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.
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.
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.
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 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)
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 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.
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.