With 16 past champions -- who have a total of 22 RacingThePlanet ultramarathon victories between them -- competing in this year’s Namib Race, April’s Race of Champions is looking to be one of the series’ most competitive yet. It’s also an opportunity for past winners to come together, some who won their races more than a decade ago.
Korean Byeung Sik Ahn won the Gobi March 2006, but has also completed the Namib Race 2005, the Atacama Crossing 2006 and joined the 4 Deserts Club when he completed the Last Desert 2007. He has also raced in four additional RacingThePlanet ultramarathons in Vietnam, Australia and Madagascar and at the Namib Race 2008.
“I’ve made lots of friends in the RacingThePlanet races and experienced and went to many countries,” Ahn said. “During the races, I improved in many ways and learned a lot. RacingThePlanet is the most precious experience in my life and I appreciate a new chance to run the race.”
Ahn is joined by fellow Gobi March winners Kazuko Kaihata of Japan (2006); Diana Hogan-Murphy (2009), who also won The Last Desert 2010; Daniel Parr (2010), the winner of the Namib Race 2011; and 2017 winners Clare Thompson and Rodric (Rod) Williams.
For Ahn, his favourite moment in a RacingThePlanet ultramarathon came in 2006, but at the Atacama Crossing. “It was freezing, but so beautiful,” Anh recalled. “I had finished the race with my friends. We ran together for a long time and we finally made it to the finish line holding hands.”
Calling it one of the happiest days of his life, Anh said he stays motivated during tough moments with the words Carpe diem.
Hogan-Murphy joins the Race of Champions not only as a multiple winner but as someone vying for a place in the 4 Deserts Club.
“I’ve loved all previous races,” Hogan-Murphy said on why she wanted to return. “To push myself after a few years for another endurance race.”
With her eye on joining the 4 Deserts Club, Hogan-Murphy will look to get herself through tough moments in Namibia by following some simple advice: “pain is temporary, keep focused and have small achievable goals, enjoy the landscape and the experience.”
Kevin Lin of Taiwan won the Atacama Crossing 2014, but competed in the inaugural Gobi March 2003 and joined the 4 Deserts Club after racing the Atacama Crossing 2004, the Namib Race 2005, the Gobi March for a second time in 2006 and the Last Desert 2006.
Calling the Atacama Crossing 2004 his favourite race of the RacingThePlanet ultramarathons, Lin laughed when asked about pushing himself during challenging times. “I don’t have time to train,” he said. “I just naturally run. A happy run. But I have a goal: to lead Taiwan runners to see the world.”
Lin did offer advice for newcomers to RacingThePlanet and to multi-stage racing in general. Lin said: “If someone wants to be the best, maybe they need a good coach. A real coach -- not an internet star coach. Start each, lose weight first, build body muscle then try to run more mountain routes and speed training on the track. And of course, equipment is very important in a stage race -- you need to choose the best, light and comfortable equipment.”
Other fellow Namib Race past champions joining the Race of Champions include Terri Schneider (2005), Salameh Alaqra (2014) and Sandy Suckling (2014), who also won RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka (2016).
Australian Sandy Suckling is also a member of the 4 Deserts Club and has also raced in the Namib Race 2010, the Gobi March 2011, the Atacama Crossing 2012 and the Last Desert 2012.
“The RacingThePlanet family for me is the main reason [I wanted to be part of the Race of Champions] and also the opportunity to be amongst old friends and meet new ones with the same interests,” Suckling said.
Over the years, Suckling has had the opportunity to race with her husband, Colin, who will volunteer at the Race of Champions, including completing all four races in the 4 Deserts ultramarathon series. For Suckling, these four races together are some of her fondest memories from RacingThePlanet. “In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would make it through the first one being Sahara, and then there we were sharing in the Last Desert in Antarctica after completing the other three. It was an incredible feeling.”
As she prepares to race in Namibia, Suckling, like Lin, also had advice around equipment. “Keep your pack as light as you can,” Suckling said. “After you pack all you need in the backpack then empty it and question whether it is something you really need. Eat and drink regularly even if you are not thirsty or hungry just nibble on food to keep your stomach happy and your energy levels up.”
Terry Schneider has also raced at the Gobi March 2006 and The Last Desert 2008, in addition to her Namib Race victory in 2005. The stunning location of the Race of Champions was one reason that attracted the American to lace up her running shoes. “I’ve wanted to see Namibia and I can’t think of a better way than through a RacingThePlanet event!”
Schneider recalled the “brutally hot condition” of the Namib Race 2005 and the mental challenge of the long day, but said her strategy of pushing through the tougher moments is to “remain tin the present of the event, taking care of what I need to take care of to keep moving forward, while being honest with myself about what I can and can’t do.”
The Race of Champions will also include past champions Louise Cooper (The Last Desert 2008), Nancy Fudacz (Atacama Crossing 2004 and The Last Desert 2006), Salvador Redondo (Vietnam 2008, Nepal 2009 and Australia 2010), Lara Reynolds (Atacama Crossing 2018), Scott Smith (The Last Desert 2006) and Joanna (Joasia) Zakrzewski (Atacama Crossing 2010).
Lara Reynolds, who has also competed at RacingThePlanet ultramarathons in Sri Lanka (2016) and Patagonia (2017), said she is looking forward to visiting Namibia for the first time. “Ironically, being South African, I have not had the opportunity to do that.”
Reynold’s favourite RacingThePlanet memory from her number of races comes from the Atacama Crossing during the Long March, running through the Valle de la Luna before sunset. As she prepares for the Race of Champions, Reynolds shared two pieces of advice she has learned along the way. “Buy shoes two sizes bigger than your usual shoe size,” she said. “Take too much food [rather] than too little food -- you need the energy!”
Despite having completed three RacingThePlanet ultramarathons, Reynolds said she still hasn’t figured out how to push herself through the more challenging moments in each multi-stage race. But with 250 km to cover over the course of a week, Reynolds’s approach of one step at a time is sound advice. “To be honest, I haven’t really figured that one out yet. I take it one checkpoint at a time.”
The race of Champions starts in Namibia on 29 April. The official competitor list shows the entire competitor field and the past RacingThePlanet champions.