There be hyenas . . . reflections on the Sahara Run (and more), from Allen Kerton
It’s just over 2 weeks since I finished the 250km 4 Deserts Sahara Race in Namibia and a little under 4 weeks until I start the 250km 4 Deserts Gobi March in China, so it seems about the right time for a brief recap of what I have just completed and also what I am soon to commence.
The Sahara Race (Namibia) 2016 was an incredible experience for me. Far more challenging than I had expected it to be and ultimately far more fulfilling. It’s been said many times that running a marathon is like experiencing life in one day. Running 6 marathons through the desert in 5 days took that to a whole new level for me. I experienced massive highs and lows during the course of the race. Blisters were by far the cause of my biggest lows. My feet swelled a lot more than I expected in the desert heat, which reached over 44 degrees at times and I ended up in the medical tent by the end of day one. That unfortunately left my blistered feet with 213km still to run. The heat and soft sand/rocky terrane were the other major factors that I found challenging during the race.
The highs far outnumbered the lows however. The landscape of Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia which we ran through, was truly spectacular. At times beautiful and at times incredibly harsh and rugged, but always awe-inspiring. The other race participants, and the associated support staff - both local and international - were an amazing group of people and a real inspiration. In addition to the obvious high of actually crossing the finish line, my most memorable part of the race came near the end of Stage 5. It was dark, cold, foggy and my headlamp was growing dimmer by the minute. I had been running for about 11 hours and still had about 8km to the final check point of the day. I was completely on my own, running along a soft sand beach and physically and emotionally my tank was basically empty…….if there had been an easy way to quit then, I might well have done so! Green glow sticks marked the course route ahead of me and I started to move inland, following the markers. I realised after a while that the 4 green glow sticks that I was following were moving in the direction that I had been running from. To cut a long storey short, the green glow sticks I had been following were the eyes of 2 Brown Hyenas, who I’m sure were as surprised to see me out there on the beach as I was to see them. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. I rolled into Stage 5 final check point about 45 minutes later, minus my 2 furry running buddies.
It was a good feeling to finally cross the finishing line on the morning of 7th May, after 250km in the desert. It had taken me a little under 39 hours and my finishing position was 54th out of 229 starting competitors. My goal had simply been to complete my first ever multi-stage desert race, but to finish within the top 25% was certainly a bonus. I slept well that night and have only recently gained back most of the 5kg weight that I lost during the race.
My blisters are basically all healed up now and I have 5 fewer toe nails than I should have, but otherwise all is ok. The Sahara Race was a huge learning curve for me and I’ll be starting my next race knowing a lot more than I did before. The 4 Deserts Gobi March will commence in China on 19th June. Although the 250km distance is the same, by all accounts this will be a tougher race that the one that I have just completed, as the course involves a combination of mountains and desert, high altitude, steep ascents and descents, cold and hot sections and the infamous Gobi Desert wind. The Gobi Desert is renowned as the windiest desert on earth. All in all, an adventure to look forward to and certainly one to get mentally and physically prepared for.
It’s important not to forget that my fundraising effort for Song Saa Foundation is a major part of why I’m attempting to complete The 4 Deserts Grand Slam in 2016 (completing all The 4 Deserts Races in one calendar year). Fewer than 50 people worldwide have ever done this before and my vision of achieving this personal goal and at the same time helping Song Saa Foundation to raise much needed donations is what inspires me.
Thank you all for your support.
23 May 2016