ISLAMABAD: Six days, 150km. Through the Sahara desert, supplies for the journey strapped to their backs, competitors run 150km in the appropriately titled Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands).
Marathon des Sables (MdS), held annually in Southern Morocco, is the toughest marathon in the world where the lives of at least two competitors have been lost in the past. Another Italian runner lost his way during a sandstorm in 1994 and wandered for nine days, losing 13kg.
For the first time, a Pakistani based in Qatar, Ziyad Rahim, will take on the challenging race.
Rahim, 38, is originally from Lahore and is currently working for Barwa Bank in Qatar.
“I have competed in over 70 long distance events in 20 odd countries and five continents,” Rahim said while talking to The Express Tribune over the phone, a day before leaving for the Antarctica Marathon — a 42km race set in King Edward Island, a peninsula just off Antarctica beginning March 6.
“These are two totally opposite and extreme conditions. The MdS is held under extremely hot conditions with temperatures averaging 50 Celsius in the desert and Antarctica being as cold as it is, it isn’t really humanly suitable,” said Rahim. “I am sure nobody’s ever done this before,” he added.
Following des Sables, Rahim hopes to become the first Pakistani to have run a marathon in all seven continents by competing in New Zealand later this year.
Though the adrenaline junkie adventurous athlete runs out of passion, his athleticism isn’t without a cause. With every race, he aims to raise funds for medical and scientific research.
This year, a part of his entry fee and all proceeds from MdS will go to the cure for Noma — a gangrenous disease leading to tissue destruction of the face especially those in the mouth and cheek. Noma has affected over half a million people, with 140,000 new cases reported each year according to estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Mostly children below the age of 12, in the poorest countries of Africa and some parts of Asia and South America are its victims. According to WHO, about 80-90% of Noma victims die.
Fully supported by his employers, Rahim intends to raise a large fund for sending medical teams to treat Noma patients by performing reconstructive surgery.
“I also intend to contribute towards fundraising for charity in Pakistan, but organisations there have yet to respond to my emails,” he said, adding that he will continue his efforts to reach them.
Training for the challenging MdS, Rahim has gone at it tenaciously and determinedly, running races in Colombo, Amman, Aqaba, Beirut, Reggio Emelia, Pisa and Dubai in the space of three months as preparation for des Sables. His final two races will be the 72K Wadi Bhi in Oman, and the Kilimanjaro Marathon in Tanzania.
As part of the des Sables, Rahim would have to carry in his personal belongings, a sleeping bag, headlamp, distress flare, survival knife, portable stove and an anti-venom kit, but he believes “living in Qatar would give me an advantage over many others.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2012.
Correction: An earlier version of this article miss spelt Ziyad Rahim’s name. The caption of the picture too incorrectly mentioned the distance as 150 km, it is 150 miles or 250 km.