Endurance athlete to run across Chile’s Atacama Desert

Endurance athlete Ray Zahab is running the length of the Atacama DesertCanadian endurance athlete and adventurer Ray Zahab is in Chile this week where he has just launched an epic long distance run across the Atacama Desert, a place that is renowned as the driest environment on the planet. Zahab is making the attempt as a challenge to his own abilities, but also as part of an educational outreach program with the hopes of delivering an ongoing message to students about the importance of biodiversity to the health of the planet.

All told, the run will cover approximately 750 miles, starting in the northern part of the desert and heading south. Ray hopes to complete the expedition in a little over two weeks and will average more than 43 miles per day on foot. (That’s a marathon + 17 miles each and every day for those keeping track at home!) All of his gear will be carried in a backpack, along with the 8 to 10 liters of water that will be necessary for each day. A support team will make strategic water drops along the route, so that Zahab can count on a fresh supply when needed.

Along the way, Zahab will use satellite communications technology to interact with school children in classrooms all over the world. As part of the impossible2Possible program, a non-profit organization that seeks to educate and inspire young people through adventure, he’ll reach more than 16,000 children to deliver a message about threats to the environment. The desert will make for a stark contrast to a similar expedition that he conducted last year in the Amazon Jungle.

Zahab is no stranger to these kinds of challenging adventures. He has already run across the Sahara Desert, traveled to the South Pole, and set a speed record for traveling the length of Russia’s Lake Baikal on foot, a distance of nearly 400 miles. On each of those journeys he was joined by his partner Kevin Vallely, who was to be included on this expedition as well. But just days before the start an illness in the family forced Vallely to pull out, leaving Zahab to run the desert solo.

Caught in the rain shadow of both the Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coastal Range, the Atacama Desert is considered the driest place on Earth. The region averages just 1mm (.04 inches) of rain per year, and many areas have not seen rain throughout recorded history. One study suggests that river beds in the Atacama have been dry for more than 120,000 year, which gives you an indication of what Ray will be up against over the next few weeks.

You can follow his progress at AtacamaExtreme.com where he’ll be posting daily progress reports and updates from the field.

Patagonia adventure race looking for photographers

Patagonia adventure race looking for photographersAspiring photographers take note. The Wenger Patagonian Adventure Race have teamed up with the U.K. version of National Geographic Traveler to offer adventure travelers and photographers the opportunity of a life time. They’re giving away a trip to Chile to experience the race first hand, and cover it, as one of the race’s official photographers.

The next edition of the race will take place February 8-16 of 2011, and will feature coed teams of four trekking, navigating, mountain biking, and kayaking their way across hundreds of miles of Patagonian wilderness. You could be there to experience it for yourself, simply by going to the contest entry page, filling out the form, and uploading three sample photos that you’ve taken. From the entries, race organizers will select a winner, who will receive round trip airfare to Chile, as well as accommodations and ground transportation while in country. They’ll also receive full access to the race course, where they be tasked with capturing the excitement and drama of the race, set against the dramatic back drop of the Andes Mountains.

Patagonia is amongst the most beautiful and remote areas in the world. It has long been a popular destination for backpackers, climbers, and paddlers looking to experience one of the last untamed wildernesses on the planet. For the past seven years it has played host to the Patagonian Expedition Race, which is a competition like no other. This year, it will feature 15 coed teams racing through Chile’s wild expanses, as they battle each other, the environment, and some of the most unpredictable weather on the planet.

Even if you’re not on hand to experience Patagonia itself, be sure to go back to the race’s website in February to follow all the action as it unfolds.

24-Hours of Moab mountain bike race begins today

Ever wonder what it would be like to ride a mountain bike across a scenic, but challenging, course for 24 hours straight? Me neither! But that’s exactly what competitors in the 24-Hours of Moab mountain bike race are preparing to do when the event gets underway today at noon local time in Moab, Utah. As you can probably deduce from the name, the ride won’t end until noon tomorrow, after a very long, and grueling, day in the saddle for the riders.

Racers are allowed to compete in three categories, riding as an individual or part of a two or four person relay team. If they are part of a team, they’ll be allowed to switch out from time to time and get some much needed rest. The individuals will have it the toughest however, riding solo while trying to accumulate as many laps as possible before the 24 hour cut off.

The course is a challenging one for sure. Consisting mostly of old jeep trails, the route winds its way through the scenic backcountry that Utah is so famous for, ensuring that the riders will at least have something beautiful to look at along the way. Not that they’ll have time to notice however, as some of the bigger drops will have them rushing down hills at over 40 mph, as they carefully pick their lines hoping to avoid danger along the way. The entire route is just 15 miles in length, and the top riders will be able to finish laps in under an hour, but the more than 1360 feet of vertical gain on each lap will have their legs crying out for mercy. Especially when it is the middle of the night and they’ve already been riding for more than 12 hours straight.

The race has been going on for 15 years now, and during that time it has earned itself a reputation as one of the top endurance mountain biking events in the world. This year, there will be more than $20,000 in cash, and another $15,000 in prizes, up for grabs, although for most of the riders it is all about the fun and camaraderie of the event.

[Photo credit: Xavi Fane]

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.

[Photo credit: RacingThePlanet.com]

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.