5 Day 100 km del Sahara Race
98 of us (93 runners and 5 walkers) set off from Chinini deep in the Tunisian Sahara on March 5th 2007 for the 24km first stage, the first 8km over steep rocky hills, to our Berber tents at Garat Eddouiri. I was celebrating my 70th birthday the previous autumn.
Support from the organisers Zitoway Sport and Adventure ( www.100kmdelsahara.com ) was fantastic: they provide accomodation, meals and back-up vehicles, even camels to accompany the backmarkers (me!). All we had to do was to run (or walk, in my case!) However, first came a short 18km stage to Camp Laaraj, and even this was hard: after the steep rocky climbs and switchbacks in 40C+, there were miles of stony tracks. It's far from being a walk in the park!
Next day was a shorter stage, a mere 18kms, and once again in searing 40C+: but this was balanced by a cool 7km night stage (when temperatures drop to about 12C and you have to wear a woolly hat in your sleeping bags, with runners lighting their way with headtorches and their progress tracked by glowsticks tucked down the back of their shorts.
After a late meal, came an early start next day for the marathon 42.195km to Aouinet Essbat: fortunately, the temperature had dropped to a more manageable 35C+! This stage sorted out the men from the boys (or, more accurately, from the ladies of whom there were 22). Runners were still battling their way home after almost ten hours.
Next day came the final 28km stage to the oasis at Ksar Ghilane , a tourist resort with the berber tents provided with brick walls and a raised sleeping platform. This was a good thing, as a sandstorm had already forced a slight amendment to the route whilst this was followed by a torrential rainstorm that raged for more than a day! The first rain like this for five years, we were told!
The awards ceremony was a wonderful get together for the runners: Joerg Balle, from Germany (from the same six person tent as myself) was the winner, whilst I was very privileged to receive one of four Special Awards, a beautiful 'Desert Rose' (don't worry, it's not a flower, but a naturally occurring gypsum and sand 'sculpture' from the Tunisian desert, which I will always treasure). Don't know why I received it, though! Then back to Djerba on the landcruisers, splashing through deep water between the sand dunes that threw sandy water back over the windscreens and completely obscured the view of the driver. It was a wonderful experience that I wouldn't have missed: fantastic companions, each providing mutual support and encouragement: and do you know, in the entire week I never heard a single moan or grumble. Thank you, everybody, runners and support group, and organisers, for an unforgettable week. I got home at 0145 on the Sunday after flights from Djerba and Rome: I'll lie awake dreaming about it all for weeks!
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