A COUNTY Limerickman was the only Irish person to complete this year’s gruelling Sahara Race – a seven day, self supported test of body and mind covering 250 kilometres across Egypt.
Martin Hennessy from Vale View in Kilfinane suffered through temperatures of over 40 degrees to cross the finishing line at the Pyramids of Giza.
The 31-year-old completed the race in aid of the Children’s Ark unit at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick.
“I was looking into doing the Marathon de Sables race in Morrocco but that wasn’t working out so I learned about the Sahara Race on the internet. You have to be in good nick. It is tough mentally. It’s over seven days,” said Martin.
“The first four stages are roughly about 40k a day and the fifth stage is roughly about 90k. They can change slightly but the last stage was only a couple of kilometres,” he added.
The race started on Sunday, October 2 and Martin travelled out to Egypt on September 29 to acclimatise.
“It got to 43 degrees one of the days but it can get to 50 - it didn’t get near that which was good,” he said.
The Sahara Race (Egypt) 2011 takes place in the Valley of the Whales.
The valley is part of the Wad El-Ryan Protected Area (WRPA) located in the Western Desert of Egypt. In 2005, it was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage site in recognition of the 40 million year-old whale skeletons discovered in the area.
Martin and his fellow Sahara Race competitors travelled through a land of contrasts - with mountains of rocks leading to gold, red and white sand dunes sometimes scaling more than 122 meters / 400 feet. There are also stony expanses and the occasional palm-filled oasis as well as dried-up river beds.
“It’s over sand dunes, rough track. It’s fairly remote in parts. It does make it harder to see the finishing line but there are checkpoints every 10k so you try and focus for the next checkpoint. If you think of the big distance it would put you off,” said Martin.
While Martin has experience in terms of endurance, having climbed mountains both in Ireland and Africa, the Sahara Race was the first serious race in which he competed.
Checkpoints were spaced at approximately 10 kilometre intervals, with the final checkpoint of the day being the finish line and camp-site. Competitors are supplied with 1.5 litres of water at each checkpoint as well as shade and a place to rest. Once all competitors have passed through a checkpoint, it is dismantled. No trace of the checkpoint is left in the desert.
“It is a self sufficient race but you get water at checkpoints and you get a tent set up for you at night - they are like 10 man tents. The stages would start at 7am. You would get into someone’s pace or they would get into your pace and you might stick with them then for a few hours,” Martin explained.
In terms of food supplies, frozen dried foods proved a favour amongst the competitors.
“It is up to yourself what you want to bring but what a lot of them would use are freeze dried meals so you just add hot water to them. They don’t taste terribly nice but they get you through it,” Martin added.
While there was one other person of Irish descent competing, Martin was the only Irish resident to take part in the race.
Competitors who successfully complete each stage of the Sahara Race 2011 receive a medal at the finish line in front of The Pyramids of Giza. The Sahara Race is part of the 4 Deserts, named by TIME magazine as one of the Top 10 endurance competitions in the world.