Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer/www.4deserts.com
JAX MARIASH KOUDELE (right) poses with her trophy after winning the last 4 Deserts ultramarathon race in Antarctica. She is next to the winner of the men’s category, Tommy Chen. Below, Koudele is seen running across the frozen Antarctica landscape. The race took place in several locations around the continent, with athletes spending nights on a ship.
Five races and over a million kilometers later, Jax Mariash Koudele is a world champion.
Last week, the Hood River runner and owner of Stoked Roasters took first place in the women’s category of a 250-kilometer multi-day ultramarathon in Antarctica, part of a larger competition known as the 4 Deserts, where runners compete in some of the most extreme conditions on the planet. Koudele ran in all four races — Chile (Atacama Desert) Namibia (Sahara Desert), and China (Gobi Desert) — and took first place for women in all four races.
That series is combined with another race (this year, in Sri Lanka) to form the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus. Koudele took second in that race, but placed first in the women’s category in the overall series. She is the first woman to ever finish the Grand Slam Plus.
Koudele, was thrilled at the result, but also excited about that funds that have been raised for the nonprofit she runs for: Lymelight Foundation, an organization designed to help children and young adults who are struggling with Lyme disease to gain access to treatment and the money to pay for it.
“Gosh, this whole accomplishment is leaving me in a shock right now. I had four goals that I dreamed of making come true and low and behold, we exceeded expectations. To think back to 11 months ago when the dream first came to be, I simply wanted to be the first woman in the world to accomplish the Grand Slam Plus,” she wrote the News via email Thursday on her way back to the U.S. “I cannot believe that fast forward to today and I am the 2016 4 Deserts female world champion, third ever in history to win all 4 Deserts races in one fiscal year, become the first woman ever to complete the Grand Slam Plus, and we have surpassed our goal for the LymeLight Foundation of $10,000 to be at $15,326 and still climbing with five days left to go on a 100-percent match promotion to close out the campaign.”
Every stage of the race was brutal, because if running 250 kilometers in inhospitable conditions isn’t bad enough, runners had to carry everything they needed with them on their backs, as the race is a self-supported one. But Antarctica was especially challenging, Koudele said, who called it “the hardest race of the series and quite frankly, my life.”
Getting to the race venue, which was held at multiple locations in Antarctica, including Half Moon Island, was an ordeal itself. After landing in Argentina, Koudele sailed through the Drake Passage — a notorious body of water commonly known as having some of the roughest seas in the world. On the way there, seas were flat. On the way back, not so much.
‘Every day, we were famished and completely exhausted. Our legs and feet would throb all night long. Every muscle and tendon felt like it was on the brink of falling apart.’
JAX MARIASH KOUDELE
“On the way home, we experienced the Shaky Drake, which was a 6 out of 10 on how bad it can be and holy cow, it was 48 hours of the most intense rolling from side to side, up and down, you have ever imagined,” she said. “After 250k of running, you now had to find out how to survive sea sickness. Some hours were okay and others you held on trying not to throw up. It was like a 48-hour roller coaster ride.”
Though it is nearing summer in the Southern Hemisphere, temperatures were still below freezing most of the time, with wind and snow battering the competitors. Koudele said terrain was especially challenging, running in snow, ice, and slush, climbing up and down in elevation (24,000 feet in a week) so much that it felt like “a ski mountaineer racing without the skis.”
“Every day, we were famished and completely exhausted. Our legs and feet would throb all night long. Every muscle and tendon felt like it was on the brink of falling apart,” she recalled. “Some nights, you would lie in bed just tossing and turning and trying to roll out your muscles and stretch and trying to figure out how you would muster up energy to wake up the next day to run again for multiple hours.”
But Koudele survived, and then some, finishing out her year-long odyssey on top. She is already thinking about competing in other noteworthy ultramarathons, including the Barkley Marathon and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in the Alps, but doesn’t have concrete plans for her next adventure yet. Right now, she’s enjoying the aftermath 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus victory.
“All-in, I will dab into some type of running adventures this next year, but for the most part, the focus will be on trying to capitalize on this adventure and story tell and inspire folks to get out there and live their dreams,” she said.