re-sized dunes in the namib

Inside the mind of an ultra-marathon runner

Philipp Mosimann began running marathons when he was 21. Having completed marathons in Switzerland, Singapore, Kuala-Lumpar and Paris he turned his attention to ultra-marathons and has since competed in, and completed, the Gobi Desert in China, the Atacama in Chili, the Sahara and through Vietnam.

The Namib was his fifth desert run.

2 years ago he convinced his brother, Mark, to take up the sport with him. “On runs that involve such longs stretches as this one does, it is a great mental comfort to have a familiar person nearby” he says. “Both of you know that the other is doing ok.”

Why does he do it?

“Running boosts my self-confidence. In day-to-day life I feel much calmer. Through running, you get the maximum out of yourself but still always want more. But nature is stronger and always shows me where my limits are. That’s the whole appeal – nothing more nothing less.”

Pretty well says it all doesn’t it?

In addition, he gets to go to seriously exotic places. Places few others get to see and well beyone the capability of a  travel agency.

However, it comes at a pretty stiff price this ultra-running. I’m talking about the pocket here, not the body… though that too of course!

The starter’s fee alone is US$3,100. Flights, meals and equipment are all extras. You can count on spending Euro 5,000 for the privilege of nearly killing yourself during the run! For that sum you could chill on an exotic island in extreme comfort!

However, it takes all sorts and thank goodness for the Philipp and Mark Mosimann’s of this world.

I wrote about the Namib Desert run fairly extensively when it was happening (RacingThePlanet – Namibia), but just to tweak your memory and make you shift uneasily on your comfortable leather sofa in your air-conditioned sitting-room, the Namib Desert Ultra-Marathon ranks as one of the most gruelling of them all: an ultra-marathon over 250 kms, temperatures that fluctuate between 5 and 45 degrees celsius, and not just sand dunes – the terrain is diverse, difficult, rocky and mountainous.

Runners have to complete 6 stages ranging from 40 to 100 kms a day. This requires plenty of advance training and Philipp and Mark began theirs a full year before. It is necessary to learn to cope with long, demanding training sessions involving distances of up to 50kms and in all sorts of weather conditions. “You have to set some very tough priorities,”  he said. “By entering such a run, you have defined a very clear goal for yourself. In the process, you teach yourself to become good at organising.”

Even with all this preparation, the course will challenge you to your very limits. By the end of the first day, the Fish River Canyon – Africa’s answer to the Grand Canyon – Mosimann had to battle his way over every sort of terrain from stony surfaces to sandy ones, from cliffs to river crossings. “After 30kms I was down on all fours. The combination of sand and water in my shoes did the rest.” By the end of the day he could barely feel his feet.

However, and this is where it is difficult for us more sedentary types to understand, although pushing his body to the absolute limit, he still has time to appreciate the awesome beauty of the country he is running through.

We have waxed verbally before on what a marathon runner should munch of to keep his energy levels up (nutrition). Philipp has his own recipe and it doesn’t include energy bars. He prefers nuts, raisins and jelly babies, along with diced salami in regular portions. To him, this is as good as a 5-course meal on a marathon.

All ultra-marathons are physically and mentally challenging, the Namib perhaps more so and every stage becomes a battle between yourself and exhaustion. “At times you feel mentally completely drained. In order to cope with the seemingly unimaginable distances, you have to constantly set small interim goals for yourself along the way: to the next replenishment place, the next, already visible climb, or even just the next hour.”

And no matter how tough the race is, your mind is already planning the next one… Philipp wants to take part in the 2010 run across the Australian desert.

What is it all for you might ask yourself? When, as Philipp himself admits, even he asks himself  from time to time “what madness, when will it end? “ and finds it necessary “to really have to dig down deep to keep going”. Why do this to yourself?

The answer is simple: for the only victory that matters … the victory over one’s self.

And what do they do when they are not pushing their bodies to the very limits of endurance?  They co-manage the well-known restaurant Mosimann’s in Belgravia, London. So well known and so well thought of that admission is granted to member’s only. The Royal Family dines here as do the Sugar Babes and Sienna Miller. Regular customers include Elton John, Cliff Richard and Bono… in itself a challenging daily routine!

Tags: , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply