Meet Dr. Arjun Krishnakumar. With a PhD in Biomedical science, Arjun works as a scientist for a digital healthcare company in clinical research. He is a vegan ultra-trail runner and has been running ultra-marathons since 2017 and has completed 12 ultras. After starting running in 2009, he has completed 19 marathons and 19 half marathons so far. Arjun shares his account of running the notorious 250 KM race in the brutal Sahara desert in southern Morocco in 2018.
This is Arjun’s story.
“My biggest race so far has been the Marathon Des Sables, which I did in 2018. Marathon Des Sables (MDS) is a multi-stage self-survival race across the Sahara Desert. The distance is about 250 km over 6 days and one has to run with their food, sleeping bag, and everything else that you will need (self-survival). The race has 5 stages. Stages 1-3 are between 30-40 km each stage, stage 4 is the long stage with 80-90 Kms and stage 5 is the marathon stage (42 Kms).”
“Marathon Des Sables is a very challenging race, in tough conditions. I really wanted to test and push myself. Furthermore, my father suffered from progressive lateral sclerosis and passed away in 2017. I wanted to do this race in his memory. Hence, I decided to sign-up.
“The race had 5 aspects that I needed to train for- heat, sand, running with weight, and a long distance. I started by focusing on increasing my distance first. Then I started running with a weighted vest. I started with 5kgs and went up to 12 kgs. My weekly distance ranged from 80 km to 150 km. To train for the heat, I used to do afternoon runs, when the heat is the maximum. I got all aspects except sand. The pre-race prep involved managing weight in the bag. 6 days of food (min of 14000 Kcal was needed), sleeping bag, a mat (that went below the sleeping bag), toiletries, battery pack, change of clothes.
The race started in Morocco. We had to stay in the desert two days before the race, where it was more of acclimatization and also gear check (There was a list of mandatory gear that we needed to have before we started and the bag-pack had to weigh a minimum of 6.5 Kgs).
The race was a grueling prospect, but it became even more challenging when the airline lost my bag and I had nothing except my bag-pack, sleeping bag, and running shoes. That was when I experienced the true spirit of human nature. I got to the desert and asked for help. A bunch of people, whom I didn’t even know, helped me out. Within 20 mins I got all the required gear, 14000 Kal of food, even running shorts and top. Thanks to all those, I could start the race.
The first 3 days had 32, 40, and 35 Kms. The 35 km included climbing 3 big sand mountains. On the night after day 2, we all were woken up by a sandstorm that lasted for about 2 hours and blew our tent away. The fourth stage (days 4 and 5) had 86.2 Kms. We had 35 hours to finish it. You were allowed to take a break to sleep beyond the 55 km mark. I had decided to run it all in one go and use day 4 as a rest day. It took me 17.5 hours to finish. The last day started (day 6) off with a sand storm and very strong winds. Ultimately, I managed to finish it. There is always an additional charity stage on the 7th day, 10 km, which was spent mainly walking.
“Post the race, we were given two night’s stay in a hotel, including food. However, the first step involved taking a shower and washing off 9 days’ worth of sand. Another bit of challenge during the race was the food. To manage the weight, I took dehydrated food and energy bars. By the 3rd day, all food started tasting the same. Even though I was expending a lot of energy, the will to consume that food was very low. I had to force myself to eat. So, I was glad to see fresh vegetables and food on the first night’s dinner, which tasted amazing!”