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Sahara Race 2012 Blogs
What a journey!
05-Nov-2012 09:33:01 AM [(GMT+02:00) Cairo]

I am back in Cairo at one of the high points thus far in my life. Thank you for all the support out there. I wouldn't have made it without hearing from everyone. I hope to have more experiences as amazing as this one, but am not sure if I will. This race was without a doubt one of my proudest accomplishments and I had more growth in my life. I have made incredible friends, saw part of the world I would never experienced and pushed myself to limits I thought I wasn't capable of. Yesterdays 54 mile 25 hour run was the hardest thing I have ever I ever done physically but beyond that mentally. I never considered the mental challenge coming into this race but in the past 36 hours I was in some very dark places in my head.  

Overall I came in 78th place out of the 146 people who started 116 who finished taking me 53 hours. If you had told me 10 days ago this would have been my result I would have probably thought this race was a huge failure. Having finishing now I am so proud of everything from finishing, my time to the people I met in this race. Reflecting back the best days were the toughest ones. If my race had been days 1,2 and 4 I would have had a much faster race, but a much different experience.  

I spent a huge amount of time preparing and training for this race. I would not have made it if I hadn't had everything dialed in. I had every calorie I would eat accounted for, every piece of gear I would need, heat training and months of running. I am not a superstar runner but a strong one and this race was very hard for me. Everything seems so manageable reading about it ahead of time, but there are so many unforeseeable challenges in doing your first ultra. I just reread my blog and am so glad I kept it for myself and the memories as well as to share with everyone. I thought they would be some more whining in them and be a bit more emotional. Instead they seemed more like a factual account of what was going on.  

Racing the planet staff, Sam, Alaina and Ross, were incredibly professional and ran the race very smoothly. The volunteers put in hours of work for nothing in return and I am so thankful to them. The medical team, which I got to know all too well, were incredible. Jay, Rob, and Joe all took amazing care of me and were constantly looking out for my health and safety.  

People really had a caring for me, my success and well being. Two people especially cared for me and I might be overstepping when I say this but loved me. Katie and Manon thank you two so much, without you two I couldn't have finished this race. They believed in me when I didn't and their caring for me was unbelievable. It feels so amazing to have that from people I met five days ago.  

Manon is an ER doctor in LA. All that anti nausea medicine I was taking was not paid for by the race, she was giving it to me out of her caring and wanting me to succeed in this race. I was responding by being delirious and losing it. Here is a picture of her "cooling her jets".  

 
Katie was out here doing research on hyponatremia, but all her equipment was lost in the mail. She was a lifesaver out there taping my back, blisters and handing out "medical" cheese. Such a great supporter who was always looking out for me. I think she must have been being silly for the camera in this picture in long sleeves and a tuque as I can't remember one day with it being cool enough for a hat or long sleeves.  

 
As for the actual race on day five it started off at this campsite at about 5:30am.  

 
Here is a photo of my tent mates from the previous day. We started with eleven in the tent but ended up with eight since three people had to stop their races. Even with eight we were all cramped in head to toe while we slept.  

 
The first two stages were beautiful through an old ocean called the valley of the whales. The footing was amazing and I moved very quickly running almost until the forth check point. My foot began hurting very badly, like there was a knife being stabbed through the bottom. I worked in some walking and finally sat down to take my shoe off and tapped a gauss bandage roll to the bottom. It felt so much better but running like that for more than a few miles wouldn't work. As I approached check point four, about 20 miles in, the heat set in and I knew I would have to take a break as the next stage was a very difficult one over soft dunes. I arrived at check point four somewhere between 17th and 25th place around 10:30 or 11am.  

The lead medical doctor, Jay, looked at my foot and said it was an overuse injury. He said I wouldn't hurt myself anymore and it was just pain.  

I lay at the check point for the next four hours and was passed by almost every competitor. Here I am with Jon Gannon, the competitor I spoke about earlier with a broken toe. He is a real tough guy, I can only imagine the pain he endured.  

 
I am impressed we were still smiling as it was 118 degrees out! Here is a shot on the other side of the SUV to give you some idea of where we were, with the dunes we were about to cross in the distance.  

 
As I was lying on the ground some of the sweepers with camels came up. After a few minutes I hear the loudest sound out of the camel. I lift my head to see the camel on its knees and the rider wrestling with its head. He grabbed the camels nostrils and pulled back its head forcing the camel to open its mouth and shoved a 1.5 liter bottle of water down its throat which the camel drank in about five seconds. That was probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life. I just checked online and unfortunately couldn't find a video of it.  

I ran out of check point four until I hit the dunes and hiked until check point five which Manon was running. It had cooled off a bit but was still 110 degrees out. By check point five my foot was killing me so she gave me an aerosol spray can to roll my foot on. It felt AMAZING, such relief. She also gave me some more nausea medicine as the heat of the last leg was getting to me a bit.  

I continued on to check point six which was 30 miles into the last leg while the sunset. It was very pretty. Check point six was the overnight check point with tents set up. I stopped and ate my last dinner, chicken korma. It was surprisingly tasty considering it is all I ate every night for the week. I should have taken a nap but decided to continue on. Having done five marathons in five days I was tired and at mile 30 out of 54.  

As I continued in the dark things deteriorated quickly for me. I was walking slowly alone in the dark having been on this stage for about 16 hours. I was very weary and started to feel my heart race and head spin. I stopped and lied down on the side of the course and put my head in the sand. I told myself two minutes before I would get going again. If anyone is caught sleeping on the course they are pulled from the race as it is very dangerous with cars patrolling. I started to feel incredibly sorry for myself. I started thinking of all the hard work I had put into the race and why others were moving so much faster and having so much more success. As I wallowed in myself pity I saw some headlights in the distance which got me to my feet.  

The approaching car rolled down its window and Manon was inside. She rolled down the window and asked how I was doing. I said fine and she drove on. I saw her pull over in the distance and turn off her lights to see if I was still moving forward. I thought to myself how sneaky that was of her.  

I think she could see I was walking slowly when in the cooler night weather I normally would be running. After she saw that I was still walking on, she drove back. She asked again how I was doing and I told her how I had to take the short rest, felt like my heart was racing and had a fever. She checked all my vitals and asked me if she wanted to pull me from the race. I said no, though in the back of my mind I was wishing she would pull me so I would have an excuse to quit. I was so exhausted and just wanted to be done.  

She spoke with the other race directors in the car and came back telling me she couldn't let me go on alone in the dark. She had told me before that I couldn't run anymore in this race and that she was letting me go on with my last chance. She also said that I had to be 100% honest about my conditions at all times and if she couldn't trust me that was it. She knew I was a poker player, and even though I am a bad liar she thought I was misleading her about my condition. I admit I did down play it a few times this week, though I am guessing she knew that. She held me for the next competitor, Taro a Japanese competitor, saying that if I didn't stay with him my race was over.  

For the next two hours I followed Taro step by step. All I could think about was how I couldn't leave him. As I walked behind him I felt my heart racing again. I would feel really hot and woozy. We eventually reached check point seven and Manon was waiting. She asked how I was doing and I filled her in. She again checked my vitals and told me to rest at this check point for awhile before going on. I was welcoming a break and took out my sleeping bag and lay on the hard ground.  

After 15 minutes on the ground I began getting cold and took off my wet cloths in exchange for anything warm and dry I had. The wind was whipping and my 3/4 length bag was not keeping me warm. I lay on the ground for three hours getting colder and colder with my legs killing me. I told myself that I was done with this race and would continue to the next check point and pull myself. I created a little fantasy in my head about why it was okay to quit now, 25 miles from the finish.  

Eventually one of the volunteers came and poked me, saying I had been there for three hours. I knew it was now or never so I lifted myself up and walked around the SUV to find Jon and Ken, a competitor from China. We all began walking together. At this point it was about 1am or 2am and we had all been on the course since 7am. The pace was very slow as we all had a variety of injuries, mine being by far the least painful and serous of the group. We would stop every couple of miles to rest. My heart still felt like it was racing and I told them I was done. They said that I had to go on to the next check point with them as we were in the middle of nowhere.  

It seemed to take forever to reach check point eight. We couldn't see it forever as it was over a small dune which further lowered our spirits. I'd guess with our frequent breaks we were moving at 25-30 minute mile pace. As we walked in Katie greeted me asking how I was doing. I told her about my racing heart and how I was not feeling well. She checked all my vitals and told me to rest. I had been so cold in the wind at the last check point that I took the plastic ground cover and wrapped myself in it to get out of the wind. As I lay under the plastic I grabbed my bag and rummaged around for something to eat. All I had left were two freeze dried porridges which the thought of made me sick, especially having them cold. As I was lying on the ground I overheard Katie and Tony, a consultant for the race, discussing my condition. Tony was saying I couldn't make it as we had 15 miles. Katie was telling him she thought I could go on.  

Jon and Ken were talking about getting moving again and I knew I had to continue with them. I also thought getting some food would really help me, so I asked Katie if she had anything and she produced two small pieces of cheese and some wheat thins from her bag. After eating what I had for the last week these were the two best pieces of cheese I had ever had. It was unbelievable how delicious these things were.  

We began moving again and I felt AMAZING. I couldn't feel my heart racing any longer, nor was I getting hot flashes. I would have started running again but I didn't because of Manon and what she had told me earlier. Jon was in a very bad state at this point, and I wasn't sure if he would make the final 15 miles. We were creeping along barely ahead of the Eygptian camel riders sweeping the course.  

The sun began rising as we approached checkpoint nine and it was so beautiful. Jon's spirits began rising and we were joking about everything as we walked. For the first time I had the realization we had been on the course for almost 24 hours. I couldn't believe how great I was feeling with the terrible state I had been in just a few hours ago. When we arrived at check point nine Katie, Manow and some of the volunteers were waiting with huge smiles on their faces. We stopped for 15 minutes to take pictures and I was overcome with joy. It was such an amazing feeling and an unreal high. That was the high point of my trip, out there with everyone after the night we shared together.  

I don't have the pictures yet as they were taken on Manow's phone who is headed back to the states. Maybe I can add them later.  

We powered through the last stage and I began to run the last mile or two. It felt great coming in strong after being on the course for 25 hours. I was greeted by Deyl (who had an amazing day five!!! You should read about it in his blog) and a bunch of my other friends at the camp. Here is a shot of me right after finishing the 54 miles, and 155 miles in 5 days.  

 
The rest of the day was spent getting very hungry. Deyl and I had planned on not eating this day as we didn't want to carry the food all week. Trust me when I say that was a better idea on paper than in action.  

I was trying to trade my porridge for something I could keep down. I was lucky that Steven, a very experienced ultra marathoner who came in third, took pity on me. He was nice enough to trade me for a porridge for his mashed potatoes even though I knew he didn't want the porridge. He had given me one the day before as well. That was the hungriest I have ever felt in my life and freeze dried mashed potatoes tasted so good. It was only 400 calories or so and I had only eaten 1600 calories the entire day before while covering 54 miles. I was still starving but it helped.  

As the day dragged on we had nothing to do but be hungry and sit in the 115 degree heat. By 4pm I was at my end and ready start begging other competitors for food. Deyl was in a similar state and we didn't think we would be able to eat until 24 hours later after finishing the race at the pyramids of Giza. Then Alina made an announcement that there was a surprise gift from the local people. She said they had Egyptian flat bread and cheese for us!!! I had been craving cheese all week and the bit Katie gave me just wet my appetite. Deyl and I were first in line and devoured our four pieces of bread and soft cheese. It was so good and salty. The entire time I was eating I was monitoring the line looking for a chance to get back in for 2nds. I felt so pathetic but I just didn't care, I was too hungry.  

I jumped in for 2nds and took them to my tent so no one could see me in the state I was in. I found Deyl already there having grabbed 2nds as well and we sat in the back hording our food. We went back for thirds finishing everything off. The other competitors had more composure than us and I think we were the only ones to have 2nd's much less thirds. After finishing I felt so pleasantly full I lay down to sleep for the first time in 48 hours, so thankful I wasn't hungry.  

The next morning we were bused to the pyramids of Giza for our final one mile run and photo shoot. I sat by Manon on the bus and we talked about the previous day. I thanked her for not pulling me and letting me finish my race even though I was so sick. She said that she never thought for a 2nd about pulling me on that day. She had on earlier days, but she said day five in the night everything was in my head. I was floored and asked about my racing heart and fever. She said my heart rate was normal and I didn't have a fever. She said I was having a mental struggle (breakdown?) and needed to hear that I was about to be pulled. She put me with Taro to help me mentally, not to have him watch my safety.  

I was in utter shock that I was so weak mentally. I feel gross just thinking about it and writing it here. In all my preparation for this race I never considered that my biggest weakness would be in my head not in my body. Manon had really pulled a great bluff on me. I was convinced I was about to be pulled from the race if I didn't do exactly as she said, while I had been ignoring some of her advice/orders earlier in the week.  

We arrived at the pyramids and it was a bit of a letdown. I had built it up in my head as this amazing finish but it wasn't. Sure it looks good on Facebook, but my highlight was day five check point nine with very special people watching the sun rise over the desert. That was a moment I will remember forever.  

I have so many other experiences and thoughts that can't fit into this blog that may fade from my mind as time goes on. I have grown incredibly close to so many people in such a short amount of time. So many people I spoke before the race said their journey was life changing. I never considered mine would be going in and brushed it off as people being overly emotional. I thought I was preparing for a race and competition, that was not what it ended up being for me.  

As I finish this up I am getting teary eyed. If you are reading this considering doing something like this I would say go for it. I don't know what your journey will be but I bet it will surprise and change you.
Finished safe and sound!
02-Nov-2012 11:27:40 AM [(GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana]

I don’t have much time on the computer so I will have to keep this short. I’ll write a longer blog when I am back in Cairo. Thank you all for the comments, it means the world to me.


Dad, everything here is being run well and my safety is always being looked out for.


I finished 54 mile stage safely. It was very grueling for me. I finished in about 25 hours which put me in about 100th place. I am just happy to finish as there were some times when I wasn’t sure I was.


I ran the first two stages and did very well. Once I hit the third check point, about three hours in, I had to take a 4 hour break to let the heat pass. My watch read 118 degrees and that leg of the course was rated difficult. It was so smart to take the break as I wouldn’t have made it. Most of the competitors passed me.


I did well on stage four and five passing a few competitors. Stage five was the overnight camp, but I only took 20minutes to eat something which was a mistake. By check point six I was really struggling and had to rest for three hours. I was wiped and every check point from there on I would take 2-3 hour breaks to rest up. I couldn’t sleep but I was able to rest my weary legs.


I consider myself a pretty tough guy but people out here take the cake. I am think my fitness and training is very good but I was beat today by lots of people who had more constitution than me. It sounds so easy to just push beyond your limits but when you are running in pain it’s very hard.


The medical team was great today. They were on top of my safety at all times, I was very impressed.


Thanks again for reading, I will write a more detailed post in a few days. Please keep the comments coming!

Stage 4
01-Nov-2012 01:07:41 AM [(GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana]

What a difference a day makes!


Thank you so much for the comments, it means the world to me. I am sitting here teary eyed from all the comments. It’s a bit embarrassing as this is definitely a “tough guy” race and crying isn’t really something these guys do.


Yesterday’s blog was probably a bit melodramatic. I can’t read it now, but I was at the lowest point of the race having been on the course for 10+ hours and coming in at sunset.


Today was simply amazing. I finished in 22nd place. I forget my exact time. I started the day off with my daily trip to the medical tent. The doctor told me that I couldn’t run today or tomorrow because of how sick I was. I was given some nausea medicine which I promptly managed to lose in my daze.


I started off the first stage following the doctor orders walking. I came to the first check point in 90th place. I was feeling sick to my stomach similar to the day before. Once I crossed the check point I began adding in some shuffling to my walk. As the miles passed I began feeling better and better. I started passing lots of competitors as my nausea subsided.


By check point two I was feeling pretty good and had moved up to about 60th place or so. I felt like I had ½ the Sahara in my shoe so I stopped for 10minutes to clean out the sand. The doctors at check point two realized I had run some and made sure to check my vitals. They have done a very great job staying on top of things while still letting us push our limits.


The heat started to turn up after check point three and we there were some large hard packed dunes to cross. I added back in some walking to my jog and didn’t pass to many competitors for a few miles. Then out of nowhere some cloud cover rolled in and the temperatures dropped by 20 degrees. I haven’t seen one cloud the entire time I was out here and was pleasantly surprised to say the least.


I began absolutely flying and was holding about a 9 or 9:30 pace. Although that doesn’t sound blazing fast on sand, with a pack and working on my 4th marathon in four days I was very pleased with the pace.


I approached check point three which was on top of a sand dune. I walked for 5 seconds right as I first hit the dune and then began to run up. It was really motivating to hear that I was one of three competitors all day to run up it.


I started to really tear once I left check point three. I caught Deyl about a mile in and we ran together for a few miles. He was doing great looking strong and holding a very steady pace. I was feeling good so I went ahead of Deyl. I even felt so good I began to sprint and at one point when I looked down at my watch I was running 6:30 minute miles. I was on the biggest runners high of my life and had goose bumps all over my body. I felt so strong and so good with the cool weather. As I knew going in heat would be my biggest hurdle not my fitness.


In the last 100 feet I sprinted past a competitor but couldn’t quite catch the guy in 21st. It’s been two hours since I got in and I feel very refreshed and ready to go for the 54 mile day tomorrow. I am praying to the Sahara gods that we get some of the cloud cover we had today, it will help me so much. This race is hard enough without the grueling heat we had the past three days.


My plan for tomorrow is all heat dependent. If the weather is similar as today I will try to run the entire thing and think I can do really well. If it is as hot as its been the past few days my plan is to rest 4-5 hours during the heat of the day. I want to run straight through regardless of the heat but that’s a sure fire way for me to end up attached to an IV in the medical tent.


I consider myself a pretty tough guy but some of these competitors are real warriors and have ten times the constitution I do. One guy has been walking with a broken toe. I cannot imagine how he is able to keep moving. It is taking him 8-10 hours a day to finish which cuts into his recovery time and sleep every night. Yesterday was so much harder to walk than run. I remember when I began researching this race and I thought “worst comes to worst I can walk.” How wrong was I walking is 10 times more grueling than running.


One of my tent mates has had his big toe drilled and drained of fluid since it was infected. I don’t know how he goes, on its truly amazing. He is a Danish guy with the build of Robo Cop.


The competitor in 2nd place pulled out of the race today because of chaffing on his groin. It doesn’t sound too bad, but I have some starting and its real painful. He has been lying at camp with his legs spread eagle all afternoon. Anyways I thought these stories would be enjoyable and I can say without a doubt all those competitors are so much tougher than me.


Beyond these random stories there are countless people in the medical tent every night getting blisters fixed and having their backs taped from chaffing of bags.


I think there are two women in the top 30. I have met some strong willed athletic women, but these girls blow them all out of the water. They are German and Swiss with legs more muscular than mine. One even brought a pack of cigarettes with her. I don’t know why but watching her smoke after every stage really cracks me up.


I realize from reading this everyone must ask why do people do this. I honestly doubt I will do this event again, though it has been an amazing experience. I started training for this six months ago and am in by far the best shape of my life. I am also really enjoying seeing the desert and Egypt in a way I would never experience on a tour bus. It also gives me an appreciate for the rest of my life. When I am back home I am going to really appreciate the simple things in life.


Thank you again for reading! As I said before it means the world to me and is keeping me going. Please keep the comments coming, I will need them.

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BRIAN TOWNSEND
Sahara Race (Egypt) 2012

Hometown
Santa Barbara

Profession
Professional poker player, investor and small business owner

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BRIAN TOWNSEND
Sahara Race (Egypt) 2012

Bio

Hometown
Santa Barbara

Profession
Professional poker player, investor and small
business owner

Why are you competing?
for fun

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Equipment List

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