Here's something to inspire you...
I've always been a sporty type, football being my main interest, but I got into long-distance running a couple of years ago. I'd always wanted to run a marathon and had watched the London Marathon on TV ever since I was a kid, wondering if I could do it.
In Nov '09 I was lucky enough to get a place on the New York marathon. The day was amazing. I achieved a time of 3:36 hours which, for my first marathon, I was really happy with. Not long afterwards I was offered a place through my work to run the London Marathon the following April ’10. Having enjoyed the New York so much I jumped at the chance and managed to achieve a time around London of 3:24 which I was thrilled at. Suddenly I was hooked! The buzz from crossing the finish line is something that is difficult to put into words.
I found myself surfing the internet looking for what other marathons there were around the world. Before I knew it I'd set myself a personal challenge to run a marathon on every continent. Having ran on two continents already, I started to look at possible marathons for the remaining 5 (including Australasia)...
|Western Sahara Map|
After a short time on google I came across www.marathonguide.com which led me to www.SaharaMarathon.org. My first thoughts were, "running a marathon through the Sahara Desert?!?!? How amazing would that be!!!" -Quickly followed by, "will I be able to do this? Will it be too hot?? What if I get kidnapped??? What it I get lost!.."
The adventurer in me won over and I started to look into the race. Reading through the website and peoples comments about their experiences of the SaharaMarathon and that increased my confidence enough to enter. I found the UK facilitators to be the Sandblast Charity group and so it began.
I think when I'd read through the SaharaMarathon website, about the refugee camps where we’d be staying and how they'd all come about, it it didn’t really sink in exactly what had been going on for all those years or how what I would be doing could help make things right.
As the day to leave for the desert approached the nerves were jangling with the anticipation and excitement of it all. I guess my main concern wasn’t really about running the marathon in the middle of the desert but would I be safe in a refugee camp? What if Morocco suddenly decided to attack? What if the Saharawi people didn’t take kindly to people coming into there camps. In hindsight all crazy thoughts!
People from all over the world met in Madrid ready to fly down to Tindouf. There was a real buzz in the airport of old friends from previous years reuniting and newbies smiling with excitement and meeting new friends. After a bit of a delay at the airport we were soon on our way to the Sahara desert.
We arrived early Saturday morning. As soon as we got off the coach again there was a real buzz of excitement as people were reunited with families and friends from previous years. I instantly felt relaxed and so so welcome. We met our host family who guided us to their home where we met their two amazing little girls. We were shown to the room where we would be staying, my first thoughts were, "wow, this is really nice, much better than I was expecting." It consisted of huge rugs covering the floor and walls, and cushion type mattresses along the edges of the room on which we’d be sleeping. With everyone being half asleep due to the night travel we called it a night/morning.
Waking up we opened the door to clear blue sky, hot sun and two smiling little girls and we met everyone in the family properly. With Arabic being the first language, Spanish the second and me being able to speak neither it was a little tricky for me to communicate and I had to call on my charades skills on a few occasions. Luckily we had a Spanish speaker in our group Pia who was able to translate for us which made things a lot easier. Breakfast was brought in for us of baguette with jam and butter.
It wasn’t long after being up when we were treated to the first of many '3 teas' during our trip. Having a cup of tea is a very social thing, which involves drinking 3 cups and takes around an hour: the first being to the dead, the second to the living and the third to the love, each one getting sweeter.
The kids took us on a little tour of the camp, walking around all my previous concerns of "would we be welcome" were long gone. Everybody of all ages wanted to say hi, and calls of "caramelo caramelo" were never too far away - these were infact the children asking if we had any sweets. Everything was very relaxed and I knew my time in on the camp was going to be a very special one.
It wasn’t long before it was the night before the marathon. We had a pasta party in the evening, where everyone met, chatted and loaded up on carbs. I was awake at 6:30 to meet the other marathon runners for breakfast and take a coach out to the start line.
The run its self was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but at the same time one of the best things I've ever done! Looking around 360 degrees and all you can see is sand and sky is quite an awesome experience. Arriving at the half way point I felt ‘ok’, with half way being the start of the half marathon run there were lots of people to cheer you on, kids running up for a hi5 which gave everyone a real lift ready for the second half.After half way things as expected started to get tough. There was more soft sand and sand dunes than I expected which made it even more tricky and with temperatures reportedly peaking at 38degrees things did get challenging. however this is why I love to run marathons and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to run a marathon in the Sahara Desert and finished thinking it was easy.
The last 5km seemed to go on forever, I'd kicked with 5km to go to try and get under 4 hours, however with around 2km to go and running on empty I started to slow up and just enjoy the final minutes of this amazing event. I crossed the line in a time of 4hours 5 mins with a position of 33 out of 125. Just like my previous marathons, the feeling at crossing the finishing line was just amazing -and makes the bruised toenails and blisters all worth while.
I received my medal and sat down just to soak in the atmosphere and congratulate everyone on such a great achievement.
After the race
From then on time on the camp seemed to fly by. The food served by our host family was delicious and varied from canned tuna and pasta to camel and cuscus, followed of course by 3 teas! The sky at night on the camp is something quite amazing, so clear and the stars so bright.
It was strange at times to grasp that although we are having such a great time and being looked after so well and being made so welcome that this is actually their lives out there in the desert, and the more time we spent talking and listening to the saharawi people the more the sense of how these people are waiting, and what is even more difficult to grasp is that they are waiting to go back to their home country.
The stories from the older people in the camps are really shocking of how the Moroccan army invaded killing men, women, pregnant women and children as they fled their homes. I'd heard on many occasions there that the Saharawi people, despite being attacked and kept from their homes by Moroccans, we not angry against the Moroccan people, they were fighting the Saharawis because it was their job to do so. Plus, if they didn’t it then not only would they not get paid, but they would more than likely get killed themselves. It was the dictatorship that exists in Morocco that needs to be challenged and fought. Unfortunately the voices of the Saharawis do not seem loud enough to challenge Morocco, through routes such as the UN. This is evident by the simple fact that, despite this conflict going on for so many years, everyone I have spoken to had never even heard about it.
By the end of my time on the Samara camp, I felt so pleased that I'd actually done it, not only for having completed the marathon but also because I'd been able to learn about what is going on here. Most of all it was letting the Saharawi people know that people in the world know that they actually exist and give them hope that hopefully, one day, the crazy conflict over the Western Sahara will be over and the Saharawi people can again live freely in their country.
Tempted? Come along to our Run theSahara 2012 launch this Saturday - October 1st @ Riverside Studios in London, 3- 5pm- to find out more and register your interest. Featuring: a screening of the award-winning documentary El Problema, readings by acclaimed playwright and poet Inua Ellams and preview of The Runner. See you there!