Two Marathons a Day in the Sahara

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Three long-distance runners have just completed a three-month run across the Sahara Desert. They crossed six countries and ran an average length of two marathons a day. One of the competitors, Charlie Engle, says he did it to raise consciousness about the lack of clean water in Africa. Melissa Block talks with Engle.


Another expedition in a vast, unforgiving landscape has just finished. This week, three long-distance runners completed a 4,300-mile run across the Sahara Desert, from the west coast of Senegal to the eastern edge of Egypt - 111 consecutive days. On average, they ran almost two marathons a day.

They were followed by two cars carrying supplies and by a documentary film crew. They ran the Sahara in part to raise money for better access to clean water in Africa. We reached American runner Charlie Engle at JFK Airport in New York on his way home to North Carolina. He described the physical toll of running the Sahara.

Mr. CHARLIE ENGLE (Completed Three-Month Run Across the Sahara Desert): You know, the calories that it took just to keep us going were off the charts. I mean, we estimated it would take about 10,000 calories per day for me just to maintain my weight, and really that was an impossible amount of food to eat, so my weight loss for the first month and a half was truly significant, and then it actually leveled off.

BLOCK: How much did you lose?

Mr. ENGLE: You know, initially in the first month and a half, I lost about 25 pounds.

BLOCK: Wow. So that's the food. What about water?

Mr. ENGLE: Well, the water - we really - I mean, water was a huge part of this expedition in more than one way. First of all our water and Gatorade, you know we had to find a way to get water all the time. Very often, we were able to buy large bulks amounts in towns that we passed through, but also we were forced in many cases to go over land for, you know, up to two weeks at a time where we were not on any roads or passing through any times, and you know, really we had to find water wherever we could, the same, really, as the nomadic people do.

BLOCK: Were you able to stay healthy?

Mr. ENGLE: Moderately speaking, I was able to stay very healthy. I mean, I -the three of us all suffered from various injuries. Kevin(ph) and Ray(ph) had some pretty serious intestinal issues going on, and then for me personally, my hardest did come, you know, right near the finish. You know, we really picked up the pace in the last like four and a half days. It definitely put us in some real concerning situations.

BLOCK: This is such a huge stretch of territory that you covered. What kind of terrain were you running on?

Mr. ENGLE: You know, the terrain that we covered really was as varied as you can imagine. We crossed countries like Mauritania. We were probably 50 percent of time on a paved road. Once we left there into Mali and Niger, we never even came close to a paved road. Whatever we came across is whatever we went through: deep, deep sand, huge massive sand dunes, salt fields, really just incredible. And then came Libya. You know, that was primarily paved roads, as was Egypt.

BLOCK: Well, you're heading back to North Carolina, and after you hug your wife and your kids, what's the first thing you're going to do?

Mr. ENGLE: You know what's funny is I'm a big basketball fan, so I'm very happy to have made it home for the NCAA tournament. So I'm not usually a coach-sitter as you might imagine, but there will be some definite laying around on the sofa and watching some basketball games. You know, my boys are at an age, too, where they love it. So it'll be - you know, I've had this vision in my mind for three months now of just sitting on the sofa with those two guys watching basketball and laughing and having a good time.

BLOCK: Well Charlie Engle, welcome home.

Mr. ENGLE: Melissa, thank you very much for taking the time. I'm thrilled to be home.

BLOCK: Charlie Engle and his two team members have just completed a 4,300-mile run across the Sahara Desert.

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