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Q&A WITH AMERICAN SCOTT BALDRIDGE WHO IS ATTEMPTING THE 4 DESERTS GRAND SLAM

Scott Baldridge is a police officer in Austin, Texas, USA. Scott will be one of about 20 competitors from around the world who will attempt to complete all four deserts in one calendar year – this is known as the 4 Deserts Grand Slam. The first person to complete this feat was Dean Karnazes in 2008. Scott has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about this amazing adventure he has planned for 2018. The website for the 4 Deserts Race Series can be found at www.4deserts.com

Q1:  Tell us about your personal background. For example, where do you live and work?

A1:  I live in Austin, Texas, USA, where I am a police officer.  

Q2: What is your sports background? When did you get into hiking and/or running?  What races have you completed?

A2:  I have been running since middle school and ran on scholarship in college. After college, I faced a few years of burn out from running and did not train very much. After putting on some weight and a few years away I started racing again but without training. I placed in my age group in most races with mediocre times. I never got back the full enjoyment of fully training. I still hate track workouts as they remind me too much of my burnout phase at the end of college.

I got into hiking in my youth when I was a Boy Scout but I drifted away from that as I got older. Two years ago, I ended up finding out about a company that is based in Austin. They do running adventure trips all over the world. I signed up for a Chilean Patagonia trip without knowing anyone. I went on the trip, had the time of my life and ended up meeting a really good friend. Less than a month after the trip we decided we should get into backpacking and found ourselves up in Montana hiking into Canada shortly after. Ever since then I try to do at least one big backpacking trip a year and hike locally on the trails around Austin.

After I started running again, I started doing local 5ks, 10ks and half marathons. Once I finally started training again, I attempted a 50-miler to start 2017 and failed epically. In a 3-loop race I came through the first loop 40 minutes ahead of goal pace and it was a self-implosion from that point on. At the end of 2017, I reattempted a 50-miler (under-trained) where I ended up running sub-10 hours at Brazos Bend in Texas.

Q3: How did you find out about RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Race Series?

A3: I found out about the 4 Desert Race Series from the documentary “Desert Runners” which was on Netflix. I ended up watching it a few years ago and thought how crazy everyone was. A few months later I was at home drinking a few beers and watched it again. When I woke up the next day I had a bunch of text messages about the races. Apparently I had decided I was going to run one and had texted out to a bunch of friends telling them I was, so I felt committed from that point on.

Q4: Tell us about the 4 Deserts Grand Slam? What is it?

A4: The 4 Desert Grand Slam is four different 250km footraces (155 miles) in four different deserts: Namib in Namibia, Gobi in Mongolia, Atacama in Chile and ending with Antarctica.  

Q5: How did you decide to attempt the 4 Deserts Grand Slam?

A5: I attempted the Sahara Race last year in Namibia and half way into the long stage day I had to withdraw. I wanted to go back and finish that race. I have a tendency to go all out when I decide to do things. The first ultra and first thing over a half marathon I decided to do in eight years was the Sahara Race last year. I figured a great way to prove to myself that I can run a 250km race in the desert is to run four of them in a year. Plus, ever since my first trip, I have loved to travel around the world. This would be a great way to see places that I would not be able to check out without these races.

Q6: Tell us about your training. How do you train each week?

A6: My training is all over the place week to week. I work crazy hours into the middle of the night being a police officer and I work the bar district so I spend long hours on my feet every night. Some weeks I will hit 50-60 miles with all my runs being 10 miles or more. Other weeks I hit 20 miles with a bunch of shorter runs. This weekend coming up, we are a month out from the Sahara Race so I will run 15 miles in the morning after working till 3am, then I will go hiking with my girlfriend for 15 miles to get in a 30-mile day on-trail while sleep deprived. 

Q7: Tell us what type of clothing and equipment you need for the 4 Deserts Grand Slam? Will you need anything different for The Last Desert in Antarctica?

A7: The equipment for the races is mostly the same except for Antarctica. For the first three, the biggest two things you get is your bag to carry all your gear and your shoes. I had a bag malfunction in the first few miles last year so I switched out bags completely for this year’s race. Other gear you need is a sleeping bag, all your food, and safety equipment like a whistle, mirror and bivvy in case of emergencies.  You also have to bring a warm hat, gloves and a jacket for nights because it does get cold once the sun goes down. In Antarctica, you need a parka, glacier googles, ski googles and thick winter gloves along with glove liners. You do not sleep on Antarctica but you have to have bunch of emergency equipment in case the zodiacs can’t make it back to the expedition ship and you are stuck there for one night.  

Q8: Tell us about the food you eat for each race?  Do you have a specific menu for each day?

A8: My main meal each day is from Expedition Foods. Other than that I am bringing peanuts, instant oatmeal, flavored crackers, Honey Stinger waffles, a few GU gels, and some protein recovery. I will eat the same things daily but I will start with the mediocre tasting stuff first and work my way through the week to my favorites as the week gets harder and its harder to eat. This will give me something to look forward to throughout the week.  

Q9: What is your goal for each race? To finish? To finish in the top ten? To win?

A9:  My main goal going into the races is just to finish. If I finish I will be happy. If everything is going well I would like to come in the top 25%. I am not against walking all day if I need to though, to make sure I make it to the finish.  

Q10: Tell us about the experience in the tent and campsite each day? What’s that like?

A10: Tent life is interesting. You are put into a tent with 8-10 random people from all over the world. There is enough room for your bag and for you to lay down flat but not much extra room besides that. You will become very close with your tent mates. It’s like a little family that gets closer and closer as the week progresses. Campsites are nice. There are some fires for warmth and to provide a place to gather around with other racers. You can go around and talk to people from almost every corner of the world. It’s a very social event and a lot of people end up spending the afternoon and evening in groups chatting about the day.  

Q11: What tips can you offer those seeking to complete a race? What’s the secret to success?

A11:  My best tip is just to sign up for a race and put down the money if you’re thinking about it. Stop thinking about it and just commit. The cut-off times are very generous. You do not have to be an elite runner to do these - you just have to get into the right mindset. Once you do that, just start running. Sign up for races leading up to the event so you have other stuff to look forward to. End it with a 50K or 50-miler. No one wants to do a long training run of that length alone so make the really long runs in training races where you have support. I think the main secret to success in training and the race is to have fun.

Q12: What are your three best pieces of equipment?

A12: My best pieces of equipment this year are going to be:

1. Trekking poles. I saw how efficient people who brought them were last year and I am going to use them as well.  
2. My hat. A company called Rogue Expeditions gave me a really awesome hat to use in these races. Ever since they gave it to me I have not been on a run without it.  
3. My down jacket. I use it in the evening to stay warm but at night I pack it back into its pocket and zip it up, and it’s perfect for a little pillow.  

Q13: What is your best food treat during the week?

A13:  In Namibia I am doing a little experiment. I am bringing along a handful of chocolate covered expresso beans and peanut M&Ms. They will get messy melting and taking shape again as the temperatures change but I think on the long march day I will not care and will love the chocolaty mess I will be eating.

We wish Scott all the best in completing the 4 Deserts Grand Slam.