Running the Ocean Floor

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160-mile race offers runners an out-of-this-world experience

Runner Kenwynne Barber, 72, crosses the White Desert. Photo courtesy of FAT FEET.

These days, many runners have an international race or two under their belt. Running across a desert? Been there, done that, some may say. But how about navigating their own way via GPS for 160 nonstop miles on an unmarked course?

For those seeking a new challenge, the inaugural Ocean Floor Race in the Egyptian White Desert on February 3-7 provided just that. Seven hours southwest of Cairo, the White Desert—an ancient ocean floor—features towering white limestone structures that have been cut and shaped by the wind over millions of years.

Says race organizer Keith Gray, “I felt that littering the desert with direction markers would spoil the nature of adventure racing. Navigating using GPS maintains the wilderness ethos of the event.”

Since the race is nonstop, rather than stage race, not only do participants navigate their own way, they also make their own decisions about when to run, walk, rest and eat. Participants were required to carry a minimum supply kit and ran between checkpoints situated every 15 miles, where they had access to hot and cold water, cooking facilities and additional supplies packed in drop bags.

Pasquale Brandi of Italy finished first in 48 hours and 15 minutes—two full hours ahead of second-place finish, Sharon Gaytor, of the UK. Both Brandi and Gaytor rested very little, each taking only a quick power nap around the 100-mile mark before moving onward.

One runner’s spread of gear for the race. Photo courtesy of FAT FEET.

Though many participants came dressed to the nines in the latest and greatest gear, Brandi opted for an old-school approach—plastic soft-drink bottles for hydration, a pencil case looped on to his pack’s sternum strap for easy-access snacks and a discontinued model Garmin 101—just going to show that what counts in these races, above all, are the joy, spirit and determination of the runner.

Says oldest entrant, 72-year-old Kenwynne Barber, of London, “What an amazing place the White Desert is, with the lovely desert foxes and the most amazing stars at night.” Notable limestone structures along the course include the kneeling camel, the rabbit and—most famous of all—the chicken and the mushroom. Says Gray, “It really is like being on another planet.”

The chicken and the mushroom limestone structures. Photo courtesy of FAT FEET.

Entry into next year’s race will open in March 2013 at

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