Desert ultra-marathoners test spiritual and physical mettle

Mon Jun 30, 2014 5:09am EDT
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In the world of long-distance running there are the marathoners, ultra-marathoners and the desert runners who trek for days through drought, wind, heat and cold with supplies strapped to their backs.

Fitness experts say for athletes grappling with these extremes, success is more a matter of can-do spirit than physical prowess.

“The people who finish are not the most physically fit but the ones that are mentally strong, those who don’t entertain the possibility of not finishing,” said ultra-marathoner Samantha Gash.

Gash, 29, was the first woman to complete the Four Deserts Grand Slam, an ultra-marathon series where runners slog across four 250-kilometer (150-mile) courses in deserts in Chile, China, Egypt and Antarctica.

Organizers of the series, which was founded in 2002, said so far 28 people have completed the Grand Slam.

A self-described “sucker for new experiences,” Gash, who hails from Melbourne, Australia, is featured in the recent documentary “Desert Runners,” which chronicles the Four Deserts Grand Slam.

What extreme athletes share, she said, is ambition and a willingness to step outside of their comfort zone.

Despite holding down a full-time communications job, Gash is currently training for a 32-day race in September along South Africa’s Freedom Trail, to promote awareness of the lack of female hygiene products available to young girls in that part of the world.   Continued...

A participant runs past a old residential zone on the Connaught Road West Flyover as he competes in the Hong Kong marathon February 16, 2014. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu