Face of Defense: Airman Conquers Sahara Race

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)

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