British Ultrarunner Completes 70-Mile Crossing of Desert in Kazakhstan

kazak crossing
Photo courtesy of Mark Woodward

A British ultrarunner by the name of Jamie Maddison has become the first person to cross the Saryesik-Atyrau Desert in Kazakhstan on foot. The 29-year old endurance athlete spent 30 hours traveling 70 miles (112 km) while enduring intense heat throughout the journey, which took place in October.

Maddison began his run in a the town of Birlik, which located on the western edge of the Saryesik-Atyrau Desert. He made a nighttime stopover mid-run because the driver of his support vehicle was having a difficult time navigating in the remote area and was himself getting dangerously tired. The following day Maddison resumed his expedition, reaching the end point at a river that borders the desert, and plunging in to cool off.

In an interview discussing the expedition the ultrarunner says that there were certainly times when he wanted to give up. Just 32 miles (51 km) in he thought he would have to call it quits after exhaustion started to set in. After running up and down dunes for hours on end, and enduring 97ºF (36ºC) heat, Jamie says he could feel his vision closing in around him. He describes the experience as time slowing down and putting one foot in front of the other took a tremendous effort. He also says that when the expedition was over, there was much of it he couldn’t remember at all.

Maddison also says that if he were to do things over, he would have went at a later time of the year when temperatures weren’t quite so harsh. He has spent years traveling in Central Asia, so he felt prepared for the desert crossing, but even then the intense heat still caught him a bit off guard. For others attempting a similar challenge he recommends taking your time, studying and researching the region fully, and preparing as best you can for the challenges you’ll face in the field.

You can read the entire interview by clicking here. Congratulations to Jamie on undertaking and completing this tough expedition.

Kraig Becker