4 Deserts

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4 Deserts Race Series and Roving Race
4 Deserts Logo.jpg
The company logo of 4 Deserts Race Series and Roving Race.
Genre Rough country endurance footrace
Begins March
Ends December
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Chile, China, Egypt, Antarctica
Years active 12
Attendance Max 200 competitors

The 4 Deserts Race Series is recognised as the world's leading endurance footrace series as named by TIME magazine in 2009 and 2010,[1] and by others as the "Ultimate test of human endurance".[2] The series is the brainchild of American Mary K Gadams who founded RacingThePlanet in 2002.

These weeklong stage races take place in the world's most forbidding landscapes and harshest climates, and see competitors race across 250 km (155 miles) of desert.

The inaugural race, the Gobi March, was run in China in 2003. Over the next three years a new race was added to series each season. In 2004 it was the Atacama Crossing (Chile) and in 2005 it was the Sahara Race (Egypt), until in 2006 all 4 Deserts events were raced in one year with The Last Desert Antarctica being the final and ultimate event in the series.

Competitors can enter any of the individual multiday races within the 4 Deserts series, but if they wish to take part in The Last Desert (Antarctica) then they must complete a minimum of two of the other races and receive an invitation to participate.

To date, forty one races have been staged over eleven years and more than 7000 individuals from 100 countries have competed in the 4 Deserts Race Series or Roving Races. Most participants return to complete a second event, and many have now completed the whole race series.

Now widely known, the 4 Deserts Race Series was a question on the popular American television show, Jeopardy.

In 2013, a documentary film about 4 Deserts was released. Desert Runners, directed by Jennifer Steinman, follows four participants as they attempt to complete the series in 2010.

4 Deserts Race Series and Roving Race[edit]

The events that combine to make the 4 Deserts Race Series are:

Atacama Crossing (Chile)[edit]

View from the Atacama Crossing 2011.
The brutal Atacama salt flats.

The race takes place in Chile’s stunning but brutal Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth.[3] The Atacama has a unique landscape of salt lakes, volcanoes, lava flows and sand dunes.

The Atacama Crossing is gruelling not only because of the terrain which is rarely flat underfoot, and harsh climate, but also because of the altitude that averages 2500 m (8000 ft) during the race.

The Atacama Crossing always uses the town of San Pedro de Atacama as its host town, and in 2012 the race began at its highest point over 3,000m in the Arcoiris Valley.

Gobi March (China)[edit]

The race takes place in various locations around the Chinese area of the Gobi Desert, in 2012 it took place around the region of Kashgar within sight of the Pamir Mountains to the west visiting such landmarks as Heaven's Gate. 2013 will be the 10th edition of the Gobi March and a brand new course is being planned.

The Gobi March's challenges include the changes in temperature from the cool highlands to the oppressive heat in sand dunes, the complete lack of shade, potential sandstorms and variety of terrain – soft sand-dunes, rocky tracks, steep hills, ridges and riverbeds.

Competitors must plan carefully to maintain the delicate balance between physical exertion, nutrition and hydration in order to successfully complete the race.

A Shanghai-based competitor died of heatstroke after competing in the 2010 Gobi March. His brother (who was not at the race) claimed Racing the Planet was "reckless" to set such a course for non-professional athletes, and ill-prepared.[4]

Sahara Race (Egypt)[edit]

The race takes place in the hottest desert in the world. Competitors have to contend with a variety of terrains, both rock and sand, but will face endless miles of soaring sand dunes up to 122 metres (400 feet) high. The daytime heat is scorching with temperatures reaching 50 °C.

To be successful, competitors will have to carefully manage the heat, their hydration, nutrition and rest, as well as the mental challenge of racing through endless dunes.

In 2012 the race will take place for the third time in the Western Desert around the region around Al Fayuum, Wadi El-Rayan Protected Area and The Valley of the Whales or Wadi Al-Hitan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Due to political unrest the 2014 edition of the race was moved to Jordan where it crossed four deserts; Wadi Rum, Kharaza, Humaima and Wadi Araba before finishing in the ancient city of Petra

The Last Desert (Antarctica)[edit]

The race uses a polar expedition ship as its base, traveling to the different course locations on the Antarctic Peninsula and offshore islands based on the prevailing sea and weather conditions, with competitors transferred from ship to shore by zodiacs.

The unique challenges of The Last Desert (Antarctica) include having to cope with the severity of the weather conditions that can include galeforce blizzards and temperatures down to −20°C (4°F). Competitors also have to deal with the unpredictability of daily stage lengths and start-times, as the prevailing environmental conditions dictate where and when stages might begin.

Fifteen individuals from around the world completed the inaugural event in 2006 becoming the first in the world to complete a 250 km footrace on the Antarctic continent. The Last Desert 2010 took place in November of that year in King George Island, Deception Island, and Dorian Bay. The Last Desert 2010 was featured 3 times on IMG's Transworld Sport.

Event format[edit]

The 250 km (155 mile) races take place over seven days and six stages. A campsite is raised each night for competitors where they are provided with a place in a tent to sleep, access to hot water, a campfire, medical assistance and the CyberTent where they can view and send messages to family and friends and update their race blog.

Competitors race from campsite to campsite each day following marker flags that have been planted the preceding day. They must pass through a series of checkpoints where they collect drinking water and can seek medical treatment.

Other than the access to the services described competitors must race completely self-supported, carrying all their food, supplies and equipment for the week. Each competitor must carry a selection of mandatory items at all times to help ensure their safety out on course.

Competitors must start each stage at the appointed time and on certain stages cut-off times are set which racers must meet in order to remain active in the event.

The results of the race are based on the cumulative time taken for the competitor to complete all the stages, and a competitor must successfully pass through every checkpoint in order to collect a finisher's medal.

Should a competitor withdraw from a particular stage, so long as they are deemed fit by the medical team to carry on the next day, they may continue in the race but will not qualify for a finisher's medal.

Charitable causes[edit]

About 50% of competitors choose to support causes when racing at the 4 Deserts.[citation needed]

Because of the remote locations of many of the races RacingThePlanet choose to support a specific charity at almost every event, that provides support to the local community in which the event takes place. The company has a long running partnership with Operation Smile,[5] and has raised over US$500,000 for the charity for projects in Vietnam, China and Egypt, often funding missions and surgeries in the local communities through which competitors race.[6][7]

The company has donated books and sports equipment to schools in Xinjiang province where the Gobi March is held through the Esquel Y. L. Yang Education Fund who they have also supported for a number of years.[8]

In 2008, the Gobi March took place just one month after the devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province on 12 May, so that year RacingThePlanet put together a special auction whereby friends and families of competitors could bid to buy a hot shower for three competitors at the end of the 90 km Stage 5 of the event. An unheard of and never-to-be-repeated luxury. The auction raised almost US$30,000 for the Red Cross disaster fund.[9]

Again in 2010 another earthquake affected a country that plays host to a 4 Deserts race. The Chilean earthquake of 27 February occurred just one week before the start of the Atacama Crossing. RacingThePlanet and the community of competitors and friends raised US$15,000 for Habitat for Humanity in the weeks to follow.[10]

Environmental considerations[edit]

The organizers work with the appropriate government bodies to ensure the race conforms to all local environmental regulations, and gains permission to race across all the locations where the course is set.

RacingThePlanet has built in a number of rules concerning the protection of the environment into their Rules and Regulations for 4 Deserts events. Breach of the rules results in either time penalties or disqualification. They include:

No littering, including toilet paper used on the course. Competitors are given biodegradable bags in which to place used toilet paper, which are disposed of by the camp management each day.

Competitors must "tread lightly",[11] not picking any flowers, cutting walking sticks, or removing anything from the course, deface or move rocks or any other part of the landscape.

Human waste must be buried at between 20–25 cm deep on course away from the course and checkpoints, and in campsites participants must use the facilities provided.

The Last Desert (Antarctica) has even stricter rules. Participants may not approach any wildlife, and must stop and make way for wildlife e.g. penguins that cross the course.

Great care is taken[who?] also to minimise any contamination from ship to shore on participants shoes etc.


Each race in the series takes place in a desert with different climates and terrains which pose unique challenges to competitors. The locations are chosen not only for the physical challenges they will present, but also for their wild beauty, their history and their cultures.

The Atacama Crossing takes place in the Chilean region of Antofagasta. The Atacama Desert is the largest Cold Coastal desert, and is a rainless plateau blocked from moisture on either side by the mountains of the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range. The host town is the delightful San Pedro de Atacama.

This desiccated environment of the desert is the perfect preserver of ancient relics, with the world’s oldest mummies (of the Paleolithic Chinchorro tribe), having been discovered in the Atacama, thought to date back to 7000BC. Huge geoglyphic paintings adorn hillsides and ruins of Indian fortresses and sacred Inca sites dot the landscape. The Altiplano is still the home to descendants of the region’s pre-Columbian natives, the Aymara and Atacama Indians, who live the age-old lifestyles of herding llamas and alpacas and growing crops.

The Gobi March takes place in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. In 2012 the race was located in the region around Kashgar.

The ancient Silk Road, is renowned for its stunning scenery including Heaven's Gate and the Pamir Mountains to the west. Uyghur, Tajik and Kyrgyz communities call the region home, with the event passing through a number of villages and homesteads.

The Sahara Race takes place in Egypt's Western Desert. The Sahara is the world’s largest non-polar desert and also the hottest desert in the world. In 2012 the event will take place for the third time through the protected area of Wadi El Rayan. Permission has been granted for competitors to race again through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wadi El Hitan, or the Valley of the Whales. The race will end at the Pyramids of Giza.

Competitors will pass through a number of oases and Bedouin communities.

The Last Desert (Antarctica) takes place on the Antarctic mainland as well as on some of the islands off its coast. The host city where competitors embark upon an expedition ship which serves as the race's base, is the most southerly town in the world – Argentina's Ushuaia. Antarctica is the world's largest desert.

The wildlife of Antarctica includes penguins, seals, whales and a surprising variety of birds. Competitors visit and race close to a number of historical sites and scientific research stations.

In 2010, the race was held on King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland islands and home to many national scientific bases; Deception Island, which is the caldera of a live volcano, and a former whaling station; and Dorian Bay on the Antarctic mainland.


Every year the Atacama Crossing is raced in March, the Gobi March in June, and the Sahara Race in October. RacingThePlanet took the decision in 2008 that The Last Desert (Antarctica) would henceforth only be raced biennially to minimise its environmental impact, and usually takes place around the end of November.

4 Deserts champions[edit]

At the end of every edition of The Last Desert (Antarctica) the 4 Deserts Champion is crowned. From 2010 both a male and female champion was recognized in this way, and female champions from previous years have now been crowned retrosopectively.

The champion is determined by adding up the finishing rank of every competitor over the four races of the series to see who has the lowest aggregate score.

In 2012 The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2012 has proved to be a momentous race in 4 Deserts racing history. When the fifth edition of the event came to a close in the snowy setting of Danko Island yesterday, new records were being forged in all directions.

Anne-Marie Flammersfeld of Germany emerged as the first woman to ever win all four events in the 4 Deserts series—and not only that, she did it all in one year. “My objective was the 4 Deserts Grand Slam,” explains the 34-year old fitness trainer and sports scientist who is based in Switzerland. “I started training mid-2011. The Atacama Crossing was my first ultra ever and it was all about the first experience... It was really only after the Sahara Race that I knew I could do this.”

There was also a remarkable victory for overall race winner, Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito. The Spanish racer came to Antarctica having already won each of the 4 Deserts races in 2012, including the Atacama Crossing (Chile), the Gobi March (China) and Sahara Race (Egypt). By winning The Last Desert (Antarctica), he joins Ryan Sandes as the only other person to have been champion of every race in the 4 Deserts series—but Beneito has taken it up a notch by winning them all in one calendar year for the first time.

Garcia and Flammersfeld are now the first persons who ever won all four deserts in one calendar year.

In 2010 Ryan Sandes of South Africa recorded the lowest and unbeatable aggregate score of 4 points, as he had won each of the 4 Deserts races he had entered.[12]

Current 4 Deserts champions (crowned in 2012)[edit]

Male: GARCIA BENEITO, Vicente Juan

Female: FLAMMERSFELD, Anne-Marie

In 2010 Ryan Sandes of South Africa recorded the lowest and unbeatable aggregate score of 4 points, as he had won each of the 4 Deserts races he had entered.[12]

Current 4 Deserts champions (crowned in 2010)[edit]

Male: Ryan Sandes, South Africa[13]

Female: Mirjana Pellizzer, Croatia

Previous 4 Deserts champions[edit]


Male: Dean Karnazes, USA

Female: Laura Corti, Italy


Male: Francesco Galanzino, Italy


Male: Kevin Lin Yichieh, Taiwan

Female: Lisanne Dorian, United States

4 Deserts Club[edit]

The 4 Deserts Club recognises those competitors who have completed all four races of the series.

There are currently just 87 individuals in the club.[citation needed]

4 Deserts Grand Slam[edit]

The 4 Deserts Grand Slam has been so named by competitors attempting to complete all the 4 Deserts events in one calendar year.

The first Grand Slam was completed in 2008, when five competitors set out to complete, with two ultimately successful: famed endurance athlete Dean Karnazes of the United States and Paul Liebenberg of South Africa.[14] In 2010, fourteen competitors attempted to complete the feat and nine were successful, including the first three women.

The 4 Deserts Grand Slammers so far are:


Dean Karnazes, USA

Paul Liebenberg, South Africa


Paul Acheson, UK

Samantha Gash, Australia

Peter Jong, Australia

Stan Lee, Canada

Terumasa Mori, Japan

David O'Brien, Ireland

Linda Quirk, USA

Lucy Rivers-Bulkeley, UK[15]

Philip Tye, UK


Alper Dalkılıç, Turkey

Christian Sebastián Colque, Argentina

Individual race results[edit]

Times are shown in hours:minutes:seconds

Atacama Crossing (Chile)[edit]

Year Men's Winner Women's Winner
2013 Daniel Rowland (28) Zimbabwe, 26:17:51 Rebecca Pattinson (40) UK, 35:38:09
2012 Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito (35) Spain, 23:46:51 Anne-Marie Flammersfeld (33) Germany, 29:49:53
2011 Anders Jensen (29) Denmark, 30:49:05 Nahila Hernandez San Juan (36) Mexico, 38:16:25
2010 Ryan Sandes (27) South Africa, 23:58:39 Joanna Zakrzewski (33) UK, 33:37:30
2009 Mehmet Danis (34) Canada, 31:56:27 Fleur Grose (34) Australia, 37:31:54
2008 Dean Karnazes (45) USA, 31:49:44 Mimi Anderson (45) US, 43:15:16
2007 Robert Jarvis (40) New Zealand, 35:12:09 Emma Dawber (41) UK, 47:09:35
2006 Mark Tamminga (47) Canada, 32:16:06 Sandra McCallum (43) Canada, 44:14:38
2004 Lin Yichieh (Kevin) (27) Taiwan, 27:36:29 Lisanne Dorion (38) USA, 41:04:37

Gobi March (China)[edit]

Year Men's Winner Women's Winner
2012 Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito (36) Spain, 23:12:33 Anne-Marie Flammersfeld (31) Germany, 27:53:21
2011 Damon Goerke (37) Australia, 26:28:39 Jennifer Madz (31) Australia, 34:41:19
2010 Dan Parr (33) UK, 24:53:36 Denvy Lo Singapore, 33:25:49
2009 Eric LaHaie (28) USA, 26:43:50 Diana Hogan-Murphy (31) Ireland, 36:26:25
2008 Ryan Sandes (25) South Africa, 24:38:20 Lia Farley (37) USA, 32:09:35
2007 Mark Tamminga (49) Canada, 29:06:55 Nina Breith (45) Germany, 33:44:15
2006 Mark Tamminga (47) Canada, 32:16:06 Sandra McCallum (43) Canada, 36:32:27
2004 Lin Yichieh (Kevin) (27), 27:36:29 Lisanne Dorion (38) USA, 41:04:37
2003 Charles Engle Jr (33) USA, 30:58:22 Ms Aletengtya, China, 48:25:37

Sahara Race (Egypt)[edit]

Year Men's Winner Women's Winner
2012 Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito (36) Spain, 25:36:12[16] Anne-Marie Flammersfeld (33) Germany, 30:48:33[16]
2011 Dan Parr (34) UK, 25:13:22 Sophie Collett (27) UK, 38:02:26
2010 Anders Jensen (28) Denmark, 26:56:28 Katia Figini (34) Italy, 32:03:29
2009 Paolo Barghini (48) Italy, 28:14:38 Erica Terblanche (37) South Africa, 38:15:02
2008 Ryan Sandes (25) South Africa, 27:09:17 Nina Breith (45) Germany, 32:50:37
2007 Andrew Murray (26) Scotland, 30:11:44 Sandy McCallum (44) Canada, 39:55:24
2006 Jimmi Olsen (28) Denmark, 26:55:04 Claire Price (37) UK, 32:58:00
2005 Ray Zahab (35) Canada, 26:24:45 Theresa Schneider (40) USA, 32:18:54

Last Desert (Antarctica)[edit]

When the full 250 km distance cannot be completed due to sea and weather conditions, the results are calculated in a different way for The Last Desert (Antarctica). Rank is based on total distance covered.

Year Men's Winner Women's Winner
2012 Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito (36) Spain, 200.35 km Anne-Marie Flammersfeld (34) Germany, 186.95 km
2010 Ryan Sandes (28) South Africa, 230.5 km Diana Hogan-Murphy (33) Ireland, 165 km
2008 Paul Liebenberg (33) South Africa, 76.98 km Louise Cooper (54) USA, 59.68 km
2007 Joseph Holland (42) USA, 133.6 km
2006 Scott Smith (49) USA, 29:06:37 Lisanne Dorian (40) USA, 35:35:40


  1. ^ "Top 10 Endurance Competitions". TIME. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  2. ^ "Off Limits". Men's Health. 
  3. ^ Vesilind, Priit J. (August 2003). "The Driest Place on Earth". National Geographic Magazine. Retrieved 3 January 2014.  (Excerpt)
  4. ^ O'Brien, Amanda (9 September 2011). "Extreme race firm 'reckless in past'". The Australian. 
  5. ^ 4 Deserts. 4 Deserts. Retrieved on 2011-10-09.
  6. ^ Sahara Race (Egypt) 2011 Official Website. 4deserts.com (2011-10-02). Retrieved on 2011-10-09.
  7. ^ 4 Deserts. 4 Deserts. Retrieved on 2011-10-09.
  8. ^ Gobi March (China) 2011 Official Website. 4deserts.com (2011-10-02). Retrieved on 2011-10-09.
  9. ^ 4 Deserts. 4 Deserts. Retrieved on 2011-10-09.
  10. ^ 4 Deserts. 4 Deserts. Retrieved on 2011-10-09.
  11. ^ "4 Deserts Rules & Regulations, Article 2: Environmental Rules". Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  12. ^ a b iafrica.com | sport | video | Sandes makes history. Sport.iafrica.com. Retrieved on 2011-10-09.
  13. ^ "The Last Desert". Sports Illustrated. 
  14. ^ Hamlyn, Alexandra (31 July 2008). "The Long March". Time. 
  15. ^ "Gloucestershire fund-raiser wins award award for". BBC. 11 February 2011. 
  16. ^ a b "Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito and Anne-Marie Flammersfeld Gain Extraordinary Victories at the Sahara Race 2012" (Press release). RacingThePlanet. 3 Nov 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 

External links[edit]

2012 Grand Slam James Gaston, Jr. USA Tara Gaston USA