As I write this I’m 35,000 feet above the ground, flying from North America to Europe and then to Africa to run the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert. It’s been 8 months of planning and training, and I’m finally on the way to Morocco. But first, let me tell you about this crazy race called Marathon des Sables (MDS).
Running any marathon, 42.2km (26.2 miles) is tough. Now imagine running the equivalent of 6 marathons in six consecutive stages for a total of 256km (the longest stage is about 80km long). Then consider that you are going to be running in the middle of the Sahara Desert, making your way along the sand dunes and rocky desert terrain. But on top of that you have to carry a backpack with all your food and supplies, and the race organizers only provide you with water and a bivouac for the night. That is the MDS.
I’ve been running long distances for about 22 of my 37 years on this planet. I’ve run dozens of marathons and without a doubt, running is the physical activity I enjoy the most. When somebody asks me “why?”, it’s hard for me to give them a good answer. If they have to ask about why I enjoy running, no answer will satisfy them. As with most of my challenges, I’m not running MDS because it’s easy. I’m running it because it’s extremely hard. But I’m also running it to support The Live Love Laugh Foundation. www.thelivelovelaughfoundation.org
On September of 2016 I signed up for MDS. Since then I’ve spent countless hours researching the best gear I should use, the most efficient way to prepare, and reading other runners blogs to learn from their mistakes. I learned that most of the runners end up suffering from horrible blisters during the race so I’ve done all I can to prepare for this: getting the right kind of shoes and socks, breaking them in, attaching gaiters with velcro to keep the sand out, etc. Training for MDS has been tough. The biggest difference with training for a regular marathon has been adding back-to-back long runs. Because of all the traveling I’ve done, to prepare for this race I’ve had to run in 4 different continents. When I get to Africa, it’ll will be 5! It’s been a long learning curve but I feel very confident that I will get myself across the finish line and hopefully enjoy it.
Some facts about MDS:
-This is the 32th time it’s been organized.
-About 1,200 runners will participate this year.
-We get a limited amount of water every day, depending on the distance we have to cover that day.
-At the starting line, our backpacks must weight a minimum of 6.5kg and a maximum of 15kg.
-We must start with food that has at least a total of 14,000 calories, or 2,000 per day. But we may end up burning between 4,000-8,000 calories per day.
-At night, we share a bivouac tent with seven other runners and it’s mandatory to carry a sleeping bag.
-Another mandatory item: venom extraction pump, for snake bites.
-Temperatures can range from over 40ºC during the day, to close to 0ºC at night.
-There’s a time limit to complete each stage. The limit for the longest stage is usually 34 hours.
-We are provided with satellite trackers.
-All 6 stages have a different lengths but usually they look like this:
-Stage 1.- about 40km
-Stage 2.- about 40km
-Stage 3.- about 40km
-Stage 4.- about 80km
-Stage 5.- about 40km
-Stage 6.- about 15km
-The first stage is run on April 9th
Every runner has their own motivation when running MDS. My motivation is setting myself a goal and doing everything I can to complete it. In this case it’s simply finishing MDS. But there’s something much bigger and important motivating me to run across the Sahara Desert: supporting The Live Love Laugh Foundation and helping raise awareness about depression and mental health issues. To do this, I summited Mount Everest in the spring of 2016, ran the Chicago marathon 6 months ago and later climbing other peaks in the Himalayas. Bringing to light the conversation about mental health and depression has been my way of supporting the Foundation.
When running MDS in just a few days, you can be sure I’ll be thinking of the people that go through depression and how just getting through the day can be difficult for them. The challenge I’ll face with MDS will not be remotely close to the ones they go through to recover, but it’s my way of showing them they’re not alone. With the right support they will recover and get through it. Through their example, I'll give it my best and hopefully get to the finish line of MDS.