The Marathon des Sables in the Sahara of Morocco is considered to be the toughest footrace on earth. Competitors have to cover a distance of about 230 kilometres in six stages; they need to carry all their food, clothing and sleeping bag for the event themselves, only 9 litres of water a day are supplied by the race organizers. Challenges are the extreme heat (up to 50 degrees), cold at night, endless sand dunes, sand storms, blisters, sun burn, mountains, scorpions, camel spiders, diarrhoea and dehydration, to mention just a few.
When I completed the Marathon des Sables in 2006, I said "never again!" ... famous last words ... so I will be at the starting line in Morocco again in March of 2008 to race it just once (!) more.
The gruelling conditions of the Sahara at the Marathon des Sables form a spirit of camaraderie among the competitors that may best be compared to the fraternity that I have experienced among families in the SOS children's villages: Helping a fellow runner that may be struggling with dehydration or blindness in a sand storm goes without saying, even at the expense of loosing a few hours or risking disqualification for failing to meet target times at checkpoints.
Running for endless hours through completely deserted land, guided by nothing but the sun and a compass lets one focus inward as if on a pilgrimage. Carrying no worldly possessions except for some food and a few items of clothing reminds me of the the orphaned children I knew in war-torn El Salvador in the 1980's that arrived at the SOS children villages in hope to find a welcome.
Experiencing pain, dehydration, hallucinations or blackout confront the competitor of the Marathon des Sables with his own physical and mental limits and let him contemplate about the inevitable, final barrier no human being can deny. There have been accidents and casualties at the Marathon des Sables in the past, although the medical teams are well experienced and equipped state of the art.
The most vibrant experience of my 2006 Marathon des Sables was running through the night in the Sahara under a full moon and a sky filled with stars as I've never witnessed before. I switched off my head lamp and let myself be guided by the soft silvery shine of the moon. Having run for over 12 hours that day, I tuned my small music player to Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony, the Pathétique, the brilliant recording with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, and all the sudden I seemed to be in a different world: refreshed with new energy, gone the pain of those bleeding blisters on my left foot, stages of my life from my childhood in El Salvador, it's civil war and the faces of the many homeless children started to appear before my mental eye - I felt like being in a giant picture gallery with the sky being a huge canvas and I knew I had to run this race again in benefit of the SOS families.
The Marathon des Sables is not just any sporting event or challenge of endurance, but an emotional travel that shakes each competitor down to his roots. It is a transformational experience - no runner will be the same afterwards. And no-one runs such an event for himself alone.
I will dedicate my race to the brave children and families of the SOS children's villages around the world and would like to welcome you to sponsor generously! All donations go 100% to SOS Children's Villages, there is no financial or other benefit for me.
Andreas Doerfler's Fundraising Page
Fundraising for SOS Children's Villages UK
We protect and care for vulnerable children to ensure access to a better future
Charity Registration No. 1069204