Challenge Accepted: 4 Deserts Championship Contender Isabelle Sauve 

Although Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer Isabelle Sauve finished the Namib Race (Namibia) 2018 as the top female competitor and this past summer’s Gobi March (Mongolia) 2018 as the race’s second highest-ranked female, the Canadian said she didn’t expect to find herself in contention for this year’s 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series championship. But the 42-year old finds herself the favourite for the prestigious award as she this week competes in the fourth and final 250-km race -- The Last Desert in Antarctica.

Sauve said she never dreamed of being a strong contender for the championship. “Not at all,” Sauve said as she prepared to set sail for Antarctica. “Especially since I consider myself relatively new to the discipline.”

Sauve began running cross-country in elementary school and 10 years ago ran her first marathon as part of an Ironman triathlon in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to that she had been competing in shorter triathlon distances and is a former Canadian triathlon champion in sprint distance. About five years ago, Sauve completed her first single-day ultra marathon event -- she called her shift to running as a “break and time saver” from training in the three triathlon sports -- and in 2016 she completed her first 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series race at the Atacama Crossing (Chile).

“I was looking for my next challenge and was searching online. I wanted an event with a good reputation held in a location I wanted to visit,” Sauve said. “My goal,as with any event, was to compete to the best of my ability and make sure I enjoy every moment I can. It definitely was a hit.”

Having also raced in Namibia and in Mongolia, the Atacama Crossing remains a favourite because, as Sauve said, “the amazing location, the fact that I started to deeply appreciate multistage racing, and on a non related racing level, it is where I met Bruno.”

Bruno is French-born Australian competitor Bruno Seguin. Like Sauve, Seguin began his competing in the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series in 2016, racing the Gobi March (China) and then the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2016 where he met Seguin. Together with Seguin he has also competed at the Gobi March (Mongolia) 2018 and the Namib Race 2018 and is the middle of his fifth RacingThePlanet ultramarathon at The Last Desert. Seguin relocated to Canada and now lives with Sauve in Perth, Ontario.

“On Stage 3 [at the Atacama Crossing], I fell on my face while running in the salt flats and cut myself quite badly,” Sauve said. “Later on we saw each other at camp while I was fixing my blisters and he was quick to mention that at least my feet where looking better than my face. The kindness, empathy and romanticism was so overwhelming, I could not resist.”

While the two do not run together during the races, having Seguin alongside has made Sauve a better competitor.

“Travelling together and preparing for the race makes it a totally different experience,” Sauve said. “We also are lucky to see some of the most amazing places in the world from the same angle. Even if we do not run together and have our own goals, We support each other mentally because we know each other well.”

Both Sauve and Seguin like to push themselves. Joining the prestigious 4 Deserts Club (having completed the Gobi March, the Atacama Crossing, the Namib Race and The Last Desert) is one goal, but both are soon to embark on PhD programs as well. While Seguin is a business consultant and will do his PhD work in Learning Sciences, Sauve works at the OPP’s Lanark County Detachment and is a former member of the emergency response team. A police officer for 12 years, Sauve holds a Masters degree in psychology and will soon undertake her Ph.D studies.

“I enjoy learning and challenging myself in all forms,” Sauve said. “A few years ago I decided to undertake a bodybuilding competition. I spent a year training and learning about the nutrition behind the sport. I have had the opportunity to represent Canada on the world stage in a number of disciplines such as Goju Ryu, Jujitsu, Duathlon, Biathlon, Triathlon. Most recently Bruno and I decided we wanted to try for a Guinness World Record. Given my police background we decided to attempt the title of fasted marathon handcuffed-mixed pair. We were successful and recently received our official certificate which was a lot of fun.”

For now, though, Sauve’s focus is on Antarctica where she will look to use her experience of Canadian winters to her advantage.

“I am accustomed to running in snow and will use this experience to my advantage in terms of conserving energy and gaining speed where I can,” Sauve said. “Because of the uncertain amount of time we will have every day I will mostly adopt a steady pace initially and re-assess as time goes by. I know how difficult it can be to run in the snow but I think having the experience of it will allow me to more easily manage my energy and efforts.”

By Melanie Ho