Credit : www.racingtheplanet.com / Scott Manthey
As the ninth edition of the Sahara Race kicks off on 16 February 2014, competitors will find themselves in one of the most fabled desert-scapes on the planet, beneath the towering sandstone mesas of Jordan’s Wadi Rum, also known as Valley of the Moon.
This year’s Sahara Race is moving out of Egypt for the first time in its nine-year history as a result of recent political unrest. The 250-kilometer course takes place instead in the Badia region of nearby Jordan. The stunning course will take 191 competitors from nearly 40 countries through four distinct deserts, finishing on 22 February in the red formations of the ancient city of Petra— one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
“While it is sad not to be holding the ninth edition of the Sahara Race in its home of Egypt, I am excited to be returning to Jordan where we held the 2012 Roving Race with one of the most memorable finish lines in front of the Treasury in the world-renowned heritage site of Petra,” says Event President, Samantha Fanshawe. “And what an exciting group of competitors – a double Olympian, a desert running legend on home turf, a blind competitor and four 4 Deserts Club members with two more looking to join the club in Petra. We are also welcoming back two competitors that have completed the most 4 Deserts races in history and 22 people aiming to race 1,000 kilometers in the 4 Deserts Grand Slam in 2014.”
This year’s striking field of competitors includes Jordan’s very own Salameh Al Aqra. The 43- year-old has been running in deserts since the age of 12 and was overall champion of the Marathon des Sables 2012 as well as multi-time winner of the Austria Ultramarathon and a three- time top 10 finisher in the Jordan Desert Cup.
He will be up against Olympian Jose Manuel “Chema” Martinez Fernandez (42) who finished ninth in the 10,000 meters in the 2004 Athens Olympics and 16th in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Spaniard’s long list of accolades includes winning the 2008 Madrid Marathon and a silver medal in the marathon in the 2010 European Championships.
The presence of these powerful individuals is complimented by a wide cast of notable 4 Deserts finishers taking on this unique race, including Italy’s Andrea Girardi who was fourth overall at the Atacama Crossing 2013 and has three Marathon des Sables finishes to his name. They’ll be tackling a diverse course that will move through sand dunes, rock tracks, grassland and riverbeds—as competitors carry all of their supplies with only tents and water supplied to them along the way.
They will also be bringing some extraordinary human stories with them. Vladmi dos Santos is a blind athlete from Brazil who has run marathons in Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Florianopolis, Rio de Janeiro, Trieste, Geneva and Amsterdam. A member of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee, he returns to his second 4 Deserts race with his guide, Alex de Lima of Brazil. Spanish competitor Beatriz Garcia Berche, who has Type 1 diabetes, is starting her third 4 Deserts race with the aim of proving that the disease does not have to stop the pursuit of one’s dreams. This is, meanwhile, the 20th race for astonishing South Korean competitor Yoo Ji Sung (Jesse). The CEO of runxrun is the only person ever to have completed the 4 Deserts Race Series twice. Sandy Suckling, another 4 Deserts Club member, is tipped to finish as one of the top women in the race.
There are also those competing with a longer-term view; 22 competitors have the goal of completing the 4 Deserts Grand Slam (all 4 Deserts races in one calendar year) in 2014. This phenomenal group includes the five-person Corre 1km+ team from Spain who take on the team category alongside Team Mukenkabito from Japan and Team Xiamen University from China.
It is the rise of Asian competitors in the race that indicates the most interesting global trend to emerge from the race. Chinese, Japanese and South Korean competitors are bringing the highest numbers of competitors to the field and include the likes of Jin Feibo, modern China’s “greatest adventurer.”
“It is so great to see the sport of ultra-running continuing to grow at such a great rate in Asia, which is evident by the number of competitors from Korea (South), Japan, China and Taiwan," says Samantha Fanshawe. “This is a trend we can expect to see growing even further in coming years.”