On Thursday night I couldn’t sleep, waking up every hour or so in a cold sweat. Just signing up for a race over a year away had cracked my ability to sleep. Well not just any race but the Marathon des Sables, the toughest footrace in the world.
What does the Marathon des Sables entail and how has it earned that terrifying title? Their own website puts it best:
“In just six days you will run over 250km (156 miles) through endless dunes, over rocky jebels, and across white-hot salt plains. The sun will be your constant enemy with temperatures regularly reaching 50 centigrade. The sand will be your constant companion, clouds of it under your feet, sheets of it stinging your eyes and lots of it chafing where it shouldn’t. The long stage has become a legend in itself. You will run out of a Saharan morning, into the dusk and then the dark, many not finishing the 80+km (52 miles) till well into the next day.”
You carry all your supplies for the whole event, sleep in basic tents and have your water rationed out. Nothing about this race is easy, nothing.
The Marathon des Sables will wreck my body, challenge my self determination, dehydrate me to a critical level and shred my feet. My body and soul will be tested to their breaking points. I am not going into this challenge naive of what lies ahead, I know full well that this race will try and bury me in a myriad of ways. Since it’s inception people have suffered from heat stroke, multiple organ failure and even death.
So why on earth am I running this killing machine of a race?
I’ve had people my entire life cast doubt upon my aspirations, filling my head with you can’t, you won’t and you’ll fail. When I started this running adventure, back in 2015, people doubted I could finish a marathon. I remember quiet spoken words of discouragement in the lead up to my first marathon in London Marathon 2016, “I don’t think this is a good idea” and “Are you sure you want to do this? You’re not going to finish” being just a few examples. I can see why they believed I couldn’t; I was 20 stone, lacked motivation and had actively avoided pretty much every form of physical activity since I was a kid.
Now I’ve run 11 marathons in 8 different countries in just two years. I’ve covered over 2,000 miles. I’ve turned their, and my own, doubts into my fuel. Those once held doubt-induced limitations far surpassed.
Ultimately it’s the main reason why I run now; to push beyond my own self-believed limitations. There’s a quote by T.S Eliot that explains my motivation for signing up to MdS so perfectly: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
This extreme ultra-marathon event could be too far for me, but imagine if I finish? If I can stand there, battered and bruised, medal in hand having gone from a non-runner to Marathon des Sables finisher in 3 and a half years those limitations will be once again be conquered.
Simply put, there is nothing extraordinary about me. Even now I currently weigh 15 and a 1/2 stone. I’m not built for running, not even close. I want to do the Marathon des Sables to show everyone who reads my story that you don’t have to be extraordinary to achieve something extraordinary. That you can get up and head out the door right now and run for a minute, five minutes or whatever you can and start to build yourself stronger in every way.
For a lot of my life I saw my depression as my greatest weakness, it floors me with no notice and creeps in to every part of my life. When it comes to running, however, it my greatest strength. Through simply surviving every day it has taught me through necessity to endure, to simply keep moving forward when your mind screams at you to stop. I want to prove to myself and everyone else who has been constricted by depression, or any mental health problems, that you are so much stronger than you think you are, you can surprise yourself.