As glamorous as this adventure/World Record chase sounds to all of you, dealing with the logistics of international travel and competing in a sport as demanding as self-supported desert racing is an absolute nightmare. Imagine training/planning for your race to participate in your next major city marathon or your next Ironman. Now add the complexities of finding food that you can keep down (customized for my palate) in 40C heat for a week and replace/repair racing gear(s) that was damaged or lost during the last race in a foreign country in which you may or may not (most likely the latter) speak their language.
Right after the completion of Marathon Des Sables, Paul and I immediately began our “Extreme Refuelling Strategy”. We were severely dehydrated during that last stage of the race because we ingest very little water and use it mostly for cooling. Weakened by 5 hours of racing in the desert, we were forced to visit the medical tent where each of us received 3.5L of IV into our bloodstream (for the first time in our lives). It is the fastest and safest way to replenishing glycogen stores and blood glucose level without potentially upsetting your very weak GI tract after all the running under the desert sun. Let’s just say that miracles do happen! I felt like a new man afterward. Not completely recovered, but noticeably better than the last 6 days of utter suffering. From this experience, it is in my opinion that IVs should be banned or penalized for stage racing sport (cough cough … TdF … cough cough).
In a foreign country with limited access to my customary foods, Paul and I had to improvise. That means take whatever measure necessary to regain as much weight as possible and more. Running in MDS has completely depleted my energy stores (2000cal daily caloric intake having done many hours of heavy physical labor is simply insufficient for a normal adult male, never mind an athlete), so it is imperative that we put ourselves in a position where we have excess energy supply going into the next race. I think I had a glimpse of what the contestants of Survivor feels like post-race. Post-race celebratory buffet dinners was a sight to be seen. We are mostly vegetarians, but let’s just say there aren’t too many veggie-Moroccans so that idea went out of window pretty quickly. All our fellow competitors gorged themselves like starving children of Africa (with the exception of Jeanne who stuck with her vegan diet. That’s some iron clad will power sister!). I kept eating till my belly hurts, but I was still hungry over the next couple of days. I’ve never felt that level of hunger in my entire life.
Ouarzazate is a great transit hub to the Sahara, but frankly, I’m so done with the Sahara right now … at least in the immediate future! Paul and I made the decision to travel to Marrakech (4.5hrs bus ride) for a week long R&R before flying to Namibia where we will be racing in under 2 weeks time. 14 days between desert races is quite an undertaking, but it’s only a prelude to come if you look at our racing schedule later on in the year. This is just the beginning of the insanity!
I’ve learned over the course of the last couple of weeks that Moroccans don’t generally go out to eat (much like the Japanese). Therefore, the foods offered by restaurants aren’t part of their staple diet. This does not bode well for us. Why? Because we are stuck with eating a lot of pastries, sugary carbs, and some fish (well, more like canned tuna). Our daily diet consist mainly of orange juice (freshly squeezed), crepes, pizza, bread, couscous (delicious!) and vegetable tajine (yummy stews in cone-shaped clay pots), salads Nicoise, and finally pastries … and more pastries (we found this amazing pastries place just before we left Marrakech!).
Before the first race, I’ve been trying to keep my optimal race weight by minimizing the amount of sugar I ingest. It worked out quite well, because, in the course of my training, I lost 5 lbs. But over the course a week in Morocco, ingesting high amounts of sugary foods, I’ve not only regained the weight I lost but gained a few pounds above my normal walking around weight! Sugar does wonders to your body, and soaking up the weight is definitely one of them! This may sound like a terrible place to be, but considering we will be in caloric deficit again in the coming days, it will do the job. What we are doing is definitely not something a nutritionist would recommend in a normal situation, but nobody says doing the 8 Deserts Challenge with our insane racing schedule is normal neither! 😉 Desperate times calls for extreme measures. You can’t be dogmatic when it comes to your survival.
The itinerary for getting to Swakopmund, Namibia for our next race starts by flying out of Marrakech on Tuesday morning. The trip involves 3 connecting flights to Casablanca, Dubai, and Cape Town. This flight path makes no sense because why would one fly from North Africa to Southern Africa via the Middle East? Well, it turns out flight costs less than ½ the price that’s why! Getting our finances in order is part of this adventure! The torture we put ourselves through in the quest for the World Record (that’s before we ever step on the start line) …
After 29hrs of flying over 15,000km [~9,300miles for my American friends] (direct flight is ~10,000km [6,200miles], and a 40mins cab ride later, we made it to Swakopmund! During the ride, we were quickly reminded of our experiences from a week ago, and it felt like a bad case of deja vu. I now have a healthy respect of the power of the sun and the sand.
As I am sitting down in my hotel room in Swakopmund, Namibia writing this blog post, I am being reminded how lucky and fortunate to have this once in a lifetime opportunity to realize my dream. Although international travel is mentally exhausting and very physically demanding, it still beats anything else I’ve ever done in my entire existence on this planet. It is from my experience that for any great adventure to be successful, I must allow it to take on a life of its own, and accept the ebbs and flows of what comes my way instead of fighting an uphill battle that I will ultimately lose. Just like the impossibly fine sands of the Sahara, accept it or it will ultimately consume you without fail.