One of the main reasons that I love stage racing is because of the amazing people you encounter. The fact that stage racing takes place over multiple days allows you to connect with a variety of individuals throughout the different stages. You can run with someone for a short period of time for one stage and never see them again, or you may cross paths with the same people every day. Each encounter can leave you feeling privileged to have shared part of the experience with that person. At some point during the race, we all end up experiencing some good days (or parts of days) and some not so good days. A reason I love stage racing is that sharing both high and low moments with other participants end up being memories that will last a lifetime.
I wanted to share the perspective of some of the “ordinary” people accomplishing extraordinary things that I had the privilege of meeting at the Grand to Grand Ultra 2018. This is just a handful of the amazing people I met but for one reason or another they stood out a little bit for me and I was curious to learn a little more about them. Honestly there are a dozen more I wanted to ask! I asked everyone the same questions hoping to demonstrate how unique the stories were, but ultimately the same goal…to finish.
May you be inspired to chase your own dreams and do your own extraordinary things knowing that the only limits you have are the ones that you put on yourself!
Why did you choose to participate in the Grand to Grand Ultra?
Doug: I plan to run an event like this on every continent in a different environment, this was the first.
Kirsten: I chose to enter Grand to Grand as I was being bullied by another runner who spread rumours about me that simply weren’t true…I just felt I had to get away and do something that would break me down and spit me out the other side. Something to prove to myself is why I attempt these crazy events.
Lisa Ann: In meeting James Raffone with the JAR of Hope I came to learn of the G2G and his mission to attend for the third year with a goal of (finally!) finishing the race. I remember leaving the conversation thinking ‘I can do that…”. I then went home and watched countless G2G YouTube videos and studied the website. For some reason that same thought kept entering my mind.. “I can do that.”
John: G2G popped up on my Facebook feed. I watched the video and was hooked. Simple really.
Lisa: Thought about entering it since 2017 when I’d looked into the race and when I had followed a couple of friends who had competed. The race looked epic! Heart felt invested in G2G, not just my head, so knew I would do the race at some point. Was also looking for another big race I could train for. When I saw a friend (Sarah Deeks) had also entered G2G I felt excited, and found myself booking quickly before I had time to think anymore about it!
I ran a multi stage race two years ago in 2016 and loved the experience. It was tough, it was a week totally disconnected, my tent mates became my team, the runners at my pace my friends. I wanted to experience this feeling once again and was looking for another multi stage event. G2G was on my bucket list. I knew I would get to see places I would not be able to see otherwise, I would get to see a part of the United States that few people get to see. And to make it all even more attractive, my husband was really enthusiastic about discovering California so we started with 10 days visiting together, before he head back to France to take care of our two kids and I flew to Kanab for the race.
Swen: I met a group of international ultra-runners during the Fire and Ice Ultra last year, called Tent 10. We decided to meet up again and do G2G together.
What previous experience in stage racing or long distance running did you have?
Doug: 34 marathons, to include one on all 7 continents & the North Pole (Marathon Grand Slam); a couple of Trail 50Ks as I transition to this type of running/trekking.
Kirsten: I’m a back of the pack plodder but I’m very stubborn so have the mental strength. I did Big Red Run 250km (Simpson desert Aust) stage race in 2015 and 2016. But did not carry gear for the week (just daily race needs). May I clarify the big red dune was much much smaller than what we encountered at G2G. Along with that I’ve done a few various ultras and run Ultra Trail Australia 100km twice.
Lisa Ann: I had zero experience in stage racing or long distance running of any kind. Prior to committing to this race I had run one organized race – a 5k. Not only have I never considered myself a runner, I never enjoyed running. Throughout training I of course ran distances that I once had never dreamed of – suddenly going out for 10 miles became something of a “shorter day.” Getting to the G2G starting line was a major accomplishment for me to begin with.
John: I completed the Marathon des Sables in 2014 and also have taken part in events in the UK following the special forces selection process and a week Nordic skiing pulling a pulk in Sweden.
Lisa: I started running as a teenager and competed in many half marathons before running my first marathon (London Marathon) and ultra (JW Ultra) in 2012, which was a 30 mile race. G2G was my 20th ultra overall and my 2nd stage race, having run Fire and Ice stage race in 2016. Since I took up ultra running I have run various race distances, from 30 miles up to 200 miles. My 200 mile GB Ultra race involved running across Great Britain from the west coast in Southport to the east coast in Hornsea.
Emilie: I started running 5 years ago after my second son was born and diagnosed with Prader Willi Syndrom. It was so stressful, I needed to put that stress into something meaningful. So I started running 5k to raise awareness, and slowly, I ran more and more. I ran the MDS, and the UT4M Challenge, a multi stage race in the Alps (but I would get to sleep at a hotel and it was not self sufficient), also the Maxi Race XL in Annecy …
Swen: I did a couple of 100k races and relay races, the Dodendocht 100k and the Zugspitzultra 100k. The Speedproject relay race 340 miles and the Fire and Ice 250k. I am always looking for new challenges. G2G by far has been my toughest.
What was your overall experience?
Doug: Absolutely spectacular from start to finish.
Kirsten: It was so, so, so hard (especially for someone like me). Way out of my comfort zone but pushed along by beautiful and caring fellow runners and volunteers who became my family and lifeline. Funny how a few kind words and a simple belief in you, can change the mindset to achieving your goals. The race itself was mind blowing in scenery and so well organised. But for me I was shocked to the core at the difficulty level. But I never give up and kept chasing my dream. Forever thankful for those who helped along the way.
Lisa Ann: It’s difficult to summarize my overall experience, as it was filled with some drastic highs and lows and a magnitude of emotions. I think if you asked me this question in the days following the race my answer would have been something along the lines of “it was the worst!!” (and I’m pretty sure I said that). I’m still struggling to find the appropriate words to describe my experience, however I can tell you that what I’m left with is far from “the worst.” I learned so much about myself- mental and physical strength, fortitude, persistence. I met some of the most incredible people that exist in the world. I wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable with these strangers, something that would not otherwise come naturally to me. I knew coming into this experience that it would be life changing on some level, but no one (and nothing) could have prepared me for what was to come.
John: My overall experience of G2G was one of wonder at the scenery, the great people I met along the way and the sense of achievement that I have at completing the event. I always class myself as a completer rather than a competitor.
Lisa: It was an extreme race, by far the hardest of any that I have done. It was also epic in equal proportions though! I am not joking when I say that some days I cried because of the beauty of the place. The combination of the terrain (more soft sand than I had imagined), the altitude, the long double stage and the dry heat made it challenging, all while carrying your own heavy pack of course. However, I wanted an extreme challenge, I don’t do things by half, and I certainly got what I was looking for! The extreme nature of the race meant that I was even more proud to have conquered and to have crossed the finish line. Along the way G2G was also stunning; funny; awesome; emotional; exhausting; rejuvenating and invigorating. I loved the scenery, being able to explore this part of the world by foot and the fantastic people that I shared this experience with too. I will always remember this life affirming experience.
Emilie: I loved my experience at the G2G Ultra. Once again, what was the most meaningful for me in this race was the people I met. Wonderful, extraordinary people, all sharing the same conditions, the pain, the joys. For me, this is it, this is what I love the most about those specific races and G2G offered me that even more intensely because of the small amount of participants. You actually get to know almost all of them, you feel somehow connected to each of them. But I also got to meet my own self. I know it might seem weird, but the G2G was for me a big step forward. I discovered a new self, I discovered I could be more confident, I could deal with loneliness at night at the long stage, I could deal with pain and not get overwhelmed by it. So really, I loved the experience.
Swen: As mentioned G2G was my toughest race so far but because of different reasons. My training had a high mileage and I was injured in the summer. I was not convinced I would be able to participate but overall training went well. The backpack I use and train with broke just 2 days before my flight to G2G, so I ran with a new backpack that I had no training with. The shoes I chose ended up being very wrong for the terrain I was expecting. The injury from the summer came back as a result.
Would you do another stage race after experiencing this one?
Doug: Already signed up for Marathon des Sables (MdS) in the Moroccan Sahara. And have the races on the other continents planned out over next 4 years.
Kirsten: Straight after the race I would have said ‘no way’ but my mind has been brainstorming what stage race to do next. Hopefully I can do it better with more experience next time.
Lisa Ann: Immediately following the race my answer was a hard no. And I still feel that way about G2G for 2 reasons: 1) I did it (!!) 2) I know too much. Although I would love to return to volunteer myself the way others had done for me. However, I’m randomly finding myself clicking on links for various stage races around the world. One day I even found “semi support stage races” in my search engine…. Not sure how that got there!! So for right now, I will say no.. but remember that I’m the lunatic that chose to participate in a 171.4 mile stage race with never running a race and never having been camping…. So I guess anything can happen.
John: I am already considering the Ice & Fire in 2020, but there are so many other events out there.
Lisa: Yes probably, but I won’t return to G2G as I love experiencing new races and challenges.
Emilie: Absolutely! I have so many I’d like to do. It is just a matter of time. My family remains my priority, my kids are young, so I allow myself such an adventure only every two years.
Swen: I definitely would. This planet has a lot of nice places to explore but right now my body needs some rest to recover and build up strength. I’d like to focus on some basic work to run the next race much stronger.
What is your number 1 tip to anyone considering a stage race?
Doug: Research! Read the website info. Watch the videos. Talk to others. Listen. Learn.
Kirsten: Don’t underestimate the weight of the pack. It was mentally challenging. Carrying 11.5kg for the week for the amount of time was shocking. I had trained for around that weight but not in those conditions or length of time. The first two days I crossed the finish line in sobbing tears screaming for them to get my pack off. Pretty funny as many didn’t know how to get it off as I was clipped in but they always helped me and hugged me after my little meltdown. I had last tears midway through stage 3 and got stronger mentally although physically worn down by lack of getting food in during the day.
Lisa Ann: Use your resources. It’s impossible to truly know what you are getting into without having experienced it before. That being said, G2G was fantastic in bringing together a community of competitors from past and present through social media to share experiences and provide recommendations. You don’t know what you don’t know and it’s important to recognize that and value those that do know.
John: My #1 tip would be to enjoy the event, no matter how hard it is. Psychologically you can get your body to do almost anything, lose that and you’ll DNF.
Lisa: Treat every stage as a new beginning. You really can have a very difficult day and stage, getting to the end thinking “I will never be able to do this again tomorrow”, and then the next day you need to be able to wake up thinking, “right let’s bring on today and conquer this stage!” Train differently to other ultras which aren’t stage races.
Train with your pack, build your strength and be prepared to go more slowly! I’d found personal training twice a week very useful in building my strength and getting my core and my glutes in better shape, all which helped me carry my pack and manage the elevation more easily.
Emilie: Work on your mental strength and weaknesses. A stage race is mostly in your head. Getting fit is important, but even with a proper training, if your head is not there, not ready, you might not complete it, whereas the opposite is totally possible. I’ve seen people who were so far from being great athletes compared to others, but had an unbreakable will. And they would finish, no matter how hard it would get.
Swen: Creating habits will help you to survive . Break every day down. Every 10min a sip, every 30min nutrition., every hour salt. After coming in camp stretch, food and so on. Especially when you are struggling on the long stage or are exhausted this will help you a lot . Also the right choice of shoes are essential. I highly recommend Altra or Hoka. Otherwise you will end up like me.
Did you have a mantra or tricks to help you get through the tough spots?
Doug: My approach to this was quite different than the other competitors so I never had a “rough spot”. When asked in Stage 4 “What’s the worst part so far?” My response was, “Knowing it’s going to end.” Mantras I use in life: “Everything is training” …I can learn something applicable in everything I do on any given day.
Kirsten: Just keep moving. First stage was like the story of the hare and the tortoise. I came from the back of the pack to pass through those who went out too hard and got hit by the elements of heat and altitude. I rarely catch anyone but was shocked to see people on the side physically suffering. I’d always check on them but I was also in pain and just wanted my pack off. Although I chased a lot of cut offs all week I just knew I had to keep moving – so I did.
Lisa Ann: Two things really got me through the darkest points. First was the WHY that I was there in the first place. I would think of the lives of those suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and how they must feel while struggling to do what we would consider simple tasks. I had a choice in what I was doing, they do not. The second was remembering that every step is one step closer. I quickly realized that I needed to make smaller goals for myself, rather than looking to the finish line. And those goals got smaller and smaller. At first it was to make it to a checkpoint, then it was to make it to a particular tree, or rock, or piece of shade. I found myself celebrating these smaller goals, which gave me the motivation to continue on.
John: I promise myself things to get through the tough spots. I always have a ‘treat’ for the rest day (small miniature whisky) which has worked twice now.
Lisa: You are more capable than you give yourself credit for (from Dean Karnazes)
Emilie: I had a mantra that I would tell my self every day : start slow, finish strong!
Swen: I am mentally very strong but tried to focus on my little tasks I have to do. Also we choose this by our own, so lets have fun and enjoy the scenery. Take it easy, pain is temporary and will pass as soon you are back in camp.
Do you have a favourite inspirational book or favourite quote?
Doug: Dean Karnazes’ “Ultra Marathon Man”. Changed my whole understanding of limits. That I am my own biggest limit.
Kirsten: No fav book but I do love reading Trail Run Mag (Australia) for ideas and trail porn photos. I’m simply a visual person. Saw a pic of slot canyons – so knew I had to go see them.
Lisa Ann: Not so much a book, but there is a Henry Ford quote that often drifts into my mind – “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” It sounds so simple, but it’s so very true. The mind is powerful.
John: I think everyone has read ‘Born to Run’ but as I tend to cross train (CrossFit, swim, row, run) then I am not an avid running book reader.
Lisa: Ultra marathon Man by Dean Karnazes first got me thinking that I could actually run ultras/longer than a marathon.
Emilie: I read a lot, like, really a lot. So I don’t have a training book. I have lots of inspirational books. For G2G, some books came naturally to my mind while I was running : Jim Harrison (Dalva), Richard Wagamese (but the title I know is in French).
Swen: Books are great but I like to get knowledge from different people and perspective . So my advice is to team up and get surrounded by people who have already experienced stage races.
What is your “day” job?
Doug: I sit in a cubicle making sure mortgage loans get assigned in a timely manner to the correct processors.
Kirsten: Studio Manager for an advertising agency.
Lisa Ann: I work in Human Resources for Johnson and Johnson. I’m lucky to work for an organization that values mental and physical health the way J&J does. The support I received from colleagues was truly incredible.
John: I work as a Forensic Investigator, mainly in the Private/Civil sector for Insurance companies.
Lisa: Chief Executive of a rape crisis charity, RSVP.
Emilie: I am a tax officer and the mom of two boys : Josh (8) and Ruben (6). Ruben has Prader-Willi Syndrome.
Swen: I am a tattoo artist with my own shop, working 6 days a week and 60hr weeks min . I am always surrounded by people in a small place. Ultrar-unning is for me my quality time and kind of wellness.
Meet our contributing participants:
Doug White (USA):
Social Media: Facebook
Kirsten Maplestone (Australia):
Social Media: Instagram
Lisa Ann Buro (USA):
Social Media: Instagram
John Colquhoun (UK):
Social Media: Instagram
Lisa Thompson (UK):
Emilie Dardet (FRANCE):
Social Media: Facebook
Swen Losinsky (Germany):
Follow – Instagram