Racing on foot through the Sahara

Last Sunday, an incredible endurance event got underway in Cairo Egypt, when the 2009 Sahara Race began. The 155 mile event pits 130 runners from more than 30 countries against one another in a six-stage race through the heart of the Western Desert, a part of the Sahara that covers more than 1.7 million square miles along Egypt’s borders with Libya and the Sudan.

Over the past few days, the runners have covered a variety of challenging stages ranging in length from 21 to 28 miles. In a sense, they are running a marathon each day, through the sand and heat of one of the hottest and driest environments on the planet. Along the way they passed through three or four mandatory checkpoints along the way, collecting water as they go. Upon completing the day’s stage, they camp in the desert for the night, resting up, and preparing for another run the following morning.

Today’s stage is the longest and most grueling however, with a 54 mile course dubbed the Black Desert March. The runners got underway at 4 AM this morning, and many will continue well into the night before they reach their next camp. If they complete the stage, they’ll finish up on Saturday, with a short run to the finish line at the Great Pyramids in Giza, capping the week’s events.

The Sahara Race is part of the 4 Deserts series of Ultramarathons, each of which take place on an annual basis. The other three events are held in the Atacama Desert of Chile, the Gobi in China, with the final race taking place in Antarctica, the largest desert on the planet. Each of the races offers its own unique challenges, pushing some of the world’s best endurance athletes to their limits in races against themselves and the environments around them.