Another female marathon runner was caught in the fire with Turia Pitt, this is her story.


Along with Turia Pitt, who was 24 at the time, Kate Sanderson signed up to do the 100 kilometre ultra-marathon in Western Australia in 2011.

Kate was 34, from Melbourne, and had taken part in 17 similar races ranging in length from 50 to 100 kilometres, all around Australia. This race, which ran from Kununurra to El Questro in the Kimberley’s, would likely be no different.

The 40 competitors were warned of snakes prior to the race, and just before they set off, there was a fleeting mention of ‘spot fires’.

It was the 2nd of September, a Friday, when the runners set off. At 9am, it was already 30 degrees.

But only hours later, due to a sudden wind change, Turia, Kate and two male runners found themselves trapped in a narrow, rocky gorge by a grass fire.

Mia Freedman interviews Turia Pitt on No Filter. Post continues below. 

There was fire raging behind them, and it was making it’s way up the gorge ahead of them. They were stuck in a roaring inferno, with no way of scrambling to safety.

In a split second, Turia and Kate made the decision to run up the gorge.

Neither woman has been able to describe the unimaginable agony of having your body engulfed by fire.

“I didn’t even look down, I just knew I had been badly burnt,” Kate said during the parliamentary inquiry.

Covered in horrific burns, the two women waited for four hours for help, with nothing but Panadol to treat the excruciating pain. Kate told ABCs 7:30, “there was no shade, we were getting sunburnt on the burns,” and the wait felt like an eternity.

Kate Sanderson and Turia Pitt.

Turia suffered burns to 64 per cent of her body, and Kate to more than 60 per cent. The pair nearly died, but thanks to helicopter pilot Paul Cripps, they were rescued just in time.

But the most painful part of the ordeal was unequivocally what followed. Turia and Kate spent weeks in intensive care, followed by six months in hospital.

Kate had half her left foot amputated, lost part of her earlobes, and a portion of her right index finger. She has undergone countless skin grafts from her undamaged abdomen, to her burnt arms and legs.

During the parliamentary inquiry Kate said,  "Every week I was outdoors, doing something, but I can't even walk... my life has gone from what it was to nothing."

She could not tie her shoelaces or turn on a tap, and was unable to leave her house.

Kate Sanderson. Image via Channel 7.

Kate's story was one I hadn't heard, until yesterday.

During a talk with Turia Pitt at Sydney's Writers Festival, a man in the front row put up his hand.

"What happened to the other runners? Who were trapped in the fire with you?" he asked. I'd been wondering the same thing.

Turia laughed and said, "I don't talk about them, because they make me look bad!"

Last year, Kate Sanderson, 41, ran 251 kilometres across the Sahara Desert - the equivalent of six marathons.

The Marathon des Sables is universally understood to be the toughest foot race on earth. The Sahara desert is one of world's most inhospitable environments, and reaches 50 degrees.

Image via Channel 7.

Given the state of Sanderson's burns, she is unable to properly sweat, meaning her body can't regulate temperature. If we can't cool ourselves down,  our vital organs cease to function.

The results can be lethal.

Kate's burn surgeon urged her not to participate. She listened, but the Marathon des Sables had always been on her bucket list.

Journalist Alex Cullen accompanied Kate to Morocco, and wrote of the experience;

"You can’t stop vomiting and have the runs. You have excruciating blisters and there is next to no skin left on the bottom of your feet.

It’s 50 degrees Celsius and you’re sunburnt. You’re walking in sand dunes the size of tidal waves and your only food is dehydrated meals and protein bars. You have limited water.

You sleep under a black canvas tent with eight other people, among 1000 others who share six outdoor toilets. There are no showers. There are scorpions and snakes."

More than 100 people pulled out of the race last year, but Kate wasn't one of them.

If I was Turia, who has herself tackled the worlds toughest Iron Man race in Hawaii since the accident, I'd probably be downplaying Kate's story as well.