re-sized sahara ultra-marathon

The RacingThePlanet Sahara Endurance Race starts soon.

I know this is a long video that I am asking you to watch, but please do, or at least give it a brief viewing. The scenery is spectacular, the camaraderie amazing, the sense of effort and achievement humbling.

The Sahara Race, part of the 4 Desert series, will be held from the 25th to 31st October, 2008 in Egypt’s Sahara Desert (the world’s largest subtropical desert) for a seven day, six stage race. This is the third leg in the series with those already run being the Atacama Desert and the Gobi Desert. The last leg will be Antarctica – and yes, the Antarctica is a desert as it has a negligible annual rainfall.

There is a 5th event – but it’s in a different location each year. In 2010 it will be held in the Outback in  Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

The Sahara Race is a 250km (155 miles) race beginning at the Farafra Oasis, seven hours from Cairo. The six stage race takes place over seven days, and will see competitors going through a strange and forbidding landscape of sand and rock whilst camping in some of the most remote oases of the Sahara Desert. The finish line at the Pyramids of Giza will be on the  31st October.

The heat in the Sahara can be fierce, but due to very low humidity, it is bearable. Temperatures can rise to 120 F (49 C) during the day and fall to around 50F (10 C) which means the evenings can be quite cold. Strong winds and sandstorms are not uncommon.

If you’ve watched the above video you might be wondering why on earth they carry such enormous packs when the conditions are certainly going to be difficult. The reason? The competitors must carry all their own gear, food and clothing. The average backpack weighs about 20 pounds (9 kilos). The only “luxuries” they are provided with each day are a place in a tent in which to sleep, a campfire at night and drinking water. Each competitor will be allocated 10 litres of water per day to keep hydrated in the relentless heat.

Amazing Races

Mary Gadams, Founder and CEO of RacingThePlanet, the organizer of the race says, “The 4 Deserts has established itself as the leading endurance series out there. The 4 Deserts is something that people feel the need to conquer, like the Seven Summits or the Five Oceans.”

130 people will be taking part in the Sahara Race. The typical competitor in a race of this quality is a working professional, a high achiever – someone who believes in maximizing every opportunity in life.

“It’s fantastic that we’ve managed to establish a race series that is attracting such a diverse group of truly inspiring people,” says  Gadams.   “Everybody has to deal with the same trials in the 4 Deserts, whether they are a veteran competitor or a complete novice. By limiting the number of participants everyone becomes a source of support for each other and a great camaraderie develops over the 7 days, even amongst the most
competitive of athletes.”

There are also some professional endurance athletes taking part such as Austrian Christian Schiester, 41, and Kenneth ‘Tintin’ Johansson, 44, from Sweden and a number of record-setters including Briton Annabelle Bond, 38, who is the fastest woman to ever complete the Seven Summits; helicopter pilot Jennifer Murray, 68, again from the UK who amongst other aviation firsts, has most recently completed a circumnavigation of the globe via both poles; Ron Hackett who was Canada’s first blind triathlete and is a two-time World Cup Triathlon Champion; and Jack Denness, a school caretaker from England who is the only 70-year-old to have ever completed the Badwater Ultramarathon.

The man everyone will have to beat though is Mehmet Danis, 34, from Canada. The Canadian Forces officer won the Atacama Crossing earlier this year, and is currently training under the guidance of his celebrated compatriot ultramarathon runner Ray Zahab.

As with a lot of the organisations or extroadinary events that we talk about and discuss with admiration, RacingThePlanet, too, support chosen charities in the countries they visit. Last year they raised $45,000 to support Operation Smile in Cairo, a group that provides free surgery to children born with facial deformities. The organisation encourages its participants to run for any charity of their choice. Many of their competitors have raised significant amounts of money for charities all over the world.

As a matter of interest, the entry fee for the Gobi March, Atacama Crossing, Sahara Race, and RacingThePlanet: Namibia in 2009 is US$3100 per race. The Antarctica Race, The Last Desert, is significantly more – $10,000, estimated price. It is only held once every other year. Registration for all the races is on a first-come, first-serve basis and entries are limited based on government and environmental concerns. You can only apply for the Antarctica race  if you have already complete two of the other deserts.

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