The Sahara Marathon Race Report | Courtesy of Ben White

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In May 2012 I (Ben White) did my first “mud run”. It was the first UK Tough Mudder event and I trained hard for it running miles and miles around a local wildlife park with hills and tracks and dogs that see you coming and position themselves deliberately so you have to run around them.

Completing Tough Mudder with a bunch of friends, we universally agreed that we were pleased we’d done it but there was no way we were doing anything like that again.

Oh how slippery the memory of pain and suffering!

Within 3 days we’d seemingly forgotten our pain and suffering and we were busy sending round links to all the other similar events going on in the UK for the rest of the year. Bitten by the bug, we were determined to do another one.

Maybe even a tougher one.

Tough Guy, Nettle Warrior it was and this time my friend John Morgan was going to join me.

John and Ben

John (left) and Ben (right) running and enjoying the Nettle Warrior course in July. Little did they know then, the course that an interest in challenging themselves would take.

We completed Nettle Warrior and all agreed it was fun and yet when everyone else was busy saying “right, when’s the next one?” John and I found ourselves talking about doing something tougher. More endurance, more challenging.

Something that required dedication to training and to getting each other through it and staying motivated.

Meeting one evening in Southbank, John mooted the idea of doing a marathon. OK, said I, but I don’t want to do just a normal UK marathon. Let’s do one abroad. Maybe Barcelona, or Berlin…

Meh, I wanted the next challenge to be about more than just running a long way over a long time.

Time to hit Google.

A day or so later, I came across a website for “The Sahara Marathon” (www.SaharaMarathon.org). This wasn’t the Marathon Des Sables (that already having been ruled out on account of being too tough for our first go at endurance running, chickens that we are), this was a marathon that involved staying in a refugee camp for a week and running a marathon in the middle of the week across open Sahara desert.

This was more up our street but I couldn’t find any reference to it on other race calendar type websites so we were initially sceptical that it was real. Maybe a scam, after all it did cost €900 to enter.

I checked the contact pages for the site and found the UK organisers : a charity called Sandblast so I loaded their website (http://www.sandblast-arts.org/) and gave them a call.

They existed! And in fact the marathon has been going to 12 years already!

So, on the 21st of February 2013 John and I are running a marathon between four little known refugee camps in the Sahara desert.

Beyond being one of the most difficult marathons in the world (high humid heat + miles of sand dunes and gravel) the race itself poses other challenges.

We will arrive in Algeria via a privately chartered flight, landing at a military base in Tindoof.

From there we will be under military escort for an entire week while living with the refugees as well as during the actual race.

We’ll be sleeping in a refugee tent with a Saharawi family, sharing their food and resources (which are very limited) and learning about their lives and being involved in camp life.

Tinddouf Camp

The tents of the Smara refugee camp at Tindouf. Across the four refugee camps, there are around 250,000 people living in the scorching desert, totally dependent on outside help and charity.

There will be no running water, limited power and hardly any access to other western comforts like the Internet, news and communications.

Joining is a political statement in support of the Saharawi people living in the refugee camps.

There are groups who do not want you or I to know about the Saharawi people.

In fact last year, three international aid workers were even kidnapped from one of the camps by a terrorist group.

The nearly forgotten Saharawi people have been denied access to their country, the Western Sahara, since 1975 after it was invaded by Morocco. If you buy strawberries or tomatoes from the supermarket with an origin of “Morocco” they probably came from this area.

map

The occupation is actually stated as illegal by the UN and the people there are denied the right to self-determination by our ‘ally’ in North Africa (which may be why we know so little about this conflict and these refugees).

Currently, the Saharawi survive totally on donations and support from outside agencies so we’re raising money for Sandblast who work in the camps to equip them with skills and equipment to make and record their traditional music and song which in turn will allow them to make money, express and share their cultural richness and above all, enable them to take some element of control and direction of their lives.

Because I’m making the most of this adventure, I’m writing a blog about my thoughts (http://saharamarathon2013.blogspot.co.uk/), experiences and ideas leading up to the event and of course will be writing a full post-race article or two.

I’m also taking the opportunity to challenge myself and learn about contacting newspapaer, magazines and organisations such as race-calendar to promote the race and our adventure and ask for charity donations. I’ve even managed to secure personal sponsorship from a UK barefoot-style shoe manufacturer: Vivobarefoot who will be supplying me with shoes for training and the race itself.

Ben White Trail Running

 This is a photo Ben took of himself running a local trail as part of his training to send to Trail Running Magazine who were one of the organisations he’s been persuading to feature the event.

The most pleasing development so far has been the commitment from Computers 4 Africa (http://www.computers4africa.org.uk/), who take old(ish) computers and send them out to communities in Africa, to provide us with a re-cycled laptop to take with us and donate to Sandblast’s sound studio. So now I’m learning about how charities love to support each other and how easy it is to get involved and help people.

Making the most of the opportunities and adventures life offers is something that I’m really keen on and right now, I’m focussed on the race ahead but I’m already thinking of what we’re going to do for our next challenge and adventure. I believe there’s an Amazon ultra-marathon in October: 125 miles across the rainforest….

Right now, I’m feeling pretty good but honestly, I don’t know which scares me more: a marathon in the Sahara or spending a week in a refugee camp.

We need donations and promotion. Whether you want to give us some money for being crazy fools and running a desert marathon or whether you’ve read about the Western Sahara conflict and want to help us support the Saharawi, your donations are always welcome at the Just Giving page (www.justgiving.com/BenWhite-SaharaMarathon) or drop me an email if you’d like to help in some other way (benwha@gmail.com)

Hopefully we’ll be back in one piece and able to share our experiences here on race-calendar.com

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1 comment to The Sahara Marathon Race Report | Courtesy of Ben White

  • […] A day or so later, I came across a website for “The Sahara Marathon” (www.SaharaMarathon.org). This wasn’t the Marathon Des Sables (that already having been ruled out on account of being too tough for our first go at endurance running, chickens that we are), this was a marathon that involved staying in a refugee camp for a week and running a marathon in the middle of the week across open Sahara desert. Check out the full article here. […]

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