When Michelle Kakade was making arrangements for her journey to The Last Desert, she was met with awe and a certain amount of skepticism at the local visa office. As she explains: “When I was applying for the Argentinian visa, the visa officer said: I don’t think that’s possible.” She assured him that it was and promised to send him photos.
Kakade is based in the small Indian city of Buni, and here in Antarctica she is aiming to become the first person from her country to complete the 4 Deserts Series. “Ultramarathons are still unknown in India,” she says.
It began after Kakade had her second child and wanted start exercising. She recounts that she joined a 21-kilometer walkathon—and came in as the first woman, beating many men in the process. The next step was a city marathon, where a German competitor introduced her to the Marathon des Sables. While taking on that race, Kakade was wearing a pair of 4 Deserts gaiters and someone—also from Germany—asked if she had taken on the 4 Deserts Series. That was it: She researched the races, signed up and thrived in the Atacama Crossing 2011. “In stage races, every day has a new challenge,” she enthuses. “The unknown is a great and interesting challenge. I am a restless person, so this keeps me content.”
Her goal wasn’t just to finish the race, but to complete all four. She says her husband has played a large part in her success so far. “I have doubted that I can do this at times, but he has never had any doubts. That’s half of the victory; when someone believes in you that much.”
She also has her entire community behind her: “Where I train is part of a club, where my stage achievements will be put on the notice board. I’ve got a good luck charm from a friend there that I am now wearing. One treadmill is just reserved for me. I’ve been training six days a week and also incorporate yoga in my weekly training.”
Her story has been percolating through to the entire country through numerous press interviews. As she gets ready to complete the challenge, Kakade is pleased to report that interest in ultramarathons is now growing back home. “Yes, I’ve seen a spark of interest—this has been seen in competitor numbers at the 4 Deserts. India also now has a new stage race called La Ultra The High.”
For now, though, Kakade’s just thrilled to be here: “On Stage 1, when I got ashore I actually felt quite comfortable and the weather felt quite good. I have never walked on snow and felt very much like a drunken sailor, but was really happy to make the day.” When asked how it feels to be coming to the end of such an epic journey, she says, “To be able to accomplish something that you have set as a goal for yourself is amazing. I’m feeling very content… although some of it comes with a bit of sadness.”
By Clare Morin