What would make you want to run 250 kilometres in a desert? This is possibly the most common reaction of friends and family when someone decides to run a 4 Deserts race!
The reasons people take part in multi-stage races in deserts around the world vary hugely, partly because they attract an immensely varied crowd.
Hong Kong-based Briton Ben Fox quite rightly points out “there is no simple answer”. When asked to expand on this, he has a rather more profound answer: “I think it's important to never live in the status quo, to never accept a life of pure comfort and convenience without ever discovering what you are really capable of. These days we live lives which are too full of comfort and convenience, we become soft and lazy, we drink too much, eat too much and complain about our first world problems.” His view is “that we all need to push the limits and suffer discomfort and some pain to shake up our lives.” Ben also wants to instill in his children that they can strive hard to achieve their goals and that they should never give up just because something is a little difficult. However, as with most of us, Ben will tell his friends and family who always label him the crazy one: “Why not?” Or, to quote the mountaineer George Mallory when asked why he wanted to try to climb Everest, "Because it's there!"
Many of us will resonate with David Cox of the UK, who has completed three 4 Deserts races since 2010, when he says "I love the physical, the mental and the emotional space. It allows me the time to put things into perspective, to marvel at this beautiful and amazing planet, and to enjoy the company of (extra)ordinary people." He is right, the races do tend to turn people into better versions of themselves.
Australia’s James Dean, who has been at two 4 Deserts races, with a withdrawal at the first and then successfully completing the second four years later, says: "For me, doing a multi-stage ultra was my own Olympics. Growing up, I had dreams of becoming an Olympian but life got in the way. Being out in the desert, pushing my body beyond its limits after months of training gave me a real sense of achievement."
There’s no denying 250 kilometers / 155 miles is a long way to run. Add to that a desert terrain with soft sand, the occasional dune, extremes of temperature and 9kg / 20lb on your back, and it can seem the ultimate challenge. Some competitors have completed a 10km, a marathon, or maybe even 100km, and now want to take the next step. It might come from a desire to beat a time, or set a record.
For Canadian brothers Eric and Paul Chan, it was for two reasons. They wanted to set a record and do something extraordinary to help raise thousands for the Rainforest Trust charity, so they completed their year-long quest to break a world record for most number of desert races run in a year.
Jax Mariash from the United States trained hard to become the first woman to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam PLUS - all 4 Deserts Race PLUS the RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon in one year, and was also crowned the 4 Deserts female champion of 2016.
Alex Chapman from England, who has completed three races, says he was inspired by others: "Some of my friends did a 4 Deserts race and they stopped being 'those fat middle-aged blokes down the pub' to being 'those guys.' I wanted to be one of those guys too." I agree. After completing my first race I entered a second 4 Deserts race because I wanted that same feeling back. I lost weight, had a positive outlook, life seemed easier somehow.
Running a 4 Deserts race is a great way to set a milestone in your life. Many people, including Jonathan Wilkes, have treated themselves and entered a race on a ‘significant’ birthday. The plan is often hatched in a moment of madness, or perhaps as the result of a bet, normally after a bottle of wine or two. But that’s often all the inspiration that’s needed and training starts when the hangover has had time to dissipate.
There is also the question of “can I do it?” There have been blind competitors, 70 year olds, 20 year olds, a team carrying a full rhino outfit and a man with one leg – of you course you can do it!!! The ultimate answer is that anyone can complete a 4 Deserts race; you just have to want to. Sometimes you need to look past the 250 km and know that the 4 Deserts races take you to stunning places, to achieve something amazing and new with some of the best people you will meet.
No matter what the reason, it’s a great challenge to overcome. To paraphrase Sir Edmund Hillary, ‘it’s not the desert we conquer, but ourselves.’