Congratulations Theo and Kathy – you two are truly an inspiration! You should be proud of yourselves for accomplishing something of this scale and still managing to bring such a positive attitude to the experience. Kathy congrats on your spirit award as well!
After hearing great stories of this tremendous adventure in the Sahara from our IF team mates we decided to make the journey to Tunisia in search of our own desert experience. In attendance for this year’s edition would be Kitsilano IF customers Theo Sanidas and Kathy Wade, along with Kits coaches Cory MacDonald and Mark Coates. This year’s course had been completely changed so it promised to be our own unique experience.
If you are going to make this journey we recommend taking some time either before or after the event to explore Rome – it is a city riddled with culture, history, and great food. This is a must do if you have never been before. Rome is a whole other story so let’s stay focused on task.
The flight from Rome to Djerba in Tunisia was chartered specifically for the event organizers and participants. We spent the first night at a small resort hotel in Djerba – nothing fancy but you instantly realized that you were truly in a different world.
The next morning we were traveling 280 km by bus to Douz – the gateway of the Sahara – this is where our adventure would begin. We stopped at the half way point in Matmata. Here Adriano Zittoway and his staff held the opening ceremonies and welcomed everyone with some traditional mint tea. The excitement was building! Then it was back on the bus to Douz to check into our hotel for the night. The closer we got the more the landscape began to resemble our preconceptions of what the Sahara would look like – it was really happening.
One of our main goals going into this was to put the true spirit of IF on the map globally. We had planned to lead group warm ups and offer stretches to others in the camp to bring something positive to the event from our organization. We were going to work hard to meet, to run, and to interact with other participants so they would never forget what IF is all about it. It worked!
The hotel in Douz had a bit of a compound feel but it was a four star resort. Most of the afternoon was spent soaking up the sun around the pool and checking in to pick up our race packages and swag. A word of warning – you will need an extra suitcase to bring back all of the gear you get! The night was topped off dining on some local specialties and taking in some traditional Tunisian dancers. Kathy was in high spirits and got right in there with the belly dancers!
Day 1 – 22 km, Douz to Camp Bir El Kacem
Temperature: 28 degrees Celsius
Sand Coverage: 80 %, the first 7 km was all dunes
1. Take it easy – the slower we went the earlier we could start the marathon tomorrow.
2. Talk to as many people as possible on the course and have as much fun a we could. We certainly did not take ourselves too seriously.
3. A one hour stretch for each other and all of our new friends after the event to spread the IF spirit!
1. Leading a dynamic warm up for all of the English speaking racers – the Italians did not know what to think of us.
2. Walking up the hill to the inflatable Blue start line – you still could not see the desert from here and the excitement was mounting.
3. Feeling incredibly small as we moved into the vast expanse of the Sahara at the start.
The energy in the air as Queen’s “We Will Rock You” was pumped out at full volume as we rolled off the line.
4. The feeling of running in the soft sand dunes of the Sahara for the first time – nothing here can ever prepare you for this.
5. Talking to everyone in the course despite the communication barriers with Italian language – gestures and shear excitement go along way!
6. Cory doing cartwheels in the sand.
7. The cameraman at the water station asking Cory, Theo and I why we weren’t out of breath – our answer – we were having too much fun. Yes it is all on camera, watch for the video.
8. The big grin on Theo’s face when we were done day one!
9. Watching the sun set over the dunes on our first night in the Berber tents – we felt like real desert nomads.
10. The amount and quality of food provided was staggering – we all gained weight!
Day 2 – 42 km, Camp Bir El Kacem to Camp Bir El Grijma
Kathy and Kenwin - the two bravest women of the desert
Kathy and Kenwin - the two bravest women of the desert
Temperature: 30 plus degrees Celsius
Temperature: 30 plus degrees Celsius
Sand Coverage: 90 percent thanks to last weeks wind storms
1. Spend some time with both Kathy and Theo, as well as with some of our new friends.
2. Keep pushing our friendly energetic attitudes by talking to and encouraging everyone on the course
1. Watching some of the Italians trying some of the warm up exercises we were leading. Yesterday they had laughed at us!
2. Getting to spend time with both Theo and Kathy, as well as some of new friends on the course – the staggered start was great for this.
3. 21 to 30 km – as Cory put it the “worst 9 km of his life” cramps and suffering in the dunes and peak midday heat.
4. The oranges at 30 km - they definitely recharged our batteries for the finish.
5. The size of the dunes for the last 10 km – it seemed like it was all uphill and it was like running on the moon.
6. Learning that an Italian km is about 5 km in reality.
7. Not being able to see the camp or the finish line during the last 2 km – it was hidden in a depression on the plateau.
8. Being proud of our team’s 5 to 6 hour finishes on what Adriano called one of the hardest marathon courses in the history of the event.
9. The magnum sized bottles of champagne that came out at dinner to celebrate the completion of the hardest stage of the race – everyone was in good spirits.
Theo toughing it out at km 27 of the marathon day
Day 3 – 18 km, Camp Bir El Grijma to Camp Bibane
Temperatures: High 30s to low 40 s, and 50 degrees by 2pm!
Sand Coverage: 80%
1. Get through this stage without the aches and pains from the marathon stopping us
2. Try to stay positive and upbeat with everyone – there were a lot of long faces with pain from the day before.
1. More and more people getting involved in the group warm ups every day.
2. The knee pain for the first 10 km was intense, and Theo was struggling with a hip flexor issue. Toughest day mentally by far
3. The first 10 km seemed to be all up hill – thank god for Advil liquid gels!
4. Recovering after the water station and being able to pick up the pace to a running speed.
5. Again we ran with a few other people we met, and we really tried to keep everyone running when they started to break down and walk with pain and fatigue.
6. Hammering the downhill sand dune finish like we had found fresh legs.
7. Running back out on course to bring in all of our friends as they made it to the finish line.
8. Claudio telling us not to run barefoot in the area because there were a lot of scorpions – we did not believe it until he should us one. Shoes were quickly back on our feet.
9. Temperatures hitting 50 degrees Celsius in our tent in the middle of the afternoon. The only way to cool down was to hit the shower and sit in the breeze. Some of the crazy euros were actually tanning in these temps!
10. Being humble enough to wander into the desert to find a place to go in an area with no cover – the squatting was hard enough on the legs!
11. How appreciative everyone was for the one hour stretch sessions Cory and I provided around the camp
The finish line for Day 3 - it was smoking hot!
Day 4, 23 km, Camp Bibane to Ksar Ghilane
Temperature: 30 degrees
1. Run with a few different members of our group – everyone was moving at different paces.
2. Savor the moment – it had been an unbelievable week.
3. Remember to take photos!
1. The white light from the full moon on the sand dunes had many of us thinking it was daylight at 3 am. Headlamps were not necessary for washroom breaks, and there seemed to be more than necessary for everyone this night.
2. This was the coldest night by far despite the 50 degree Celsius temperatures we saw in our tent in the afternoon – thermal underwear and toques were necessary to stay warm.
3. Waking up in the morning was like watching village of the damned – almost every runner was walking with that familiar IT band pain limp trying to get to the breakfast tent. However, everyone was still smiling and Allesandro was still singing “Aiesha” everywhere he went
4.The vicious cross winds that plagued the first 18 km of this stage. You had to cover he mouth and the nose to avoid inhaling the sand – it was like being sandblasted. Race tactics were critical. We bridged many gaps by using peleton and echelon drafting techniques to conserve energy.
5. The sense of community and spirit was strong today – we spent time running with many of our new Italian friends. We pushed others to keep running when they were reduced to walking, we took turns pulling other fatigued runners in draft lines, we spoke to everyone we encountered despite the language barriers.
6. Hammering the long climb up the dunes to the castle thinking we were done only to find out we had just reached the last check point, and we had fired our legs in the process.
7. The support and camaraderie was most moving at the finish. Other participants that had finished before us were running back out into the dunes to push runners to the finish line as the trail wound into the desert oasis of Ksar Ghilane. We did the same – running out to cheer others on and run in with all of the new friends we met. That last 5 km of dunes was disheartening – they were the largest and softest we had encountered the entire event. It was truly a tough finish.
8. At the end of the day nobody cared where they finished – the accomplishment was respected and recognized by everyone. The top finishers were at the line congratulating everyone coming in.
9. When the last two participants – Kenwin and our own Cathy Wade came in they received a standing ovation – almost of all the participants were there to support such a huge accomplishment. It was truly a sense of greater good – something that you just do not get at most events.
Yes You Can….
This is an incredibly well organized desert trekking/running adventure. If you have ever romanced the idea of exploring the Sahara this is a safe and enjoyable way to realize that dream. It is not limited to the elite athlete – all you need is a sense of adventure and a willingness to prepare yourself physically. The memories of the experience and the people you meet will last a lifetime….
Thank you Mark Coats for sharing your experience. If you would like to see more pictures, go visit