Those who know me have noticed that I started doing a bit of running a few months ago. The runs are, unfortunately, few and far between, but they have been with a singular goal in mind: to get my body in some sort of shape to take on the Oman Desert Marathon on the 20th November 2017. Incidentally, I am unclear why the race is called a marathon — at 165km over 6 days and carrying all your food and kit, it feels like a little more than a marathon.
When I tell people I’m doing the race their eyes tend to flick over my body, taking in the 120kg mass before them. Then with what can only be described as a tone of sympathy, mixed with genuine interest, they say “Really, why?” Well, here are the three reasons I’m getting on a plane next week to try and do something I have no idea whether I’ll return from in one piece, let alone finish.
You sleep out in the desert and have to carry everything except water: sleeping bag, mat, food, stove and, uh, venom extractor kit. 1. THE CHALLENG
I cycled from London to Monte Carlo, twice, in 2013 and 2014. Twenty-two other men and women and myself took on 1,400 grueling kilometers, over the alps (Mont Ventoux and others): total climbing of 36,000 feet over 9 days.
The Oman run is a self-sufficient 6-stage race from the Oasis at Bidya to the Arabian sea. You sleep out in the desert and have to carry everything except water: sleeping bag, mat, food, stove, and, uh, venom extractor kit. To name a few of the challenges that lie ahead, there are large soft sand dunes, high temperatures, and pesky little scorpions.
It’s not just that I like a challenge. I think it’s that I like a challenge that I’m not naturally predisposed to being good at. At nearly 19 stone in weight I am built for short, sharp bursts of activity. For instance, breaking the line in rugby. I am not built to run or cycle, and certainly not over prolonged periods.
It is therefore more about leaving my comfort zone — not only humbling but also inspiring. It gives me a great sense of perspective and enhances my interactions with people in my everyday life.
Steve, left, and the author during a training run at the top of section 4 Maclehose Trail, Hong Kong.
It's good to take a break. One of the best breaks you can take is from your phone. We’re all guilty of it — getting a daily update from work or convincing yourself that checking emails once in the morning and once in the evening on holiday is okay. Well, it may be okay, since communication with work and colleagues whilst on “holiday” may be inevitable. However running across a desert with no phone signal takes the decision out of your hands. This “off line” time is invaluable for me. All I have to think about is getting from A to B, eating and sleeping. In my experience, everyone manages just fine without you for a week.
3. SHARED EXPERIENCE
I have nothing against doing things on my own. Indeed much of the training for these challenges can be solitary. I do however enjoy the shared experience with any great adventure like this. For Oman, it’s me and Steve. A man (with a lovely family) who lived six doors away from me seven years ago in London, went to India for 5 years for work, and then, in an “isn’t it a small world” moment, moved in to the house two doors away from me in Hong Kong about a year ago.
I like Steve already. He’s Scottish and mixes a great cocktail. Enough said. However, the training, tears, laughter and shopping trips to buy endless kit involved in undertaking something like this — let alone actually doing the race — is a fantastic experience to share. Hong Kong is an amazing — but sometimes temporary — port during a global career. Whilst that may or may not be the case for Steve and me, wherever our paths lead we’ll always be able to meet for a pint somewhere in the world and talk about that time we ran across the Oman Desert. That for me is very special.
Next stop Muscat. I plan to take some photos and vids of the run, so follow the blog or my instagram if you’d like to see how it all goes.
Also, if you have any interest in cycling around the island of Taiwan next year, drop me a note. We'll be working though the logistics soon, but current thinking is it’s a six-day challenge.
Read Part 2 of this series: 'The courage to start the possibly impossible'
JONNY WRIGHT is the Global Managing Director of Dow Jones, Director of News. Previously he was Circulation Director in Europe for The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Hong Kong and looks for whatever cycle challenge