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Race Reports

1000 Km In 28 Days Across 4 Deserts Lucy Rivers Bulkeley

“The second

toughest endurance race in the world” Time Magazine, May 2010

“The ultimate test of

human endurance” Men’s Health,July 2010

In August 2007, my father lost his battle with cancer at only 62. If I was going to raise much- needed funds for Macmillan Cancer Support in his memory, I had to find an extreme event. The 4 Desert Challenge fitted the bill! It is a series of 250km self supported races across the largest and most forbidding deserts on Earth (Atacama, Gobi, Sahara and Antarctica), carrying all our

own equipment, food and clothes. The average rucksack weighs in at about 7.5kg.

To make it even tougher, and to become the first British woman to complete the Grand Slam, I had to complete all four in one calendar year. Only two men had achieved this before.

The first race was the Atacama Crossing in Chile. All the experts suggest arriving at least a couple of days beforehand, to allow the body to recover from flying and to acclimatise. Especially in this case, as we were going to be at an altitude of 3500m from the start. Unfortunately, the large earthquake struck and Santiago

airport was closed to all international flights. The only alternative was to fly into Buenos Aires, then up to Salta, before hiring a minibus and driver to take us across the Andes. Luckily the organisers had delayed the start of the race by 24hrs to allow us all time to arrive.

The drive was stunning but rather hair- raising at times as most of the journey was on rocky tracks with spectacular drops! Thankfully, I was with five other competitors, and after 13hrs and two flat tyres, we arrived in the sleepy town of San Pedro de Atacama. The race itself

in just under 24hrs, which was a new record. The rest of us were slightly slower!

After a couple of weeks of recovery, it was time to start thinking about the next one. Flights and hotels to book, visas to be sorted, dehydrated food to be ordered and the key dietary essentials - I would not have survived the year without crushed Pringles, Skittles and Haribo!

Flying into Urumqi, in the northwest corner of China at the end of June for the Gobi March was rather a shock to the system. We had been warned of temperatures up to 50°c but we arrived to torrential rain and threats of flash flooding. Luckily at the race check in where medical forms are signed, our equipment and kit is checked and we’re given the race stage breakdowns, the course director informed us that it was a freak storm and the heat was following – he wasn’t wrong!

(photo courtesy of RacingthePlanet)

was luckily less eventful and the long stage on day 5 was 78km. We crossed endless salt flats, climbed huge dunes, waded though knee-deep water in the slot canyons and passed a couple of very remote tiny villages. I dread to think what the locals thought of us all as we shuffled past them, clad in lycra with rucksacks on our backs.

The finishing line after 250km over 6 days was a welcome sight – my knees had been strapped from day 2 onwards after slipping on some shingle at the top of a gorge and were looking like rugby balls. Ryan Sandes, the South African, managed to complete the whole race

10 Ultrarunning World | February/March 2011

The first couple of days of the race weren’t too bad as we crossed dry riverbeds, climbed very steep hills and shuffled through deep ravines at the base of the Flaming

Mountains as we headed in to the Turpan Basin (known appropriately as “The Oven”). Stage 5 was 107km and looking back, it was one of the worst moments of the year. Every time you thought you were nearly at camp, there was yet another monster sand dune to climb, which in 50°c, was energy zapping. Morale towards the end of the race was pretty low as a fellow competitor, Nick Kruse, had collapsed on stage 4 and was in a coma in hospital. Guttingly, after we’d all crossed the final finishing line, received our race medal and were safely back at the hotel, we were told that Nick had passed away. We all sign up to these

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