To most, myself included, six days and 160 miles through the Sahara Desert seems like pure torture—in fact, I do believe that I would prefer to be tortured. But to the nearly 700 competitors who battle towards the finish line in the Marathon des Sables each year, it's an intensely rewarding and complex couple of days. Challengers are let out in a paralyzing terrain of desert dunes, jagged rocks, and vast ridges bound to flabbergast even the most aggressively trained individual. The Sahara's climate is one of the harshest in the world—prevailing winds work up the seemingly endless sand, creating eye-scratching and often blinding sand storms. The majority of the desert receives less than eight inches of rainfall per year. When it does rain, it is usually a crushing cornucopia of water opening up from the dry desert sky. The water-starved landscape of the Moroccan Sahara becomes dotted with the crazy... er, elite few on April 2, 2010, for a rigorous exercise through the world's most hostile desert.
Carrying all personal belongings and food on their backs, the racers take off on the pursuit that has killed two and stranded another for nine days, only to finally be found 30 pounds lighter. Tents and a ration of water (that's right, a ration) is provided by the race sponsors—though I'm assuming there is nothing soothing about the downtime—it's not like you want to lug around the extra weight of a book, or anything. Runners do what they do best, run up to 50 miles per day and do so in 86- to 120-degree heat, with no shade in sight. The race, equivalent to five and a half normal marathons, is set up in six stages. The fourth stage is 50 miles, which can be broken up into two days and usually involves running throughout the night. And as you can imagine, the Sahara goes nowhere out of its way to be hospitable, the temperature can plummet to below freezing at night. If you've read this post bulleted with my cynical view on the matter and still want to look into participating, check out their website and start packing your mandatory kit—backpack, sleeping bag, torch, safety pins (I can't even begin to think what for), compass, lighter, whistle, knife, tropical disinfectant, anti-venom pump (terrifying), signaling mirror, and one aluminum survival sheet. Along with those rations of water, the organization provides a distress flare, salt tablets, and a luminous signal stick.
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