The Toughest Footrace on Earth

Sometimes you need to push your body to extremes to find out what you’re really made of!



The Marathon des Sables (MDS) is known as the toughest footrace on Earth. It’s a gruelling 250-kilometre, seven-day journey that takes place in Morocco, through the Sahara desert. MDS takes participants up and down sand dunes, traversing through mountains, and across salt pans – all while fighting through sandstorms in the scorching heat and carrying everything needed for the duration of the race on your back.

Why would I ever consider such a task? I wanted to prove to myself, and everyone who thought I didn’t have it in me, that I could complete such a gruelling race. I also wanted my daughter Arielle to be proud of me, and to know that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

When the Going Gets Tough

Tanya Pieterse_photo
I completed the race with my husband, and his faith motivated me to finish each day. I also had the pleasure of running a section of my daily races with renowned English explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who called this particular footrace “more hellish than hell.” It was a sentiment both he and I shared.Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 4.46.20 PM

There was a point where I thought I had reached my limit. I’d completed three straight marathon days, and was embarking on the long stage – 92 kilometres – that would require me to stay on my feet for 24 hours, with only two hours of rest. My glucose levels plummeted and temporary blindness set in. I reached a checkpoint, and for the first time I knew I needed medical assistance.

Tanya_Pieterse_Photo_2 (2560x3840)The medical team from Doc Trotters had me put on a drip to rehydrate my body and stabilize my blood glucose levels. After my prognosis and treatment, I was given the option to fall out of the race. I waited for the morphine injection to kick in, and got up with the assistance of my husband. I went on to finish the stage, and eventually crossed the finish line.

After pushing through so many harrowing days, I was elated. I gave in to tears of extreme joy as a crowd cheered us on. I had done it!

This race has become a life-changing experience. When taking part in the MDS, everyone is fighting their way through the desert together on equal footing. Nationality and gender no longer exist – everyone bonds and becomes one through their shared struggle.

Achieving the seemingly impossible has changed the way I see myself in the mirror each day. I now know that I can do anything that I set my mind to, and that I can survive any adventure I choose to embark on. I’ve learned that I can dream big, and I will follow my dreams regardless of whether anyone may doubt me. I am braver than I once believed, and stronger than I know.

By Tanya Pieterse

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