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Competitors for Days, Friends for Life
 By Clare Morin

There’s an old saying, that those who endure life’s toughest challenges together, forge the deepest bonds. This would certainly apply to RacingThePlanet competitors. The adventurous souls who embark on these races are known to return home with striking collections of blisters, and some of the greatest friendships of their lives.


“It’s great to have us old guys back together,” remarked Derek Kwik, a Hongkonger who is also one of the original 15 who first completed the 4 Deserts series. Derek explained that the four of them first met in 2004 on a bus en route to the Atacama Crossing. Americans Joel Burrows and Dave Kuhnau were already friends, and got into conversation with Derek and Chuck Walker. “We met over a can of Pringles and have been friends ever since,” adds Dave. “It is great to be back together, although it is a ridiculous way to have a reunion.


So why do such deep friendships form in this event series? And what compels them to travel to the ends of the Earth to do it all again together? Stephanie Case, champion of the women’s division in Nepal as well as the Roving Race in Vietnam, believes it’s the unique cross-section of competitors.


“The level of competition in the RacingThePlanet races gets stronger every year, while at the same time the events remain open to novice runners who are eager to get into the sport,” she muses. “This combination is unbeatable because it creates a bond between runners of all backgrounds, regardless of experience... The sportsmanship and camaraderie among the participants is unreal. Some of my closest friends are ones that I met though RacingThePlanet events.”


Ryan Sandes, another champion of RacingThePlanet events, agrees that it’s the way that participants’ mix that enables the deep friendships to form—and this is coming from someone who is always moving like lightning at the front of the pack. “There’s camaraderie at all levels,” says the South African. “There aren’t many races where the guys at the front and those at the back have the chance to bond”.


Perhaps the secret in fact lies in the tents, those oasis-like resting spots where people arrive to lay down their aching bodies and share their stories, finding equal parts of inspiration and consolation from their tent mates. Event Director Samantha Fanshawe explains that tent mates are carefully assigned to enhance the experience of the events.


“Competitors are given the opportunity to put in requests for their tent mates; sometimes an entire tent is made up of people who have met at previous races and use the races as a reunion,” she explains. “There are also competitors who request to be with people from certain countries where they have just moved to in order to find new training partners for the future, or may be as simple as wanting to be with one other person. We always want to accommodate requests, but it is important to keep mixing things up – you don’t want to close the door to meeting new people and make new friends.”


And when that finish line is crossed and the tents packed away, the friendships certainly do not cease. As Lucy Rivers-Bulkeley, a 4 Deserts grand-slammer points out: “Even living in all corners of the world, we mange to stay in touch, and even more worryingly, egg each other on to sign up again for yet another race, having uttered the immortal words of 'never again' at the finishing line! Even more dangerous is the quick drink and catch up with the London crew, which normally ends with far too many drinks being consumed and another hair-brained race idea hatched!”


Right now, this is what is playing out all across the globe. The emails are being sent, the pints downed, and the challenges named for the New Year; and the big one on everyone’s mind is the Roving Race in Jordan. Phil Tye, another 4 Deserts grand-slammer, who was at Nepal and is coming back for more in Jordan says, “It’s almost less about getting on the course, but about seeing old friends. After doing the 4 Deserts, you have been to a few races and know the people… and that is what is great”

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