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The Chefs of the Sahara

Food cravings are one of the major things that hit competitors mid-way through a desert race. All that dried food starts taking its toll, and visions of hamburgers tend to float through minds. We thought it would be a good idea, therefore, to check in with the chefs and food professionals who are taking part in this race—to make sure they are coping. 

Benjamin Atkin, a 36-year-old Brit who is based in Spain and is the catering manager for a major restaurant there, immediately put us at ease. “Actually, working in a restaurant, our diet is terrible.  There is no routine time for dining and we are very busy the whole day.  I always just grab any food at hand when I have time.”

That said, he admits that food cravings are still making their way into his mind here.  “Only water and dried food is too difficult: all I want now is fresh food.”  Despite the culinary low-points of the race, he assures us that he is having a tremendous time.  “I found the race is harder than I expected.  However, all the people here are brilliant.  This place is amazing and the course is so beautiful.”

One of Ben’s initial motivations for doing the race was to lose weight, so maybe the bland diet isn’t such a bad thing.  “I decided to join the Sahara Race 25 months ago, September 2010, when I decided to lose weight by running.  I was 120kg.  I have run seven ultra marathons and two marathons for preparing this race.  I was 88kg before I started this race.  I guess I’ll lose 5kg after this race.”

From here, we head to check in with Oliver Carey, another British competitor who lives abroad, this time in Brisbane, Australia, and find that all is going particularly well with his dietary experiences in the desert.

The 31-year-old is a chef in Hotel Accor in Brisbane: “We prepare banquet for events taken place in the hotel and prepare special food for different people with regards to different flavor preference, cultures,” he explains. “Our hotel also has sporting teams and athletes come to stay when they are joining events in Brisbane.”

As he discusses his meal choices on the course, it all sounds rather delicious. “I always wash my hands and want to keep clean every moment,” he points out.  “For breakfast, I keep it traditional, things like porridge, and keep a good diet to start running for the day.  For the lunch or dinner, I take something different, to prepare some surprise.”

He admits that one fantasy is working its way into his mind—to sip a cold beer. “I am looking forward to a beer after the race ends, as I stopped drinking any alcohol when I started training for this race.”

Little does Oliver know that that very beer is awaiting his arrival at the Pyramids of Giza—it’s a 4 Deserts tradition to whip out cold drinks and beers at the finish line and, as many will attest, it’s one of the best beers you’ll ever come across.

By Clare Morin

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