Running Through the Sahara

This is insane:

Three ultra-endurance athletes have just done something most would consider insane: They ran the equivalent of two marathons a day for 111 days to become the first modern runners to cross the Sahara Desert's grueling 4,000 miles.

“It will take time to sink in… but this is an absolutely once in a lifetime thing. They say ignorance is bliss, and now that I know how hard this is, I would never consider crossing the Sahara on foot again,” said American runner Charlie Engle, 44, hours after he and the others completed the run at Egypt’s Red Sea.

Engle said he, Canadian Ray Zahab, 38, and Kevin Lin, 30, of Taiwan, ran the final stretch of their journey that took them through the Giza pyramids and Cairo to the mouth of Suez Canal on four hours of sleep. Once they hit the Red Sea, they put their hands in the water to signify crossing the finish line.

“We touched the water in Senegal at the beginning, and we touched the water in the Red Sea at the end. They were the bookends of our journey,” Engle, of Greensboro, North Carolina, said on the telephone from a hotel room in Cairo.

In less than four months, they have run across the world’s largest desert, through six countries—Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and finally Egypt.

A film crew followed them, chronicling the desert journey for actor Matt Damon’s production company, LivePlanet. Damon plans to narrate the “Running the Sahara” documentary.

The trek is one of extremes. The relentless sun can push temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, but at night it sometimes dips below freezing. Strong winds can abruptly send sand swooping in every direction, making it difficult to see and breathe.

Running through turbulent conditions is nothing new for these athletes who have traveled the world competing in adventure races. But they say nothing has tested their physical and mental limitations like the Sahara.

For the record, I can run about a mile and a half, tops. On a treadmill. Once a week.

Chris Hayes is the host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.


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