Hi folks! Last time I started telling you about my biggest life experience: my 250k run through the Sahara desert.
Join me now on my last stretch in the middle of a hostile 43 degrees hot environment. At the end of my journey I’ll share three key learnings with you that set me up for success.
So let’s go to the place where it all began, the starting line of the Marathon des Sables.
The toughest footrace on earth – it’s crunch time
Day 1: I’m all pumped up by the loud sound of ACDC’s ‘Highway to Hell’. From here I enter a constant adrenalin rush. The first stage is relatively flat over 37k. I manage to stick to my plan and don’t take off like a raging bull. I get myself used to the water and salt regime pretty quickly – 6 sips from my bottles every 5 minutes. I make it through day1 feeling well.
Day 2: I’m faced with two significant climbs of several hundred meters up each and with the most spectacular views at the top. As I take on the 2nd climb I sense a first problem at the inside of my big toe. At checkpoint 3 I stop for blister treatment. My toe gets taped up for the last 6k of the 32k track. Glad to finish day 2 above expectations.
Day 3: Feeling strong and full of energy. I decide a today is a good day to start racing! I start in the front of the pack close to the speakers. ACDC it is again! The road book reveals we have another 37k to do with 7k worth of serious dunes and a nasty climb right after. I finish stage 3 among the top 200.
“I find myself in Superman mode now – dashing through parts of the dunes. At the start of the climb the temperature reaches its highest point of the week: 43 degrees Celsius! I decide to save a little bit of energy for the next day.”Gijs Dekker, Senior Manager Variance Controlling
Day 4: A mind-boggling loooong stretch of 91.7km with one big climb over a so-called Jebel and a whole lot more sand.
I decide to change tactics.
With 7 checkpoints to go, I am now in survival mode breaking the leg down in smaller pieces to make the incredible distance digestible.
“Soon I notice: this is not my day. I struggle big time going up this slight uphill with heavy sand and headwind.”Gijs Dekker, Senior Manager Variance Controlling
My sand gaiters start to come off and my shoes start to fill up with sand forcing me to empty them quite often. What keeps me going are the enormous postcard dunes which are just stunning, but so hard to overcome.
Reaching checkpoint 5 feels surreal. As dusk comes in we’re arriving with our headlamps on we are welcomed by a band playing jazz music from the roaring twenties in the middle of the desert. I leave the place all pumped up again, ready for the last 27 km of the day.
I give myself a push but after 10 k I slow down as the sand is too heavy and the slight uphill seems endless. My body is too tired – I tell myself to enjoy this adventure instead of suffering. I knew all along that this was going to get tough.
Enter my one and only luxury good: my iPod shuffle. I turn on the music. In complete darkness, under a sky full of stars I struggle on. I cannot remember a tougher time in my life.
My stomach is full with 15 hours of gels and energy chews as I pass the last checkpoint. Only 7 k to go and my music keeps me going. Finally, I see the finish line.
Day 5 – marathon day: I rest, eat and rest again. I watch people limping through the camp as I have my blisters treated and my lower back patched up – it’s been a little bloody from my rucksack.
Now I’m ready to deliver a solid marathon. Final warnings at the starting line to us medal hunters to not forget our salt, water and sun cream.
We cover dunes and a few climbs, but the renewed energy of the medal being handed out at the finish line gives me a big boost.
“I’m unstoppable at the end and finish a little over 5hours.”Gijs Dekker, Senior Manager Variance Controlling
I scream and am handed my medal. What an enormous relief.
After roughly 1.5 years of preparation, 3,000km of running, 160 hours in the gym and many more hours of reading blogs, experiences and books and many times trying to find reasons for this adventure I am a very proud finisher of the ‘toughest footrace on earth’.
Three lessons that set me up for success
In hindsight, there were three things that helped me prepare and succeed in my Sahara desert run that I want to share with you. I hope it helps you master your challenges when the pressure is high and the risk of failure is present – in life and at work:
1. Set an end goal and keep this in mind:I faced many disappointments on my journey. Many training hours I had thought I could also spend this time with friends in a cafe, but the end goal was too valuable and clearly meant sacrifices. I knew this upfront, but that makes the victory taste even sweeter.
2. Talk to people who’ve been there. Speaking to experienced former runners and getting their input was extremely valuable and highly needed. I learnt from their mistakes – what worked and what didn’t work for them. Then, it’s all about trying things out. In the end you need to take the advice that fits your needs best.
3. Train hard, race easy.Something I learnt from another kick-ass runner: The tougher the training leading up to your race, the more you can enjoy the moment when the pressure is high and you need to prove your skills. I’d like to end with a quote of my trainer who always says that “Medals are being earned through preparation and picked up after the race.”
Besides the kickass adventure for myself it was for a very important part to support those who really deserve a chance via charity Right To Play. Right To Play drives the right for every child to sport and play and help them with programs in key areas health, education and leadership. Please donate to Right To Play via ww.dutchdesertrunners.com.