Questions and Answers with Jax Mariash Koudele (US/Canada), who is attempting to become the first woman in the world to complete the Grand Slam Plus by Mary Gadams


Tell me about yourself, where do you live, how did you get started into running, and how did you hear about the 4 Deserts?

My name is Jax Mariash Koudele. I live nestled against the Teton Mountain Range in Wilson WY which is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton village. When I was a wee one of 5 years old, my school threw a running event called the Graland Gallup. It went around my favorite park in Denver (Washington Park). During my first time doing it my mom told me to stay alongside her as I was a bit nervous. The gun went off and all of the sudden my legs were flying under my feet and I took off zooming down the road to score 1st in the 8-and-under division, and ending up meeting my mom at the finish. From there my mom, uncle and a family friend of ours started a running program with each other. I would get up every morning and run and then attend races on the weekend. It was a very fun and stress-free entrance into running, all of the way until high school. In high school, I won regional championships by almost 2 minutes and went on to become a professional duathlete and triathlete following in my college years until 2008. In the end, running was always at my core as the favorite and once I started dipping into ultra trail running I discovered my ultimate passion of endurance running.

I ended up stumbling upon 4 Deserts when I was looking for an additional race to score points for UTMB. I had a fall mid season in a 50-mile race that caused knee bursitis and lead to a DNF in the race I was counting on for points. So 7 weeks prior to the Atacama Crossing, I signed up and jumped in as a first timer with little to no idea of what I was getting in to. Lo and behold, after a 2nd place female finish, everything changed and I fell in love with the 4 Deserts Race Series.

When you participated in the Atacama Crossing, what goals did you have?

My goals for the Atacama Crossing were actually quite different than the results that came to be. I was hoping for top ten in the female division. More than anything the main goal was to survive and finish. I was extremely nervous and frightened for what I had signed myself up for. I thought it would be a miracle just to complete it.

What did you do right in the Atacama Crossing and what would you do differently?

In the Atacama Crossing, one element that helped me succeed was spending quite a bit of time dipping into higher altitude for some epic mountain runs. I am excited this year to actually just live at a base of 6,500 feet in the Teton Mountain range. Additionally, I lucked out with my shoes and socks and did not get any blisters. My shoes were the Salomon S-LAB Ultra Sense. I learned a lot as well with how to “race” at one of these events. First and foremost, my pack weight was massive. Weighing 12.3 kilos to start (before water) I quickly learned many tricks to ensure that changed in Sri Lanka where it was around 8 kilos. I also learned a lot about how to advance my training for this type of event vs a single day ultra or road race. It is quite different and if you want to train to win you need to completely change up your style of running and spend a lot of time on really long runs with a pack on. 

What was your favorite piece of gear in the Atacama Crossing and your least favorite gear in the Atacama Crossing?

Two of my favorite items I brought were my shoes and poles (Black Diamond Ultra Carbon Z poles). In the end my very favorite item became a 1.5L water bottle bottom that I cut into a bowl. This one “bowl” served up all of my oatmeal and hot cocoa and muscle milk daily. I was very attached to it on the last day and actually cried when I threw it away, after a final photo with it, right before the final run back to town. It reminded me of when Tom Hanks lost “Wilson” in the movie Cast Away. My least favorite gear item was the gaiters I brought. They did not cover my shoe the entire way so when we approached the first set of sand dunes sand just kept storming in them. By the next day I had cut apart stuff sacks and created an additional section on my shoe with tape to cover up the bottom half and ended up winning that stage. 

What did you learn about yourself in the Atacama Crossing?

Being an entrepreneur of two businesses as well as a producer for my husband’s photography business, I realized that I really needed some zen time. I actually signed up for the Atacama Crossing to also just check out for a week and be within nature in epic terrain doing what I love and otherwise be entirely off the grid. I learned how important this balance is for my work/ life/family. The Atacama Crossing and RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka also quickly change your perspective of problem solving and how to handle a crisis with positivity. You must quickly take a problem that comes up and skip the panic and head to a solution in order to become successful out there at the races. When you jump back into the "real world" and a problem comes up, you enter it with a sense of calm and just jump right through it easily. You also are humble and centered after a 4 Deserts race. It must be something about where you take your body and mind and your perspective of just about everything changes.   

What would you say to others who are contemplating doing a seven-day, 250 kilometer multi-day race?

I would say to jump in and do it. It will be the most challenging feat you ever enter but what it will do for your mind, body and spirit is something that is life changing. You will enter epic highs and lows in every part of your body and self and it will change your perspective on how you go about everything in your life. It will also teach you how vast and powerful mother nature is. She will show you her grit, and beauty and you will gain a whole new appreciation for the land we are so lucky to walk on. You will see sights that will blow you away and you will be honored to step foot there. Your tent mates will become family for life as they quickly jump in to help you with any issue that comes up, and additionally laugh and cry with. It will go down as one of the best experiences of your life, not matter what the outcome is on your race results. 

What inspired you to sign up for the Grand Slam Plus?

The Grand Slam Plus is nothing short of a very epic feat that I have set my eyes on this year. It makes sense why only 3 men and zero women to date have accomplished such a feat. When I came back from the Atacama Crossing and saw the effects on social media via my husbands updates it was really something special. The amount of inspiration it drew for folks, and the amount of change folks were making to push outside and explore and to make efforts for health and wellness to increase their fitness was miraculous. I sat back and asked myself, if this movement happened with just one race, what could happen if I upped the ante and signed up for all 5? How could I moved people and women as a highlight all over the world to look at any part of their life and realize that what they thought was impossible, just might be possible. I wanted to find a way to push the envelope so far within my own mind, body and spirit that it creates a viral effect on the planet to push others to move as a means to prevent disease 

What are your goals for the Grand Slam Plus?

The big and mighty goal of course is to finish. As a competitive athlete, I hope to podium at every event. I really want to try to win the Atacama Crossing for a little redemption per say in placing 2nd last year. RacingThePlanet:  Sri Lanka was a great start with placing 2nd overall. I also have a very passionate drive to help out the Lymelight Foundation. Lyme has affected many very dear to me and I hope to push awareness and raise funds to provide grants for children and young adults to heal so that they can also go out and explore. Here is my auxiliary fundraising page:  

What did you do differently in Sri Lanka from the Atacama Crossing?

 For starters, my pack was significantly lighter. I also trained a bit with it this round packed as it would be at the race. Little did folks know all around Jackson that the girl running around with a big pack was carrying all of the required essentials for a race including freeze dried food, safety gear, clothes, etc. I also purchased a new pack for this race. It is the OMM 25L Marathon Classic Pack. The Raidlight 20L pack did not fit my short torso correctly, and I even had to add an extra strap around my ribs to keep in somewhat in place. The OMM pack also packs really well and easily with perfect side compartments around your waist for your daily snacks. Additionally, I dialed in my food a bit better with eating every half hour religiously. I also changed my electrolyte system a bit to have 10g of DripDrop every checkpoint (around every 1.5 hours) and a salt tab every 1 hour. This is ½ the amount I used in the Atacama Crossing of DripDrop per checkpoint. It worked better for my system. In the 2nd round there was still many lessons learned and more changes will be made for the Sahara Race in Namibia.

What did you think of Sri Lanka as a location for a multi-day race?

RacingThePlanet:  Sri Lanka was EPIC! Of course this depends on your body, but for me it was the most challenging climate for me to run in. The heat and humidity left me dizzy at around 2.5 hours every day. I felt too dependent on nausea medicine. Day one also was a combination of vomiting and diarrhea, which we are unsure if it was climate shock, jetlag or some water that I drank. The terrain was rough, which I expected with these races, and a bit more road/concrete than I would like. But all in the scenery was majestic, especially in the highlands. The locals were so supportive and would stand on the side of the roads cheering us on saying “come on, come on, come on.” School kids really loved cheering us on and at times would laugh at us. I think we probably looked so funny running along in this giant packs on our backs. I often wondered what was going through a local’s mind as we ran through their town. They would also offer to dump water over your head, which was extremely refreshing. I also loved the Buddha statues. Coming from a more spiritual than religious background the Buddha symbol is one dear to me to remind me to be mindful in every step in life. I have a tattoo of one on my back actually and also picked up a local Buddha statue on the way out of town as a keepsake on our mantle alongside my medal and award. The location challenged us beyond what we ever imagined, and especially for many 4 Deserts veterans and 16 folks that had completed the Grand Slam. In the end, this is what makes our stories on the flip side that much more hard core. Carlos made a very majestic course and I feel a deep connection to him the course and his inspirational attitude in life.

Would you do anything differently with regard to your training or equipment for the Sahara Race in Namibia?

Most definitely. For the Sahara Race, I am going to train for it. =) Like really train vs a 5 week rapid off the seat of your pants version. I know what my body needs and how it works to be able to feel more comfortable with the distances and the long hours with a pack on. For equipment I think I went to the other end of the spectrum with what I packed in doing the bare minimum. For the Sahara Race, I will add back ipods (as I keep getting stuck running alone for almost all of the race), an extra shirt, and lots more nuts. I noticed that in these races I need to eat fat every 30 minutes along with the gels and chews. I think this is because you are running at a more fat burning state in effort in these races with your heart rate and continuous exertion. I was too hungry on day 3. This might have been because of the vomiting but it is worth just carrying more nuts and tossing them later if I don’t need them vs not having them. My shoes also were a bad choice for my feet and I had a plethora of blisters this round. This could also be the climate. I had to make some crafty adjustments to give my feet more space by day 6. 

How much training do you put in each day, week? Do you think it's possibly for someone to complete a race with minimal training?

Now I am a professional runner so this might be a bit far fetched for the average joe, but the training plan will go as follows when in full swing. I am also still living up every last snow flake and have some ski mountaineering race commitments so I will be squeezing in the Grand Traverse Skimo Race, a 7-day hut trip in BC and the NYC half marathon (a bucket list item). The training will average around 85-90 miles per week. I also must continue my strength and stability work every day or my body will suffer with nagging spots. This consists of core, glue and stability work. I also will continue to take advantage of the altitude training. With a base of 6.5k and the ability to go to 10.5k I can build a lot of strength for my cardio system and it will help make the racing weeks easier. After each race I will take 1 week totally off and a 2nd week with voluntary runs and then jump back in.

Monday: OFF

Tuesday: Long run with pack (super slow, epic mountain terrain and around 6 hours)

Wednesday: Medium long run without pack on easy terrain

Thursday: speed work am, 2nd run PM

Friday: Long run with pack (super slow, epic mountain terrain and around 4-6 hours)

Saturday: Medium long run without pack on easy terrain.

Sunday: Speed work AM, 2nd run PM

For RacingThePlanet:  Sri Lanka I was in mid ski season and so I was actually doing only 30 miles of running a week, and then skimo training as well as alpine skiing. The combo worked ok but I definitely was really sore even on day one which really made me worried. This again could have been due to getting so sick. In retrospect I would recommend the following as a minimum for training:

Monday: OFF

Tuesday: Tempo run around 6-8 miles

Wednesday: medium long run of 9-11 miles

Thursday: Tempo run around 6-8 miles

Friday: OFF

Saturday: Long run from 3-7 hours depending on where you are at in your training cycle (with your pack). This can be a combo of run, jog, hike. Shuffle, etc. You will do all of these movements in the race, no matter if you are a pro or not.

Sunday: Medium long run 2-3 hours depending on where you are at in your training cycle

What races have you completed in the past?

I have been racing since I was 5 years old -- there has been an abundant amount of running races, triathlon, duathlon, and even SUP and cycling races. A highlight was becoming a double national champion in short and long course duathlon as well as a double all American in duathlon and triathlon and receiving the bronze medal at long course duathlon world championships in my division. At that time, I decided that was a good place to move on to another category and moved to running half marathons and helping found a track club in Boulder. In the most recent 1.5 years of being an ultra runner I have competed in 9 ultramarathons in 16 months with seven of them placing in the top four. To check out my most recent race results, visit here:


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