I went through it in the dark with the stars out and the moon rising, so it was incredibly inspiring.

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra


Were you as well prepared as you could be?
The only slight change I would make would be to carry slightly more food because by the end of the week as I was starving! I had about 2700 calories a day which was mostly fine but an extra meal and a treat near the end of the week would have been fantastic! Everything else I planned, practised and prepared for in great detail.

The big difference for me in this race was that I also included my feet and blister prevention/care in my training and I practised taping my feet from the start – my toes and the balls of both feet. This worked really well and I finished the race with one small blister on one toe. Not only did it mean I could run with no issues, but after each stage I could rest and recover instead of having to queue for the medical tent with feet issues. 

One worry I had before heading out to the race was snakes, but this was needless. I did see a few, but it was generally their tails disappearing (thankfully none with rattles on!). It still got your heart beat up though! More concerning was coming across the remains of a deer and wondering whether something big enough to eat a deer would be interested in a runner!


What was the most painful moment?
The most painful thing for me was the second half of Day Two when I was experiencing hip/ITB pain. Psychologically you start to have doubts as to whether you will be able to finish the whole race. Thankfully, for the last part of the stage I had some great company; Neil, another runner from the UK. It really helps to take your mind off things while you’re out there. Once I was back in camp I focussed on rest and recovery and I was relieved it didn’t develop into a major issue.

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra


And your favourite moment?
My favourite moment is always crossing the finish line! During the long training and preparation this is something I visualise, so when the reality arrives it is a really emotional moment. However, there were special moments throughout the week. They make great memories and I will treasure them for years.


What did you learn?
I learnt a lot about what I am capable of on a personal level, but also what we are all capable of. It was inspiring to see everyone else and the way that all the different nationalities and backgrounds come together to support one another, all with the same goal of finishing the race.

In a slot canyon - Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

In a slot canyon - Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Jax Mariash and the Grand to Grand Ultra

Jax Mariash will be competing in the Grand to Grand Ultra 2018, a staged running race that takes place in  the US states of Arizona and Utah. She has been very successful in the discipline since she started ultra running in 2013 and in 2016 she became the 4 Deserts female champion, winning all four of the main events and placing second in an additional fifth race in Sri Lanka. This is her first Grand to Grand Ultra. 

The Grand to Grand Ultra is a 270km ultra run, which starts at the rim of the Grand Canyon and culminates at the Grand Staircase, a mountain range in Utah. There are six stages over seven days, including a double marathon, and the race is self-supported in terms of food, equipment and bedding.

©  Omni Cao / 4 Deserts

© Omni Cao / 4 Deserts

First a bit of form
I have been a runner since I was five years old, but I got into ultra running in 2013 when I was living in Hood River and looking for a new purpose for my running. I signed up for an ultra to jump into trail running and exploring and I placed 2nd in my first race. I was hooked on a new adventure.

I am the first woman in the world to complete the 4 Deserts Race Series Grand Slam Plus. I won all four of the main 4 Deserts races - Sahara/Namibia, the Gobi March, the Atacama Crossing and The Last Desert in Antarctica - and then I placed second in their roving fifth race in Sri Lanka. This led to being crowned the 2016 4 Deserts Female World Champion.

See more about Jax Mariash and see more about the Grand to Grand Ultra here.


How did you come across the Grand to Grand? Why now?
A group of us that ran the 4 Deserts races in 2016 have chosen to meet up for a reunion at the G2G in 2018. We are really excited to participate in a stage race again and to have the support of our 4 Deserts family – the camaraderie is one of the best parts of these races.  

© Myke Hemsmeyer /4 Deserts   ©

© Myke Hemsmeyer /4 Deserts ©


Why the G2G? Why now?
My passion is to inspire people to get into the outdoors. I love stage racing because it takes you to the depths of your mental core, showing you your potential as you touch your limits in mind, body and spirit. I love seeing how I and the other runners evolve from the experience, so if I can show this to people outside the sport it might inspire them to get outside and explore.

Secondly I would like to raise awareness of self-supported stage racing in the United States, where it is not as well known as elsewhere in the world. Finally, I hope to win the race.


Training
Training for self-supported stage races is its own recipe compared to a single day ultra. It involves enduring multiple days of long mileage with 18+ pounds on your back. A perfect recipe of strength and endurance. During my work, where I walk around a lot, I wear a 40lb vest for general strength training.

In a big volume week, my running program would look like this:

Monday: rest / strength training
Tuesday: interval session am / easy pack run PM
Wednesday: medium long day (15+ miles) / strength training
Thursday: interval session am / easy pack run PM
Friday: easy day / strength train
Saturday: long run on trail or road (20-40mi)
Sunday: long run on trail or road with pack (16-25mi)

©   Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

©  Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

My race schedule for this year is a major one. I have already completed the Marathon Des Sables and finished 6th female. Then I worked on a project to inspire the next generation by training and pacing a girl named Hannah Lutzker to become the first female in her group to run 42.2 miles. She is now the youngest female ultra runner. Next up for me is Leadville 100, UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) in Chamonix and then G2G. 


Planning
Planning for a stage race is a bit of a project. Unlike a single day race, it involves many steps to get everything just right. Before the specific training starts, I wear my weighted vest at work and I run in another weighted vest a few times a week. The next big step in my preparation is strength training, which is often overlooked in high volume running programs. However, it is essential if you are to stay to stay strong, fast and injury free.

If I am on a mission to win, then I get super picky with everything about three months out. That means nutrition, hydration, strength, massage, run schedule etc. You have to do everything perfectly if you want to be on the top of the podium. 

A month before the event I start to build the pack and I train with it as I intend to race. That way any pack runs in the last month are done with the actual pack – with a little extra weight- helping my back muscles to get used to it.

©   Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

©  Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts


Most daunting aspect?
Consistency and staying injury free are critical in the few months before a race. This is why strength training is essential. Also I have to have a perfect life balance to get all of my work done for my coffee business at the same time as training. In a nut shell, my personal life begins to suffer. This year I am actually taking my time after an off year to get back in that regimented routine, so I am a little nervous as I go into this race.


And what are you most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to seeing my friends from all over the world who participated in the 4 Deserts Grand Slam or Grand Slam Plus. We will be staying in the same tent together.

It is also a really neat opportunity to be at one with nature and to check out of the real world. For me, it becomes a place of peace and simplicity because at home I am so busy, connected to social media and working so much. Life in the race becomes simple and reduces to - race fast, survive, recover – those three things and spending quality time with friends. In a messed up way, it feels like a vacation of sorts.

I am so excited also that my friends will be there to meet me at the finish line of the G2G. I live in Park City, so my friends are driving to the finish to cheer me in. It makes me want to win that much more. From there our 4 Deserts family is all meeting up for a reunion in Vegas to celebrate. 


What does success look like?
Success is about inspiring folks to get outside and move their bodies and explore. When you see folks fall in love with sport or running because of something you did it is amazing. I love to inspire. 

Winning the race is the icing on the cake. I hope I can place first woman in the G2G. Also to get as close as I can to the top guys. In Chile I was 2nd overall up until the long day and ended up in 4th place. I was right up there with them in all of the 4 deserts races. It was fun. 

 

©   Omni Cao / 4 Deserts

©  Omni Cao / 4 Deserts