For dentist, it’s just one of four gruelling desert ordeals
Katherine Dedyna, Times Colonist
Published: Monday, October 20, 2008
It’s cold and rainy outside as Stan Lee and Jon Miller hoof it on the treadmills at the Oak Bay Rec Centre, where they’ve covered 15 kilometres a night for months. They’re really going to miss the crummy weather a pane of glass away.
That’s because it will be blazing hot when the two Greater Victoria men hit the ground running in the Sahara Desert. They leave tomorrow for the hottest of the "4 Deserts " races organized by RacingThePlanet .
At 21, Miller is the youngest of 170 competitors attempting the 250-km run through sand dunes, plateaus and oases from Oct. 26 to Nov. 1. The oldest is a 73-year-old Briton and in between is Dean Karnazes, the American famed for 50 marathons in 50 days.
Miller, a Thrifty Foods employee, says his youth doesn’t put extra pressure on him in completing roughly a marathon a day for the duration. Not that he has ever done a marathon.
"I’ve been running for a couple of years and looking for something challenging," he says. "If it’s going to be challenging, I may as well make it ridiculous."
He has already lost nearly 10 kilograms just training with a heavy knapsack.
What does Jon’s mom think of the upcoming adventure? "She thought it was a great idea."
Stan’s mom? "She thinks I’m crazy."
Lee has already run 21 marathons and a chunk of China’s Gobi Desert with the same organization. "If you can complete a race like this, basically you can complete any future challenge in life," says the dentist. "Most people don’t realize the potential they have."
Lee is the reason Miller is hooked on the run. If they hadn’t met four months ago at the rec centre, Miller would not be heading to the world’s largest desert.
While a lot of people would have to be paid to run part of the Sahara, the entry fee is not cheap: $2,900 US.
The fee partly covers the organizing costs, including a six-person medical team among 70 support staff, 4×4 vehicles to convoy 10,000 bottles of water, a "cybertent" to keep runners in touch with their worlds, campfires, satellite receivers and so on, said RacingThePlanet founder Mary K. Gadams in an e-mail to the Times Colonist.
Miller’s father is ponying up Jon’s airfare to Cairo. "He just came up to me one day and said he wanted to do this run," says Dave Miller, also working out at the rec centre. "I said ‘Where is it? ‘And he said. ‘Oh yeah, it’s in Egypt.’ "
The race route spans the Bahariya Oasis and the Farafra Oasis in the west of Egypt, famed as the Valley of the Mummies and also notable for countless limestone formations.
"I think the Sahara will be easier because I’m more experienced, now," Lee says.
Competitors are told to expect up to 45-degree heat. No problem, Lee says. "I act like a solar panel — I go further when it’s hot out."
He’s up on his food priorities, too. He craved instant noodles so desperately last year that he offered another runner $100 for a $1 package.
Lee felt terrible during the Gobi run because he couldn’t stomach the dehydrated food he had brought.
Runners are expected to carry all their own food, clothing and equipment as they pass through 30 checkpoints. The toughest day will encompass nearly 100 km. Neither man sounds intimidated. At night, competitors sleep 10 to a tent. Miller is assigned to the first-time team from Egypt — one of 30 countries represented.
Lee isn’t stopping at the Sahara. Next up is the Atacamba Desert in Chile, with Antarctica after that.
"It’s not complete if you don’t do all four," he says.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008