Adventure, Sahara 2011, Travel
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The Road Home

As I write this I am still muddling through the mental reconciliation of what will be one of the highlights of my lifetime.  Its a mental battle, much different than out in the heat…highs and lows on the effort and choices laid out in the past 5 days.  Right now I can say I am at peace with my choices, time will tell.  In addition, I look around the cybertent  and see team mates from home and competitors from France, Germany, Hong Kong, England and Brazil.

So where to begin? Lets start with something I know most of you were hoping to hear….I was on the start line for day 5!  It felt good to be there. The health meter had raised to a decent level and I was able to go.  That is all I was asking for.   Sadly, it would not last, but that is the least important part of this entry.  All our team mates were up at 5am and excited for the final day and a 7am start (remember the start time) on route back towards Cairo.

The trek to stage one was relatively flat with some soft sand spots and rose to the top of a hill after an initial first two hours.  We ran most of this stage and some walking up hills.  A quick break in the shade which now was mandatory even early on, would be part of everyone’s day 5 strategy.  The next section to stage two had many ups and downs through soft sand as we neared the rock bed, we finally realized, we had not been running in a low point rising up to a plateau, but what once was ocean floor millions of years ago and the plateau was in fact ground level.  It gave a whole new sense of running through living history and just how far from anywhere we actually were.  Rolling into stage two cherecck point two hours later we were absolutely elated as we entered a large covered bedouin structure with large rest area and shade where they had locals selliing Naan type breads, chicken, veggies and…chips and coca cola!!  You have never seen so many happy people.  20 Egyptian pounds got you a large bag of chips and a cold can of Egyptian Coke.  Choice of Chili Lime Flavor or Cray Fish Bbq.  We shared a few bags and gobbled dorwn the coke. Instant rejuvenation to all of us. Many people were also carrying pringles, salted almonds, pepperoni sticks and beef jerky for the last day to get that instant salt fix that all would be lacking in some degree.

After a solid rest at stage two we moved on to our highlight for the day, the valley of the whales, through a world heritage museum in the desert.  We passed many skeletons of whales from millions of years ago.  It was pretty cool.  They were not as big as I expected but were good none the less.  At this point I was needing motivation.  The heat was on the rise and a direct head wind, sand swirling in our face.  We could not get much running done through the stage and this one took us three hours.  After 7 hours being beaten up out there we reached a much nh feed rest at stage 3.  My back was in knots, stomach getting naseus again from a losing battle of keeping fluids replenished and salts and carbs in and swelling big toes that felt ready to explode.  With knowing the body would not allow me to reach to finish line today, even if I was able to make one more stage, I decided to hang it up.   It became very clear (and confirmed from my veteran team mates later that day) that my body could not fleully recover after the punishment it took on day 1 and 2 (related to over weighted pack and expending to much energy getting very dehydrate houd).  Much more on a recap on my race strategy in a later post.  Sometimes you cannot see it in yourself but friends said I was ashen and my voice was weak.  I was just focused on recovering.

From pulling out at stage 3 we drove with support staff to help out at stage 4.  It was a long 10km trek there through very soft sand up and down dunes with stiff wind and amazing landscapes, that when leaving towards stage 5 you would first have to climb a 200 high foot sand dune and walk across to a peak before plunging down.  It gassed many deeply, but was also a highlight of the day for most.  We welcomed in many travelers that were behind us all day, competitors from India, Korea, Japan, South Africa, UK and  6 professional athletes traveling with a ceremonial prince head  in honor of their incorp as a country founding.   They had a send off by their president before they left and have a total contingent of 17 team members + a media jeep, camera crew and videographer. As you get to know more people is amazing to learn what people have done or do, from Military Officers, Police, Former Athletes, Marathoners and average people.  Some leveraging a life changing event, some looking for one and others a big hairy challange.

Today can be a big downer day for many as they are physically and mentally exhausted after battling for 10 hours (the fastest and superhuman) to our group 14-20 hours and the slowest 24-27 hours (they walked the whole way).  Since people were coming into camp until 10am this morning, today and tonight is a full day of rest, so everyone now stews in the trepid mid afternoon heat, healing, swatting flies and battling already low energy, staying out of direct sun and the life sucking air that surrounds us.  Its a boring day for most, however we make due, chatting, exchanging war stories,  playing cards and the most fun, reading blog comments and writing to all of you.

So what have I learned?  Well, 90% of this trip has been about the process, the training leading up to, learning through the weak and 10% about the goal.  The ultimate goal when I started was not achieved, but I did have goals around friendship, learning and leadership which has more than come through.  Sometimes goals need to be adjusted midstream and that was the case here.  I have had great learnings related to compassion, mental toughness, pain thresholds, physical exertion, vulnerability, team work, leadership and compete level.  The latter I saw and learned through others how high a level of compete and absolute commitment was needed to complete individual days, specific stretches and ultimately the final 85k.  I now have a much clearer idea of different types of training needed to prepare for a race like this, willingness, comittment of course patience to keep health in check for the long haul.

In closing, a couple questions posed by team mates before and after we finished still to address.

Why am I here? I may go on longer on this one in the future, but for now I am pretty sure its about the challange, learning more about myself by pushing limits and trying to take my compete quotient to the next level.

Will l i redo this race of enter a similar one?  Too early to tell, but as I sit here, I think I have had enough of this desert, however taking on something like Racing Atacama in Chili or in Nepal could happen.

Our last bit of exciting news here at camp.  When we pack up tomo morning, we head into Cairo for noon where we will do a ceremonial run (2km – many who are hobbled will walk) across the finish line in front of the Pyramids of Gyza.  Sure to be a highlight. In celebration, they will be serving us PIZZA, POP and BEER.  Still eating remnants of our lightened back and sicked with freeze dried, everyone can’t wait.

THANK YOU EVERYONE for coming on this journey with me.  Without your support it would not have been possible to keep motivated throughout the race.

Colin

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