By Jürgen Ankenbrand - The Marathon des Sables is a six-day stage race in Morocco's Sahara Desert, which was just the adventure I was looking for after finishing the inaugural Antarctica Marathon. I wasn't so much concerned about the murdereous heat than about carrying a 25- to 30-pound backpack while running in 120-degree heat. I am strictly a one-day backpacker, hating to carry anything bigger than a small fanny pack. Training on the beach with a 20-pound backpack may have seemed strange to onlookers, even in blasé Southern California.
During the second day we encountered a sandstorm, leaving me totally lost. After a half hour, I saw something laying in the sand which turned out to be a totally spent runner. After giving him my last quart of water and covering him with a space blanket, I went in search for any life. I found two preteen boys. Not speaking any French, I dragged one of them by the hand towards the exhausted runner. An hour later I saw the eeriest site, a jeep racing on top of a sand dune with a camel following close behind, leaving in its wake a 1/4 duststorm. The race officials put the near-dead runner into the jeep and raced off. Two hours later, when I reached the aid station, the English runner was sitting in the jeep with an IV in each arm, basically owing his life to my action. With three hours lost during my "rescue mission", I was given card blanch in regards to finishing time that night, although normally there are strict time limits every day.
With a running partner and a jeep behind us providing light, I dragged on for five more hours. Upon arriving at 10 p.m. at the day's finish line, I was greeted by a mob of about 25 other runners who had heard about my efforts in saving a fellow runner's life. The emotions I felt were indescribable and for a few moments I could not talk. Naturally, the next morning I was glad that I had finished the night before and thanked those that had not "let" me quit.
Five days later, out of 175 runners I finished last, but that was better than those 25 runners who did not finish. To say that I was proud of my accomplishment would be an understatement. The memories are enormeous and will be with me for a lifetime. Adventure running – even at an advanced age – can be, and is for me, very rewarding and certainly will be part of my life till I am gone. At 57, I was in pretty good shape, well enough to finish all 50 kilometer trail runs I entered under the cutoff times.