As the penguins slide and the humans push their way over the snow of this famed race, several competitors are aiming for remarkable personal goals. At the front of the pack is Spanish racing dynamo, Vicente Garcia Beneito—if he wins again, he will be the first person to win every race of the 4 Deserts Series in one calendar year.
On the day before the first stage, we tracked down the Spanish racer to find out whether the pressure was starting to take its toll. We found him cool, calm and promising that he never planned to win all the 4 Deserts events in 2012. “My first objective was just to complete the 4 Deserts in one year,” he assures us. He says it was when he won the Gobi March that it first occurred to him as a possibility.
In terms of pressure, Beneito appears unruffled: “My sponsors gave me free range of what I wanted to do, race-wise,” he explains. “This decreased the demand / pressure. Of course, my family was the biggest driving force, as well as other 4 Deserts athletes who helped to motivate me through the stages.”
Women’s contender Anne-Marie Flammersfeld has also shown great strength this year. The German trainer, who is based in the Swiss resort town of St. Moritz, says she also embarked on the Atacama Crossing with a fairly humble goal: “My aim was to complete all four, while in between staying healthy. Never was it in my mind to win each one.”
She admits that traveling for a week in the lead-up to this race has been making her anxious. But she is absolutely in her element in these races. “I love camping, running and being self-sufficient. Being able to recover very fast has allowed me to push myself harder but not over the limit. With running, I haven’t felt my limit yet.”
The pressure seems to have been affecting the younger competitors more. James Gaston is attempting to complete all five RacingThePlanet events in 2012, and at the young age of 22 he admits that he has been dealing with the mind games that being so close to an accomplishment brings. “For me, the pressure is realizing that after two years of prep and competition, a simple mistake could cost me the chance to finish them all.”
The young American attributes a lot of his success to his sister, Tara, who has competed many of the events at his side. “It has added a good level of competition and needed support having my sister on the course.”
Another young potential record-breaker is Australia’s Matt Donovan. At the age of 22, Matt is the youngest competitor to ever attempt the 4 Deserts Grand Slam as part of a team. JDRF Born to Run is attempting to win gold and make history—an astonishing challenge given the group dynamics needed to keep a team together (it’s tough enough on one race, never mind all four). Donovan admits that it has been a year of extreme self-discovery.
“I’ve learned much more of what I’m capable and what I can do, including carrying the team at times,” he says. “I’ve learned endurance is not only physical but also mental.”
When asked for a nugget of wisdom to share with other teams who may attempt the Grand Slam, Donovan says it’s all about teamwork and pre-planning: “Make sure to train as a team. Identify your leaders and talents within your team. This will allow you to plan better for each stage.”
Now that the race has begun, it’s down to sheer grit, strength and determination for these talented competitors to make it through. We wish them every success.
By Clare Morin