In 2018, I was given an opportunity to run a 250-kilometer (155-mile) self-supported stage race through the oldest desert in the world. That race is called the Desert Ultra, and it’s a self-supported, five-stage race through the Namib Desert. If you’re not familiar with the format, it may sound a bit confusing, so let me explain! The race takes place over the course of five stages on five different days. Each day is sort of a race in and of itself, with the time from each stage resulting in a total cumulative time at the end of the race. Every day there is a new start line and a new finish line, but you don’t truly finish the race until you cross the final finish line of the last stage. And then there’s the self-supported element of it. Each runner carries all their required kit (e.g., clothes, sleeping bag, etc.) and food in their own pack. The only thing the race organizer provides is water on the course, hot water at camp so runners can heat their dry food, and tents for the runners to sleep in. Everything else is the responsibility of each runner.
I ran my first self-supported stage race in 2015 in the Gobi Desert of China. After running that race, I fell in love with the format because not only is it fun to race and cross a new finish line every day, but the relationships you form with other runners over the course of the week are so special and undeniably strong. Everyone collectively goes through so much over the course of the race, and it’s a deeply bonding experience to share that with other runners. So, when my friend Kris, the owner of the Beyond the Ultimate race series, asked me if I wanted to come and run the Desert Ultra in the Namib Desert, I couldn’t refuse! Kris had two hopes for me in running the race: firstly, he wanted me there to experience what the race was all about; and second, he was hoping I would join the race team and become a race director in future years. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I served as the Race Director of the Desert Ultra for the second time. My first go-around came in 2019, a year in which a documentary about the race was made. This year was even more special though, because it came on the heels on two straight years of race cancellations due to Covid-19. My duties as the Race Director are always wide-ranging, but ultimately I am there to guide and provide information for the runners, help keep them safe, and be their cheerleaders to get them to the finish line!
If you had asked me a handful of years ago if I would be interested in directing races, I probably would have said no. Initially I didn’t think I would find passion in doing it, but as I reflect on my experiences, I now find it hard to imagine my life without it! Race directing allows me to connect more deeply with the ultrarunning community and support other runners on their respective journeys. Throughout the course of my ultrarunning career, I’ve been shown the love and support of so many people pushing me along to every finish line I’ve ever crossed. And now, in this small way, I get to support every runner at the races I direct and dish out to them the same love I’ve received. Race directing will always be a fun and interesting way to experience a race differently than if I were running it myself. More importantly, however, it’s a way to say “thanks” to this community I love so dearly and help leave it better than I found it!