VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — A 533rd Training Squadron instructor here completed the 2010 Sahara Race in Egypt this month.
Air Force Capt. Carrie Zederkof, a space-based infrared system mission instructor, competed against more than 150 competitors from 36 countries Oct. 9 in a race Time magazine named as one of the top 10 endurance competitions in the world.
Zederkof’s brother, Matt Lowe, found out about the competition online and suggested that she compete.
“He mentioned that he wanted to do it last year, three weeks before the start of the competition,” Zederkof said. “My dad and I tried to talk him out of it, because it was a little insane to do something like that without training for it, but we told him that we might do it with him if he waited a year — and the idea just went on from there.”
A year later, on Oct. 3, Zederkof found herself hauling a 20-pound backpack filled with just enough gear, food and clothing to last seven days through a six-stage, 155-mile footrace over sand and sand dunes in the world’s hottest desert. The only assistance provided was water and tents, which she didn’t have to tote.
“The hardest part for me was the heat,” Zederkof said. “I had trained, but hadn’t been able to train in heat, because it is not very warm here. It got up to about 118 degrees Fahrenheit nearly every day there. That was the hardest part.”
To overcome the heat of the desert, the captain said, she continuously consumed water and electrolytes. But that posed its own difficulty, she noted.
“It is hard to run on that much water,” Zederkof explained. “I definitely drank more water than I would normally drink on a run, and I ending up crashing, or ‘bonked’ as they say, towards the end of the first day. I had to walk the last three kilometers very slowly, because my body couldn’t handle it anymore.”
At the close of the first day, Zederkof said, she was exhausted and began to doubt her ability to finish the race. But those thoughts didn’t last long, she said.
“It is all about the people who help you get through the race,” she said. “That is what’s neat about this. Although it is a competitive race, people are not out to get each other.
We all want to finish, we all want to do well, and we all are in pain. It doesn’t matter how good of shape you’re in. Everyone hurts, but the people were really supportive.”
Veterans of the race mentored Zederkof, showing her how to balance electrolytes with water and passing along helpful tips, such as the need to snack often to make it through the day.
“I told a couple people about this race, and I didn’t want to disappoint them,” she said. “I don’t like quitting.”
There was no quit in Zederkof as she pushed through the remainder of the race, ambitiously crossing the Valley of Whales, where 40-million-year-old whale fossils protrude in what once was an ancient shallow sea, and then on to the finish line at the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Zederkof not only completed the seven-day race, but also placed well in the competition. Out of 156 competitors, 75 percent of whom were men, only 107 people finished the race.
Zederkof was the seventh woman and the 39th person overall to cross the finish line.
The captain’s father, Ted Lowe, and her brother were waiting for her at the finish line and shared in the celebration of the accomplishment of her two goals: to finish the race and to finish the race without injury.
“It felt awesome that I had finished, and I was relieved that I made it,” Zederkof said.
Zederkof said she now is contemplating taking part in another part of a series of endurance events called 4 Deserts that includes The Last Desert in Antarctica, the Gobi March in China, and the Atacama Crossing in Chile.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)