Dune 45 - Footsteps and Sand

A Desert Race?

When people find out that I am an ultra runner they often ask about what races I have run, and about what races I am interested in running.

I talk about the 100-mile races I have completed at Leadville and Western States, and also about the two 100-mile races that I would like to run at Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) and Hardrock.

I have been asked a number of times about my interest in the numerous desert races held around the world, such as the infamous Marathon de Sables (a 6-day, 250-km race through the Sahara Desert in Morocco), or the 4 Deserts series offering races across the Sahara, Gobi and Atacama Deserts, as well as Antartica. My answer has always been that those surrounds don’t interest me for running. Passing through forests and climbing mountains has always been my preferred type of running. But recently I have started to reconsider that position.

For one thing I have realised that outside of my running I seem to often be drawn into barren and stark landscapes. Whether it is the moors of England, the lava flows of Iceland or the sand dunes of Namibia, I frequently arrange travel to such areas even if not for the purpose of running, and I am always enthralled by such landscapes.

Namib Desert - Climbing a Sand Dune
Namib Desert – Climbing a Sand Dune

Secondly, I have increasingly become a stronger runner on sand. As a strong climber I found out during my recent race at the Wildcoast Wildrun (which featured many kilometres of sand) that I was able to adapt my running stride to make use of the same power required for climbing to propel myself along protracted stretches of sand.

Wildcoast Wildrun - A Long Stretch of Beach
Wildcoast Wildrun – A Long Stretch of Beach

As a final point I have realised this year how well my body is able to manage heat. I completed the second-hottest Western States in the race’s 40-year history, yet did not feel overheated at any point during the race. I kept my shirt and buff wet throughout the heat of the day, but at no point did I feel the need to cool my head or submerge my body in water. This ability to handle high temperatures was further reinforced during a recent late morning hike over the sand dunes of the Namib Desert. As the sun rose and the temperatures approached 40 degrees Celsius I could feel my feet starting to bake in the hot sand, but my body temperature felt fine. It was towards the end of that hike that I started thinking about desert races.

WSER - Cresting the Toughest Climb in 40 Degrees
WSER – Cresting the Toughest Climb in 40 Degrees

So while the idea is still brewing and I need to research the races available, I might soon add another race to my wish list, this time involving sand and heat.


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