Racing the Planet Flashback: Sahara Race 2011

In just two short weeks Usama Malik will be Racing the Planet across 150 miles of the Jordanian desert, from Wadi Ram to Petra. His efforts will contribute not only to raising awareness for TYO's programs, but also help to raise funds for our 50k in 50 days campaign that will allow us to feed healthy snacks to the hundreds of children that participate in our programming each year. Malik's commitment to TYO began long before this race, when last summer he Raced the Planet through 150 miles of the Sahara and raised 30k to support TYO. During this week-long undertaking he logged nightly after victoriously completing a marathon a day in the blistering heat on unpredictable terrain. This week we share with you his first log after day one of his race, below.


Day 1 of the race was a total breeze.  Beautiful desert views, what once was the bottom of an ocean, cool breeze, awesome competitors, delicious food, cold water … just what I had trained for.  Or not. 

Actually Day 1 was the complete opposite of that, and worse than any expectations I had … and we still have 5 more to go.  I didn’t really have dinner last night, I tried one of those awful freeze dried meals but failed with them.  People started waking up at 5 AM this morning, it’s still dark at that time.  Everyone is roaming about getting ready with their night lights on their heads, a pretty cool scene.  Also slightly unnatural.  Breakfast comprised of a Cliff protein bar, and at 7 AM we were off to the races.  It started out nicely, the temperature was cooler maybe around 80 degrees, legs were fresh enough, and there was just the general excitement of the group.  Running in sand is exponentially harder than I had envisaged, it consumes a lot more energy at least for me.  Each day is broken up into 4 stages with checkpoints for water refills.  I ran the first 13 miles well enough, crossed the first two check points in the top ten, whatever that means, and then I hit a wall. The heat had risen to 115 degrees, quite cool for these parts, my legs were turning into mush from running on sand and my hands and feet had grown almost twice in size from swelling.  Which means I should have bought that pair of 11.5 sneakers instead of 11!  This only means bad things for my feet over the next week, they will most likely be shredded, never mind the pain.  At some point I just didn’t have a handle on anything, the blistering sun, the unbearable heat, the hot water in the camelback, the disgusting salt pills and electrolytes … added up to a feeling of utter misery.  I was just sort of roaming, a body without a functional mind.  It felt like the point of no return, and it’s only Day 1!  Anyway, you push yourself through the miserable agony and make it through.  I finished 5 hours later, finishing 24th (of ~150 people).  The two guys that came in 1st finished in 3.10.   Believe me I am not competing, I just had a slight leg up from the first two stages, I was a total wreck in the last two.  Things will be very different in the days ahead, I just need to finish, by any means necessary. 

Back at camp, the sand is boiling, two hours later things are returning back to “normal.”  I had a delicious freeze-dried meal, they start to taste better when your stomach is eating you from the inside out.  But will have to make do with the same pair of shorts and shirt for the week, like everyone else.  It smells fresh.  The natural toilets dug into the sand are festering. It’s going to be a great week of hygiene. 

I don’t know how I am, how many of us are going to make it through the next 5 days, but I am sure that sheer force of will, stubbornness, and the channeled thoughts and energy of children at TYO, family and friends will make miracles happen.  Tomorrow already looks onerous, the thought of it is debilitating.  And it all leads into the great march on Day 5, when we run 54 miles or two marathons in a single day in the same or in fact worse conditions … heat stroking ourselves in a full day of angry sun and torturous heat.  But at the end of it awaits a finishing medal - a personal badge of honor, delicious food, and a beautiful hotel.  It’s going to feel so good, it’s going to make it all worth it … well it will then, but it’s all too abstract right now. 

 I think I burnt my prefrontal cortex today, now all I have left is my animal instinct.  I’ve been in the air-conditioned West for too long, my adaptation skills are a bit outdated.  But for now I will take it one day at a time, otherwise it gets too overwhelming.  Maybe it will hail tomorrow, which is known to happen here too … pelt me with screaming ice over this monstrous sun! 6 months of training prepared me for nothing, you can only train for this by doing this … so let the training begin! 

Time for a nap.  



We hope Usama feels thoroughly prepared and seasoned from his last experience. We will be channeling good vibes and well wishes his way. Join us in supporting and cheering him on during the race, beginning May 13th! And make sure to check back daily from May 13th to May 19th to track his status and read his daily logs. We ♥ U!

-Samin Samin is The Women’s Group Program Coordinator