Ultra running and desert racing in particular has increased in popularity over the last few years, with more and more runners earning their “desert stripes”. The races themselves have come a long way since the early days, when you really were putting your life in your own hands just by stepping over the start line. These days safety and organisation is paramount and you are never far away from help if you do get into trouble. There is the obvious challenge of testing your body and seeing how far you can push yourself, but apart from that.....why else would people do this and why should you? Well, read on for our top 5 reasons.
1. Camaraderie and friendship
One thing that is clear when you arrive on the start line for a desert race is that you are all in the same boat. Yes there are elite athletes that will be leading the pack and competing for first place, but even they are just people. There are no egos, no superstars and no negative competition. You’ll have made new friends before you even cross the start line and those friendships will go a long way. Most people have spent months if not years planning their race strategy, the kit they are going to carry and the exact food and supplements to take down to the last gram of weight. However, by the first night people will be sharing and helping each other out. Whether it’s a salt tablet here, a blister treatment there or just some good advice and support, everyone will be helping each other to get through another day. By the end of the race your faith in human nature will be restored and you will go home with a new perspective on life.
2. To see some amazing scenery from a unique perspective
There is no other way to get the same perspective of a desert as travelling through it on foot. With no transport to help you, the vastness of a desert is very apparent. The empty horizon, the never ending sand dunes and the lack of civilisation is only truly appreciated when you’re stood in the middle of it. That said, it is also a truly amazing place. It’s rare nowadays to be able to experience undisturbed natural environments and see them for their true beauty. For example, during the Namib Desert Challenge you will see grasses and dead trees that have been there for thousands of years undisturbed. There will be springbok and ostriches in your path and along the route you will walk in protected areas of desert that are closed off to the public altogether. With each step, the footprints that you leave behind may be there for years to come.
3. To be alone with your thoughts
We are all human, we all get caught up in our day to day lives and have the best of intentions but smallest amount of time. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and blinkered in our outlook on life. To keep treading the same path because we don’t take time to step back and re-evaluate. To get stuck in a rut, not realise and be unable to do anything about it. When you spend a week in the desert, running by day, refuelling and resting by night, the only thing that matters is the here and now. How you’re going to get yourself through another day of running, whether your rations are going to last, whether you’ve drunk enough water, whether you should pop your blisters or cover them with gaffer tape (yes that happens!). It’s amazing how when your mind is occupied with basic day to day survival, your life back home is put into perspective. While you’re running, your mind will wander, you’ll reprioritise your life, you’ll make decisions you’ve been putting off and you’ll be happy and confident in what you decide.
4. The journey
Taking part in a desert race is not just a week long event. It is the culmination of months or years of training. During your preparation you will learn about a whole new sport and way of running. You’ll learn about equipment, nutrition, training, the human body and medical issues. You’ll make changes to your lifestyle to incorporate you new training regime. Your priorities will change and you’ll be excited by small things such as the arrival of a new pair of socks that may protect you from blisters. You will become much more self aware as you experience the highs and lows of taking on such a challenge and what it takes to keep you going. There will be psychological changes that take place as your commitment increases, you reprioritise your life, become more confident in your ability, see the physical changes that are happening to your body and achieve things that you never thought you would. Overall, by the time you start the race you will already be a different person to the one who nervously filled in the application form all those months ago.
5. The lasting effect
There is one thing that is guaranteed when you return from your desert race, you will never look at any challenge in the same way again. If you used to be daunted at the thought of a marathon, you’ll now see marathons as “a bit of a warm up”. When friends ask if you want to do something that would have previously brought you out in a cold sweat, you’ll be the first one to put your hand up. You’ll find day to day tiredness and lethargy is easy to get over as you compare it to how you felt during the race. No challenge will be too big. You got off your sofa and conquered the desert, so…..what’s next?!
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