Thursday, April 24, 2008

Coverage on ABC

They aired the Marathon des Sables coverage on ABC in the U.S. on Wednesday night! We didn't hear about it until too late, but the info is on the ABC website:

The story:
A Marathon With a Difference

Video segments from ABC:

And some pictures from the ABC crew in the desert:
ABC News Joins the MdS


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jittering away the pre-race days in Morocco

We arrive in Ouarzazate, Morocco several days before the race starts and immediately find ourselves trapped in a thick cloud of anxiety. There's no doubt that you need the extra time before the race to adjust to the heat, pack and repack your gear, receive and act on advice from MDS veterans, and transition your mind from work life on another continent to stage racing life in the desert. The downside is that time seems to pass much too slowly and while it's great to be making new friends, all the conversations add fuel to your recently-lit anxiety fire. The most discussed item during this time is calorie count. Never in your life will you hear so many people discussing the precise number of calories that they intend to carry and consume over the next 7 days.

"You see Jeff, I'm taking 17,280 calories in total. I'm starting with 2,118 calories on day 1, but 1,281 of those calories will come from my freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff dinner, which of course has the highest weight to calorie ratio. I'm also carrying progressively more Macadamia nuts per day -- starting with 3 on day 1."

These conversations send you back to your room to unpack all of your carefully-organized food bags and assess for hours on end the pros and cons of carrying a 177 calorie mini portion of beef jerky on day 3 and four chocolate covered espresso beans (totaling 63 calories) on day 5. In no time you discover that if you take some food out of its original packaging, you can save enough weight to add four more pretzels (28 calories) on Day 6. You view this as a huge achievement, thank goodness since it took an hour to make the decision and two hours to unpack and repack again!
Everyone seems to know their exact calorie count by day, the total for the week, and their backpack's weight. You also hear endless stories about the heat two years ago, the sandstorm last year, and the guy who's feet were so blistered in the race three years ago that they had to amputate his toes forcing him to crawl the final 90 miles of the race, where he got blisters on his kneecaps before being forced to slide on his stomach the final 20 miles. "Oh, you should have seen his stomach blisters - a dreadful sight. They had to airlift him from the Finish Line to a British Aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean where specialists saved his life -- I think he's doing the race again this year though, but he has artificial toes and kneecaps and the only way he can eat now is through a straw."

Ok, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but that's how the stories come across, leaving you to return to your room, unpack and repack, toss out a tiny bag of crushed potato chips (114 calories), 3 of the extra pretzels you added a few hours ago (21 calories), and cut a few more bristles off of your toothbrush to save weight. "I don't want to end up like crawling, stomach-blister guy -- forget that, I'm throwing out two Bandaids and cutting a zipper off of my backpack as well. I'll keep the tape though -- just in case I need to use it to prevent a bad case of belly blisters."

"Hurry up and wait" becomes your new mantra starting with the day of departure from Ouarzazate for the desert. We are instructed to meet outside of our hotel at 9:00 -- the buses finally arrive at 9:30. We board them and proceed to spend two hours parked in front of the hotel. Calorie count and foot taping discussions are soon replaced by quietness as the race organizers distribute the official "Road Book". The race course has been secret until this point - now we're getting our first look at the distance and terrain per stage. It's quiet for an hour as everyone ponders the book. "Day 1 looks tough -- 8 miles of dunes!" "Huge climbs on the long day." "How do you convert from kilometers to miles" "Aren't these maps great -- but ouch, look how many sections of dunes there are."
The buses finally depart and we enjoy a 5-hour drive through the desert with a bonus nausea-inducing twisty drive over a mountain range. The mantra stuck in my head: "I just want to run. I just want to run." I feel like a dog seeing his master get out the leash and pull on some running shoes only to get distracted by a phone call. The waiting and pre-race anxiety drives me crazy - I'm scratching at the door. The buses finally depart the highway and surprisingly drive off-road a few kilometers to the site of Bivouac 1. The song "Highway to Hell" suddenly appears in my mind. This is the moment where you have your first sense of the expedition nature of the MDS. The Bivouac is much larger than I expect and is situated within sight of an enormous section of sand dunes -- which we later learn represent the first part of Stage 1.

The competitors sleep in black tents, 100 of which are arranged in a giant three-tent deep oval. The staff tents are all large, white (and for all we know stocked with a full bar and jacuzzi). In between the collection of athlete and staff tents is a series of very large tents housing the medical clinic, telecommunications center, and other logistics centers. To the side of the staff tents is a large area with Land Rovers, two helicopters, and various other race vehicles. There is also a huge inflatable dome tent (like a mini circus tent) housing pre-race food distribution. (We arrive in the desert Friday evening and have a day and half before food self-sufficiency starts.) The first order of business: receive your water rations for the evening. We queued in the center of the competitor tent area and felt a bit like refugees as we were handed water and our water ration cards were checked. With a mild sandstorm brewing, we enjoy a nice dinner, complete with fresh bread and wine (gotta love the way the French handle desert catering!). After a restless night of sleep on hard, rocky ground, we endure our last full day in the desert before the race starts. The main objective for T-Minus 1 Day is to make it through the administrative checks. At prescribed times we each arrive at a large tent, where we hand over our pre/post-race luggage and receive our race numbers, emergency flare, and salt tables. Each competitor also goes through two interviews -- one for gear, the other for medical. The gear interview involves varying levels of scrutiny to ensure that you have mandatory items and the minimum of 2,000 calories per day. I am lucky to sail through this inspection with only a glance at my backpack and hardly a question. Others have their packs weighed and the contents inspected.

For the medical check, you hand over your mandatory ECG printout and medical clearance forms. A team of three medical personnel review your paperwork and walk you through a little Q&A to ensure that you are properly trained and have some sense of what you're getting yourself into. Again, my intervi
ew is very brief. I name-drop that I was coaching by Lisa Smith-Batchen (who has won this race) and mention a couple things about my training -- soon I was on my way out of the tent, cleared to race. This is actually a huge moment of relief - I worried for months that my paperwork would have an error or that my Swiss-performed ECG would be the wrong paperwork due to my poor German skills and would turn out to be a special holiday recipe for dark chocolate with a hint of Bailey's or a deciphering code for Swiss bank accounts -- either of which would have OK in hindsight!

We spend much of our afternoon with the media around -- ABC News (U.S.) trekked out to the desert to follow the North Americans, so we do some interviews, watch our new friends being interviewed, and grab some team video and photos. We hear and answer the question "Why are you doing this?" so many times that our answers start to seem surreal -- perfectly acceptable to us, but probably other-worldly to most viewers.
Our time together before the race starts represents the birth of many new friendships. Up to 8 people share the same open-air Berber tent for the week. It's close quarters and you all see each other at what some would say your worst (dirty, extremely exhausted, under extreme physical and mental duress, under-nourished, dehydrated, sore, sick, injured, etc.), but at what I think is your best -- your true self -- with all your highs and lows right there on display. The highs are amazing and wonderful to share and the lows are raw, honest, and real. When testing your limits by racing and living through the harsh conditions of the desert, identifiers such as careers, titles, clothing, possessions, class, education, or prior accomplishments have little meaning. The desert is a great equalizer. Everyone learns a lot about themselves and each other in this setting -- the compassion and selflessness is heart-warming and one of the best gifts of this event . We were extremely fortunate to have a great mix of guys and gals in our tent, Number 77. The bonding takes place quickly and we're happy to have a strong coed team with shared respect for one another.
That evening, the sands began to blow with even more intensity (securing our desert initiation and ensuring that we are all very dirty before crossing the start line). I unpack and pack my backpack yet again, ditch a couple extra items, and cut off more parts of my pack that I figure aren't that important. Dinner is nice, but my pre-race jitters want all the attention, so I hardly eat. We are all in our sleeping bags by 7:30, begging for this race to start.

Stay tuned for the next chapter ...


Story time

I've been thinking for a couple weeks now about how I'd tell this story - the story of a surreal desert adventure, of rising above self-imposed caps we place on our potential, of treasured comradeship, and of an immersion into the stunningly beautiful Moroccan Sahara. My motivation for telling the story is simple: for your entertainment, to inspire others, to relive and share the positive energy of a magical moment in time, and also to help anyone who considers entering the MDS or other endurance events in the future. Most importantly, I want to share this with you because you were all there with me in spirit -- pushing me through the tough parts and motivating me during some very intense solo running through the desert. I don't think you'll ever know how much you helped without learning a bit more about those tough parts!

As this was an adventure to savor and one with unexpected variety, I'll take the same approach with telling the story. I'll split it into segments (segmentation is a huge mental technique for endurance racing!) and use a mix of writing and multimedia to make it fun (mixing it up and keeping it fun is the ultimate Jedi mind trick to apply to these challenges!).

Here's your Road Book of stories to expect ...
  • Jittering away the pre-race days in Morocco
  • Stages 1-3: How could we have underestimated this challenge?
  • Stretching of Limits --The Surreal Long Stage: How is this possible?
  • The Relentless, Arduous Push to the Finish
  • Crossing the hallowed MDS Finish Line
For the curious and those who are preparing for or considering a future MDS entry, I'll also include a Lessons Learned write-up, where I'll share more about gear and food selections, training, and modifications I'll consider for the future.

Stay tuned for each chapter!


Friday, April 18, 2008

Media coverage, charity, and inspiration

Looks like MDS got bumped from ABC in the U.S. today, so plans are to air the special next week (and ESPN may pick up a segment as well). I'll update the blog when we have more details on the new airing date. My apologies for the false alarm today -- looks like something in the U.S. news cycle became more interesting (to some at least!) than a bunch of crazy people testing their mettle in the desert! Meanwhile, we're still receiving donations for UNICEF and ING Chances for Children (thank you!). ING is matching all donations, so your great support is now providing an education to nearly 350 children in India, Ethiopia, and Brazil. This is a wonderful level of support that makes a real difference in the world. We'll leave the donation site up for a few more weeks in an attempt to reach funding for 500 kids (that's nearly 2 for every kilometer I ran in the Sahara!). For your donations and spreading the word, I say thank you, thank you, thank you!

I'm hoping to ease out of my recovery phase this weekend. I seem to be having a much harder time being inactive for two weeks than completing 12-hour training weekends! I'm preparing to post more audio clips and stories (hopefully starting this weekend with a series of audio updates from each race stage). Also, new adventure projects are in the works, so stay tuned in the coming months to learn more.
For those of you who have written to say that I've inspired you in any way, I offer you my full support as you chase your dreams. I chased a dream 12 years ago that resulted in a major lifestyle transformation that's made an enormous difference in my daily happiness and the life I live today. I wish you the same happiness and only ask that you go for your dreams and aspirations in a way that helps you reach your own fulfillment and that also inspires others.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

MDS on TV in the U.S.

For our week in the desert an ABC News crew followed our group of U.S., Canadian, and Australian athletes through the highs, lows, and overall adventure. The cameras were around so much that it started to feel like a reality show -- and you just knew that when you were feeling your worst, you'd see a camera nearby to capture the moment! We saw so much of the news crew during the race (including out on the race course) that they started to feel like part of our team.

Today (Thursday, April 17th) ABC will air MDS segments on Good Morning America, ABC World News, and Nightline. If you're in the U.S. and want to catch this, please check ABC's website for viewing times. Don't count on seeing me featured, but some of my very good friends from the race will be, plus they shot a lot of video of our champ and top U.S. finisher Ted Archer from the tent we shared. They filmed some great stories and race course footage throughout the week, so I'm anxious to see what made the final cut. Please post a comment if you happen to catch any of the footage today. For friends outside the U.S., if I can get a hold of any video segments of the broadcast, I'll post it on the blog.


Sunday, April 13, 2008


Believe it or not, I'm really itching to start running again -- actually, it's driving me nuts that my injuries aren't healing fast enough to allow me to return to the trail -- right now! I tried some very light running (as in about 10 steps!) this afternoon and my knee and ankle quickly protested, announcing their intention to stay on vacation a bit longer. Ok, fine -- I'll surrender and allow them to rest a bit longer. Actually, I recalled the R.I.C.E. method of dealing with injuries today while visiting friends in Lausanne, so I made sure to Rest while eating Ice Cream and enjoying the Elevation of the nearby mountains that tower over Lake Geneva. Hopefully this will do the trick and I'll be able to return to running very soon!

Meanwhile, I've uploaded lots of photos to my MDS photo gallery. Please feel free to have a look. I've also included a couple interesting photos below, as well as a video clip from the evening of the post-long day, marathon stage.

Our first taste of steep dunes on Day 1.

Fortunately, this guy never camped out in my shoes or sleeping bag overnight.

I have more audio clips for the first few stages that I'll share over the next week or two. I can't close without thanking you again for your great support before, during, and after the race!


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Recovery Time!

I'm safely back home in Z├╝rich, working on my next challenge: recovering from the MDS! I've got a nice collection of blisters and overuse injuries to heal, plus I need to work through the all-common post-race blues that always seems to greet the end to a big event that is such a huge focus for months and months, yet has suddenly come and gone. What thrills me to no end (and shakes off "da bluz") is the awesome support offered by so many people around the world to my charity initiative. I'm also touched by the wonderful emails of support and congratulations I've received (during and after the race). I didn't run this thing alone -- I ran it with hundreds of you at my side and I sincerely thank you for this. That said, I'm sure that we're all glad that only one of us has to deal with the battered feet and legs picked up along the way! In the coming days and weeks I'll be sharing lots about the race with writing, photos, and audio clips. To give you a bit of a teaser, I've included in this message an audio clip that I recorded from the bivouac after the epic long day. Just make sure your speakers are on and click the play button below to hear the description and emotion of an unexpected high placement finish after a nearly 50-mile run through the desert.
By the way, major thanks to Becky, who did a marvelous job updating the blog during the race!!

More great stories coming soon ...

All the best from Zuri,

Sunday, April 6, 2008

What a finish!

Jeff has completed the Marathon des Sables, placing in the Top 50 at #48!!! And second American!!!! Yahooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!We are so excited. Still celebrating here, more details to come...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Stage 5 in the Desert

After a marathon-day (literally) with scorching heat, it looks like Jeff is still in the Top 50!

Here's an update directly from Jeff...

Rest day was great, although my knee hurts more at rest than in motion! A great thrill to cheer on the people finishing the long day in 30 hours -- brave people!

I went into the marathon today in awe at what the body can handle. I hobbled to the start line but my legs came alive and I was stunned to run just under a 4:30 in these conditions after the week and my epic run on the long day.

I dedicated my run today to my grandmothers and wife's grandmother and my family -- I certainly felt their strength push me through the long distance and extreme heat - it topped 46C!

Toward the end of the stage I saw my best friend Sean, Becky, and other friends and family beside and in front of me pulling me through the most grueling part. My Atl cycling friends then pace-lined me through the headwind during the final two miles... A bit crazy, but I felt this and it really helped.

One stage to go... The Paris opera will perform a concert in the desert for us tonite - no kidding!

My sincere thanks to all!!!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Stage 4 results are in!

Unbelievable! The Stage 4 results are finally in, and Jeff placed 24th!!
That brings him up to 45th overall, wow.

He didn't just survive the longest-distance day, he led it! Here's the account from Jeff himself:

I am writing you tonight in utter amazement with the MdS, the severity of the challenge of the course and conditions, and the perseverance of those who tackle this epic event.

I approached today's stage (the long one - 47 miles) with the special dedication that I mentioned last night -- to my supporters, and with the mindset that I would race the stage hard (based on my coach's advice -- advice that I thought was crazy when I first heard it two weeks ago).

With the elite 50 males and 5 females starting (later) at noon, I found myself alone at the front of a pack of the 750 non-elite runners within minutes of the start, with the helicopter making passes overhead. I've never led a race of any distance, much less at the MdS. I held on within half a mile (one km) of the top five runners and finished a stunning second place.

The course was brutal, with three climbs that would nearly qualify as mountain climbing, dunes, very rocky sections, off-pitch sand, and scorching salt flats. It was very lonely at the front -- something I have never ever experienced in a race. It made route finding much more challenging and added a new level of mental challenge. In one particularly hallucinogenic moment I saw all of you running with me in one wide line, pushing me forward... A bit crazy, but that's how strongly I felt your support.

I passed the second place runner with 12k to go and pushed myself harder than I ever had to finish a strong second (of the main field). I beat the elite runners in so I had the true experience of being very early to cross the line (at just over 9 hours of a stage with a 32 hour cutoff).

I'm very sore, but healthy and immensely happy at how today went. This should help me move up a bit in the overall standings; moreover, it was a joyous day in a spectacular setting and a small way for me to thank you for your awesome support! And now I get a rest day!

To Coach Lisa: Thanks for pushing me!


Stage 4... still going...

...and going and going and going...

This stage is the 47-miler, and they have two days to complete it, so there are no (full) results available yet, and no personal message from Jeff...

But we do have a picture!:

You can view the larger version on the Darbaroud site - It's the 13th picture (at least right now).

He must have something caught in his eye - Why else would he need to pour water on his face like that??! Maybe he just missed his mouth ;-)

More updates to be posted as soon as I get 'em... Run, Jeff, Run!!!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Stage 3 in the Desert

Another day completed! So that's 68 miles down, "only" 84 to go...

I've received some questions about the daily distances so here they are listed for the whole week:

Day 1 (Sunday): 31.6k (19.6 miles)
Day 2 (Monday): 38k (23.6 miles)
Day 3 (Tuesday): 40.5k (25.2 miles)
Day 4 (Wednesday & into Thursday): 75.5k (46.9 miles)
Day 5 (Thursday) - rest day or completion of Day 4 distance
Day 6 (Friday): 42.2k (26.2 miles)
Day 7 (Saturday): 17.5k (10.9 miles)

Total distance = 245.3k (152.4 miles)

The 46.9-miler they start today can be completed over two days. Luckily the strategy of avoiding placing in the top 50 as of today worked - he is now 74th overall - so Jeff will not be forced to start later in the heat of the day today.

Photo from 2006, borrowed from here

Here's the latest update from Jeff himself!:

Great run today, despite some intense heat! Battled knee pain for the first two hours and then came alive and had a fantastic closing three hours.

I picked up so much speed that I got really concerned about moving into the top 50 so I walked most of the last 5k to sacrifice time today for the cooler start time on the long day tomorrow. Hoping to make up the difference then.

My feet are a bit blistered, but otherwise everything is going great and exactly on plan, although still way ahead of my expectations overall position-wise.

Speaking of, I'm dedicating my run tomorrow to all who have supported the ING CfC/UNICEF charity initiative -- You are all running with me on Wednesday and I thank you immensely for the support you've offered.

Thanks also for the great messages sent to the bivouac, this helps more than you can imagine. My best to you all.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Stage 2 in the Desert

Another update from Becky... It seems that Jeff is getting stronger with each day so far! He moved up from 81st place to 63rd from Day 1 to Day 2 - You can see the results page with his name here. Wow, and that's after a day of 120-degree heat? Hard to believe. I really didn't expect him to be racing and placing so well like this (and I don't think he did either!)

I received an email message from him on Monday, which I will share here (the non-personal parts :)) ...

Doing great! Two very tough days have left me in awe of this race! Beautiful dunes yesterday, but one of the hardest opening stages of MdS ever. Today was even tougher and with brutal heat -- over 40C/110F. Huge mental challenge across rocky and undulating terrain, salt flats, and mini dunes. I've followed Lisa's plan exactly and I am shocked at how high I am ranked, vastly exceeding my expectations.

Don't want top 50 by tomorrow else I have to start mid-day on the long day. Will take it easy tomorrow and plan to push the long day.

Thanks so much for your donations and emails to the bivouac; this is highly appreciated and it warmed my heart and powered me through a tough day today.

Feeling fine except for a little knee pain. Taking care of myself though. Again thanks so much for your support!