Michael Williams recently completed the Marathon des Sables — a 250 km run through the Sahara Desert in Morocco. It’s considered by many to be the toughest footrace in the world. The marathon is run over six stages, the longest being around 80 km, and takes contestants across challenging terrain including salt flats, mountains, dried river beds, and of course, sand dunes. Temperatures are extreme during both the day and night. Runners are expected to carry their own equipment and collect water at set checkpoints.
Michael not only managed to complete this incredibly challenging race, he raised over $5000 for Greenpeace in the process and increased awareness about the plight of whales. Here, Michael talks about his experience. Also below is an inspring video with images and footage taken by him during the race.
I decided to fundraise for Greenpeace during the Marathon des Sables. Like most Kiwis and Australians, ending commercial whaling is close to my heart and Greenpeace does so much great work in this area. It seemed fitting too because the next International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting would be held in Morocco. My run could benefit Greenpeace and raising money to help end whaling would give me some extra motivation too.
The first three stages of the marathon were effectively a warm-up for the fourth day during which participants would undertake an 82.2 km run. It would put everyone to the test. I knew that any time I had gained on previous stages could quickly be lost if I had a bad run on day four. Likewise, this was a chance to make up time. I knew that if I survived day four, I’d have a good chance of finishing the whole event. If I survived day four, that is.
Apart from some stinging blisters on my heels I felt good early into this fourth stage. By lunchtime I was running through an enormous scorching salt flat. The temperature rose to over 50 degrees. At one point, I passed by a small oasis. No water. I was, however, feeling stronger and stronger. I passed runners who had overtaken me earlier in the day and was feeling good.
As darkness fell (unfortunately we were running East, so no Saharan sunset that night) my fortunes turned. I was suddenly overcome by fatigue and had to force myself to keep moving. I didn’t want to be sleeping in the dunes.
Then I started to vomit. Doctors had a look at me when I reached the final checkpoint for this stage. I tried to rehydrate but struggled to take on any liquid.
I kept going. The small patch of sand illuminated by my headlamp morphed into snakes and lizards. I walked past countless desert beetles, and many desert mice. I had no idea what was real anymore.
At around 3.00 am and after 17 hours on my feet, I finally staggered over the finish line for stage four. I was a shadow of the person I had been at the start of the day. I was exhausted, but I was also exhilarated by what I had experienced.
I carried on through the last stages of the race. The final 21 km took runners over the Merzouga dunes – the tallest in Africa, and usually closed to tourists. As the final finish line for the Marathon des Sables grew near, an excitement spread over the runners who remained. Paces quickened, and moods improved. Tears had been flowing the entire race, but today they were a result of finally achieving my goal.
The highlight? As incredible as the run and scenery were, I’ll remember with the greatest fondness the friendships forged. They were made over only 10 days, but they were 10 of the most physically and mentally challenging of my life. There were of course moments when I felt terrible, but I was always able to enjoy the experience. A few weeks on, the difficulty and pain of the event were forgotten.
If you feel like setting your own adventurous goal I’d say this: commit early (financial commitments are best), tell everyone about it, and start raising funds for a charity. For me, running for Greenpeace added an extra dimension. It motivated me and made a real difference to Greenpeace’s great work, on so many fronts.
Think you could also run across the Sahara? Or perhaps just down the street – either way, you too can help protect the planet by joining in or holding your own fundraising event for Greenpeace. Learn more here.