Adventurous trio running across the Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert is a wild and untamed place stretching across 350,000 square miles of southern Africa. The arid expanse of land crosses through parts of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, and while it is an incredibly dry place, it is still home to a diverse amount of plant and animal life, including giraffes, elephants, hyenas, lions and more. It is a challenging place for any human being to survive in, but that isn’t stopping three adventurous endurance athletes from attempting to cross it on foot none the less.

Dubbed the Trans-Kalahari Run, this expedition will send three friends, Jukka Viljanen and Kirsi Montonen, both from Finland, along with Greg Maud, of South Africa, along a 1000km (620 mile) route that stretches west to east across some of the most wild parts of Botswana. The trio hopes to cover approximately 50km (31 miles) per day, for 20 straight days, in hopes of completing their quest. That’s the equivalent of running more than a marathon, plus five miles, every day for nearly three weeks, through some of the most demanding terrain on the planet.

While this will be an amazing adventure, and a great test of endurance for these long distance runners, they aren’t doing it just for the experience. This adventurous threesome is also hoping to raise awareness and funds for Cheetah Conservation Botswana, an organization that works tirelessly to preserve the population of those speedy felines in Africa, and obviously most specifically in Botswana. Cheetahs have a difficult time competing against other predators in the game preserves, so they are often forced to live in the more marginal border regions where they are hunted and killed by the indigenous people there who see them as a threat to their livestock. CCB is hoping to protect these big cats through community outreach and education with those rural communities, teaching them how to coexist with the Cheetahs.

Jukka, Kirsi, and Greg began their run yesterday, and they are promising daily updates to their blog, so we can all follow along with their progress. They got off to a good start, with a warm-up run of 26km (16 miles), but the real challenges, and adventure lie ahead.

[Photo credit: Elmar Thiel via WikiMedia]

The Gobi March begins today

More than 150 of the world’s top ultra-runners have assembled in the remote city of Turban, located in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in western China, to take part in one of the most challenging foot races on Earth. The event is known as The Gobi March, and over the course of the next week, the competitors will endure six grueling stages through one of the harshest environments on the planet.

Each day this week the runners will head out on a course designed to test their strength and stamina. They’ll be required to carry all of the gear they’ll need for the day, including food and water, while navigating between desert checkpoints. When they reach the finish line for each stage, they’ll camp for the night, regaining their strength for the next day, when they’ll do it all again.

The first stage of the race takes part today over a 32km (20 mile) course that runs from the village of Gaoyachun through a remote valley in the Tian Shan Mountains, whose peaks will serve as a dramatic backdrop to the day. Temperatures are expected to climb above 100ºF, and the dry trail conditions will be an indicator of what is to come in the days ahead.

The top runners will finish the race with a combined time for all six stages in the 25 hour range, but the majority of the competitors will be much further back than that. The race is a test of endurance however, and just reaching the finish line is a major accomplishment for all involved.

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The Marathon des Sables begins today

One of the longest running and most challenge endurance races on the planet gets underway today when the 24th annual Marathon des Sables, or Marathon of the Sands, begins in Morocco. Over the course of the next week, competitors from around the globe will challenge themselves, and each other, in a race through one of the harshest environments on the planet.

This year’s race is approximately 243 kilometers (151 miles) in length, with the competitors running the equivalent of a marathon each day for six days. As if that weren’t challenging enough, they’ll be doing so in the heart of the Sahara Desert, where temperatures routinely hit 120ºF and blowing sand can make a challenging run turn extremely brutal. The combination of long distances, heat, and sand is unforgiving on the racers’ feet as well.

To add to the challenge, the racers are required to carry all of their gear (minus tent) with them at all times, including food and water. They’ll receive resupply on the water when they hit checkpoints along the way, but otherwise they should be completely self sufficient when they head out on the course each morning.

This year’s field is the largest ever, with 1031 runners from 43 different countries taking part in the race. Most of those will be just happy to finish, but the elite runners amongst them will finish the entire course, spread out over the six days, in a combined time of roughly 20-25 hours. Pretty impressive considering the challenges the desert provides.

Racing on foot through the Sahara

Last Sunday, an incredible endurance event got underway in Cairo Egypt, when the 2009 Sahara Race began. The 155 mile event pits 130 runners from more than 30 countries against one another in a six-stage race through the heart of the Western Desert, a part of the Sahara that covers more than 1.7 million square miles along Egypt’s borders with Libya and the Sudan.

Over the past few days, the runners have covered a variety of challenging stages ranging in length from 21 to 28 miles. In a sense, they are running a marathon each day, through the sand and heat of one of the hottest and driest environments on the planet. Along the way they passed through three or four mandatory checkpoints along the way, collecting water as they go. Upon completing the day’s stage, they camp in the desert for the night, resting up, and preparing for another run the following morning.

Today’s stage is the longest and most grueling however, with a 54 mile course dubbed the Black Desert March. The runners got underway at 4 AM this morning, and many will continue well into the night before they reach their next camp. If they complete the stage, they’ll finish up on Saturday, with a short run to the finish line at the Great Pyramids in Giza, capping the week’s events.

The Sahara Race is part of the 4 Deserts series of Ultramarathons, each of which take place on an annual basis. The other three events are held in the Atacama Desert of Chile, the Gobi in China, with the final race taking place in Antarctica, the largest desert on the planet. Each of the races offers its own unique challenges, pushing some of the world’s best endurance athletes to their limits in races against themselves and the environments around them.

Alaskan woman gears up for human-version of the Iditarod Trail

28-year old Alaskan Jill Homer is planning a grand human endurance feat by training for a human version of the famous Alaskan 1151-mile Iditarod.

Typically a dog-sledge race that first began in 1973, it is known to cover the roughest yet most beautiful terrain in the world. She will be covering 350 miles of the trail on her bicycle over a period of 5 days, beginning February 24, 2008 (a week before the actual dog-sledge race) with a group of 50 people. She trains every day for 2-hours

The original race has been tagged “The Last Great Race On Earth” — I’m not entirely sure why, but probably because it’s the only such race in the world. The annual event symbolic of Alaska’s early history, is connected to the country’s legacy of “dog-mushing”, and taken much pride in.

People race in temperatures much below zero, battle winds that can cause complete loss of visibility, ride in long hours of darkness and climb many a dangerous slopes.

“People think I’m crazy,” says Jill; as much as she is terrified, she is also excited and most importantly, following her heart. You can keep track of her progress on her daily blog as she trains 2-hours everyday and counts down the days to the great adventure.