For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Jax Mariash Koudele. I am a professional ultra-runner representing both the USA and Canada. The Atacama Crossing will be my 5th 4 Deserts race in one year. WOW! That is nuts.
Last year, in a frenzy to collect UTMB points, I registered for the Atacama Crossing. Let’s just say, I had no friggen’ clue what I had just signed up for. One of my best girlfriends Julie Olsen suggested that I go and watch the Desert Runners documentary very quickly just to get an idea. So I did. Then I panicked. Then I really panicked. And following I went into strategy of how to survive this epic feat. I also told myself that I couldn’t ever imagine how those individuals were attempting to do the GRAND SLAM, which is 4 in one year. And low and behold 2 months after the race, I signed up to do 5!!
So, fast forward 12 months and here I sit scoring 2nd female in that first race totally inexperienced including carrying a 31lb pack with water on day one, 2nd female in Sri Lanka, and the female champion in the Sahara/Namibia stage and female champion in the Gobi March. I am on a quest to become the first female in the world to complete the Grand Slam Plus!
What happened you ask to bring on this quest? The Atacama Crossing in 2015 changed my life! I have had a goal since I was very little to do something so big and so outrageous that it would inspire the masses to get outside. I also have always tried to find ways to make big steps to try to heal the world and the LymeLight Foundation became a cause very dear to me to try to do that. At the finish of the Atacama Crossing last year, the support, inspiration, and effects back home were enormous. Folks were stepping out on runs for the first time, and signing up for races when they never thought that was possible. Bit by bit folks were getting outside more. This was a dream come true. All I could imagine was that effect that 5 races in one year as well as doing something as the first woman in the world and what that could do. Already the magic is happening.
Through the course of the year so far, we have raised almost 6k for the LymeLight Foundation and I hope to reach my goal of at least 10k by the end of the year. To donate and learn more about my auxiliary fundraising event, please visit here. Raising 10k will give at least one grant to a recipient to get the medical aid that they need to heal and hopefully enjoy the outdoors again.
As we all know, each race in the series contains a great deal of adversity. In Sri Lanka, within the first 12k, I had twisted my knee in the jungle, gone off course by 3k, vomited three times, and was lying on the side of the trail wondering if I could survive and knowing the entire year of racing was ahead. It was in that vulnerable moment as I lied on the ground in 95-degree heat and close to 100% humidity, that I knew the challenge ahead was going to be very hard. Two days later in Sri Lanka I sprained my ankle in the jungle and hobbled through the rest of the course at less than 100%. As I pushed through each mile, I kept reminding myself of this quote by Ralph Marston. “You’ve done it before and you can do it now. See the positive possibilities. Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.”
The Sahara race and Gobi March brought similar challenges. Sahara was extremely competitive and draining. The weather ranged from marine fog to high heat approaching over 100 degrees. The terrain was very undulating and difficult including long stretches of beach running that would last upwards of 15 miles. It took every ounce of my might and grit to make it to the end of the 50-mile long march sustaining first place female.
The Gobi March was by far the hardest race in the series so far. It tested our limits with intense weather ranging from a point where I was borderline hypothermic on day 2 to running 50 miles in over 130 degrees on the long march. It was so hot that your shoes were melting underneath your feet with every step. This lead to large blisters forming on both of my footpads, which made for a very painful chase to the finish line on the last 10k. If the physical conditions and extreme weather were not enough, we also had issues with our camp blowing down the morning of day 3 and on day 5 there was a dust storm that blew the entire camp over once again. This also lead to my sleeping bag, pad and liner flying away. I quickly found shelter under a sand formation and spent the evening hugging my backpack and trying to sleep. The storm escalated to a point where the camp was evacuated and we were taken to shelter where I spent the night sleeping on a sidewalk at an abandoned museum on my backpack pad. Each scenario tests your courage. It reminds you quickly that “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again.” Out there in the desert there is always the next mile, or the next day, so you must dig into your courage to smile, and keep going.
Out there the desert races teach you to push your tenacity and grit to survive. What is cool is that when I arrive back from my experience in the desert to my life here in the states running my coffee roasting and marketing business I learn to deal with problems that arise easier and stronger. In any goal that you have in life, it is always a level of dedication and determination that will help you get to the goal. I always follow a philosophy that thoughts are your future. So put forth your very best self every day to achieve your goals. Each day, think of what you can do to make that goal come true. Out in the desert when a problem comes, it teaches you that when a struggle comes up in the real world, try to take on the challenge strategically and skip the panic and just push forward to a solution.
My wish for all of you is to stay on course, and reach your goals and to always strive for a healthy life.
Enjoy the journey here on this blog as I take on race #5 at my favorite course of them all so far in the Atacama Crossing. I have a benefit of knowing the course and what comes next this year, so I know what to look forward to and what to put my head down and push through.
To see my blogs from the previous races this year. Please visit my website here.
And please follow my journey on Instagram at @wonderwomanjax