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For the Very First Time

RacingThePlanet events draw a diverse crowd: geographically, ethnically, linguistically, religiously.

But the true diversity of the events is best exposed in answers to questions like, “Why are you running across the desert for seven days?”

In their answers, competitors reveal what prompted them to join, where they come from (and not just a place on the planet), and how they keep pounding the ground, day after day, week after week, and month after month in training.  We talked to four competitors who are joining us for the first time at the Atacama Crossing 2013.

“I turned 40 this year and decided to treat myself with a race for my birthday!” said Amanda de Kock of Johannesburg.

“Treat” isn’t a word many would use to describe a grueling seven-day trek across the desert, but Amanda seems to live for events like this. Since her days as a university cross country runner, Amanda has completed the Aussenkehr Desert Extreme, Midnight Hell Run, and Addo Elephant Trail Run, to name a few.

Stress fractures have derailed Amanda’s running routine – but also set her on a new mental course.

“My hope for the race is to enjoy it above all,” she said. “My current injury changed my outlook on the race: I hope to make it to the starting line injury-free!”

Felix Allen of London is also turning 40 this year, but compared to Amanda, he’s relatively new to the sport. “I started running in 2005. I had recently given up smoking and needed to lose a few pounds, so joined a gym and did some ten minute runs on the treadmill - they nearly killed me!”

But the treadmill didn’t kill Felix. In fact, it pushed him out to the road and the trail, where he’s completed the Barcelona Marathon and Marathon des Sables.

“While running the long day,” Felix said of the MdS, “I swore never to put myself through anything like that again - ever! But a week or so after the event, that old post-Barcelona feeling was back.”

And so Felix signed himself up for “the pinnacle of running,” the Atacama Crossing 2013.

But he’s not going in green – Felix picked up books by Dean Karnazes, and he keeps his eyes trained on UK ultra runners like Jen Salter and Rory Coleman, and may even get a hypoxicator as the race closes in.

Similarly intense in his training, Craig Willment of Zambia enjoys poring over gear and nutritional advice, and hired a coach to get him Atacama-ready.

That means, like most other competitors, Craig spends a lot of time pounding the ground. As a pilot, he also spends a lot of time in the sky, and in the water as a river mountain canoeist.

But it wasn’t always this way.

“I took a new job where I was shut up in a compound,” he said. “It soon started driving me crazy! Realizing my need for space and a life, I resigned from the job. Then shortly after arriving back home, a good friend passed away. He was a really talented sportsman and was just getting back into some running for a race back home and the next moment he was gone.”

Those two events pushed Craig toward making a commitment to RacingThePlanet, and have made him (almost) fearless in his approach – he does fear blisters.

Fear of injury, in fact, is one of the things that link these diverse first-timers. But they are also alike in their determination and awe of what they face, an attitude Felix sums up well:

“I just want to have a giant experience.”

by Alexandra Graves

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