My name is Khawar Siddique and I am a Pakistani ultra-runner competing in Marathon des Sables (MDS) - dubbed the ‘Toughest Footrace on Earth’ by the Discovery Channel. This race is a 7 day ultra marathon where runners have to cover 257km in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments – the Sahara desert in Morocco. In the 50 degree C heat of the Sahara desert, participants run while carrying all food and equipment on their back for 7 days. The ultra race takes place over 6 stages where the terrain ranges from rocky grounds to soft sand dunes reaching as high as 1,000 feet.

I’m from Pakistan – a country with a proud history of producing world class sportsmen like Jahangir Khan and Wasim Akram. These men are true athletes and have inspired me to play sports. I was an active person during high school and university. I played squash, cricket and football. However, after joining the workforce as a Project Engineer, I got too busy and my participation in all athletic games took a backseat.

In the summer of 2013, I had a terrible accident that left me bed-ridden for two months with a painful neck injury and concussion. While lying in bed day in and day out, I kept thinking about how we take many things in our life for granted. Many of us don’t put in enough of an effort to maintain the two best tools that we have been blessed with – our mind and body. I made it a mission to take control of my life, start focusing on my health and encourage others to do the same. This is when I found my passion for long-distance running.

So I worked hard to get back in shape after my traumatic injury and ran my first marathon in January of 2015. An elite runner once said, “Everything you ever wanted to know about yourself, you can learn in 42.2 km”. Here is what I learned in my 42 km:

  1. Don’t be afraid to push your boundaries. They are always further than you think.
  2. It only counts when it starts hurting. Pain is a sign that you are becoming stronger and tougher. Embrace it.
  3. Listen to those who tell you that you can’t do it. Remember their names. You will share the news of your accomplishment with them first.
  4. Always remember to give back to the community that supports you. Sometimes you run with the hopes and dreams of those who can’t run for themselves.
  5. When passing by the ladies, even if you don’t feel like it, run in perfect form. ; )

I have to be honest, the first time I heard about The MDS, I thought to myself who will take on such a crazy challenge? The very next moment, I realized that I will be crazy NOT to do it! The organizers of this race also contribute towards childrens’ education and female empowerment in impoverished communities – two causes that are close to my heart. Hence I have been actively training for this race and with your support I will finally be able to turn this dream into a reality.

Follow my journey: Facebook page: Marathon page: Twitter: @runwithkhawar Proof - Instagram: @runwithkhawar Email: [email protected]

Comments: 525 • Responses: 15  • Date: 

RazorDoesGames257 karma

What do you do to mentally prepare yourself for something so challenging?

Also, thanks for doing an AMA OP! I'm looking forward to this.

RunWithKhawar278 karma

Training... training... training :)

I knew that approaching The MDS as an amateur runner without fully understanding the risks involved could take a deadly turn. So I worked towards developing speed, strength and endurance through competitive cycling and long-distance running. To further prepare my body for this grueling challenge, I will be participating in:

Urban-Ultra Night Rebel Completed Westin Kilo Marathon (26.2 km) Completed Abu Dhabi Half Marathon (21.1 km) Completed 7 Emirates Run (60 km) Completed Dubai Half Marathon (21.1 km) Completed Urban Ultra Desert Stinker (20 km) Completed Dubai Marathon (42.2 km) Completed Dubai Ironman 70.3 (1.8km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run) Wadi Bih solo (72 km) RAK Half Marathon (21.1 km) Urban Ultra Hajar (50 km) Urban Ultra Extreme (140 km) Urban Ultra Big Stinker (45 km)

magsfran36 karma

I am also doing this race!! Super excited - feel free to ask me questions too!! (from a female perspective as well :D )

Let_you_down7 karma

Was going to ask u/RunWithKhawar this, but it appears he hasn't been active for the last 8 hours or so and a chunk of his comments were removed.

What does the work/social life/training balance look like? Back when I was a lot more into fitness than a fat middle aged man, working out 2-3 hours a day was easily do-able, but then I had kids and started having to work 60+ hours a week it became a lot harder to train that long.

I knew an ultra-marathoner who would sometimes train 6+ hours a day, but he was able to afford that sort of lifestyle because his parents had a decent chunk of money. As it isn't a sport that has as big financial payoffs as some professional sports that require that level of training, how are you able to afford doing it both in terms of finances and time?

RunWithKhawar3 karma

I apologize for answering late. This is my first AMA and wasn't completely sure how it works. I think if you are passionate about something and you have committed yourself to a goal, you will always find/invent ways. Training for an ultra marathon is a huge commitment and although it is an individual sport, I feel it is a team effort. Your family, friends, colleagues all play an important role in helping you cross that finish line. I work 40 hours a week. I think an important thing here, especially if you are working 60 hours a week, is to not take any work related stress home. You can always get a treadmill and train at home. I do longer sessions (5-6hr) over weekends in the morning when everyone is asleep. My social circle is mostly runners/triathletes. We spend time together when we are training.
Finances are a major concern for any athlete. If you aren't an elite or linked to a well known charity organization, it will be difficult to attract sponsors. Crowd funding is a great idea for amateur athletes like us. Visit my page and you will know how it works.

thenewme2_0169 karma

Do you think you have a chance to win this?

Good luck to you.

RunWithKhawar253 karma

Thank you for your support:) Finishing such an extreme ultra-marathon is a big accomplishment in itself. As this is my first MdS, right now I'm aiming to do it in a respectable time and finish with all my limbs and facilities intact. ;)

If you want to please, follow my journey as I have been posting about my progress, preparation and training marathon schedules on my social media channels: Facebook page: Twitter: @runwithkhawar Instagram: @runwithkhawar Email: [email protected]

selfpossessed13 karma

I tried to do the MdS a few years ago but the wait list was too long so I ran a similar race (the 4Desert's Sahara ultra, which is the same format -- 250km, carry all your stuff, multi-stage, etc.) back in 2009 and documented the experience (I was raising money for a charity) on The biggest things I learned: 1) take some caffeine, 2) don't listen to audiobooks, 3) watch the weight of your pack, 4) test your food before you go -- I couldn't stomach about half of the calories I'd brought (really wish I had more ramen and peanut butter), 5) test running in your desert shoes, which should be 2 sizes larger than your normal shoes, and 6) listen to your body -- the year after I went a guy died.

Good luck to you! I'll never forget the experience and the people!

RunWithKhawar3 karma

4Deserts in very similar to MDS in terms of preparation and training. Glad to know you had an unforgettable experience. I plan to document my journey as well. I will be doing everything that you mentioned in your post. I even plan to start sleeping in the sleeping bag on the floor of my bedroom a few days before the race;)

jeromeza140 karma

Have you considered taking part in the Barkley Marathon?

altitude_vagabond13 karma

I was waiting to see this comment. Besides MdS, the other races considered the hardest are 1. Barkley, 2. Badwater 3. Hardrock 100.

The Barkley is a beast of its own completely. Its not a stage race like MdS, but 5 20-mile loops with over 60,000 feet of GAIN, with a cutoff of 60 hours, that only 14 people have finished since it started in '86. It's pretty much a sadists dream lol! Absolute Insanity

RunWithKhawar3 karma

All three are on my bucket list:) The title of the documentary is so apt "The race that eats its young" I have a huge respect for people who are dared to attempt it.

eyesearskneesandtoes85 karma

Can you eat while on a marathon?

What do you personally eat before/during/after a marathon ?

RunWithKhawar117 karma

Freeze-dried meals, gels, electrolytes, and power bars during the race. All meals, including meals before and after the marathon, require loads of research and prep. I will be posting about it in my newsletters and on my social media channels. Follow my journey and hopefully I will be able to guide you in learning more about my prep for MdS. Facebook page: Twitter: @runwithkhawar Instagram: @runwithkhawar Email: [email protected]

Poromenos71 karma

Wait how is this a thing that's even possible? How can you run for days in 50 C while carrying all your food and water? It sounds to me like everyone who attempted this would just die, I'm extremely impressed that this is actually physically possible.

Good luck to you!

Blesss5 karma

i dont know for sure, but based on other such races, there would be refreshment/pickup stations along the way where you can get rid of and pick up more food/drinks etc, either from staff or arrange for a friend/teammate/coach to meet up with you there

RunWithKhawar3 karma

Unfortunately this race doesn't offer that luxury. You can only get water at the checkpoints, which is also limited per day.

Ajaiixx50 karma

How did you start out running, any advice to the newcomers to the sport?

Iamchinesedotcom44 karma

Recreational runner here, in case he doesn't answer.

I got into running because I was looking for a cheap exercise activity - mainly cardio. I read several books about the mechanics and philosophy of running but at the end of the day, I just ran. I joined several different running groups and events and it just went uphill and downhill from there.

Highly recommend Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It basically tells why running is inherently "interesting" to us as a species.

koboys11 karma

running is cheap until you start racking up race entry fees

RunWithKhawar2 karma

True! MDS is one of the more expensive races out there. Factor in the cost of training, the race kit, a nutrition plan and meals, training race entry fees, racing gear, meal tests and like you said race entry fee; leaves you with a HUGE dent in your savings. Oh who am I kidding? There are no savings left! I guess that's all a part of the challenge.

RunWithKhawar2 karma

Born to Run is one of the most inspirational book for runners. Another great book is Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes. The guy was naturally gifted and his stories are very entertaining and truly inspiring.

alittlebitmental13 karma

How did you manage to get a place? Not only is it really expensive (from what I remember) it also sells out years in advance. I seriously considered it after I ran my first marathon, but you'd have to plan years in advance.

Have you watched any of the MDS documentaries? It looks brutal, but the bragging rights must surely be worth it!

RunWithKhawar2 karma

Yes, I have watched a few. They are all very inspiring and scary at the same time. It might have been difficult earlier, but now you just need to register yourself a year in advance and make all the payments in time. You will be spending lots of time planning, researching and obsessing about gear, nutrition, pacing strategy, etc. It's an interesting and daunting process.

outwar601013 karma

As a pakistani born in the uk and can barely survive the few days of british summer, that we get. What do you do to be okay with 50 degrees heat?

RunWithKhawar2 karma

Luckily I live in a desert (UAE) where I can find heat and humidity and sand. Have you tried sauna/steam? I heard most of the European runners spend time in saunas to get their bodies used to dehydration.

og_m44 karma

Have you seen Bhaag Milkha Bhaag?

RunWithKhawar2 karma

Yes I have. An other inspiring journey from a good man.

Chatni5554 karma

Hey Khawar. All the best! Fellow Pakistani here. I had aspirations to be a marathon runner one day but the best I could do was 10K's before my back started to pretty much beg me to give up. I had been a bit overweight and weak* in that area but then life got in the way. I am still 27, so I hope some day I will complete a marathon _ Do you have any advise for me?

Secondly, it seems there's almost no marathons in Pakistan except for the Lahore marathon and even that I don't know if it's still happening. And even those are mostly taken part in by the army guys. My 5K speed was not that bad btw, even with a 20% body fat percentage I ran a 20 minute 5K so I always thought I had it in me to do something bigger ;) All the best to you my friend and I'll be following your journey for sure.

RunWithKhawar2 karma

I am so glad to hear from a fellow Pakistani runner (a rare find I must say). I always say that if you can do a 10K you can definitely do a full marathon. All you need is discipline and dedication. You must do back strengthening exercises and stretches. Start with planks. Don't get discouraged by these minor setbacks. Trust me every runner has to go through these aches and pains and this is how we get stronger. I also do 20mins 5K, so you can imagine you are not very different from me. Sadly running and cycling are not popular sports in our country. You will have to signup for an international marathon. There are thousands of them around the world. I will be happy to help you with your training if you plan to run a marathon in future. Thanks for following my journey.

Endless_Facepalm2 karma

What does your diet look like while preparing for something like this compared to your average diet?

RunWithKhawar2 karma

My regular diet is not very different from my training diet. I eat healthy/organic food. I do take more care in calculating calories and where they are coming from (carbs, proteins, fats) when I am training for a specific challenge.

ButtSweatandFears2 karma

If you are Muslim, how does Ramadan affect your training schedule? I've always wondered how nutrition timing affects athletes in Muslim countries. How do you hydrate after and during your long runs?

RunWithKhawar2 karma

Ramadan is mostly my down time but I don't completely stop training. I eat very little at Iftar time and after my long run I take a heavier meal. People living in countries where fasts are longer than 16 hours, training could be a huge challenge.