It's one of the toughest races in the world, in one of the harshest environments. However, coming second was not the honour that ultra runner Christian Schiester is most proud about.
“There were 17 runners in this race,” he says. “Every single one of them had a blister, but I had the worst one of them all. In fact, the organisers gave me the award for the worst blister they had ever seen!”
“This isn't like Badwater [a race across Death Valley],” says Schiester. “It's longer - and it's not on the road. You don't have a set route - you're not only running, you're using your GPS to figure out which way to go!”
Making it even harder is the fact that runners don't receive the GPS waypoints until two days before the race, affording them little time to plan their route.
The rules allow runners to send drop bags to waystations along the route. Schiester's included his unique mid-race diet: a mix of dates, nuts and corn in olive oil, plus some Austrian sausages and cakes from back home. “I learned a lot about what to eat in the desert from the Bedouins,” says Schiester. “You don't need nice food. You need things with fat, sugar, and salt.”
There was one other major fuel for Schiester: Red Bull — lots of it. In fact, 20 cans. Sound a lot? The athlete explains that to be competitive athletes need to forego sleep.
“To run all night, you need caffeine. It's coffee or Red Bull, and I prefer Red Bull. I drank 20 cans in 48 hours.”
Despite the harsh environment, where temperatures reached 57.4º C at their peak, Schiester finds the Sahara “one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
As he battled over 200m-high sand dunes and across the hot desert floor, he occasionally used an unconventional strategy: running in just his socks in the soft sand. “It's a special way of running in such soft sand,” he says. “Sometimes, you have to run like a duck!”
In the end, Steve Sleuyter, the ultra-distance legend from Belgium, came in 45 minutes ahead. “It was a good race, and I'm not ashamed to lose to him,” says Schiester. “We battled closely the whole way, but he had it in the end where I had the most difficult time.”
A week after the race, Schiester is back in his homeland of Austria, where he's still recovering. “48 hours of running is not something you do every week. I'll need a few more weeks of recovery – drinking a lot of water, eating a lot of food!”
But he's planning on recovering in time for the Wings for Life World Run, then after that, it's off to his boat in the Aegean Sea to disconnect and spend time with his wife and two kids.
Oddly, in the middle of the ocean, he says he'll find some of the same things he finds in the desert, as they fish for food and leave computers, phones, and e-mail behind. “It's easy to be peaceful in the ocean, or the desert,” he says.
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