by Joseph W. Gex II, Contributing Writer
Mississippi Gulf Coast native and ultra-marathoner Lt. Col. John Bezou (Ret) recently completed the second leg of the 4Deserts Grand Slam Plus in the Republic of Georgia on June 25. But, it was not without some adversity created by both man and nature.
Bezou and about 35 other competitors suffered an additional 10 kilometers of additional distance on Day 1 of the six-day ultramarathon due to inconspicuous flagging of the course by race personnel, as well as mother nature blanketing the mountain ranges with dense fog and sheep and cattle stomping down race course flags.
Bezou commented, “The first day of the race was a tough one to get over. Myself and a large percentage of competitors logged an additional 10 kilometers of distance before the first checkpoint. It was enough to make me think about pulling out but I was able to gather my thoughts during recovery that evening to resolve myself to what I have signed up to do and that is complete these five races. It ended up motivating me even more and in this race I was able to record a top 10 finish out of almost 50 competitors.”
Bezou, a 1998 USM graduate, complimented race personnel for correcting their mistakes from the first day and they made sure to have the courses marked properly through the remainder of the competition.
He also confided that he learned a tremendous amount from the first race to this race.
In the Namibia race in May, Bezou started with a pack that weighed almost 25 pounds which put incredible stress on his body with the hear of the desert and sand terrain.
In Georgia (the country not the state), the heat was not an issue as the race wound through the mountainous terrain of the Southern Caucasus Mountains. Also, the climate was much cooler, especially at night, and there was more water to deal with both in crossings and rain.
Bezou added, “The terrain and climate were vastly different from Namibia in that there were alpine meadows, rocky trails, more water crossings, foggy weather, very large and lengthy climbs and steep descents daily. It rained every day we competed. The weather was very much a challenge but very different from an oppressive heat of the desert. We were not as dehydrated as we were in the desert.”
He packed different food and clothes from the first race and also changed the style of pack he carried. Both of those adjustments he said added to his improved time. He covered the same distance as Namibia in more than six hours faster.
Bezou stated, “When I changed the style of pack I carried, I also changed what food and clothing I packed. It amounted to about a seven pound difference which also helped the stress on the body. I did suffer a slight hip injury that has prolonged my recovery time here at home; however, I do feel better. I also did not bring my own tent this time and used one of the tents provided by race personnel. I had two tent mates and that helped with talking through some of the difficulties of the day. While there was not as much camaraderie as Namibia, it was better in some ways.”
The third leg of the ultimate distance challenge Bezou is trying to negotiate is set for Finland and starts on August 14. He will be competing above the artic circle so there will need to be adjustments in packing again for the upcoming race.
Bezou added, “I have begun to research the weather and it appears that the climate will be very similar to Georgia but will be colder at night. It looks to be wet and wild again with several crossings through marshy terrain. I have two races down and three to go. This will be one of those races that I just want to get done. I am looking forward to Chile as that is the one that is at the top of my list as I prepare for it. The Finland race coming up will be like an adventure vacation as my wife, Karen, will be a volunteer for race personnel. I will get to see her each day which will be nice to share some encouraging words when I get through the stages. While we will not be able to stay together, it will be encouraging to have her there every day.”
With his next race in about a month, Bezou is almost more than halfway through the challenge he has set out for himself which is to run an ultramarathon on five different continents in a single calendar year. The challenge is called the 4Deserts Grand Slam Plus and Bezou is trying to become just the third American and ninth person in history to record the feat.
Stay tuned to see what adjustments Bezou makes for Europe as he runs under the Northern Lights.
(Photos by Carlos Garcia Prieto)