Heading off tomorrow to ski in Idaho’s cold and snow (-9 F degrees at night this week), so I want to warm up by focusing on the MdS, an ultramarathon in the Sahara Desert. What kinds of people do these things?
Running a marathon is a nice achievement and all, but if you really want to challenge yourself, you should run six of them over six consecutive days in the Marathon des Sables. The MdS is in southern Morocco in April, when the temperature tends to be around 50C (122 F). Forget about paved roads; it’s rocks and sand dunes. You have to run while carrying on your back your sleeping bag, all your food for the race and other supplies. Runners must prepare their own meals. Water and tents are provided by the organizers.
The Marathon of the Sands, or Sahara Marathon is 243 km (151 miles), and the longest single stage (2009) is 91 km (57 mi) long. It is held every year and considered the toughest footrace on Earth. The first event of the Marathon started in 1986.
There are between 700-800 intrepid, insane people in each race. The record completion time is 19.5 hours. There is prize money, but most contestants are just interested in finishing the race. Because, you know, running across a desert for six straight days is good, leisurely fun.
Some humans are amazing, aren’t they?
Here is a blog link from adventurer Alastair Humphreys, who ran the MdS in 2008. I love two of his astonishing sentences: “I broke my foot on Day 5, which added to the challenge for the last couple of days…The next day we only had to run a marathon. That I say ‘only’ is a great indication of how the MdS allows people to expand their parameters and their perception of their own boundaries.”
This reminds me of a book I was given for Christmas called Born To Run, which is about a remote North American Indian tribe that for centuries has practiced techniques allowing them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner.
Canadian runner Robert Kent described the potential dangers of the MdS as follows: “Things that are pretty evident like, scorpions, snakes, camel spiders, unbelievable heat, total exhaustion, crappy food, crappy sleep, filth, crippling blisters and other injuries, and those nasty stomach issues.”
The official site is hysterical. Here are some excerpts:
Most people do this lunatic event just to finish it…be crazy once in your life. I can assure you that you will suffer like hell…You will often think of giving up but sheer determination will keep you going…you will be considered crazy before you go. BUT you will be the envy of all those people when you get home…you won’t [be able to stay clean]. You will probably wear the same clothes throughout the race, there are no showers and the loos are not worth using – you will find a dune or a palm tree to hide behind. Women should rearrange their cycle…
Many people go into a kind of depression after the race. Not because they didn’t win but when they get home, everything seems dull and boring by comparison with what they have just spent a week doing. They miss the friends they made, the evening chats in the tents, the awesome desert, the stars at night, the elation of crossing the finishing line and the sheer excitement of watching and taking part in “The Toughest Footrace on Earth”. You may be difficult to live with for a few days and it is hard to share the experience with someone who has not been there. Just ask some of those who have done it.
Let us know when you are ready to try it.