Running The Sahara Movie Review

If this 3-min. trailer doesn’t captivate you, read no further… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HidKMFClQUU  I watched this movie several times on a flight from San Francisco to Dubai on my way to Banaglore.  It made the 15-hr. flight somewhat bearable but it also kept me awake when I should have been sleeping as I was mesmerized by the story.  I had heard about these three nutcases who decided to do this on something of a whim in the winter of 2006. 

American Charlie Engle is well known in running circles for having completed some of the longest runs ever after a life of serious drug and alcohol addiction. Ray Zahab from Canada is a former smoker and drinker.  Kevin Lin from Taiwan was really the only real elite athlete, capable of running under 2:20 for a marthon.  The three of them had raced together before, but they decided to run the Sahara simply because nobody had ever done it.

Narrated and executive-produced by Matt Damon, the team called this an expedition, not  a run, and the original goal was just to get one of them to actually finish.  Starting on the coast of Senegal, the course took them 4,300 miles through Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt, finally finishing at the Red Sea.

Running The Sahara, photo By Don Holtz

It’s impossible to chronicle a 111-day journey in a single documentary film.  But it does a great job of capturing the thoughts and emotions of three distinctly different men, their loved ones, and their support crew. I found myself sometimes wondering what happened in those 4 – 5 day stretches that weren’t covered in the movie.  Were they just mundane, uneventful days of running 2 marathons a day, day after day after day?  Sort of makes those guys who run a marathon a day for 50 days look like they’re just getting started, huh?  These guys actually got to a point where they were comfortable running 50 miles a day…after already completing 3,000 miles!  The mental fortitude it must take to continue under incredible circumstances and challenges is difficult to comprehend.  Sandstorms, death threats, baseball size blisters, sleep deprivation, significant weight loss, illness, exhaustion.  Good grief.

What takes the whole expedition to another level is the cause that was spawned as a result of the effort.  In partnership with Matt Damon, the Sahara runners started the H2O Africa Foundation to bring attention to the water crisis in Africa and gather support for clean water programs in critical areas, including communities along the Running the Sahara route. I love stories like this, where it’s not just about three madmen hoofing it across the biggest sandbox in the world.  This is real inspiration.

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Training for Ironman…in India

Today I watched the 2009 Kona Ironman World Championships on TV as I have so many times before and was inspired by the trials and tribulations, the many incredible stories of pros and age groupers alike who made it to Kona this year.  I also had a few friends who either qualified or won a lottery spot, but honestly, I couldn’t relate to their experiences and stories.  I also couldn’t relate to Chrissie Wellington’s unbelievable 3-peat performance or Craig Alexander’s win.  I’m sure the pros have their share of challenges and defeats, but I needed to see the struggle of the guy more like me, and watching the Kona event was exactly what I needed as I started my ironman training this month for IM Couer d’Alene next June.  I’m going to be doing most of my training while traveling extensively on business overseas, and much of that will be in Bangalore, India.  I’m determined not to let a globe-trotting schedule or the limitations of training in India stop me.
 
I’m having my Trek 5200 road bike re-built to the exact fit of my tri bike (as close as possible, anyway) and shipping it to Bangalore with my trainer at the beginning of January.  When I’m home in California I’ll ride outdoors on my tri bike, but I’ll be spinning in my hotel room at the Leela Palace.  They have an unheated 27-meter pool which stays at a comfortable temperature to train. 

Traffic in Bangalore...where am I supposed to run?

Running is impossible outdoors.  The streets of Bangalore are at 600% capacity so I’ll have to do what I can on a treadmill at the hotel gym.

 
I raced my local sprint triathlon in Morgan Hill this year with 2007 Kona champion Chris McCormack and Chris LietoI saw them racing to the finish as I started my bike that day.  I know it was only a sprint, but they were running at 5:39 pace having a conversation.  So it was sobering to watch both of them walking the marathon at Kona even as  Lieto finished in 2nd place, McCormack in 4th.
 
I was particularly interested in the story of 19 yr.-old Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a double amputee.  Rudy was born with rare, multiple birth defects – a combination of crippling Pterygium Syndrome, a clubfoot, webbed fingers on both hands, and a cleft lip and palate. His legs would not straighten from the knee and he was forced to crawl or push himself in a wheelchair, so he chose to have them amputated when he was only five years old.  He missed the bike cutoff in Kona by just five minutes.  He was committed to finishing an ironman, so he called Muddy Waters, my coach, and came to my local bike two blocks from my home to train for IM Arizona.  They built a whole new bike for him and I watched Rudy spin on the CompuTrainer.  Last month he finished IM Arizona.
 
Navy Commander David Haas did his training for Kona on a Navy frigate with a CopmuTrainer, treadmill, rowing maching, and VersaClimber.  Haas would often ride his CompuTrainer on the bridge so that he was accessible in case anything came up.  Once every two weeks he’d jump off the side of the ship into the 105 degree water and swim around the ship with a couple of search and rescue members to keep him company.  Lieutenant Commander Don Cross trained in a submarine!  He had to do it while making no noise, and submarine life is organized around an 18-hour-day, so there’s even less time to train.  His daily routine was on watch for 6 hours, 6 hours of maintenance and training, then 6 hours of time to himself where he’d get a couple of hours of training and four hours of sleep.
 
57-yr. old Elizabeth Thompson suffered a stroke two years ago, leaving her unable to walk.  She finished at Kona.  Lots of great athletes did not finish.  I wonder if I’ll be one of them.  I’m still not entirely sure why I want the Ironman.  I don’t think I’ll ever climb Mt. Everest.  Ironman still seems to be the biggest challenge of all, and I just watch the images of people crossing the finish and see the euphoria painted across their faces.  I don’t care about the lifetime bragging rights people talk about. I want this one for myself.  And if some of these people can overcome the obstacles they had in front of them, I know I can do it.

2009 Year In Review

2009 was a nearly perfect year for me, and I am very grateful for it.  I had set some lofty goals:

1.  PR at all distances, all events (swim, bike, run, tri)
2.  Complete the Transrockies Run
3.  Qualify for the Boston Marathon
4.  Register for a 2010 ironman
5.  Become a RRCA certiifed running coach
 
Due to the poor economy, I had decided to enter fewer races than 2008, but then 24 events would be difficult to repeat anyway.  I replaced quantity (experience) for quality (performance), entering a more reasonable 15 races and setting 9 PRs in the process.  The thought of saving money this year was a nice idea but after spending more than $3000 for the Transrockies Run, I knew frugality was no more than a good intention, and my wife wasn’t buying it.  I took comfort in knowing I had PR’d at the 10-mile, half marathon, marathon, 5K, 50K, one-hour swim, half ironman, one mile swim, and my local sprint triathlon.  The only remaining distance I really would have liked to PR in is the 10K, but due to my race schedule, I never really trained for a 10K PR and never even raced it once all year.  The only goal I missed was my BQ and I didn’t take it very well.  I was so well trained for it and suffered from the effects of statin drugs I take to keep my cholesterol in check.
 
 The Transrockies Run was easily the biggest highlight.  I’m sure I’ll continue to look back at that experience over the years with fond memories.  I think it also changed my perspective on running and racing.  I know I’ll always be extremely competitive, but you can’t spend nine days in the Rocky Mountains for the sole purpose of running a foot race and not be shaped by the experience.  My world of training, running, and racing got bigger this year.  It only left me wanting more.  The Trans-Alpine Run is now firmly planted in my head and I’m not sure how I’ll ever pull it off.
 
I’m really glad I decided to use the Transrockies Run as a fund-raising event.  Just weeks before the event, I decided to see how much money I could raise for the National MS Society in honor of my youngest sister who suffers from the disease.  I was amazed to raise nearly $10,000.  I don’t know if that’s a lot or a little, but it gave my sister an incredible emotional lift, made my effort and the event so much more satisfying, and inspired me to do more.
 
Looking ahead, my world is about to change in a big way.  I’m taking a new job at my company that will result in tons of travel all over the world, especially Asia.  It will have a huge impact on my training schedule.  I’m prepared to employ some creative training methods, including leaving a tri bike and trainer in Bangalore, India so I can train when I am there.  But I’m worried all the extra work and intense travel schedule will keep me from performing at a high level.  I’m registered for Ironman Couer d’Alene in June and intend to do it.  I’m also concerned about the time away from my family, but we have decided to bite the bullet for a year or two.  There’s no way I’m going to travel like a madman once my daughter starts high school in 2011.
 
I capped off the year by completing my final goal, becoming a RRCA certified running coach.  I’m not sure where it will take me.  I have images of coaching legions of runners in India, but for now, I’m just happy to have the extra foundation of knowlegde.  I’m prepared to embrace whatever 2010 brings me.  Somehow, setting nine PRs again seems a bit unlikely, but it promises to be another exciting year.

RRCA Certified Running Coach

Last month, a few of my running mates and I took a 2-day class in San Jose, CA to become certified running coaches through the Road Running Club of America (RRCA).  Our motivations for becoming certified were all very different, and as I discovered, not everyone who takes the class is even interested in coaching.  Some people just want to expand their knowledge base, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  For me, I’ve been day dreaming about drop kicking the corporate job most of my adult life to pursue my real passions that generate zero income.  But since I’ve never been a gifted athlete, maybe teaching others what I’ve learned over the last 32 years of running might be one way to give back to a sport that has given me so much.

The RRCA course has been taught for over 20 years by Patti and Warren Finke who split their time between Portland, Oregon and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.  They are both decorated runners.  My own coach, Andy Froumis, thought he might be the most experienced runner attending the class with me after surpassing 100,000 miles earlier this year.  We quickly learned Warren has run 140,000 miles, including a few years when he ran over 6,000 miles a year.  Warren is an instructor for the RRCA coaching certification program.  He has been coaching beginning to elite road and trail runners for more than 25 years. He has competed in over 170 marathons and ultramarathons, winning more than 20.  He is two-time U.S. track record holder for 100km and was the 2nd place veterans finisher in the 1992 Boston Marathon.  Patti is an exercise physiologist and current chairperson of the RRCA coaching committee. Patti has been coaching runners and walkers for over 25 years and has held individual U.S. age records for 50km and 50mi and has three times been Oregon Road Runners Club Age group runner of the year.   They are the founders and directors of the Portland Marathon Training Clinic and authors of Marathoning, Start To Finish.  OK, so I figured I could learn a thing or two from these people.

Due to Patti’s background in exercise physiology, the first 2 – 3 hours of Day 1 was a blur of sports science, physiology, biology, and a few other subjects I struggled with in high school.  I quickly realized it wasn’t so important to understand every single detail.  The idea is to learn their proven system, which is well documented in their class material.  Patti and Warren are the first to admit students may not agree with their system or may prefer other coaching methods, but the test is based on their system, so you had better learn it.  if you don’t score at least 80% on the test you need to take the whole class over and that would be a serious bummer.  I was happy to learn one entire training system even though some things certainly sounded different than anything I had ever known.  And that’s why they’re the instructors.

The first day is intense; you need to pay attention.  They cover a lot of ground and move fast.  Think 10K pace but it lasts all day.  The second day is dedicated to creating real training plans.  It’s the hands on piece and they put you on the spot.  The exam is 100 questions in an online test.  It’s open book and they encourage everyone to take the test with someone else in the class so you can discuss the answers.  Four of us from my running club studied together and I passed the test with a 90% score.  Wish I knew which 10 I got wrong.

The final requirement is CPR and first aid certification.  I took a full day course at the Red Cross.  Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to learn CPR and I’m glad I finally did it.  My very knowledgable instructor was retired Navy.  Let’s just say he kept my attention.  I learned how to treat a choking infant, administer full CPR on an unconcious adult, use an AED (the “paddles”), and treat various injuries.  I actually now feel like I could respond in an emergency situation and know what to do.

I highly recommend the RRCA class if you’re interested in coaching runners. If the class is not offered in your area, they’re willling to come to you.  They just need a local host who will take care of planning and logistics.  The class I took wasn’t offered in San Jose until one of my friends took it upon herself to organize it.  Patti and Warren explained they will also be offering an advanced coaching class soon.

So, I am now a certified running coach.  I’m fully aware that simply having a certification does not make a good coach.  Any kind of coaching is half science, half art, and all people skills.  I was surprised with how little running experience some of the students had in my class.  I felt confident I could properly coach a beginner or advanced runner before I took the course,  but it’s nice to have a proper set of core principles as a foundation.  Patti and Warren said if you only buy one book on running, get a copy of Lore of Running, by Dr. Tim Noakes.  My mother-in-law gave it to me for my birthday earlier this month.  It’s a whopping 804 pages and would keep an RV from rolling downhill.  There is always more to learn.

Thoughts About Running Injuries

If you’re looking for a resouce on how to cure a nagging running injury, this is not it.  For a great resource on learning how run injury-free, pick up a copy of Running Strong & Injury-Free, by Janet Hamilton.  You’ll learn there are five main causes of running injuries–training errors, inappropriate footwear, inadequate flexibility, inadequate strength, and poor biomechanics.  The trick of course, is learning how to train while preventing injuries.  Triathlon is the best thing I’ve ever done to prevent running injuries.  The cross-training helps prevent overuse and repetitive use injuries.

Most Common
I’ve had plantar faciitis and it sucks.  It feels like the bottom of your foot is being ripped off.  It’s one of those injuries you can try to run through until it cripples you.  If you don’t recognize it, you’ll easily spend lots of time and money with a battery of doctors, podiatrists, accupuncturists, chiropractors, and other gurus.  My physical therapist used massage, ultrasound, stretching, heat/ice, and then taped my foot in a manner I would never be able to do myself.  Then after an extended break from running, I started with a 2-mile run and added a 1/4-mile each day until I was back to my normal training regimen.  I bought a calf stretching device which I should really use more often.

Runner’s Knee is very common.  I’ve had it on and off this year.  When my PT diagnosed it as patellar tendinitis–the technical term–I figured it was the result of running 60 – 100 miles a week on trails.  Knee injuries comprise about 55% of all sports injuries and approximately one-fourth of all problems treated by orthopedic surgeons.  A bad knee convinces lots of couch potatoes to stay on the couch.  Don’t do that.

I haven’t had shin splints since high school but it’s very common with new runners.  I sort of think of shin splints as a rite of passage.  Lots of rookies get it.  If you can get past this annoying injury, you can probably train for a lot of different things.

Everyone calls it ITB Syndrome.  That’s Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome.  Sounds like a world of hurt and I’ve never had it.  Now I’ll probably get it.  I’ve always dreaded this one, partly because it seems unavoidable.  The iliotibial band starts on the outer hip, runs down to the outer knee, then attaches to the lower leg bone.  It spans so much of the leg it’s a miracle I’ve avoided this one.  I even have an ITB strap for running but I’ve never used it.  I’ve also had the good fortune never to have had blisters.  I think it’s because I have a good foot strike and I take great care with shoe selection.  I’m not sure blisters are really injuries, although the ones you see at Badwater or other ultras look far worse than most injuries.

Most Painful
The worst injury of all may be a torn Achilles tendon.  The few people I’ve met with this injury have never quite returned to their former running condition.  This can be a career ending injury.  I watched Brad Pitt go down in the movie Troy when they shot him in his Achilles.  It looked like it really hurt.  Crashing my bike into a rock wall was more painful than any running injury, resulting in a deep gash in my right hand and plenty of road rash. I’ve also broken my back in seven places while tree skiing and separated my shoulder in a separate incident at Lake Tahoe, but that’s a story for another time.  Suffice it to say I understand pain.  What I have learned is that recovery and rehab from a serious injury requires more mental toughness than physical effort.

Hard To Diagnose
Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome
is not easily diagnosed.  Lots of runners have never heard of it.  It’s a lower leg injury that occurs when muscle groups outgrow their normal “compartment” size.  I’ve never had this one and hope I never get it.  Maybe I should train less to avoid it.

Plica Syndrome or Plicae Band, also known as synovitis, is an irritation of the synovial membrane in the knee.  It’s a thin, slippery material that lines all joints.  There are four plica folds in the knee, but only one of them seems to cause trouble.  It won’t show up in x-rays or an MRI so it’s hard to diagnose correctly.  My physical therapist thought I had a pinched miniscus.  I had to see sports medicine doc who specialized in running injuries to get this one treated.  I opted for an immediate shot of cortisone in my knee, which allowed me to run a marathon five days later.

The Shoe Conundrum
There’s been a lot of hysteria and hoopla this year about running barefoot or wearing the glove-like Vibram Five Fingers after the launch of the wildly popular book, Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I’m amused by Tweets from Barefoot Ted and Caballo Blanco, but I’m not at all interested in taking off my perfectly comfortable runnning shoes.  You can do what you want, but I’m pretty sure I was born to run with shoes.

I’ve been watching my left big toe change form and color since I nearly destroyed it in July doing the Tahoe Rim 50K.  I had inserted my road shoe orthotics into my trail shoes which are a half size bigger.  Tha’ts not a good thing when you’re tearing down a hill 25 miles into a 50K.  Haven’t we all calculated how long it would take for a toenail to grow back?  Will it grow back in time for this or that race?  What if it falls off in the middle of a long run or race?  Will it hurt?  A black toe generally doesn’t even hurt, but the sight of it makes it look like an injury and so we look at it every day as if we’re injured.

I’d like to think my experience has taught me to be a smarter runner and triathlete, but I think it’s more a case of trying to do fewer really stupid things.  If training, racing and working out is a lifestyle thing for you like it is for me, you’ll probably get injured.  Unless you are Dean Karnazes, who claims he has never had a running injury and credits his perfect biomechanics.  Dean is a baffling example of staying injury free, but that’s not to say he has never been injured. He fell and cracked three ribs at the Transrockies Run this year and could not finish the event.  It’s possible to have perfect biomechanics but it’s extremely rare.  It’s like saying you’ve never had the common cold.

Bizz Johnson Marathon–My First DNF

It’s been a few days since attempting my BQ (Boston Qualifier) at Bizz Johnson so I’ve had some time to reflect and recover from the physical and mental agony of a DNF (Did Not Finish).  I can deal with not qualifying, but a DNF messes with the mind like nothing else.  It wasn’t until the day after the race that I was convinced about what went wrong.

After my best year of running in over 30 years, I had only one big goal left.  I had put in 100-mile training weeks to complete the Transrockies Run, knocked out two solid 50Ks in two weeks, and set PRs at the 10-mile, half marathon and marathon distances.  I had run 3:35 at Napa in March in pouring rain, and I wasn’t even trying to qualify.  I know I’m faster than the average runner but I don’t think of myself as fast at all.  Yet, all that was left to accomplish this year was a BQ, and somehow I’ve always thought you need to be pretty fast to qualify for Boston.  I was probably in the best shape of my life and my marathon training had gone reasonably well.  My Yasso training predicted a 3:23 marathon and I needed a 3:30 to qualify.  I tapered well, ate well and slept well.  I felt good about my prospects even though I knew I would still need to have a very good day to qualify.

The first eight miles of Bizz is a very gradual climb starting at nearly 5300-ft.  Marathon pace was 8:04 but I was willing to go 8:15 for the first 6 miles and make it up on the downhill.  The trouble started early when I realized in fhe first two miles I was putting out a fairly significant effort just to hold an 8:15 pace.  Eight miles into the marathon I was done.  At mile nine I was walking.  I was stunned.  What the hell just happened?  Seconds were ticking by, quickly turning into minutes, and just like that, my BQ was gone.  Anger quickly turned to confusion.  Was it the altitude?  Could I really not handle running at 5,000-ft. after running at 8,000 – 13,000-ft. for six days in the Rockies just six weeks earlier?  Come on, it should not be this hard.  I should be cruising through the first half comfortably at 8-min. pace.  So I started running again.  Wow, now I was having trouble just keeping a 9-min. pace.  I slowed to a crawl.  I was angry again.  Like really pissed off.

I reached the halfway point in just under two hours and realized if I finished, it would probably be in the 4:30 range.  I started thinking it’s not even worth running 26.2 miles to go that slow.  I didn’t know if I was mentally checking out or if there was really something wrong.  But what could be wrong?  I felt fine.  I just couldn’t run.  At the aid station at mile 14 I started asking if I could get a ride to the finish.  Everyone thought I was kidding at first.  But there was no way off the mountain.  The entire course is a dirt road with few access points.  It was the aid station at mile 20 before I found someone who could give me a ride to the finish.  3 hours 10 mins. and I was done.  I was completely spent, nothing left in the tank.

It was when I arrived at the finish that it occurred to me.  I’ve been taking red yeast rice to control my cholesterol.  I’ve been taking it for years so it never occurred to me that switching brands a week before Bizz could result in such dire side effects.  I was more sore the day after Bizz than the day after I did AR50 and I only ran about 16 miles at Bizz.  In fact, I was very sore for two full days.  That can’t be the result of altitude, training, stress, diet, sleep, or dehydration.  It must be medical.  I switched brands for red yeast rice when I learned the stuff I had been taking was no longer effective.  It had been re-formulated after the FDA cracked down on yet another manufacturer.  I started taking the new pills just six days before Bizz, completely forgetting that the two most common side effects of statins are muscle pain and muscle weakness. 

It has taken me a few days to put a DNF in perspective.  early on, I was angry for several reasons.  First, this was my BQ and I had trained for it.  My coach and running partners were confident I could qualify, and I knew I could, too.  I even thought I had a chance of running the best marathon I would ever run.  Everything was in my favor.  Second, I could have prevented it if I would have considered the side effects of statins.  It didn’t ever occur to me.  Third, I drove 650 miles round trip on a weekend to run a marathon for which I had no chance of running well.

So here’s the perspective, for what it’s worth.  My youngest sister nearly slipped into a coma this week after suffering from another MS exacerbation with other complications.  That right there sort of makes my DNF rather inconsequential and makes me an idiot for getting upset about a foot race.  I’ve set nine PRs this year in the swim, run and triathlon.  There’s a good chance I’ll never be able to say that again.  A DNF sort of puts a nice stamp on the year, don’t you think?  Amid all the PRs, I also had a DNF.  I’m also not the only one who suffered out there at Bizz.  Charles and Kim, two friends from my running club, also failed to qualify.  They have run over 100 marathons between the two of them.  They finished, but they were far off their BQ.  Turns out I ran about seven miles with Kim and she said it really helped her get through it.  I’m glad to have been able to help her even in my condition.

Someone asked me if I wish I would have finished and not taken myself out of the race.  Yes, I wish I would not have DNF’d.  But I think it was the right thing to do.  I’ve done the IV at the finish line with a severe bonk at the Way Too Cool 50K and been carted off to the hospital.  I hope I have learned to listen to my body and not do something stupid.  Of course no amount of perspective will change the fact that I did not qualify for Boston.  And so it sits out there as the one that got away, and a goal for next year.  I probably need a redemption run just to get it out of my system, but as I have come to my senses, I’m eternally grateful just to have the chance to run another day.

Multi-day Running Events

After completing the 6-day Transrockies Run this year, I couldn’t help but wonder what other stage races I might consider in the future.  There are an ultra number of options out there.  Can they all be as well-organized as the Transrockies?  Are they affordable?  How difficult is the terrain?   There are multi-sport ultras, typically a double or triple ironman but going as long as the double deca (20 times the ironman distance…completely insane).  There are multi-sport stage format events like the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii, a 3-day stage triathlon circumnavigating the Big Island of Hawaii.  There are also ultra distance cycling events like RAAM (Race Across America) or the Sea to Sea, a 1,085 mile bike race from Homer, Alaska to Prudhoe Bay (Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean).  Adventure racing is really a separate category, popularized by Mark Burnett’s expedition-length Eco Challenge which ran as a reality TV event from 1995 – 2002.  Today, there are many options for adventure racing in many different formats.  What follows is a brief summary of some of the best running multi-day events.  For a calendar at a glance, here is an exhaustive list of multi-day running races for 2010.

Possibly the original ultra stage race, the Marathon des Sables, which has been around for 25 years, can be blamed for the increasing interest in stage races, especially in northern Europe and the UK. There are now numerous multi-stage races to choose from, many much tougher than the MdS, which is still considered the benchmark.  Although it is very expensive to enter there is always a waiting list despite there being 850 runners this year.  The majority of these races are challenging because they cover large distances in remote, hostile and usually hot parts of the world–Libya, Morocco, Egypt, Kalahari, Gobi, Atacama, Namibia–in other words, deserts.  I’ll probably update this post as I learn more, but let’s start with the event that got this crazy idea started.

Marathon des Sables
The MdS is a 6 day, 151 mile (243km) endurance race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco, usually at the end of March or beginning of April.  Equivalent to 5 1/2 regular marathons, competitors carry everything they will need for the duration (except for their tent) on their backs in a backpack (food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag, etc). Water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint.  Two competitors have died on the course.  Required gear includes an anti-venom pump and a signaling mirror.  That’s enough info for my wife not to grant me permision to do this event.  The official web site for N. American entries is here

MDSDates:  March/April
Distance:  151 miles
Land cost:  €2550 / ~$5000 (many competitors raise these funds through sponsors)

GORE-TEX Trans-Alpine Run
The idea of running across a desert doesn’t appeal to me, so this is my choice for my next multi-day event.  Put on by the same first-class organization that delivers the Transrockies Run, the Trans-Alpine Run has quickly become the pinnacle of stage races in only its fifth year.  This event is longer and harder than the Transrockies.  At eight stages instead of six, the course is 240km / 149 mls. compared to 113 mls. this year at the Transrockies.  It also has 14,000 meters / 46,000 ft. of elevation gain compared to 20,000+ ft. in the Transrockies.  Instead of tents, runners stay in the towns where each stage ends in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy.  There are lots of great videos on YouTube but here is a great trailer from 2008.

Dates:  Sept. 5 – 12, 2009
Distance:  149 miles
Cost: Starter Package = €1180  / ~$1700 per team

Desert R.A.T.S. (Race Across The Sand)
In the U.S., Gemini Adventure Events puts on the Mountain R.A.T.S. and the Desert R.A.T.S.   The mountain version is shorter–4 stages, 10 – 25 miles per day.  The location is different every year and they don’t announce the exact location until the night before the race.  This year it was held in Copper Mountain, Colorado. 

Desert R.A.T.S. is a 6-day stage race starting in Grand Junction, Colorado, ending in Moab, Utah.  It stretches 148 miles along the stunning Kokopelli trail.  This is an individual race, not a team event.  Stages are as short as 9 miles, but there is one 50-mile stage with a generous 24-hr. cutoff.  Gemini Events sets up a tent city for runners but the way to do this event is to pay an extra $2800 for the Pampered RAT package.  Recommended for two racers or two couples traveling together, you can relax, travel and sleep in the comfort of an air-conditioned motorhome, get a daily massage and a nice shower.  Count me in.

Dates:  June 13 – 19, 2010
Distance:  148 miles
Cost:  Early registration until Jan. 1, 2010: $750; until April 1 = $950; until June 1 = $1050

Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race
2010 will mark the 20th running of the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race.  This is a solo event, not a team event.  It’s an 8-day stage race with spectacular views of Mt. Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu (4 of the 5 highest peaks int he world).  The course traverses isolated jungle, pine forests and major rivers while passing through small settlements and villages.  Yaks, wild ponies, and the red panda can be seen at higher elevations.  At each overnight stop, meals are fully catered and accomodations are in rustic mountain huts.  Stage 3 is run simultaneously with the Mt. Everest Challenge Marathon.

Dates:  Oct. 24 – 31, 2009
Distance:  100 miles
Cost:  Twin = €2599; Single = €3199 (side trip to Taj Mahal priced separately)

Trans Andes Challenge
Following the inaugural Trans Andes Mountain Bike Challenge this year, and modeled after the Transrockies Run, the Trans Andes Challenge is a shorter 3-day format located in the stunning Patagonian Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina.  The course will include about 1500 meters of elevation gain per day.  Organizers are running the course in October, then posting detailed stage profiles on their web site.  This event is organized by Santiagos Producciones, a Chilean outdoor adventure racing company.

Trans Andes ChallengeDates:  Feb. 11 – 13, 2010
Distance:  30 – 35K each day
Land Cost:  $350 – $1900 per person (4 different packages — high end includes an additional 6 days in Pucón, Chile–includes , lodging, meals, and 4 days of fun adventure: Rafting, Trekking to the Villarrica Volcano, and more.

Andes Adventures
Santa Monica, CA-based Andes Adventures offers numerous choices.  Their Patagonia Running Adventure spans 17 days with no camping.  The longest run is 19 miles with optional shorter distances on many days.  The shorter 10-day version is called the Torres del Paine Running Adventure.

andes-adventuresPatagonia Running Adventure
Dates:  Dec. 19, 2009 – Jan. 4, 2010
Land Cost: $2995 – $3200 all inclusive (depending on number of participants, 29 max)