My desert dream

Words & Photos: Amanda de Kock

I started to run when I was 6 years old and somewhere over the past 30 years, running became my passion. When I turned 40 in 2012, I decided to treat myself with an entry to an event that would fulfil my desert dream; the Atacama Crossing. Despite it being the toughest race I have ever participated in, I successfully completed this gruelling 250 km desert race, held in Chile, South America, in March 2013. But what had started out as a one-off desert race dream soon turned into a much bigger goal; to complete the remaining three races in the 4 Desert Series before I turn 50.

Photo credit: Amanda de Kock

The annual 4 Deserts Series is widely recognised as the most prestigious outdoor footrace series in the world. TIME magazine ranked the 4 Deserts Series as one of the Top Ten Endurance Events in the world for two consecutive years. These events require competitors to traverse 250 km of rough country terrain over seven days, with only a place in a tent and water provided each day. For the rest, it is completely self-supported.

So on 16 February 2014, I lined up with 190 competitors from all over the world to start the 4 Deserts Sahara Race.

Due to the political unrest in Egypt, the race was hosted in Jordan, which lies in the centre of the Middle East. The capital is Amman and our host town was the beautiful Petra, a World Heritage Site recognised by UNESCO and described as 'one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage'. In 2007, Petra was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The 250 km course took us across four distinct deserts in Jordan: Wadi Rum, Kharaza, Humaima, and Wadi Arabia, to the finish in the ancient city of Petra, right in front of the Treasury. The stunning desert terrain varied between soft sand, sand dunes, and dirt/rock track, along with serious canyons, riverbeds, valleys, and beautiful local villages.

The first four days (stages) were about 40 km each, with checkpoints roughly 10 km apart. Stage five is known as The Long March in all the 4 Desert events, and here we covered 86 km of relentless terrain, but I loved every moment of it. I finished the Long March, together with a fellow South African, in just over 14 hours. Even though the last 4 hours were in the dark, with tired legs and lots of pain, we finished in good spirits.

Stage six was pretty much a spectacular 5 km victory run to the finish at the ancient city of Petra. Of the 190 competitors that started the race, 170 finished the race successfully. I achieved a personal best coming in second overall in the Ladies category, and thirtieth out of all the competitors. Sandy Suckling, a very humble athlete from Australia, won the Ladies race by far, with Kristinet van der Westhuizen, from South Africa, in third. We South African girls really kicked some butt out there in the foreign desert.

Photo credit: Amanda de Kock

An interview with Amanda

Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a very ordinary 42-year-old woman who is happily married to a wonderful man and we’ve got two beautiful boys, aged 10 and 8. I work half day as a Payroll Manager at a fast-growing payroll and finance company and spend the afternoons with my boys and all their school activities.

With such a busy lifestyle, when do you get the time to train?
Well, I am very fortunate to have a group of loyal and supportive training partners, who are talented athletes in their different fields. Most of my training takes place between 04h45 and 06h15, as I need to get back home in time to get my boys ready for school and myself ready for work. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, we try to fit in some longer runs.

When did you start training for the Sahara Race?
About three months prior to the Sahara Race, I started training with my backpack. Initially, it was very light to carry on my back, but I gradually built it up to about 8 kg closer to the event. A backpack, the heat and terrain (altitude was not a factor in Jordan) are the main factors to take into account when training for a desert race. I seldom managed to fit more than 100 km per week into my schedule as a working mom, but it seemed to work just fine for me.
Cross-training, like swimming and weight training, was a vital part of my programme, even if it was just one session per week. I also focused on a lot of core-strengthening exercises and regular sessions with my physio to prevent injuries.

Was nutrition a big part of your preparation for the race?
Apart from the training, nutrition was another important part of my preparation. When I increased my mileage, I tried to eat more ‘oily’ foods, like avos, nuts, fish, peanut butter, full cream dairy products, and the like.

Five smaller meals per day worked better for me, so I always tried to keep healthy/high energy snacks handy. During long runs, I enjoyed snacking on dates, nuts, dried berries, and sometimes even the odd Bovril sandwich.

Futurelife breakfast cereal on race days worked fantastically, as it was really gentle my stomach.

But my golden rule was to increase my intake of healthier food so that I only needed to take minimal supplements.

Balancing all this with a full and busy family life, career, and social life is not easy. How do you make it work?
Although my family is always very supportive, my husband and kids are my first priority. So it takes a lot of discipline to keep everything and everybody together, but it is definitely possible. My husband is a cyclist and we often do trail runs or duathlons with the boys. Funnily enough, those are usually the happiest times we spend together. The children are very aware that practice makes perfect and you need to train to achieve your goals. I believe this will help them later in life.

What’s next?
I am currently training for the 2014 Comrades Marathon. Then there’s the Namib Desert Challenge that I would love to do in 2015 and hopefully, sooner rather than later, the Gobi Desert and Antarctica to wrap up the 4 Desert Series.

Do you have any tips for other athletes, mothers, and normal people who would like to do something similar?
• Never say there’s no time, you can always make a plan if you really want to.
• Dream big.
• Believe in yourself.
• Sleep enough and eat good food (trust me, this will keep you healthy).
• Always be thankful for every step that you can run and walk, it is indeed a great privilege.

Happy running.

DO IT NOW wishes Amanda much success in her incredible quest to complete the 4 Desert Series successfully.

More information
For more information about the 4Desert Series, visit