Published: February 24, 2007 11:06 pm
Valley runners heading to Morocco in quest to complete marathon on each continent
By Deb McKee
TERRE HAUTE — When Tim Fears and Tom Dever finish their next adventure, they will be one step closer to their ultimate goal of completing a marathon on each of the continents.
On March 23, Fears and Dever will begin a seven-day, 145-mile run/hike across the Moroccan Sahara, testing their mental and physical endurance in what has been called the most grueling marathon in the world: the Marathon of the Sands.
Dever and Fears, both running enthusiasts, will fly to Ouarzazate, Morocco, before being taken by bus to the rugged wilds of the Sahara for the 22nd annual race.
They will join about 500 other runners from all over the world. Only about 25 participants are signed up from the United States, according to U.S. coordinator Jay Batchen of Dreamchasers Outdoor Adventure Club LLC.
Runners will face temperatures of up to 120 degrees (and down to 40 degrees at night), scorpions, sand storms and the inevitable pain and annoyance of blisters. They will not know the route until they get there.
Dever and Fears, who have been running partners for about the past three years, learned of the desert marathon while researching a marathon in the South American Amazon, also coordinated by Dreamchasers.
“We were all set to do the Amazon race in October,” Fears said, “but we got too excited and wanted to do something sooner.” So far, they have completed marathons in North America. Africa will be the second continent toward their goal.
“They have them in Antarctica, too,” Dever said.
Dever, 49, whose family business is Dever Distributing Co., has been running for about five years, he said. Fears, 41, who works at Thompson Thrift, became involved in triathlons about four or five years ago, he said, and became an endurance runner about three years ago.
The adventurers are being sponsored by several area companies: Thompson-Thrift, Michelob Ultra, Fast Track Apparel and The Element Outdoor Outfitters. But corporate support is just one aspect of making the dream a reality, Fears said.
“If our families, friends, business associates weren’t supportive, we couldn’t do it,” he said. “Everyone is supportive, but everyone is also nervous. Jokingly, they’re saying we’re a little crazy, but that just translates to, we’re concerned for your safety. And so are we.
“We’re taking every precaution we can, including sticking together through the whole – this is not a team event – but we intend to stick together. We cross the finish line together or we stop together,” Fears said. “But ‘stop’ is not in our vocabulary.”
Both of the ultra-runners grin at that thought. When asked why they are interested in pushing themselves in such an event, Dever said, “We’ve run numerous marathons, we’ve both been very successful and this is just a new adventure.”
Fears added, “Why not? It’s the challenge … we’ve both been competitive marathoners, and ultra-running is the next step. We’re excited, it’s incredible.”
Dever said his family has been supportive, but his wife is still a bit apprehensive.
“She thinks I’m crazy,” he said, laughing.
The duo has been training daily to prepare for the rigors of the marathon, getting in between 80 and 90 miles weekly, they said.
“Getting up around 4:30 a.m. we can get in six, seven, eight miles an hour and still be in the office by 7,” Fears said.
“Then go run five more miles at lunch,” Dever added.
“And again after work,” Fears said.
They eat light, and schedule meals around running, Dever said. Fears said he eats between four and five small meals a day, including nutrition bars and maybe a quick peanut butter sandwich for lunch after a run.
The Moroccan race consists of six stages over seven days, with the first three daily stages set at around 20 miles each. The fourth stage is around 50 miles; the fifth is a full 26.2-mile marathon and the final stage is about 10 miles.
The two have been consulting the coordinator of the U.S.-based group for training advice.
“We come up with some of the training philosophies,” Dever said, “and I’ll e-mail [Batchen] and say, Hey, this is what we’ve done, what do you think?”
Participants also have access to a Web-based forum to talk to others who have signed up for the race.
Dever and Fears say the Marathon of the Sands is not something to try without lots of experience. Dever has completed nine marathons, and Fears, four. Registrants also must pass a battery of physical tests, including a medical exam and an EKG before being allowed to participate, Fears said.
“We are in the best shape of our lives,” he said.
Both men recently finished the Memphis marathon, and spent Saturday running/walking 50 miles. The two will go to Little Rock, Ark., for a marathon next weekend.
“In Morocco, we’ll do a 50-miler and then a full marathon,” Fears said. “So your body has to be acclimated to what that feels like. We can’t replicate the weather, but we can replicate the weight of the bag and what we’re going to be wearing.”
They do about half their training runs while carrying the packs they’ll take with them to Morocco.
Each of them will carry a pack that weighs, at the beginning, around 18 pounds. A catalog of compulsory packing items required by race organizers lists an anti-venom pump (for scorpion stings), salt tablets, flares, food for the duration of the race (at least 14,000 calories), a compass, two 20-ounce water bottles and a sleeping bag, among other survival gear. Race organizers provide about nine liters of water per day.
“We have to be totally self-sufficient,” Fears said. They will take no extra clothes, except what they are running in and a set of clothing to lounge in at night. Each will have one pair of running shoes, a pair of flip-flops and some gaiters, or overshoes, to keep sand out of their shoes.
“We won’t be showering or shaving, but we are bringing toothbrushes,” Fears said.
For food, the two are looking at items that weigh little, but pack a lot of calories and carbohydrates, such as breakfast bars, nutrition bars, instant noodles, oatmeal, pretzels and peanut butter. Dever said he has ordered a dozen survival bars, each of which carries a whopping 2,400 calories and 252 carbs per bar. Electrolyte tablets, powdered drink mixes and tea bags will help give their water some flavor.
They will each carry a sleeping bag that weighs only a little over one pound, and will sleep in berber tents provided by race organizers.
“Tim and I have run enough miles, we’ve had stress fractures, blisters, sore feet,” Dever said, as he pulled up a picture on the race Web site at www.darbaroud.com showing a past participant’s swollen and blistered feet. Both Dever and Fears grinned.
“We know pain. They’re not going to surprise us that way,” Dever said.
To follow Dever and Fears through their journey, go to their online journal at www.michelobultraadventureteam.vox.com.
Deb McKee can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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