WE JOINED SVEN HENKES ON A VERY UNIQUE TRIP TO THE WESTERN SAHARA WHERE HE RAN THE SAHARA MARATHON AND EXPERIENCED LIFE WITH A LOCAL FAMILY IN A REFUGEE CAMP FOR A WEEK.
It was 5am on a Friday morning when the alarm rang to get up. We had a date with Sven Henkes in Madrid, who we met previously, after he ran the Polar Bear Marathon in Churchill, Canada. This time he invited us to join him on his journey to Western Sahara, where he was going to participate in the Sahara Marathon and live with a Sahrawi family in a refugee camp for one week. The idea behind this Marathon is to support the Sahrawi people, living in the western part of the African Sahara desert.
After arriving in Madrid, we met Sven at the airport. We had some spare time before our connecting flight to Tindouf (Algeria) so we decided to head into the city centre and talk to Sven about what motivates him, his preparations and his overall expectations.
Sven, after running in the cold of Canada, why did you choose the Sahara Marathon to be your next challenge?
Well, I really enjoyed this kind of special races. A bit more extreme than a normal street race, but still in a controlled area. The Polar Bear Marathon was quite cold, but I didn‘t feel anything. Some of the guys I met there did already a few races like this and they told me about running in the desert. I immediately started thinking: "Oh, this could really be an interesting challenge for me and a totally different kind of experience!". We also started talking about doing a 7-day ultra marathon in the desert in 2015.
Based on that I thought the Sahara Marathon might be a great opportunity to get some first insights in running in sand, crossing dunes, etc.. I also liked the charity idea behind the race.
What are your expectations in terms of living with local people in a refugee camp for one week?
Before I realized that, I need to admit that I was thinking more about a romantic scenery, fire places, sitting together and enjoying the atmosphere of the desert. But once I got more into it, I soon realized, that this will add even more to this whole experience, to see how the people live there, what kind of challenges they face and to be part of their daily life. Participating in this Marathon I‘d like to improve their living situation a bit and bring some awareness to them and their issues.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge running in the desert?
Even though I did some research, I am not a hundred percent sure what to expect during the race. I think the different undergrounds will be the biggest challenge. All I hope is, that it‘s not like running on a regular beach, which is really hard. I tested my equipment a bit, the shoes, the clothes I am going to wear, but I don‘t know the route yet, so we will see. On the other hand, I did a lot of training in the Berlin winter. I was running a lot on snow, to simulate the feeling of running in sand. Also the different temperatures might be a challenge, but on the other side the Berlin summer can be very warm as well (laughs). I also participated in an ultra marathon in South Africa 5 years ago, which was warm (27 degree Celsius) but still on a street and city area.
How did you prepare for the race?The physical training is very important for me and I integrate it as much as possible into my daily life. I basically run around 6 times a week and between 70 and 100 kilometers, depending on the stage of my training program. I am always trying to vary my training and mix long distance runs with shorter, faster runs, do some interval training and so on. After winning the Polar Bear Marathon, what are you aiming for this time? Right, at the Polar Bear Marathon I finished first which was a great result. But this time I am competing not only in a much bigger group of runners, but also with a number of local runners which are used to the conditions and very competitive. I checked the last years results and the fastest times are always around 2:40. On a street level, I am running a little less than 3 hours. But never the less my objective is to finish in top 10.
After an "adventurous" taxi drive back to the airport, we checked in our luggage and slowly moved to the gate where our plane to Tindouf, was boarding. Already on the plane we started to realize that this will be a trip into a world, most of us don‘t really know much about.
Our expectations proved right after we landed in Tindouf almost at midnight.
Part 2 of our #Journey will be online next week.