Jax here from the #jaxnlance blog feed during the winter season. This story is about my life beyond chasing for 100 ski days a year and being a professional ultra-runner. This is a peek at an epic running adventure to become the first woman in the world to complete a series of grueling self supported desert ultra marathons around the world known as the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus. During my training, I chose Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as my training ground. One of my fellow runners Filippo Rossi came along with me for a 10 day altitude running camp in the Tetons and at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Here is our story and be sure to follow our epic journeys on our social media feeds here:
Its 5am, and the mini alarm on my watch is buzzing in my ear in my sleeping bag. Our tent is a canvas sheet on the ground with a spacious canvas top and sides. The stability of it on a windy day can be dicey, but otherwise it is a great home for us for 7 days of running. It will be long nights dealing with humming sore legs and hearing team mates snoring. I pop out of bed to the sound of crackling fires prepared all over camp to enjoy my expedition foods granola that has 800 calories squeezed in a tiny bag of food. It is dark and the sky is the clearest in the world. Nerves are high for the first day of running across the driest desert in the world carrying everything that you need to survive. This includes food, safety equipment, and clothes jammed into a 25 liter pack. The race series will provide water, medical aid in extreme cases and this tent to share with up to 9 others. I hum along preparing all of my gear for the day including dialing in my DripDrop hydration, salt tabs, Honey Stinger waffles and chews as well as nuts and coconut shavings. Ahead is 22.8 miles of running in some of the roughest terrain in the world starting at 11,200 feet. The following days will be around 24 miles, 28 miles, 26 miles, 47 miles, a rest day and finally 5 miles. This is the 4 Deserts Race series! My buddy Filippo and I will begin the Atacama Crossing stage of the series in 3 days. This is the 4th race this year for me and 3rd for Filippo on our running projects. For this specific race, I am lucky to have completed this stage once before last year and placed 2nd female. It was the stoke that ignited my passion this year to be the first woman in the world to complete the Grand Slam Plus.
What is the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus? It is a series of 5 self supported 250k ultra marathons in 4 deserts and 1 jungle through the world, within one fiscal year, while carrying everything you need to survive on your back. Time magazine has noted it as the world’s roughest and most rugged ultra marathons. Only 3 men have every completed this epic feat and I hope to be the first woman. I am doing this quest in honor of the LymeLight Foundation to raise funds and awareness for Lyme Disease. I also hope to inspire the masses to explore and get outside and move their bodies. I placed 2nd female in Sri Lanka which was the roving race this year, and then I was the female champion in Namibia and Gobi as well as 6th overall. I hope to be the female champion at the last two races to come, which would result in being one of the most decorated athletes in the race series. I am racing for USA and Canada as a duel citizen.
The 4 Deserts Grand Slam includes all of the traditional four races without the roving race. Those four races are the Sahara / Namibia Race, The Gobi March in China, The Atacama Crossing in Chile, and The Last Desert in Antarctica in a fiscal year. Filippo is doing this quest in honor of all of all the migrants that struggle and fight everyday to change their life in better crossing deserts and seas towards Europe. Filippo placed first in his age category in both events so far as well as 7th overall. He has high hopes to win his age division in the next two races to come.
Each race in the series contains a great deal of adversity. In Sri Lanka, within the first 12k, I had twisted my knee in the jungle, gone off course by 3k, vomited three times, and was lying on the side of the trail wondering if I could survive and knowing the entire year of racing was ahead. It was in that vulnerable moment as I lied on the ground in 95-degree heat and close to 100% humidity, that I knew the challenge ahead was going to be very hard. Two days later in Sri Lanka I sprained my ankle in the jungle and hobbled through the rest of the course at less than 100%. As I pushed through each mile, I kept reminding myself of this quote by Ralph Marston. “You’ve done it before and you can do it now. See the positive possibilities. Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.”
The Sahara race and Gobi March brought similar challenges. Sahara was extremely competitive and draining. The weather ranged from marine fog to high heat approaching over 100 degrees. The terrain was very undulating and difficult including long stretches of beach running that would last upwards of 15 miles. It took every ounce of my might and grit to make it to the end of the 50-mile long march sustaining first place female. The Gobi March was by far the hardest race in the series so far. It tested our limits with intense weather ranging from a point where I was borderline hypothermic on day 2 to running 50 miles in over 130 degrees on the long march. It was so hot that your shoes were melting underneath your feet with every step. This lead to large blisters forming on both of my footpads, which made for a very painful chase to the finish line on the last 10k. If the physical conditions and extreme weather were not enough, we also had issues with our camp blowing down the morning of day 3 and on day 5 there was a dust storm that blew the entire camp over once again. This also lead to my sleeping bag, pad and liner flying away. I quickly found shelter under a sand formation and spent the evening hugging my backpack and trying to sleep. The storm escalated to a point where the camp was evacuated and we were taken to shelter where I spent the night sleeping on a sidewalk at an abandoned museum on my backpack pad. Each scenario tests your courage. It reminds you quickly that “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again.” Out there in the desert there is always the next mile, or the next day, so you must dig into your courage to smile, and keep going. I was constantly reminded of how all of you must do the same thing daily in your goals with sport, and life.
Out there, the desert races teach you to push your tenacity and grit to survive. What is cool is that when I arrive back from my experience in the desert to my life here in the states running my coffee roasting and marketing business, I learn to deal with problems that arise easier and stronger. In any goal that you have in life, it is always a level of dedication and determination that will help you get to the goal. I always follow a philosophy that thoughts are your future. So put forth your very best self every day to achieve your goals.
With such an aggressive running season on tap, and the Atacama Crossing being at high altitude, JHMR was the perfect location to train. The race in Atacama starts at 11,2000 feet and the average altitude will be around 8,500 feet for the 7 days. Filippo decided to join me for 10 days of training together side by side to get ready for the big event ahead. Here are some of our highlights:
On day 1, I decided to take Filippo on a 4 hour run on the Lower Valley Trail in Grand Teton National Park. We began our journey from the bottom of the tram and then traveled up xyz trail to get to the entrance. The Lower Valley trail was beautiful. It meanders up and down and around the mountain range where you can see amazing views of the valley as well as Lakes along the way. It was a fun journey for x miles and x vert and at the finish all we could think about was getting a waffle at the top of the tram. Boy did it taste good. On the way down the tram the altitude finally hit Filippo and all of the sudden, he passed out in my arms. It was great to see the ski patrol, but maybe not the circumstances we wanted eh? They were awesome with getting him oxygen asap and some snacks.
The next day, we explored the new Rendezvous Mountain Park trails along the snake river. Some know this as the Dyke. It was an easy recovery day, yet his pack was holding 7kg of water in it. That evening we had to show Filippo the Mangy Moose for a brew and truffle fries. It is a must during a stay in Teton Village.
On day 3, we did a very hard interval session looking at JHMR and dreaming of going up it. That lead to a project on day 5 to run from the condo in the Aspens and run to the top. By going this route it also meant we could celebrate a long training day with another waffle and beer from Corbets Cabin. Can’t beat that! Especially with 7.5kg of weight in each of our packs for the journey. Our stomachs were not in great condition that day. I ended up dry heaving and having other issues and Filippo the same. But in the deserts, adversity will present itself often, so we embrace the challenge and get through it and just call it a part of training.
For our long run of the week, we decided to adventure from the top of the tram along the Teton Crest Trail and on to Philips Ridge trail and over into Teton Pass for the history trail followed by running home. Upon arriving for our start, the foks at Corbet’s greeted us with another set of waffles to get us going. We were so stoked and grateful for the gift. The run was an amazing 22 mile adventure with epic wildflowers and views along the way.
On the 9th day Filippo decided to check out Yellowstone National Park, so I decided to check out various trails on JHMR with Lance. We checked out Saratoga Loop, Seven Bridges Trail and Lower Faces Loop and the Yurt Trail … followed by a summer concert at the base enjoying beers and fresh food.
The last day together, we jumped on over to Snow King mountain and ran to the top of it it. A quick lung crunching 32 minutes of uphill joy.
All in it was an epic week of training keeping up with 90 mile weeks to prepare for the elements ahead. Thank you to everyone at JHMR that supported our training journey.
All in our 10 day training camp was a great adventure, pushing many miles at altitude. We are always smashed at the end of each week, but after a rest day, we are at it once again.
After the training camp, Filippo headed straight to South America to spend a month in the Atacama Desert to get used to the climate. He even went up Vulcan Lincanacbur, which is 5,917 meters. I love racing within my training so for the past 3 weeks leading up to the race I participated in the Jackson Hole Marathon becoming the female champion, Huntsville Marathon taking 3rd female and lastly The North Face endurance series trail half marathon taking 2nd female.
Both Filippo and I have high hopes for the race that starts on October 2nd. To follow us, click the links below:
BREAKING NEWS – receive live email updates during each stage
STAGE UPDATES – are posted daily to provide an overview of the Stage
RESULTS – will be posted to the website during and after each stage
PHOTOS and VIDEOS – are posted daily during and after each stage
BLOGS are posted by competitors from each Camp – leave comments for them to read in the Cybertent
SEND EMAILS TO A COMPETITOR – by going to the results page and clicking “send an email” next to the relevant competitors name
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