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Running To & Through The Sahara


Sitting in my dining room I think “did that really happen?” All I have to do is look down at my still battered feet and go “oh yea, it happened, and it was cool!” Last year I had the chance to meet Linda Quirk and Pam Rickard at the Javelina Jundred . The bond of recovery was instant. We ran and talked a bit and kept in touch. It wasn’t long before Linda asked if I would like to be an ambassador for Runwell and represent them in one of the four dessert races in the Sahara. “Sure I will” seemed the most logical answer at the time. Fast forward a few months and a couple of runs with a backpack that weighed only a fraction of what I was to carry in the sand and my mind started to think, “Are you kidding?” Not to mention trying to explain to friends and family what I was going to do was not crazy.

I spent a good long time training and sampling foods I would carry through my adventure. As always I could have trained harder and quite frankly sampled more foods. Part of my training was packing and repacking my bag, making sure I was able to fit and access things I needed. Knowing I would run for a week with this thing; I wanted it to be light. Well, light is not what I ended up with. I had one of the heaviest packs out in the Sahara. The biggest foil to packing is picking up an item, holding it, and saying, “ hmm, that doesn’t weigh much.” Let me tell you all those add up. Yeah, maybe my plastic Godzilla could have stayed home but my travel copy of the Big Book of AA, and 18-year chip were non-negotiable. My sponsor drove me to the airport and presented me with my 18-year chip having celebrated my sobriety birthday just a few days earlier.

Once I arrived things started to really sink in. We paced the hotel meeting other competitors and settling in. I had a great dinner with a few guys from Denmark, Canada and Russia. The international flavor of this event was fantastic. Saturday was all business. Gear check, quick trip to my room to iron on my patches on my jacket. Safety pins would not fly. Lucky for me they stuck and I did not incur a penalty. Then it was off to the busses, complete with a packed lunch from Subway (ick). After a long bus ride, with a very exposed pee break on the side of the highway, we got to camp. It was beautiful, strangely surreal but beautiful. We got settled in to our tents, had dinner, and a very restless night’s nap. We awoke with much anticipation of the day’s run. After the days announcement and some local music we were off!

I’m freaking out, I am running in the Sahara! We ran along the lake and to the first checkpoint and it was smooth. Little did I know how tough things would play out for the rest of the week. I say that because the lack of sleep was one of the toughest things I had to deal with, only getting a few hours every night. Was it the sand, cramped quarters, sleeping with strangers, time change? I don’t know. But 3-4 hours a night is not much when running 25 miles a day back to back.

Each day presented a new challenge. Much like my sobriety, I took it one day at a time. Never focusing on the enormity of the entire race but really looking at running from one checkpoint to the next.

After each day’s stage we would do our best to nap or at least put our feet up. Around mealtime we would gather and exchange stories of our past or reasons why we were running. I was grateful to share in so many good conversations. It was a joy to share my story and why running for Runwell means so much to me. I have been given a second chance at life and do my best to be the best person I can possibly be. Being a part of Runwell has been amazing. I was able to share much of my Sahara experience with Liz and a small bit with Michael, both fellow Runwell runners.

In the end, I could keep going on and on about so many good things that made this race one of the most memorable events I have ever participated in. I will wrap it up by thanking Runwell for this opportunity to run the Sahara.

2 THOUGHTS ON Running To & Through The Sahara

  1. I'm part of that family that couldn't figure out why Willem was running but this blog articulates it quite well. We are so proud of you. An amazing accomplishment son-in-law!!

  1. I am so proud to be your friend, sister in sobriety and fellow Runwell Ambassador Willem. Your words are priceless. Thank YOU for sharing and I can't wait to hear more!

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