Arabian Nights – Ali Baba and the 40 runners
Report about the 180km race taking place in the hottest place on earth – the Dasht-e-Lut Desert in Iran
I’m freezing! It’s really cold as we take off from Frankfurt. „That’ll soon change“ I tell myself! However, none of my previous experiences from 11 Desert Races could have prepared me for what was to come. I’m not a big fan of „ratings“, but the ISRU (Iranian Silk Road Ultramarathon) is in a class of it’s own among the world’s toughest races. In the following 6 days we’ll run 250 kilometers (or the 180km in the „light“ version) along the old Persian Silk Road.
We find ourselves in the Dasht-e Lut Desert in south-east Iran, close to the border with Afghanistan.
This desert is the hottest place on earth with a record temperature measured at 70.7° Centigrade. The conditions here are so pitilessly severe that no-one can live here, and no evidence of human habitation has ever been found in this region. In the coming week there would be occurrences the likes of which I’ve never experienced.
The aforementioned 40 runners are registered for the Debut ISRU. There are only 25 at the startline since some failed to apply for, or receive their visas in time. It’s only since the end of the Trade Embargo following the Nuclear Agreement with Iran that this race with international competitors has been made possible. Nevertheless, I have my reservations about travelling in the Arab World and I approach the Lut Desert with proper respect. My apprehension concerning the desert is appropriate, but I needn’t have worried about the travelling! Persians are not Arabs, a fact which they make quite clear! The warmth of their hospitality exceeds everything that I’ve come across in my extensive travels.
For our first accommodation, we find ourselves in an old Caravanserai – the historical „Motorway Services“ on the Silk Road.
Iran’s first Ultramarathon Race commences at 8 o’clock the following morning. The mood is agreeable, even though no-one slept all that much, just a few feel a little uneasy. Whoever starts this race must be prepared to deliver. Exceptional concentration, stamina and courage are going to be required in order to reach the finishing lines over the next 6 days. For outsiders it must look as though we’re all stark raving mad! I suspend judgement!
In the mornings, the temperature is quite bearable…but not for long. The race route has 2 variations: the one over 250 km., the other 180km. 8 weeks before the Iran trip, while taking part in, and making 3rd place in the 250km Sri Lanka Jungle race, I injured my knee. I couldn’t run for several weeks until I was finally certified „fit“…. on the last possible day for the Visa application. Although I’d have dearly loved the challenge of the longer race, the decision to run the 180km version was still pretty heroic…if not foolhardy! 40km per day, with a stretch of 80km at the end for the long version. The „Light version“ amounts to 30km per day and the longer stage of 50km to the finish. We run with backpacks containing sleeping bag, food and other essential provisions weighing 7 to 9 kilogramms. The organizers provide water and tents, and we are supplied with additional water at checkpoints positioned at 10km intervals along the way.
As always, the first day is the toughest. Getting used to the heat and getting a feel for running in sand takes a while. But for me it’s a promising start and I find myself unintentionally leading the field in the „Light Version“. As I’m nearing the end, I’m gaining on an Iranian runner who’s competing in the long version. From a distance I can see that he’s not particularly steady on his legs. As I catch up I recognize Cem, the Iranian runner to whom I’d given my spare rucksack earlier, as I couldn’t bear to see him running with a rucksack that looked like his Grandma had won in a raffle. I knew that Cem was a good runner (Marathon time of 2.40h as I learned later) and now he’s wobbling about in front of me with my rucksack. As I draw level with him, I realize that he’s totally out of it. He’s hallucinating due to massive dehydration…in the meantime it’s 45°C. I give him all my water and salt tablets and try to revive him a little with fruit-gums, but he just throws it straight up again. My water doesn’t last long but he can’t keep anything down, he can’t eat, there’s no shade whatsoever and far and wide not another runner or recovery vehicle to be seen. A potentially perilous situation and it takes me a moment to decide the best plan of action…should I leave him alone or should I stay? I explain to him that he should sit down while I run to fetch help. Sit down?…no way! stubborn customer! So, I’m off!…3 kilometers, like speed training on the running track. Well before the checkpoint I’m yelling and waving my arms about…it would have been funny had it not been so serious. I explain the situation and the jeeps are already on the way to pick him up. He was trying to run faster than Mohamad Ahansal. Forget it!…Mahamad and his brother Lahcen are the best desert runners of all time. Together they won the Marathon des Sables 15 times.
Cem weasels himself back into the race, but he’s had it! They fetch him in, bring him to the Doc for an infusion and by evening he’s on his feet again. Of course he’s disqualified and he leaves the camp for Kerman. And that’s when I finally get annoyed! Regardless of skin-colour, race or religion, there’s always some idiot! He’s simply gone off home with my rucksack! The joke about the two brain-halves and the socks comes to mind…there’s always one missing!
Day 2. At the request of some of the participants, we start at 6 o’clock. This enables the slower runners to make progress before the afternoon heat. It’s a good decision, seeing as the exertion and the heat seem to accumulate over time. On the second day I’m already consuming the goodly amount of 12 litres of water…that’s to drink…not to take a shower! Even so, I still can’t manage a respectable pee! The water simply evaporates from the skin. We, runners of the „light version“ are driven to the first checkpoint, starting the race on the same route but 10km. further on. I’m already leading by 40 minutes after the first day, so I’m running all alone through this breathtaking landscape. Some stretches remind me of the Grand Canyon…junior version. We proceed through the Dolphin Valley, it looks like a huge dolphin family ploughing through the waves. And that’s hours on end…every day…just for me…sort of.
I feel wonderfully privileged to be able to run here every day. There’s a lot to think about in the desert, and plenty of time. I think about my family, about our daughter Mara, who, as we discovered only 2 months ago, has a genetic defect. I know it sounds crazy, but the desert heals…comforts. It occurs to me for the first time how quiet it is in the desert, how it seems to calm and subdue the rush and tangle of needless thoughts that burden us day in, day out.
The nights by contrast are much louder, twenty blokes sawing logs! Some of the ladies can snore to international standards too. And speaking of women…this is the first sporting event since the revolution in 1978, in which men and women are allowed to participate together. Small steps, good direction! Mahsa Torabi is running with us, the first Iranian woman to run a marathon just a few weeks earlier…three hours before the rest of the field, but with permission from the powers that be.
At the end of the second day back at camp, we’re caught in a sandstorm…and amazingly…it rains! The storm is violent, so quickly stuff everything in the rucksack, lay down upon it and wait! If the equipment gets blown away, the race is over. After 20 minutes the storm dies down.
On the third day we cross over the river that we’ve been following for a while. I make it without mishap, but some of the others stumble in the salty water and one of the jeeps keels over the edge of the bank and sinks in the river. A total write-off. Nearing the end of this stage there’s no checkpoint and as front-runner I get quite a shock. I can normally deal with a bit of stress and an emergency situation…at my age I should hope so! But, this could be dangerous as we have ridiculously high temperatures in the meantime. Using different watches, we’ve measured 65°C on the ground and 55°C at a meter. Thankfully, a relief vehicle arrives with water, and others are summoned by radio to bring water to the runners following. In actual fact, the Italian Organizer is doing a good job here in the Lut Desert.
Today’s destination is in a Caravanserai. I’m lounging in my tent and in comes Mohamad Ahansal and makes himself comfortable. We share a bag of Infusions liquid that the Doc had just given me.. yes, we actually drink the stuff! Even Mohamad is reduced to walking part of the way…but at least he has a comfortable lead. I met Mohamad 10 years ago but didn’t know who he was. He was the organizer of the Desert Marathon in his hometown Zagora…my very first Desert Race. We’ve been friends since then, and last December he visited me at home in Hennef. Who would have thought that I’d be lounging about at the end of a day’s running, guzzling infusions liquid with the greatest Desert Runner of all time? I’ve really come a long way…teehee!
Every now and again, the 4WD ambulance takes one or other of the crew members to the mobile hospital, a bus out on the road…and brings them back again.Sometimes the ambulance returns with fresh supplies of ice-cold water, a well known fact in the camp, and everyone rushes to the hospital tent. Our drinking water is easily warm enough to make tea with! In with the tea-bag, wait a couple of minutes…ready! Our water supplies stand on the ground…and that’s hot! Partly because areas of the Lut Desert are actually fired from beneath by volcanic activity…without there being a volcano. Hence the extreme heat.
Day 4. The long stages of the race, 80km and the 47km light version begins.
We all set off together, before daybreak. Off we go with our headlamps in the dark and at last I have the once in a lifetime opportunity to follow Mohamad Ahansal. I can laugh about it now, but on that morning I was hoping to keep up with him for at least an hour. After 20 minutes I give up…after all it’s going to be a long day. He’s absolutely in a league of his own…a fact that I was completely aware of. But,…nothing ventured, nothing gained.
At the third checkpoint I meet up with my camera-man Steffen Neupert. Equipped with GoPro and camera, he’s going to accompany me on foot for 20km.. We’ve known each other for about half a year and we get on really well. It’s his first desert adventure and I fear he’ll be coming again. We’re in high spirits as we trundle side by side through the Lut Desert. Once again we get some sensational film material, some of which has even reached the BBC.
My knee is playing up again since day 3, which means I can’t stand still at the checkpoints otherwise it „seizes up“ and then takes ages before I can get going again. Maybe the secret of my success, I can’t even consider standing still or the race would be over…for me. However, my lead has increased over the last couple of days and slowly but surely I leave my trail in the desert sand.
Haha!, drama, adventure, the call of the wild! It’s unbelievably hot and we hail every one of the crew jeeps driving by in the hope of getting something cold… water! Here, at the peak of my mental incapacity I devise the following plan! „When I get home I’m going to lock myself in the fridge for 3 days and not let anyone in“ We actually have this on film…and I’m talking as though I’m slightly drunk…and everyone knows that I’ve been „dry“ now for 13 years. Apart from that…nobody at home would want to get in the fridge when there’s already someone in there!
Checkpoint 5 is my salvation. After 47km for me, the stage is finished and I lay down to sleep. The colleagues from the long version have another 33km to go before they reach their destination. I never would have made it with my knee. When I wake up there’s a sachet of espresso, and marzipan! I brought the marzipan (without chocolate) with me for just this part of the race. A marzipan party!…with Steffen and my long-time racing friend Raffaele, who lead his blind friend Tullio through this race…what a remarkable pair! Just when life seems so perfect, I’m attacked by an unreasonably large and nasty looking green creepy-crawly climbing up my leg..I jump up and shake it off. Nobody seems to know or wants to know exactly what it was! Soon it’s night and we drive off to our camp in the jeeps…and sleep.
Because the long stage of the race goes over 2 days, the faster runners, and we from the light version have the 2nd day free. Mahsa, Stephie and Ali finally reach the finishing line, to warm and lengthy applause from the rest of us and some well-earned tears of deliverance. We share my Gummi-bears but they’re all melted together in one big sticky lump!… we all pull a string.
On this day-off, a plan begins to form in my mind. I’m so elated from this race…from the desert and everything that I’ve experienced this last week that I decide: I want to go back to the beginning! …start again right from the outset. I’ve felt this excitement in Australia, in Sri Lanka and now in Iran. I mean the enthusiasm of the beginner, the thrill of „rookies in the desert“. I love the desert… and the running…but I’m an old timer…done it all before! My idea is beginning to take solid form!
Welcome to the „Little Desert Runners Club“. I’ll continue to run…but I’m going to take other runners with me…runners who dare to take up the challenge of the desert for the first time. Starting in May 2017 in Namibia. My 10th anniversary of Desert Marathon running. I have the experience of desert running…and you have that gleam of animation in your eyes…like those starting the ISRU with the sensation of taking the first step into a fantastic adventure.
So! whoever wants to run in the desert…come to „Little Desert Runners Club“ in Facebook, or simply write to me.
Then…we come to the last „normal“ stage over a sea of high sand dunes, a desert landscape to crown all previous impressions and a physical accomplishment to match. We’re all so completely exhausted that the 6th stage is just over 2 km to our final destination in a village. That’s it, we’re all done for! We couldn’t imagine a friendlier and more helpful crew than we had in Iran…and there never was such a bunch of happy but weary runners and helpers.
Mohamad Ahansal wins the 250km version of the Iranian Silk Road Ultramarathon.
Mahsa Torabi and the other competing women all reach the finishing line, and are placed… together.
Ali Baba…also known as Rafael Fuchsgruber wins the 180km version.
The ISRU gave me very much for which I’m thankful, above all, the realization that:
Things start to get really interesting when it’s all over.
Fotos © http://www.extremeracesorganization.com / Pierluigi Benini
Sri Lanka Race 2016
250km, out of the mountains, down through the jungle and into the rice and sugarcane plantations all the way to the Indian Ocean.
„The toughest race so far“ a fitting introduction to many a race report…including some of my own in the running mags. This one was different, and for a very sad reason. A week before my trip to Sri Lanka, we’d taken our daughter Mara to her appointment at the Genetic Institute in Bonn. My wife Ute and I had long been trying to find out the reason for Mara’s slow development, and she’d already undergone two years of therapy. The causes could only be identified after repeated deep analysis. Mara has a Genetic defect which has grave implications for her developmental potential.
A terrible shock, that at first I couldn’t even talk about as I’d just dissolve into tears before
reaching the second sentence. A logical consequence I suppose. I certainly had no head for running…even taking part in a race! I wanted to cancel Sri Lanka. After a few days, Ute and I were eventually able to talk about the situation. Gradually, trying to make sense of it all, we were finally able to approach the essential question. How do we best take the next steps for our child’s future? and what kind of attitude do we adopt? And the the next question: Attitude! Since when do we need to „adopt an attitude?“ We’ve always been preparing for Mara’s future, and for quite some time now, therapeutically very intensive.
Mara hasn’t changed! The appointment in Bonn served to clarify the causes, dealt our optimism a mean blow. The attitude speaks for itself! We get up, we set our little Princess’s crown straight, then our own…and we carry on…together! That was always the attitude. It was important to grieve and to shed tears, but now we need an positive approach to our misfortune, and this we’re going to apply forthwith. Not for anyone else, just for our wonderful little family.
So! the family council has decided: Father is to start in Sri Lanka. I immediately said „don’t be surprised if I decide to take the next plane home on the day before the race in Colombo“ Not that anyone particularly needs me hanging around here…but just in case I might need Mara! I stayed, I was right on time at the start line.
Racing the Planet’s 4 Desert Series is one of my favourites. The organisation is perfect, we’ve all known each other for a while, it’s a bit like a family reunion. Every year there are 4 races in different deserts, for example: Sahara, Gobi, Atacama or the Antarktis ice desert. Additionally the Roving Race, a variable race that always takes place in a country where there has never been a 4 Deserts Race. This year it’s Sri Lanka, the island roughly 50km east of India’s southernmost tip.
The 250km, 6 stage run has attracted 80 runners starting at an altitude of 2000 meters in the islands‘ central mountains. From there, the course leads through the jungle for the first 2 days. A random cross country „dash“ sometimes on hands and knees as we follow the tracks that the „Course Making Team“ have slashed through the undergrowth…or not! It’s wet, crossing rivers and streams, mud, mire and swamp soaking through shoes and clothing that we can’t thoroughly dry out for the rest of the week. The camps own mobile sick-bay is overrun with foot ailments and infections due to the constantly damp conditions.
The first 2 days goes extreme downhill…for example Stage 2 goes 2.200 meters downhill followed by 1000 meters uphill (just to recover) and all that over a stretch of 40 kilometres. Too much for my battered and patched up „flatland knee“ which decides to go on strike. I have to ease off. 8th place and an inflamed knee after 2 stages…? My Doc, Frank Schmaehling, my Physio Christian Bils and I had already made contingency plans for just such a mishap. I was equipped with Blackroll and Flossing Band. I always had to go looking for the Blackroll as it’s proved to be the most lent out and borrowed piece of Ultra Race kit ever! The necessary instructions were in my head, I’d done the practise and the meds were in my rucksack.
Of course..I’m the runner, and it’s my name and my face up there when the going’s good…same when it goes arse-up too! All I can say is…as a sportsman you’re lost without a good support team. That goes for Frank and Chris, my family, my friend Jochen, Vanessa and Natascha in the office and my sponsors. You all deserve my heartfelt thanks!
Day 3 and it’s flat…and hot! Really hot and humid. I was getting into my stride. I can’t run any better when it’s humid, but it doesn’t bother me. I don’t think about it…just get on with it. Not a particular talent, just experience after almost 3000km. competition running in desert and jungle conditions. I already knew I couldn’t pull anything off in the mountains, and with an inflamed knee I could have accepted a place in the first 10 as an adequate result. But, I don’t like unfinished business, I can’t stand it! Stage 3 and up comes the question „and how could the results turn out if I decide to go for it?“ Just to save myself the silly recriminations late nights at home „maybe I could’ve made place X if I’d opened up“…I go for it, nothing else for it! Not quite so easy with a knackered knee, I can’t stand still…that makes filling up my water bottle at the checkpoints a bit dodgy. When I stop, my knee siezes up and I have to limp off for a kilometer or so ‚til I can continue in a kind of hobbling gait. The interesting side effect is that I simply stop thinking about whether I’m standing still or running.
And then the race is over. Maybe that’s the secret of my success in Sri Lanka and a new strategy.
There are lots of animals to observe, sometimes they’re a bit too close for comfort, especially the snake which my Sri Lankan companion stood staring at as though hypnotised. Cute thieving apes too! And elephants, crocodiles while I’m having a little wash and brush-up. Monitor lizards, the 2 meter version and water buffalo were my travelling companions. There are many stories I could tell about this race. You can read more in the June Edition of Trail Magazine. Thanks to Denis Wischniewski for his collaboration on this Race-report
The decision to attack proved to be worth it. From 8th place in the first 2 days, I manage to work up to 3rd place on aggregate by the time I reach the finish line at the Indian Ocean. That’s a great surprise, especially as the desert is much more „my thing“ than the jungle. In my age group I’m the winner, (that’s the deciding factor for me anyway). The 2 winners in Sri Lanka are experienced fast runners both having scored diverse podest placings in big races. They’re also about 25 years younger than me!
Later, while I’m checking results in the German Ultramarathon Club page (http://www.D-U-V.org) I notice the Age-Group statistics for the first time. Up to now I’d been aware that I’d finished in the top 4 in all the important races since 2010. But! looking at the Age-Group statistics, since 2010 I’ve started in 10 big international Ultra Races, won 8 and came in second twice. That’s not too bad!
Anyway enough of that. Mara is my greatest love and of course she was in my mind for much of the running, and especially in those hours before and after the run. So, about this „attitude thing“ regardless of whether it’s about sport, or the future, or life in general, it’s just a fundamental fact, I’ve got it…we’ve got it!
more information: http://www.4deserts.com
Back on „The Track“ – 520 kilometer race in the Australian Outback
Who would have thought? Dubai Airport 3 AM. and a jolly „hey mate! what’re you doing here?“ greets my ears. I turn to see Markus Mockenhaupt standing next to me at the security check. He was last year’s German winner of the Wings for Life World Run and he’s on his way to Melbourne to take part too. That’s a fine start! We spend the flight time together and meet later for a couple of trial-runs at the Indian Ocean. After 3 days of acclimatisation and resetting the biological clock to „Down Under Time“ off we go to Alice Springs. 22 runners meet here to start „The Track“. The World’s longest Stage-Race in which the participants carry their equipment and supplies in a rucksack. The organizers provide tents and 12 litres of water per day. The rest is up to us. The dimensions are huge! Extreme heat, cold and sandy trails. We’ll leave 527 Kilometres in 9 stages behind us. The final leg, the „King’s Stage“ is 130km long, and we’ll already have about 400km of leg-wear before we reach it! This explains the relatively small number of competitors, experienced Ultra-runners without exception, who also happen to be good friends and companions from my previous 10 Desert Races. A lively and lusty class reunion indeed.
It will prove to be a legendary race. None of us have ever run 520 kilometers before…who would want to? There’s no real strategy for it. We get a map from the Organizer and the trails are marked with arrows and barrier tape. Checkpoints are placed at 15 km intervals where a doctor or a steward provides us with 2 litres of water for the next stretch, and can oversee the condition of the runners and assist with any problems. Our backpacks containing food, Iso-mat, sleeping bag, clothes, head lamp and so on weighs between 8 and 10 kilos. We’re able to deposit food and supplies for the 2nd part of the race in a „dropbag“ which we can retrieve on day 5. Otherwise our backpacks would have been too heavy to run with. The first 2 stages through the West MacDonells National Park are both 30-40 km, with an elevation gain of more than 1000 meters on each day. Possibly not quite the best circumstances for me after my knee surgerey and 7 months of rehab. The objection that a comeback race over 520km might be perhaps a little too courageous I can accept…but! the start was exactly a year to the day after my knee OP…it simply had to be. Even though I’m not yet fully fit, I manage to hold on to the 9th position in the mountains. My knee as well!…just holding on.
Jérôme Lollier/Canal Adventure with his various races is one of the better Organizers. If there’s a problem, he’ll always find a solution. Unfortunately it’s not a standard behaviour in a scene, where one would do well to avoid many of the Agents due to incompetence
And then!… our sensational encounter with the Outdoor Fashion Store specialists. On the highest mountains in the region we meet up with some of these cool wanderers. First to the Outdoor shop in the SUV, 2000 Euro worth of hi-tech hiking clobber, and then up to the peaks standing around looking chic in Selfie-mode, and don’t forget to keep hold of the thermo mug. I felt like giving them a mouthful but I was rendered speechless by the sight of the 3 helicopters parked on my trail path. They fly up to do a spot of hiking…that’s reasonable, at least it spares the Rescue Teams the trouble of „saving“ these self-overestimating outdoor-victims. Even climbing up to the castle of Heidelberg would be more than enough for many of these clients. As anti-arrogant as I am, today I feel a little bit superior.
We arrive at the flats, the temperature rises, we’re in the sand. Although it hardly gets above the 30° mark, now my time has come. The „Old-un“ makes it up to 3rd position during the course of the day. However, keeping up this tempo is fully absurd. Because the first 4 runners all have comparable standards, we’re running hell for leather and the distances between the stages seemingly amount to only a few minutes.
Life, the running, the people, it all changes. The calls and cries from earlier become quieter, even thoughtful. Some gather together in little groups, others who were maybe shy or introvert before seem to flourish during the course of the day. Running gets to be the crucial element of existence, and at the campfire conversations about whether we run 50 or 60 km tomorrow, I don’t have to get up and consult the Roadbook any more. Somehow it’s not important. As though a different value and measurement of time descends upon and around us. We’re running fast, but everything else is slowing down. Actually the perfect race so ideally placed, to completely unwind and disconnect. If it wasn’t for this close and competitive sporty pack of 4 leading the field. But still, it’s an unexpectedly gratifying feeling to push oneself to the limit over these long distances, and to do it again every day.
The terrain on this stretch is very diverse, sand, dry riverbeds and passes leading over groups of hills as well as the typical for the area, long and straight red sand trails. Suddenly, in the middle of my stride on the 5th day, I’m out!…just to keep the boredom at bay. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, I think a mild concussion probably erased a few seconds. Down I go, breaking my fall with my face! Strangely enough, my hands are free from the injuries which normally might occur had I tried to catch myself going down. Probably a little fainting spell due to my age…or better still, a complete black-out. So, I’m lying with my face in the dirt, Philippe and Patrick arrive on the scene and I’m bleeding like I’ve just been butchered. They’re checking my nose and teeth seeing as the bloody brew is pouring out of my mouth. Then we’re at the next checkpoint where Doc Bruno examines me…lots of blood but nothing broken. Taped up with plasters, I want to be straight off again but he thinks I’m concussed and wants to keep me there for a while. I try to convince him that I’m ok and we agree on a little test: I count from 1 to 10…in French…piece o‘ cake! That’s the way of the desert, at least until I’m out of sight, then I have to throw up behind the next available bush. Doc Bruno was actually right, concussion, but as an ex-active runner himself, he decided in favour of the sportsman! Soon I’m able to catch up with Philippe and Patrick so the day doesn’t get too tedious. Not much anyway…just a bit stomach content as snake food!
The last stage, almost 130km finishing at Uluru (Ayers Rock) is like I said…legendary. The leaders with Frank Reintjes (the eventualwinner) way out in front, set off some hours after the main field. The pack of 4, Philippe Mainial, Patrick Cande, Philippe Richet and myself run together through the Outback for much of the day. Sometime during the afternoon the group starts to dissolve. Philippe R. goes into overdrive and I’m concentrating on keeping sight of Patrick while the other Philippe drops his tempo a bit. Then we’re overtaking Frank, but I can’t let up and run with him because I have to stay on Patrick’s back. Patrick is a very experienced runner who’s often competed in the Badwater Ultra…and he’s cunning! And I mean that in a friendly and deeply respectful way. He waits ‚til it’s getting dark, and then he’s off like a shot! I’m trying to hang on to his heels but there’s one thing I’ve overlooked…the night. As he’s put about a hundred metres between us, I can’t see him anymore. During the day you’d just laugh and try to hang on. So! the Fuchsgruber has to be taught a new lesson. Patrick’s time advantage is growing from one checkpoint to the next.
In the meantime, I have to deal with a dingo following me in the dark. Dingos are not quite as agreeable as they may seem. Recently, a German tourist got so ripped up that he had to spend some weeks in an Australian hospital, and tragically, a 9 year old boy died after an attack. In spite of me throwing stones at him he’s pretty persistent. We’re running down the road and I’m trying to follow the white border marking. Although I can see it clearly in the light of my headlamp, I keep losing sight of it…then it’s close eyes, activate brain, open eyes…and there’s the white line again. I have to repeat this every 5 minutes or so but every now and again I have to rely on a shock from one of the enormous Roadtrains rattling by. Over 50 meters long at 100 km per hour…you wake up quick when your cap and headlamp go flying off!
Not far from the finishing line I meet Gabriel Pielke, the german TV’s cameraman who’s accompanied us on this race. I can’t help but consider how it is that I’m running and he’s filming me while walking beside me. There’s something I can’t quite get my head around, something strange. I’ll have to ponder it later. At the finishing line it turns out that I’m 3 hours faster than the last winner of „The Track“. Then I’m informed that Patrick has snagged the 3rd place off me by 7 minutes! That’s just 1 kilometre out of 520. Very clever, well done! I’m a bit peeved for a few minutes…but what the hell! I think I’m allowed to be. After 17 hours straight running, I’m dehydrated and completely finished. A short while later round the campfire and we’re all in high spirits celebrating the end of a very exceptional race.
Just 2 thoughts determine my mood on the following night.
I’ve rediscovered something that I thought I’d lost: the joy and pleasure of running. It’s a happy thought. The threat of having to quit my beloved little adventures because of my lingering injury was a heavy load to bear for the last year.
I can’t help but think about Mara. Some of you know of her from my book „Running Wild“ or from it’s various dissertations. Things have changed in the meantime, in a very unfortunate way. I make a promise to Mara that I wouldn’t walk in Australia…not a step! I keep it…and she keeps me going in the race. These promises to always „do our best“ have grown in importance and have a very special meaning for us. Not least since we know that in spite of all the encouragement, and the 1 year delay in her starting school, Mara won’t be able to go to a normal school. It’s a terribly sad time for Ute and me. Mara is well, she’s fine, she’s a happy, friendly and humorous child. Doing one’s best, with – joy and enthusiasm is a very important subject in our little family, as well as dealing with crisis situations.
As a runner I don’t let little difficulties bother me too much, but for running, as for all the other aspects of life, it’s not the speed that’s crucial…it’s the direction.
Rafael Fuchsgruber (#4) Patrick Cande (#3) Philippe Mainial (#5) Frank Reintjes (#1) Philippe Richet (#2)
In the midst of life – some like it hot
Rafael Fuchsgruber´s earlier life as DJ and Concert Organiser was pretty wild, and extremely unhealthy…until the day he woke up in hospital with a suspected heart attack.
That’s when he turned his life around, threw out the cigarettes and alcohol and, already in his early 40s, started to run. At the first attempt he hardly managed 3 Km. (2 miles). Today, he is Germany’s Number 1 Extreme Desert Runner.
Fuchsgruber’s biography „Running Wild“ describes his life and his love of running.
This exceptional sportsman whisks the reader away on desert adventure races around the world, gives training and equipment tips and provides an insight into his work as Concert Promoter and Organiser for national and International Artists.
Fuchsgruber’s book is a candid, unadorned and at times shocking portrayal of his wild, rich and varied life.
Journalist Ralf Kerkeling has followed and reported Fuchsgruber’s career for various Running Magazines.Together they describe the sportsman’s journey from Rock’n’Roll party animal to Extreme Runner.
- Honest, unadorned Sport Biography.
- Professionally written.
- Fascinating…not only for Extreme Race fans
Credits RF Running Wild:
Joey Kelly / Endurance Athlete
…I already knew that he’s Germany’s most successful International „Desert Runner“. That he once was a „piss-head“ and landed in hospital with a suspected heart attack when he was 40 was news to me. Rafael left his old life behind him…and 10 years later to the day, won the 250Km Desert Race in Namibia.
Tough tales and great stories from a very colourful life….highly entertaining! The next time someone tells me „That’s too much, I’ll never make it“ I’ll hand him this book.
Urs Weber / Runner’s World
…his very personal descriptions of his running, of his life, fascinating, honest and tragic or hilarious by turns. Also that he doesn’t abide by conventional rules in his writing.
Some parts remind me of Hunter S. Thompson or T.C. Boyle. Fuchsgruber lives, runs and vents his spleen. He writes and runs for his life! Highly recommended…and not only for Extreme runners.
Sabrina Mockenhaupt / 40 times German Running Champion
Rarely have I been so riveted and moved as I was by Rafael’s story. He’s the perfect example of the value of Self-searching by any and all means. This book is pure inspiration, and I hope it can trigger the start shot for everyone. It’s never too late.
Norbert Hensen / Editor in chief, „Aktiv Laufen“
If anyone needs confirmation that running helps you live longer, then they should read this book. Rafael Fuchsgruber’s impressive biography, ruthless but always entertaining,
describes his progression from rake to runner. Living in the fast lane but finally managing to get his act together. Imitation not unconditionally recommended, but eminently readable.
Hubert Kah / Musician
Rafael Fuchsgruber is an Artist Manager of the „old school“, endowed with the empathy and sensibility necessary to support real artists. One might be correct in believing that his other passion „Long Distance Extreme Sport“ demands unbridled willpower. But the proverbial „two sides of the same coin“ are certainly required in order to be first at the finish line.
The deser runs:
2014 Ocean Floor Race, 260 km nonstop through the Sahara, #4
2014 Run the Rann, India 101 km nonstop, #2
2013 Desert Ultra Namibia, 250 km/ five stages, #1
2012 Jordan Race, Jordan, 250 km/ six stages, #2
2012 Ultra Africa Race, Cameroon, 200 km/ five stages, #2
2011 Gobi March, China, DNF torn muscle fibre
2010 Sahara Race, Egypt, 250 km/ six stages, #3
2008 Libyan Challenge, Sahara/Akakusmountain ,200 km nonstop, #13
2007 Marathon des Sables, Sahara/Marocco, 250 km in six stages, #96 (of 750 participants)
2006 Zagora Marathon, Sahara/Marocco, 42 km, #26