RacingThePlanet Sahara Race 2010 is off…

Whilst winter slowly seeps into the northern hemisphere, intrepid souls are testing their endurance skills in the harshness of the Sahara Desert.

The race takes the athletes through the Wadi Al-Hitan area otherwise known as Valley of the Whales, now a World Heritage site. This remarkable region was once a vast ancient sea and is now home to the fossilised remains of hundreds of whales and other aquatic creatures.

Nearly 160 athletes are taking on the Sahara Desert in the latest RacingThePlanet event.

RacingThePlanet Event Director Samantha Fanshawe says: “We have been working for a long time with our partners in Egypt to gain permission to race in the Valley of the Whales. We will treat this incredible location with the utmost respect, and are just very excited that competitors have this unique opportunity to race there.”

The competitors will cover 250km in seven days, carrying their own supplies and other equipment, before finishing beneath the awe-inspiring Pyramids of Giza on 9th October.

“Very few people will truly understand what it is to run a marathon across the sand dunes of the Sahara and to be honest I reached a point today where even I didn’t really want to know,” said Andrew Espin of South Africa yesterday on return to camp. He went on to describe the conditions as “pretty much just an ocean of sand as far as the eye can see, and its burning hot… I lost a good couple of positions today, but I am not worried, after today it shifts into survival.”

36 countries are represented in this extreme ultra-marathon with just over one third of them having completed in a previous RacingThePlanet event.

Lucy Rivers Bulkeley from the UK is one of them. She is determined to become the first woman to complete all 4 deserts in one year. She has both the Atacama and Gobi successfully under her belt. If she completes the Sahara run there’s just the last desert, Antarctica in November to challenge her. She runs for the charity Macmillan Cancer Support and aims to raise as much money as possible because, as she says “1 in 3 people in their lives will be affected by Cancer one way or another.  Tragically, my father lost his short battle with the horrible disease in August 2007 and I’m doing this challenge in his memory.”

10 other competitors are also hoping to achieve the remarkable feat of finishing a Grand Slam of all four endurance events in one calendar year.

UK-based American Ricky Paugh is one of those… After competing in the Sahara 2008 event he says he has no illusions about what the long, lonely stages have in store for him and the rest of the field. “I definitely don’t feel like I’ve broken the back of the series because I am very aware that anything can happen out there at any given time,” he says. “Mother Nature and the human body are very fickle so I’m going to remain humble and just keep working hard to give myself the best chance possible of finishing.”

I am so impressed to see that Jack Denness, also from the UK, is amongst the runners. 75 years old and still going strong. What a man! This is his third 4 Deserts event and he raises money for Cerebral Palsy. He completed his 14th 135 mile Badwater Ultra-marathon in July this year  becoming the first 75 year old to complete probably the most difficult marathon in the world. “So now I’ve dusted and oiled my zimmer frame for the Sahara. A word of warning ! although I’m 75 and will walk the race I will still be competitive, so if you find yourself at the back with me on no account let the sweeper camels pass us!”

The Sahara Race 2010 will be officially supporting Operation Smile, funding part of a medical mission in the area of the race to identify and treat people with cleft palette deformities, as well as funding a dental health programme for the oasis community who provide many of the drivers and logistics team involved in staging the race.

By the end of stage 2 there had been 18 withdrawals.  3 competitors were unable to start. There are still 135 runners in the field.

Thank you to racingtheplanet for the videos.

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