Racing The Planet: What it Takes to Run Multiple, Self-supported Ultras in One Year


, by Fabienne Lang

Photography courtesy of: RacingThePlanet / Thiago Diz

What does it take to run six or even eight ultramarathons in a year? We talk with Inia Raumati and Tania Carmona as they tackle RacingThePlanet’s 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series and more.

In the Namib Desert, there are no bustling streets or convenience shops – just endless sand dunes and rugged ridges. Occasionally, a distant caravan of trucks or animals appears and vanishes in the haze. The dunes are otherwise silent. But every May, as volunteers drum near fluttering flags and a finish line is etched in the sand, RacingThePlanet’s ‘Namib Race’ participants summon their last reserves of strength to cross that finish line.

Founded in 2002, the ‘4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series’ by RacingThePlanet is renowned as one of the world's toughest self-supported footrace series. Every year since 2009, the organization has hosted one of its ‘4 Deserts’ ultramarathons in the harsh Namib Desert.

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The ‘4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series’ actually features five extreme events. There are four fixed locations: the ‘Namib Race’ in Namibia, the ‘Gobi March’ in Mongolia, the ‘Atacama Crossing’ in Chile, the ‘Last Desert’ in Antarctica, and the fifth event, the ‘RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon’ changes location each year. Runners tackle 155 miles / 250 km over seven days, navigating rugged terrain and harsh environments with only tent space and water provided.

Photography courtesy of: RacingThePlanet / Thiago Diz

Completing all four original RacingThePlanet ultramarathons earns runners the prestigious ‘4 Deserts Club’ badge. Finishing all four in one calendar year grants the ‘4 Deserts Grand Slam’ medal while completing these plus the ‘RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon’ race in the same year secures the ‘4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus’ trophy. This incredible feat means covering a total of 775 miles / 1,250km in a year in harsh conditions, carrying all your essentials, including a week's worth of food, on your back.

Enter Inia Raumati. “Normally, I like to enter events where there's no guarantee you're going to finish.” Inia is a senior emergency doctor in Auckland, New Zealand who completed this year’s ‘Namib Race.’ In 2014, he became the first Kiwi to get the ‘4 Deserts Grand Slam’ badge of honor. A decade later and he is now marking his 50th birthday by aiming for his second ‘4 Deserts Grand Slam’ trophy. As a man who enjoys living life to the extremes, he is adding four more ultramarathons to his 2024 bucket list, for his ‘8 Races on 8 Continents’ challenge. He aims to become the first person in the world to run eight self-supported ultramarathons on all eight continents in a year, logging a total of 1,243 miles // 2,000km over 12 months.

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Tania Carmona, a Dubai-based personal trainer and ultrarunning coach is aiming for her first ‘4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus’ trophy and has eyes on becoming the first Mexican woman to conquer this achievement. Another fan of pushing her limits, she is not only completing all five RacingThePlanet races back to back, but she also aims to run the Cocodona 250, covering a total of 1,025 miles / 1,649km in 12 months.

FOLLOW Tania Carmona on Strava

(L) Inia Raumati (R) Tania Carmona. Photography courtesy of: RacingThePlanet / Thiago Diz

“Every year, I raise the bar for myself a little higher,” Tania explains her motivation. “When I started ultrarunning, I signed up for one ultra in one year. Then I signed up for two the following year, and so forth. Now it’s come to this, to see if I can push myself to do five ultras in one year, extending it to six with the Cocodona 250.”

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The Mental Game

We often think completing an ultra-endurance race requires only physical strength. Yet, mental strength regularly comes up as the forerunner of what is most important when undertaking self-supported, multi-day ultramarathons – something both Inia and Tania know intimately.

“When I'm uncomfortable, I like to embrace it and try to get more uncomfortable,” Inia shares his psychological tactics. “I find that mindset helps you, because then you realize ‘Ok, I'm wet and cold now, but I can always get wetter and colder. When things get really rough, I typically start to enjoy it a bit more. It’s quite a good release.”

When I'm uncomfortable, I like to embrace it and try to get more uncomfortable.

Tania uses a strategic mental approach to tackle tough moments on the course. “I told myself I wouldn’t make decisions about DNF’ing (Did Not Finish) when I was hot, tired, or hungry. That was my rule and my plan,” she shares.

On Day Two of the ‘Namib Race,’ when the sand dunes extended up to the blistering sky and the mercury hit 129 Fahrenheit / 54 degrees Celsius, her focused plan helped her persevere. “They call it Dune Heaven,” she chuckles. “I was about to pass out. I think I saw the biggest dune possible and I thought ‘There’s no way I’m climbing up there.’ Very few times in my life have I thought ‘That’s it, I’m done.’ But that was nearly one of them.”

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That’s not to say having a plan means smooth sailing. “I had to remind myself on multiple occasions about my rule… I told myself ‘I’m going to get to the checkpoint, eat, cool down, rest, and then I’ll make a decision.’ It worked every time. After 10 to 15 minutes at a checkpoint, I felt like a totally new person.”

Tania Carmona at the Namib Race. Photography courtesy of: RacingThePlanet / Thiago Diz

As a seasoned ultramarathoner, Inia knows these challenging moments are inevitable, no matter how mentally or physically strong you may be. Like Tania, he also uses a plan system: “You have to plan for when things go wrong,” he emphasizes. “Something is always going to go wrong. Some bit of kit’s going to break, something won't sit right, you'll get a stomach upset. You have to brush it off and remember your body will keep going. You have to reset your mindset of your expectations and remember the aim is to finish.”

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It's these very challenges, and the journey of overcoming them, that leave a lasting impact on ultramarathon participants. That’s why Inia and Tania are raising funds to support young, underprivileged kids in their home countries to start running. “You can talk to anyone that's done these events, and most will find that it's life-changing - it's changed their attitude and how it increases what they think they can achieve,” Inia explains. “If you can break through that mental barrier, and if you can do it early as a kid, then there's no reason someone can’t do an ultramarathon.” It also sets the foundation for handling life’s challenges, he emphasizes.

Driven by this belief, Inia founded the ‘Kia Mau, Kia Ora!’ charity, offering scholarships to Māori graduating students in New Zealand. “As someone who is half Māori, the parting words from my headmaster when I left school were ‘Don’t end up in jail.’ Many Māori kids face similar challenges without any support. Our scholarship helps them change their mindset and aims to support, sometimes troubled, Māori youths in participating in ultra-endurance races,” he says.

Inia Raumati at the Namib Race in 2023. Photography courtesy of: RacingThePlanet / Thiago Diz

Partnering with the Southern Lakes Ultra in Queenstown, Inia and his team will “train them and support them, letting them learn through experience. Regardless of their race outcome, we’ll guide them in their career paths with scholarships and mentoring,” he explains. All funds raised from Inia’s ‘8 Races on 8 Continents’ challenge go directly into the scholarship.

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Similarly, Tania's ‘Run for Hope’ project raises funds for the ‘Fundación Infantil Semilla,’ a Mexican non-profit association dedicated to improving the living conditions of the indigenous children of Durango. “Semilla Durango provides a safe environment where these children can grow and find happiness,” Tania explains. “Through running, some of these kids take part in and win races, raising their confidence and happiness. They are moving forward.”

It's obvious from the choices Inia and Tania are making that their experience with ultramarathons, like RacingThePlanet’s ‘4 Deserts’ series, has profoundly impacted their lives and those of others.

Photography courtesy of: RacingThePlanet / Thiago Diz

Despite their difficulty, ultramarathons also provide moments of profound serenity and connection. From the solitude of being off the grid to the awe of nature’s vast landscapes, the experience is deeply rewarding. For Inia, he finds the daily routine of these events restorative: “You wake up every day, have something to eat, have a run, have a chat to people, have something else to eat, go to sleep. The simple life,” he says fondly.

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For Tania, she loves being surrounded by untouched nature, like on Day Four of the ‘Namib Race’ during her 50 mile / 80km night run, when she discovered the majesty of the surrounding landscape. “It was beautiful. The stars came out and it was absolutely unreal,” she reflects. “It was so quiet and the stars were so bright. I’d never seen this before. I may have felt a bit broken at that point near the end of the race, but that didn’t matter because it was one of those moments where you can’t believe where you are.”

Inia and Tania are gearing up for their next epic adventure at RacingThePlanet’s ‘Gobi March’ race in the expansive steppes of Mongolia on June 22, where they will undoubtedly discover new challenges and life-changing lessons.

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