Photo by Onni Cao/4deserts.com
JAX MARIASH KOUDELE drops to her knees with relief after completing the 155-mile Gobi March race of the 4 Deserts series. Koudele, a Hood River resident, placed first in the women’s category, and sixth overall in the event.
Local ultramarathoner Jax Mariash Koudele became the female champion and sixth overall at the Global 4 Deserts race series stop in China known as the Gobi March on June 25. This was the race series 50th Anniversary race. The Gobi March stop is the third of five for Koudele to become the first woman in the world to complete the series Grand Slam Plus.
“I am speechless of the result in China. I still cannot believe it happened. The course was extremely challenging and additionally the weather conditions from extreme cold and extreme hot temperatures, as well as a camp evacuation due to a sand storm caused an additional stress on athletes out on the course and at our camps,” Koudele noted.
Through the six self-supported stages, Koudele took a strategy to make sure over the race that she stayed within herself and raced her own race. Her strategy is specifically focused on time and heart rate to ensure she maintains her energy for the 250-kilometer (155-mile) duration of the race. Koudele dominated the woman’s field with a final lead of 11 hours and 31 minutes over Sheila Sanei, who came in second. The long march, which is on the fifth day and has a distance of 49.9 miles, brought competitors across the Black Gobi Desert and reached temperatures of 128 degrees. Koudele excelled at this stage and had a historical finish as the second competitor overall to cross the finish line at 10:12. For final results, Koudele had a total time of 30:49.02 for the 250K race, which is the fastest female time in history for this version of the Gobi March course. The winning male presented a time of 28:45.04.
Eighty-seven competitors out of 101 successfully made it to the finish line in Devil City after a weeklong journey of extreme weather and challenging terrain through spectacular scenery in China including the mighty Tianshan Mountains and varied terrain on the edge of the Gobi Desert through six stages. Competitors ran on a mixture terrain and scenery across green grasslands and alpine-like scenery, but also some rugged terrain and sand dunes. Temperatures along the course ranged from 40 to 128.5 degrees, pushing competitors’ bodies to all extremes. There was a mixture of rain, hail, extreme heat and even a dust storm that created an evacuation from Camp 6 at 6:45 a.m. the morning of June 24. The event staff would only provide water, medical aid in extreme cases and a tent to share with up to nine others. Each evening, competitors were given the opportunity to blog about their stages at the cyber tent allowing them to share their story with family and friends.
Koudele will continue on her Grand Slam Plus journey to the Atacama Crossing in Northern Chile starting on October 2. In the series thus far, Koudele has placed as the second female overall in the Roving Race in Sri Lanka and was the female champion in the Sahara (Namibia stop).
“I hope to be on the podium at all five races,” Koudele added. She is on track to do so. In the 14 years of the 4 Deserts race series, an annual event of ultra-marathons held across the globe in desolate and challenging terrain, there have only been three men to complete the Grand Slam Plus. Koudele (representing U.S. and Canada and raising awareness and funds for the LymeLight Foundation) will attempt to not only become the first female ever to complete this grueling challenge, but also to podium at all five races.
Koudele invites supporters to show their support throughout the year by donating funds through her fundraising page (lymelightfoundation.org/auxiliary-event/4-deserts-grand-slam-plus). Those interested can also get updates on Koudele’s progress by visiting her website (wonderwomanjax.com).