Diego Carvajal was the first Colombian to complete the 4 Deserts Race series, the world’s leading rough-country endurance footrace that covers over 600 miles through the Atacama, Gobi, Sahara and Antarctic Deserts. He has run more than 4000 miles in a year — both road and trail — and is happiest when he’s outdoors. Diego generously took the time to share some of his achievements and favorite gear.
EV: You call yourself an “Adventurist.” What does that mean?
DC: Any opportunity to go fast, do something different or challenge myself makes me happy. I love going somewhere exciting, off the beaten path. Those are the moments that make me happy, because life becomes simple and you just get to enjoy the moments around you. Those adventures have taken me bungee jumping in New Zealand and Switzerland, to Everest Base Camp, to Antarctica, to running Ultramarathons, to summiting Kilimanajaro and many other beautiful locations.
EV: Everest Base Camp? That’s impressive. What was the inspiration for that adventure?
DC: In 2007 I decided to climb to Everest Base Camp to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society in the U.K. The combination of doing good and taking on a challenge that seemed ‘too big’ really struck a nerve — so I decided to go for it. I hadn’t ever done anything of that scale and I was just so excited. That was the moment that everything changed for me and I “caught the bug.” But it wasn’t until 2009 that I really found ‘my thing.’
EV: Your thing…running?
DC: It was strange. I had never been a runner, I had never even run a 5k but I found myself at the start line of Racing the Planet’s 4 Deserts series, preparing to complete 6 races in just one year — something no one in the world had ever attempted. Five of the races were 6-day self-supported 165-mile races and the other was a 100km 24-hour race. In the months preceding, I tried to become an expert but ultimately it was just a case of “trial by fire.” There was nothing quite like learning about endurance, nutrition and injury recovery while going through a race.
EV: Now that you’re an expert runner, how do you share your expertise?
DC: So it really ranges. It can be talking about races or events with friends and sharing lessons learned or being tracked down at the gym and asked about tips, tricks and specific gear. At the gym, I am known as the endurance guy so I’m asked questions about endurance conditioning, running technique, injury recovery and adventure in general. I feel privileged that novices and athletes at my gym trust my experience to ask my advice and I am always happy to answer their questions. One of the things I love doing is passing on the hard lessons I have learned and empowering others to approach any challenge with a positive mindset.
EV: Have people helped you along the way?
DC: I think life is sometimes turned by small moments, and timing is key. In particular, I have a habit of meeting “the right people at the right time.” While hosting a fundraiser in 2007, I met another adventurer named Justin Speake who had recently returned from an expedition to the South Pole. When I reached out to him a few years later to get his advice on my 4 Deserts idea, he laughed. His advice was, “Once you figure out that it’s just walking in a hot and sandy place when you really don’t want to, you will be completely fine. If you need to walk, walk. If you need to stop, stop. Enjoy the place you are in and the fact that you are getting to do something that most people will never experience.” That mentality has stuck with me to this day, and has allowed me to enjoy my adventures a lot more.
I’ve also been lucky when it comes to my health. After 4 months of 6-7 hour training sessions, I developed IT band syndrome. At the time, I was covering 150+ miles per week between running, biking and cross-training; and things understandably tightened up. Attached to my gym was a wellness center with a sports medicine physical therapist named Daniel Armitage. When I went for my first appointment, Dr. Armitage asked why I ran with a backpack. I explained the training, the 4 Deserts race and the charity I was raising money for. I couldn’t believe his response. He offered all of his time for free! I jumped at the offer, thanked him profusely and we put 2 sessions on the calendar for every week. He was amazing. He taught me about biomechanics and provided training techniques focused on mental fatigue and muscle recall. He had me play online chess while I ran or sat on the bike to make sure my brain did not ‘turn off’ when I tired — something that would make me more susceptible to injury. He had been the head PT for the Royal Ballet for years and worked on a consultative basis with the Welsh Rugby Union… and I had his help for free! Like I said: right people at the right time.
EV: That’s awesome. I’m sure you help a lot of people too. Who asks you for advice and recommendations?
DC: When it comes to recommendations, it’s a pretty broad spectrum. I am part of a large Ragnar Relay group and I’m a member at a CrossFit gym near my home. That gives me the opportunity to be a source of knowledge to everyone from beginners to expert athletes; on subjects like trail vs. road shoes, injury recovery, improving running techniques to maximize efficiency, ultra-light gear for ultra marathons, training for ultra marathons, etc. I always enjoy sharing my experiences of what has and hasn’t worked, especially because it’s a chance to meet and get to know cool people. I think the key to any good advice, and an ethos I try keep, is just to listen and share experiences in a collaborative approach, because each person faces different challenges physically and mentally, and taking those into account is important.
EV: Can you share some of your favorite gear? The products you recommend most?
DC: Over the years I have used various brands, but ones that I recommend without hesitation are:
- Suunto: Absolutely bombproof watches when it comes to durability. I owned the Ambit 2s since its launch, my girlfriend owns the Ambit 3s and she recently upgraded me to the Spartan Ultra, and I am completely in love. It has made it through mountains, deserts and 6-hour workouts; it’s consistently excellent and accurate.
- Salomon: Speed Cross 3 CS (or newer). I purchased the Speed Cross 3 CS a little over 3 years and 6000 miles ago, after having been an Inov-8 guy for many years. These shoes have been amazing. I have taken them to the Sahara Desert, run my trail and obstacle races in them (including a Ragnar Trail relay during Hurricane Matthew) and summited Kilimanjaro in these shoes. They just keep pushing through.
- Big Agnes: On our first outing with the 6-person Flying Diamond tent, it was easy to set up, very sturdy and the space was incredible. Would 100% recommend it.
- The North Face: My North Face Ultralight sleeping bag kept me warm during the 18 °F temperatures of the Atacama, but also worked well in the warmer weather of Sahara. Light, small and compact.
- CWX: My only compression brand. Love the kinesio banding style and have owned about 12 pairs over the years. I stick to shorts primarily but I have purchased a pair of stabilyx merino lined tights for my girlfriend and she loves them. I use them for everything from Crossfit to running to any sort of training.
- Orca & Icebreaker: Absolutely ANY merino layer by these two companies. I own several of both, and they are absolutely essential for any climate. I have used them in the Sahara, Atacama, Gobi, Antarctica, Kilimanjaro, Ragnars, Skiing, winter road run training, etc.
- Inov-8: Because of the type of trails I run, I have moved off the Inov-8 trail roc 295 platform as my shoe of choice… but by no means does that mean I don’t highly rate their shoes. I also purchased their Race Elite 32L backpack when I first started out 8.5 years ago and it remains my racing/ultra-light bag of choice to this day. Well-designed for comfort, I’ve yet to lose a single stitch…even after packing it with 20-25 kilos of gear and almost a decade of use!
- Oakley: I have always loved my Oakley sunglasses; my recent flavor is the Jawbone. I had a pair as soon as they came out and quickly fell in love. The light weight, excellent wrap for wind protection, fantastic quality of the lenses made these shades my go-to for the past 10 years.
Check out Diego’s expert profile to see more of his accomplishments and photos.