RACE COVERAGE

Fireside Chat with Competitor Zeana Benjamin

Q1:  Tell me about your background.  Where did you grow up? Where is your family from? Where have you lived?
A1: I was born and lived the first 12 years of my life in Freetown, Sierra Leone. My father is from Beirut, Lebanon and moved to Sierra Leone as a young boy to start his import / export business with his brother. My mother was an American in the Peace Corps working as an English teacher in Freetown, and this is where they met and decided to start a family. I spent some time during my childhood in Beirut getting to know my grandparents. My family and I were evacuated from Sierra Leone at the start of the civil war, and had planned to move back, but the situation never stabilized enough for my mother to be comfortable to send myself and my sister back, so we continued school in her hometown of Vancouver, Washington. I left Vancouver in 2003 with plans to be away for three months but instead I met my husband, who is from Australia, and have been exploring life with him since 2007. I have lived in Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and back to Singapore, where I now call home. 

Q2:  What are your passions in life?

A2:  I really like to meet new people and get to know their stories. Everyone has a unique and amazing story, and usually these stories are even more amazing when they have brought you out to the desert. I will get to know so many people from all around the world at the Namib Race.

Q3:  When did you start running? What races have you completed in the past? How much have you been training for the Sahara Race?

A3:  I ran Cross Country and Track & Field in high school. I ran a 5km about 15 years ago when I was living in Switzerland, and just started increasing the distance since then. I started thinking it would be fun to do a marathon, so joined a training group in Singapore about seven years ago called "Team Fatbird" and met a bunch of really cool people. I then started to hear about trails, ultra-marathons and how these cool races can you take to some of the most amazing places in the world. I participated in several multi-stage races, both semi-supported and self-supported, including RacingThePlanet: Madagascar. However, as much work as it is to train and trek with a back pack, it is a fantastic feeling knowing that you have everything you need to keep you going in your pack and on your two feet. 

Training has gone well. Of course, there are moments that I don't think I’ve done enough and I am not 100% confident I will make it to finish line. However, I've done what I can do which has consisted of back-to-back running / hiking with my pack on the weekends, some hill and speed work, and a bit of strength training. On paper I am ready; we will see if it translates to the desert. 

Q4:  Do you think the fact that Singapore is so hot and humid will help you with the Namib desert conditions?

A4:  Training in Singapore has huge benefits -- the heat and humidity here is brutal for training but then it means I should be prepared for the heat of the Namib desert! There’s also a great stretch of beach on the east coast park which allows for some sand slogging.

Q5: What are your goals for the race? Top three, top half, to finish?

A5:  Well, top half can be my (not so) secret goal, and just to finish being the main goal. And to enjoy myself; I absolutely cannot wait to get out there in the middle of the beautiful Skeleton Coast, have no phone, no radio, no connection, and just put one foot in front of the other. It is the ultimate get away from real life! 

Q5: What is your most treasured item of gear, e.g. something that you could not do without?

A5:  My poles. I love my poles as they help with my sore knee. I like to believe my trekking poles give me super powers, especially when I am really tired and my legs want to stop!

Q6: How much do you anticipate your backpack weighing?

A6:  My goal is an 8kg (18 lbs) backpack - I was surprised at how careful I had to be for 8kg, so for all those people who manage a pack less than 8kg, I am very impressed! 

Q7:   What do you like about the camplife?

A7:  I love everything about camp life - I love the ambiance where everyone has accomplished amazing achievements for the day, sharing your stories about what you saw and what you felt, how many blisters have been popped, and what the meal of the evening is. But my favorite time is when the fire is going down and it's quiet, and you look up and see the beautiful night sky and are reminded, once again, just how lucky you are to be in that moment.  

Q8:  What are you bringing for food?

A8:  My main meals consist of Expedition Foods - Mac and Cheese, Spaghetti Carbonara, Beef Stroganoff, Fish with Potatoes - just to name some of my favorites. I add in a few packets of instant noodles and some quick soup powders. On the course, I rotate my snacks between some sour candies, some chorizo, and salt and vinegar chips. I also use Tailwind during the day. 

Q9: What is your ultimate goal?

A9:  I would love to one day be able to race in The Last Desert (Antarctica) and one day, further down the road, to have earned a 4 Deserts Medal - that would be such an achievement that right now I can only dream about!! My other goal is to eventually get my husband out to one of the races... 

Q10:  What tips can you offer to fellow competitors who are running their first 4 Deserts Ultramarathon?

A10:  Just break it down into small sections and focus on one foot in front of the other - keep moving forward! 

Note: Zeana Benjamin, an American based in Singapore, completed RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 and has been a member of the RacingThePlanet management team since that time. She is competing in her first race as part of the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series.