Back from Sahara, off again to Antarctica!

Hello Hoka OneOne readers, Roger here. If you’ve come along to the Hoka stand at any of our shoe demo events over the last few months, I’m the noisy one.

Team Born to Run in the Sahara, pic by James Holman, Hot Knees Media, courtesy of

This year, I’m working alongside 4 other runners from Team Born to Run as we become the first team ever to complete the Racing the Planet 4 Deserts Grand Slam. This means we complete 4 self-supported events, each made up of roughly 4 marathons, an 80km day, a rest day, and a much anticipated final stage that usually ends in hard-earned beer and pizza.

L to R Greg Donovan, Roger Hanney, Jess Baker, Ron Schwebel, Matt Donovan, the diverse runners of Team Born to Run, pic by James Holman, Hot Knees Media, courtesy of

The first event took place in the high altitude and dry air of Chile‘s Atacama salt plains in April of this year. Prior to that, we also spent a week training in New Zealand, because running as a team is a totally foreign concept to most runners and needed practice! We have to stay together over the 250km of each race, which means that we all only run, more or less, as fast as the slowest member.

In Gobi, the slowest member role was passed about the group as both Matt, the youngest and least running-experienced member, and I were beaten up badly by dysentery. It’s one thing to run 40km when you’re feeling ill. It’s another thing entirely to run 40km while feeling ill, go to bed unable to eat, wake up without breakfast, and run all over again.

My humps, pic by James Holman, Hot Knees Media, courtesy of

The Sahara Race which we have just completed took its own toll. Greg Donovan, founder of the Born to Run Foundation, which we are running to launch and promote, did however come to the desert after having been ill with a virus the week before. Never having been one to tolerate heat well, Greg ran himself into a dehydration hole by the 25km mark on the morning of the first day, as temperatures passed 35 degrees and kept on climbing. He narrowly avoided requiring a saline drip, which would have disqualified him from the race and shattered the team, but still had to drink roughly 17 litres of fluid between his 2nd pee of the day and his third.

This meant that by the second day, a day which saw temperatures hit the mid-40s, Greg’s running legs were nowhere to be found. And this, in part, became the team’s defining challenge for the week. With the soft sand surface ranging anywhere from ankle to knee deep, and temperatures rising sharply from 9am, with no shade to be found anywhere on the course, and camp proving elusive until mid-afternoon, how do 5 individual runners of varied ability function as a single unit?

Teamwork, pic by James Holman, Hot Knees Media, courtesy of

Frustration was a daily torment, and having to budget food intake for runs which regularly took 1-2 hours longer than expected did nothing to help. All we could do was gnash our teeth and dread the looming long day, an 87km sun-scorched painfest which we fully expected would take us past the 20-hour mark as fatigue replaced stamina.

Fortunately, this was not to be. With a 7am start, the team crossed the finish line as one and jubilant at 9 seconds to midnight on Day 5. From the very start of the run, the mood had been different. Remnants of illness and even new shades of tiredness were evident but throughout the day, whoever might be weakest invariably pushed the hardest. Satisfied that our buddies were burying themselves, we knew that as a team we could ultimately do our best on the day.

A fast march across the desert floor, under a near full moon, sunglasses at the ready to keep sandblasts out. pic by James Holman, Hot Knees Media, courtesy of

Finishing off an effort like that was a greater buzz than we got from the race finale, running from the Sphinx past the Pyramids to – you guessed it – finish line beer and pizza, on a day when camel riders trying to make a quick Egyptian Pound clearly demonstrated the meaning of the phrase ‘taken for a ride’.

It is now just 10 days until we leave once more, this time to run in Antarctica. However, this departure will be different, because we will come back with a Grand Slam. It has hit individual members of the team at different times throughout the year – just how hard it is to successfully achieve this goal. Even in Sahara, with just a couple of days to go before the event finished, other runners aiming for the Grand Slam this year dropped out from exhaustion and fatigue, almost within sight of their ultimate goal.

Hopefully, we will all ultimately be successful. To succeed will create a great origin story for the Born to Run Foundation, tying personal responsibility and fitness to better outcomes for type 1 diabetics. Our success will also help promote the Big Red Run, a 250km multiday race and fundraiser being held for the first time next year in Diabetes Awareness Week, July 2013, in the Simpson Desert.

Watch this space!!

Flying high! Another desert down, Antarctica next!! pic by James Holman, Hot Knees Media, courtesy of

One Response to Back from Sahara, off again to Antarctica!

  1. Pingback: Week 3.. « Vikki Bester

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