I watched a fascinating documentary this weekend on Showtime, Running the Sahara. The documentary follows 3 men who ran from St. Louis, Senegal across the Sahara dessert to the Red Sea in Egypt. The men ran over 4,300 miles for 111 days straight.
This movie really drew me in, not only for the ultra crazy running extreme factor, but also for the adventure through Africa part. Just this time last year, Preston and I were on our own African adventure, traveling portions of the route seen in this movie. If you have ever traveled through these parts of Africa, you can appreciate the logistical hiccups the team encounters on their way.
They originally planned to cover the distance in 81 days, but border crossings, ailments and injuries lead them to completion in 111 days. It is amazing that their bodies could withstand this kind of work demanded upon it day after day. They ran the equivalent of nearly 2 marathons a day. They had a support crew of course, with a dedicated physician and a physical therapist who gave them daily massages and treatments.
I was curious to know how they had planned for this trip knowing that there is nothing in the desert. I don’t even know if you can buy Gatorade in any of the countries they traveled through. They brought everything with them – peanut butter, Gatorade etc. They had a dedicated chef who cooked what appeared to be traditional West African pasta and red sauce. We had a lot of this in Dogon Country, Mali. It’s definitely quality fuel, but I got nauseous thinking about eating it after only 5 days. I can’t imagine 100+ days of it!
At one point they mention a pit stop in Agadez, really the only city they pass through in Niger where they stock up on $800 worth of cookies. Sounds kind of like the pit stop Preston and I had in Burkina where we bought $30 worth of European snack foods at a grocery store, the first time we saw “real food” during our 6-week excursion.
The film shows the various trials they have: border crossing logistics (having a visa isn’t even the tip of the iceberg here), dehydration, mental exhaustion and disagreement within the team. I really enjoyed the photography, the imagery is breathtaking and it does a fantastic job of illustrating the extremeness of the terrain. Hans Zimmer also took care of the score with some great African beats. It’s hard to criticize a film about something so monumentally challenging, but I did feel like I was wanting more at the end. I want to know the specifics of their diet, their injuries and fatigue. I want to know how many pairs of shoes they went through and what their normal training routine for this looked like. I was also curious to see the reception from the people they encountered on their journey.
It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been to West Africa what it’s like there. I remember coming home from my trip last year feeling very out of touch with the world. It’s a place with a lot of confusion and lack of infrastructure. It’s also a place that inspired me. The people are incredibly hard working and live through the most extreme conditions and poverty, yet they have a spirit that cannot be diminished. I love listening to the music I found during our travels, Youssou N’Dour and Farafina. In retrospect, it’s really hard to convey any of the experience in West Africa, I can only revisit it with the music and memories. I think this is one of the main challenges of the film, to demonstrate what this experience (the challeng of running so far for so long is one thing) in such an extreme environment is like. It does a beautiful job though of showing that is just that, extreme. You can’t really understand it unless you go there or try something like it.
The film is available on DVD currently, you can also download on iTunes.