Part 1. The Unforgettable Night at the Sahara Desert

“Winning the world championship in the Atacama Desert 250km marathon – team division.”

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Before I get into this story, I must first tell you about “that night”.

The night I cannot forget.

The night I ran alone through the pitch dark Sahara desert, crying the entire time.

October 6, 2011, was my second desert 250km race, “The Sahara Desert 250km Marathon”.

It was during Stage 5, which was the overnight stage where you have to run 90km through the night.

Although it was just under 2 years since I started running, I was able to rank high on stage 4 on the fourth day of the race.

I was No.1 among the Japanese runners, and No.6 in the entire race.

But at stage 5, the fifth and sixth day of the race, my stomach started acting up and I was delayed.

When you run more than a full marathon, it is important not only to have legs with the strength to run long distance, but whether you can maintain a healthy stomach so that you can eat, digest and generate energy to keep you running.

Simply put, if you cannot eat, you’re doomed. No matter how much strength you have left in your legs.

On my second Sahara desert race’s day 5, and during the most important stage, I fell into that “doomed” condition.

I was so Irritated with myself. But at the same time, I was relieved because I recovered enough to run by then.

With mixed emotions, I cried and ran all the way through that night, alone under the sky filled with stars.

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(The picture is me collapsing after finishing stage 5)

“Run 250km through a burning desert in 7 days.”

Plus,

“Carry everything you need with you in your backpack – 7 days worth of food and goods weighing up to 10kg – and continue to run.”

Ever since I was born – for 35 years – I was never the athletic type.

I always stayed indoors.

I was even in the “culture club” in school.

But then one day I started running for no reason.

As soon as I started running, I was totally hooked!

And the race that I definitely wanted to try before I died was the Desert Marathon.

I used to be a super chubby guy with a body fat percentage of 20%.

But I dropped 20kg,

Through various occurrences – which I can only describe as “fate” –  and my overdoing character, within 2 years I ran the Egypt Sahara Desert 250km Marathon.

I placed No.8 among all runners, and No.2 among the Japanese runners.

Satisfied with the unexpected good result, and yet irritated at myself for the stomach trouble I could have avoided, I was at the after-party with mixed emotions.

What I saw there were 4 Italian runners at the victory stand, receiving an award for the world championship of the team race.

They shined so brilliantly on that stage, and I was so amazed that I forgot any irritation that I’d felt.

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The 4 member Italian team: “Desert Runners”.

During the race, we had continuously ran past each other.

They looked so awesome to me, and I got a lot of power from them during the race – I completely idolized them..

That was the moment I learned there was a team race for the Desert 250km Marathon, not just the individual race.

My thoughts were: “Wow! They are SOOOOO cool!!”

“Run 250km through a burning desert in 7 days while carrying food, outfit, and emergency goods in your backpack that weighs up to 10kg.”

That is the rule for the Desert 250km Marathon, whether it is an individual race or a team race.

But the team race has another rule:

“A team has to consist of 3 or more members. There is no limit to the number of members, but if members retire, making the team less than 3, then the whole team retires.”

“All members of a team must be within 25 meters. All members of a team must start and reach the goal at the same time.”

They must support each other at all times – sometimes the leader would take the hand of a team member who’s in bad condition, and so on.

Dressed in the same wear, the 4-member team from Italy, “Desert Runners”, ran to become world champion for the team race.

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The “Desert Runners” members were giving a victory speech at the stand.
A glorious sight it was, with each member holding the “Silver Shield” in their hands, the same shield given to the men/women individual race champions.

“I definitely want to get on that stage and hold that shield in my hands!”

“Winning the individual race is too much for me, but if it’s a team race, I might have a chance.”

Only a year and a half later, I would be challenging the Atacama Desert as a team with Shinya Sasaki (Shin) and Yousuke Kurosawa (Kuro). They were also there, completing their first desert race and  watching the ceremony with me.

But at that time, I didn’t have a clue that would be happening.

(Continue to Part 2)