Racing the Planet
While interacting casually with friends, acquaintances, or fellow multi-sport athletes, conversation can often lead to upcoming events or trips. Throughout this conversation theme, over many years of racing and extensive travel, I’ve executed a loose, unofficial, sociology ethnography—noticing others reactions to my events of choice. While preparing for my most recent project—a 150-mile, self-supported, running race across the Sahara Desert in Egypt, the responses have been noteworthy.
If I happen to share that I have a triathlon looming, I get a reaction of excitement with a sense of connection and well wishes from fellow endurance warriors. With the advent of triathlon in the Olympics as well as the growing international strip mall of $500 Ironman events available to anyone willing to whip out their credit card and quickly sign up online, triathlon has become a familiar, admired, privileged, and accepted event.
A declaration of my participation in an upcoming adventure race, reasonable mountain climb, or multi-day training session in some beautiful and coveted spot such as Yosemite, may prompt a response of respect and endorsement with an essence of envy. The perception is that these types of activities have a sexy feel to them—challenging and aesthetic with enough off-the-beaten-path to give one a feeling of wholesome adventure. Conceivably, since adventure brings us back to the roots of our nation and even further to the evolution of our species, it is coveted and connected with by even the armchair wanna-be.
And then there’s ultrarunning…
Stating to a non-ultrarunner that I have a single or multi-day, very long, off-road race, provokes a response of strained intrigue with a hint of revulsion—always attached to a facial grimace. Perhaps it’s the flashbacks to days of forced running in high-school gym class sporting Converse All-Stars, the pain of that last trail invoked ankle sprain or the fear of getting chewed on by a mountain lion.
When offering that I’ll be running for 100+ miles, I often receive uninformed responses like: “Do you get to sleep?” “Doesn’t that hurt?” or, “I have a tough time driving my car for 100 miles, let alone running!” These comments may be coupled with a look of pity for my being housed within my insane mind for the duration.
Running really far escapes warrior status and the sexy adventure list. Instead it elicits thoughts of plain old pain and suffering.
Racing the Planet, the Sahara Desert, Egypt
Given my sociology project results thus far, I well imagined the responses I would invoke when declaring my upcoming venture—the Racing the Planet, 7-day, 150-mile, semi-self supported, running stage race across the Sahara Desert in Egypt: “Isn’t Egypt in the ‘bad’ part of the world?!!” or, “There’s a lot of sand and wind out there—you cool with that?” In efforts to throw salt on my event of choice I’ve had some folks try and stir the one emotion that tends to drive most socially constructed folks these days—fear. “What if you get kidnapped or shot by insurgents in the desert—what will you do then?”
And I respond, “I suppose at that point my race would be over.”
Yet in successful attempts to connect with their inherent adventurous souls, I’ve shared that the race finishes at the pyramids in Cairo. Thoughts of being a tourist cruising the Sphinx, the Great Pyramid or power shopping the local Souq in a complex civilization dating back to 2500 B.C. softens the details of my mode of arrival.
To most, the Sahara brings initial visions of endless sand dunes, heat and camels. With a flip through a reasonable travel book one finds that this area of North Eastern Africa is geographically quite diverse. Random rifts in the earth have allowed springs to well up in this massive desert region. These permit vegetation to thrive and are often habitats, or Oasis’s for indigenous nomadic folks—the Bedouin and Berber peoples. Over thousands of years the wind and sand have carved rock formations that liken ancient art exhibits. The Sahara is a thriving environment of diverse color and at night the skies are the most star-packed on the planet.
Sharing this information with doubting outsiders seems to lighten their visions of me trudging along in extreme heat and wind with seven days of provisions housed in a very small pack on my back.
Starting September 25th, we’ll run anywhere from 10-50 miles each day for six of seven days. Each night the event organization will provide a base camp and tents for 100 athletes, from all over the world. They will also provide water for our journey. We’ve been given a small list of mandatory gear, which includes a minimum of 2,000 calories per day. The strategy involved in choosing ultra-light gear, clothing and food for this event is a huge draw for me, as well as living with my choices for seven days, in a hostile environment.
Stay tuned this week for a detailed food and gear list for my race.
I’m looking forward to sharing this adventure with you all as I send daily dispatches to MountainZone.com--I’ll be back at you from the desert…