“Why would you want to run 250km in a desert?”

“Why would you want to run 250km in a desert?”

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all.” -Ayn Rand

It is December 2009. I am on the train with a friend, packed in the weekend sardine crowd heading to town.

“So I just found out about this race in the Sahara Desert. You carry everything you need and you get to climb sand dunes. It’s a week long and 250km!”

“It’s a week long?”


“In the desert.”


“You have to carry everything?”


“And when you say ‘race’ you mean you do this on foot.”


“Jane… how much are you running these days on average?”

“Fine. I don’t. But I used to! A bit, at least. Anyway, that’s not the point. It sounds like a great challenge and I am going to make it happen.”

That, my dear friends, was yours truly bluffing her heart out. When I declared to my friend that I was going to “make it happen” in what I had hoped to be an offhanded manner, a part of me was terrified at the prospect of actually preparing for the race. Terrified. I knew next to nothing about the science and art of running, to say nothing about desert survival. All that I knew about sand came from my childhood days of experimental sand castle-building. My friend probably had a point.

But you know what’s the wonderful thing about people? We can accommodate both fear and hope; the two can co-exist. Even as we’re standing at the cliff’s edge and terrified at the prospect of falling, there is a spark within us that hopes that when we take the leap into the great unknown, we will not fall, but fly.

My Sahara Race journey started in the most ordinary of places: back at home one unassuming Saturday, while reading the weekend edition of the local newspaper over breakfast. The article about a man who had just finished the 2009 Sahara Race sparked something in me. I let the spark stew over breakfast, took the spark onto the train and blabbed about the spark to my friend. Let the record stand that said friend was wise enough to not comment too skeptically about my newfound aspiration. Not that it mattered; if he did, I would have just channeled Bruce Lee and thumbed my nose at him.

From that spark came the idea of doing the race for a cause. After some research, I got in touch with World Vision. Then came the idea of getting sponsorship. After all, if we’re about to do something crazy and fun and potentially life-changing for myself and others, might as well string the whole town along and make a proper splash of it, eh?

After that everything else started to come together. There was training, fundraising, interviews, research, blogging, and work going on all at once. The schedule looked insane but I was fast discovering that there was a lot you could fit into the span of a day if you were willing to work at it.

And you know what? I had never felt so alive before in my life.

One of the most common questions I get about the race is “why would you want to do something like that”; it is always some variation of “why”. I know from virtually all angles it sounds irrational. What on earth could possibly possess any sane human being to sign up for a race of this nature? No shower, no bed, no TV, no plumbing, no proper food and just a ton of sand to navigate through in oppressive heat for a week – where’s the sense in signing up for something like that?

Beyond the easy answer of “pushing the limits”, let’s consider for a minute the state of our world. A UN Progress of Nations report noted that in 1998 alone:

  •     the world spent US$400 billion on narcotics
  •     Europe spent US$11 billion on ice cream
  •     The US spent US$8 billion on cosmetics

Meanwhile, the additional cost to provide necessities to all in the developing world is estimated to be:

  •     US$6 billion for education
  •     US$9 billion for water and sanitation
  •     US$13 billion for basic nutrition

How is it that after learning to fly, putting people on the moon, breaking the sound barrier, decoding the human genome sequence, etc… how is it after all that the human race has managed to accomplish, more than half of the world is still deprived of the most basic human rights? Why is it that we, at the turn of the 21st century and blessed with an abundance of resources, are still plagued by the same problems we faced in the Stone Age? 

And if something you do in the span of one week could make the suffering a little less painful, the question is not “why would you do this” but “how could you not?”

how to run ultramarathon 1x

The Sahara Race began for me as a personal challenge, a daredevil adventure of sorts. But by the time I was done with it, it had turned into something so much more.

In the depths of the 7-day journey, when getting to the finish line seemed all but impossible, I drew strength from the VisionFund cause. After all, whatever we were going through out there in the desert was a shadow of the realities that many have to face. After one week, we can all return to the comforts of our air-conditioned rooms and ergonomic pillows. For some, the hardship is real and will last for a lifetime if no one does a thing about it.

There are certain truths about life that one simply cannot glean by sitting at a computer at home. You have to don your shoes, strap your laces, and head out in full sprint and just embrace everything that comes your way.

However you came to be reading this blog, as always, thank you for reading this far, for going on this amazing journey with me. If you forget everything that I’ve talked about so far, remember at least this:

The world is a large and endless treasure trove waiting to be discovered at every turn. Whatever you aspire to achieve in this lifetime – be it to complete a desert race, to pick up a new skill, or to visit a remote dream destination – know that no matter how bad the odds appear, that dream you aspire to is a lot closer to reality than you think. It exists, it is real, it is possible, and it is yours for the taking. If you want it bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen.

The starting point of my journey was that with enough heart and enough discipline, there is nothing in this world that we cannot accomplish. And for all the life-changing moments I’ve had the luck to experience in the last year, this central tenet of life remains unchallenged.

I will simply leave you now to ponder over the immortal words of Mark Twain:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Until our next Grand Adventure,

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