In this post, Part II of the “Whole World’s A Stage” racing series, I’ll do my best to help you navigate your way through your stage race bucket list. Scratch the surface of the stage races around the world and your head will spin with exotic locations, terrain and distances. And therein lies a minor wrinkle: time and money. Unless you have a bottomless supply of both these factors are likely to be the key criteria guiding your globe-trotting.
In late December 2011 I had the benefit of ignorance and ‘discovered’ stage racing for the first time. During a random Google search to select some upcoming events, being very new to running, curious and having a “what’s next?” moment, I found the Sahara Race in Egypt, part of a collection of events that take place over 7 days and 250 kilometres. The series also includes the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Gobi March in China and The Last Desert in Antarctica.
Now, nearly two years later I’ve completed the Sahara Race and Gobi March I’ve heard enough chatter around camp stools to top up my own swelling list of events and goals. And, like everyone else, I struggle to narrow the list down before (somewhat) confidently pressing the ‘register’ button on event websites. Now, with the benefit of a little experience (and two more events locked in the calendar in the next six months) I’ve been able to put together some of the elements I use to make a race selection:
- Location: What and where inspires you? It’s a very personal choice and the options are almost limitless. You just have to scour the world’s deserts, mountains, ice and volcano fields, Earth’s Poles, rivers and jungles and you’re likely to find an event. It’s fair to say, if the terrain looks positively impossible to run through; there’ll be a run through it.
- Timing: Many (note: distances, dates and race periods vary) 250km races have a 7-day itinerary. This will likely include four back-to-back marathon distances and a double-marathon long stage to cap the race. Give or take a few k’s each stage. You’ll obviously need to consider some time either side of the race itinerary (see below) and take your training, leave/absence, seasons and any other pre/post race commitments into consideration.
- Cost: Depending on race, organiser and itinerary, stage race registration is likely to fall in the $2500 – $4000USD price bracket. $10,000 or more if your heading into the Arctic or Antarctica… sell the house if you want to head to either of the Poles. Add to that travel and accommodation costs, training, clothing and equipment, nutrition requirements and your total race costs can climb toward five figures very quickly.
- Travel requirements: How long is a piece of string? Depending on how far you live from your chosen start line a 7-day race is rarely a 7-day commitment. When I travelled from Melbourne to Bole in China’s Xinjiang Province for the Gobi March I took three flights over three consecutive days as the timetable didn’t allow for any brief stopovers, just to get to the country’s far West. If you’d like a day or two to recover from your jet lag or a little R&R at the end of the race, you’ll obviously need to consider travel time and down time into your calculations. Now all you have to do is ‘sell’ your two week+ absence to spouse, employer, staff, kids and the myriad other stakeholders in your life that already think you’re nuts.
- Competitors: This was a real surprise, albeit a pleasant one, for me. One of the joys of stage races is the strong bonds you’ll form with other racers. You can expect to make lasting friendships with tent mates, from suffering through tough periods with fellow runners and camp chats. During your race you’ll no doubt discuss future races, and who’s-doing-what in the future. Forming friendships with other runners around the world is rewarding and a reunion in various hotels and start lines is a real buzz. Don’t ignore this facet of stage racing, embrace it…it’s likely to be what you remember most.
- Training/Race Plan: Are you running to compete or complete? How far in the future is the race, what’s your present level of fitness? Do you plan to run and race or walk each stage (a fair percentage of participants do not run a step)? Once you have a race goal (win, top 10, survive) formulate your training program (more on that in later weeks) it’s just a matter of ‘how long do I need to prep’. I’m a plodder – I walk and run and in the stage races I hover around the middle of the pack – and to achieve my goals I like approximately 6-9 months to prepare for a race. It’s a physical, mental and emotional journey and I like to consider each of those elements in my training.
So, all things considered, what’s the little voice inside your head telling you: Amazon, Sahara, Grand Canyon, Arctic Circle, West Africa, India or Namibia? Jungles, Deserts, Mountains, Ice and Rock: it’s dizzying, intoxicating and frustrating at the same time. I’d say it’s impossible to do them all. But the one thing I’ve learned from stage racing and racers is to never use the word impossible. I love that someone out there will prove me wrong every time I think the concept of not possible exists.
You may not want to ponder a clinical list of considerations and simply follow your heart. When I first scrolled through the pics and imagined myself scaling tall dunes and struggle under the heat of the Saharan sun, I paid only cursory attention to these details. It just felt right. The Sahara Race stirred my emotions and I knew I’d found an event that would challenge me as a runner and person. With some solid advice, sound preparation and a spoonful of confidence (determination to finish is probably a little more accurate) I felt ready when I was standing on the start line with 140 other racers of wildly varying abilities.
For many racers, myself included, balancing family and work commitments is a key factor and when I run through some of the selection criteria above I find the choices I make about races is sensible. If you also feel running 250km through some of the most unforgiving landscapes on earth is sensible: go for it. Given the list of races around the world, locations and the inspiring people you’re likely to be sharing the ‘stage’ with…you really can’t make a bad choice.
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