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NEXT ROVING RACE IN SRI LANKA (Starts on 14 Feb 2016)
Leading the Pack

At the midway point of the RacingThePlanet: Ecuador 2015, the leaders have shown the breadth of their abilities and as the leaders of the men’s, women’s and team competition rested at Camp 5 ahead of the Long March, they spoke about what drives them to compete in these stunning yet immensely challenging distance events.

Ake Fagereng, 33, has led the men’s division from the first moments of the contest earlier this week and the Norwegian is no stranger to distance challenges. He has spent a decade on trails and mountain races around the world.

“This is much harder than a normal ultra. There's the extra challenge of recovering each day,” he said today, from Guayama Grande, a wooded area in the highlands 137km by road southeast of Quito.

Part of that challenge is camping out in conditions that can be achingly cold – as in this edition of the Roving Race. But being this close to nature in some of the most spectacular natural scenery in Andes is also part of the draw of these events.

“I'm enjoying camp life. It’s nice to get away for a week and only think about getting from A to B. It simplifies life,” he said. RacingThePlanet: Ecuador 2015 is Fagereng’s second 4 Deserts / Roving Race, with the university lecturer getting his first taste in Iceland 2013 where he finished a highly credible 6th.  

In the women’s competition, Briton Sarah Sawyer has been consistent, finishing strongly each day and enjoying the time running with her husband, Tom. Sarah began running five years ago and hasn’t stopped, having  taken on challenges from 5-km road races to a 160-km ultra event.

Stage 4 was the most challenging day of this edition of the Roving Race. The high altitude, cold and rainy weather have pushed the limits of most competitors. 

“Today was a killer,” Sawyer said. “The altitude, the climb early on that felt vertical, then Tom got sick just before Checkpoint 3 so we couldn't run the last 10 km of today's stage together as we have been running the rest of the race.”

But far from becoming disheartened by the conditions and the wear and tear on her husband, Sawyer says she “has not stopped smiling”.

“It's been a tough slog but in general, what's not to like. It's an amazing course with inspirational people – it’s not all about the running,” she adds.

The modest 39-year-old seemed surprised with her success in Ecuador and in only her second 4 Deserts / Roving Race, but she clearly sets high standards. Training has been extensive, with a 100-mile event in May the peak of her training regime. She credits running coach James Elson – who is a member of the 4 Deserts Club – with helping her compete so wholeheartedly.

“I had no idea I'd still be wearing the leader's bib after the first day,” she said today. “Tom and my strategy has been to make hay while the sun shines.”

Perhaps the most interesting – if not downright oddball – competitors in any multi-stage event are the teams. Often with their own distinctive culture, built around the already outstanding characteristics of a distance runner, the runners in the team competition are often the jokers in the pack.

The Inconceivables are Australian brother and sister Kate Hogan-Edwards and Mick Hogan, running with Kate’s Scottish husband Fergus Hogan-Edwards.

“The biggest challenge has been having to listen to Fergus singing; all sorts of things such as ‘I'm A Lumberjack’, songs from ‘The Sound of Music’,” Mick siaid.

The trio have giggled their way across the highlands, good-natured banter and joshing fuelling their run. But these repeat 4 Deserts / Roving Race competitors (Mick has raced twice, Kate four times, and Fergus five) are serious about the challenge they’re a part of. The trio say the first four stages of this race have been the hardest of any competition so far.

The high-altitude high jinks the trio are enjoying were a “sort of” a 40th birthday present from the boys to Kate and were motivated by the thought of being blamed by her if they didn’t win. The trio rattled off more laughs.

The Inconceivables have more than an hour’s lead over the next placed team, Team Quebec, and plan to keep bearing down the course as hard as they can without risking injury. “We don’t really have a plan. It's just been awesome running as a team,” Kate said.  

Win, lose or draw, The Inconceivables, each of the team runners and all of the competitors are destined to take home memories that will last a lifetime.


By Melanie Ho

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