Warning: the following words and images will allow you to vicariously see the world with the eyes of Sultan. Read at your own risk. The name Sultan has many meanings, but derives from the peak Sultan Mountain in Silverton, CO!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Day 1 - 20 miles

We officially started the MdS today. Over 800 runners took to the start and were off into the desert. The sand dunes and dunnettes are majastic up close and from afar, it is truly amazing! ran well for the first half of todays stage and then slowed down to save myself for the remaining days. The exposed sun spanked me, but I have recovered and I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Ill post on the blog as long as the internet keeps up.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bivouac #2 - Rain Continues

The rain in Arfoud Morocco continues to come down, sometimes sprinkling, and sometimes pouring. The locals are excited for these lands are dehydrated, and yearn for water. Today, Aziz, the barber that shaved my beard told me he had not seen it rain like this in over 20 years. What are the chances that the MdS would be washed out before the race? The race directors have decided to cancel the first leg of the race, which was 30 km (18.6 miles), due to weather conditions. This shrinks the race from a 151 mile 6 stage run to a 132 mile 5 day stage run.

Tomorrow we plan to check in for the race, and the day after we plan to start what would have been day 2. Many of us are so ready to run that if they continue to delay we may just run the 300 km back to Ouarzazate self supported, stopping in villages along the way.

This morning I went for a 5 mile run with my roomate Dennis from Vancouver and with Ted Archer from Sacramento. After some shish tawook I went for another 5 mile run with Hasan and Sameer. Im trying to make up some miles for the lost day. Work it!

Until further notice from the race directors I will stay at the Hotel Kasbah Tizimi for the next two nights.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Torrential Rains - Bivouac #1

After 11 hours on a bus we have arrived safely in Arfoud Morocco. Today we waited over 3 hours to pass a flooded road that had a raging river flowing thru it. It has not rained like this in these parts of Morocco for over 10-20 years. Our first night bivouac has also been flooded and the race directors have routed runners to hotels. When it rains it pours!

The American contingency is staying in the Hotel Kasbah Tizimi in Arfoud, Morocco. tel: 2120535577375. Im in room 217.

Hopefully the rain will die down and the race can go on.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mohammed Runs the Marathon des Sables

In exactly 8 days I’ll be starting the first day of the Marathon des Sables (MdS) and toeing the line with 800 or so competitors from all over the world. There are 76 runners in the American contingency. Marathon des Sables is French for Marathon of the Sands! The 7 day, 6 stage race across the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert starts South East of Ouarzazate, Morocco. I will be carrying all of my gear and food for the week on my back. Water and shelter (Berber tent) will be provided each night, but all else will be carried in my backpack. I’ll be covering the 150+ miles while carrying 20 pounds, mostly food, in temperatures that can exceed 120 degrees.

You can join me in my fastpack across the Sahara. Once the race begins on Sunday, March 29, I'll be able to send one email to one recipient each day. I've set up my blog (mohammednc.blogspot.com) so that I can post via email. Therefore, throughout the race (March 29-April 4) I intend to post daily about the race and my personal experience.

While I will be in the company of good friends at MdS, I could still use your encouragement and support during race! The great news is that from March 28 through April 3 only, you can write me by going to the race website: http://darbaroud.com and clicking on "écrire aux concurrents/write to competitors." Be sure to click on the English/American flag in the upper right-hand corner of the screen to see the website in English. You will need to include my full name (Mohammed Idlibi) and race number (828) for me to receive the message. Do not send any attachments, as such messages will not be delivered. This is understandable, as all emails are downloaded via satellite phone before being printed and delivered to me each night in my tent. I can assure you that receiving your messages at the bivouac will do much to boost my spirits, and I will need it.

If you want to follow my journey through the desert at the Marathon des Sables, check out the blog: mohammednc.blogspot.com.


En exactement 8 jours je commencerai le premier jour des Marathon des sables (MdS) et botterai la ligne avec 800 environ des concurrents avec la pointe du pied à partir de partout dans le monde. Il y a 76 coureurs dans l'éventualité américaine. Les sables de DES de marathon est français pour le marathon des sables ! Les 7 jours, la course de 6 étapes à travers les dunes de sable du désert de Sahara commence le sud-est d'Ouarzazate, Maroc. Je porterai toutes ma vitesse et nourriture pour la semaine pendant mon dos. L'eau et l'abri (tente de Berber) seront fournis chaque nuit, mais tout autrement dedans portés mon sac à dos. Je couvrirai les milles 150+ tout en portant 20 livres, la plupart du temps nourriture, dans les températures qui peuvent dépasser 120 degrés.

Vous pouvez me joindre dans mon fastpack à travers le Sahara. Une fois que la course commence le dimanche 29 mars, je pourrai envoyer à un email à un destinataire chaque jour. J'ai installé mon blog (mohammednc.blogspot.com) de sorte que je puisse signaler par l'intermédiaire de l'email. Par conséquent, dans toute la course (les 29 mars-4 avril) j'ai l'intention de signaler le journal au sujet de la course et de mon expérience personnelle.

Tandis que je serai à la compagnie de bons amis aux MdS, je pourrais encore employer votre encouragement et appui pendant la course ! Les grandes nouvelles sont celle à partir du 28 mars jusqu'au 3 avril seulement, vous peuvent m'écrire en allant au site Web de course : http://darbaroud.com et cliquer sur le " ; les concurrents aux. d'écrire/écrivent à competitors." ; Être sûr de cliquer dessus drapeau anglais/américain dans le coin droit supérieur de l'écran pour voir le site Web en anglais. Vous devrez inclure mon nom et prénoms (Mohamed Idlibi) et nombre de course (828) pour que je reçoive le message. N'envoyer aucun attachement, car de tels messages ne seront pas fournis. C'est compréhensible, car tous les email sont téléchargés par l'intermédiaire du téléphone satellite avant de m'être imprimée et livrée chaque nuit dans ma tente. Je peux vous assurer que que la réception de vos messages au bivouac fera beaucoup pour amplifier mes spiritueux, et moi aura besoin de lui.

Si vous voulez suivre mon voyage par le désert aux Marathon des Sable, vérifier le blog : mohammednc.blogspot.com.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Crowders 20M

The weather recently has been weird lately, flip flopping from cold to hot to cold. A blizzard came thru on the Mt. Mitchell Challenge forcing a few runners to drop due to hypothermia and the lowest finishing rate. The weekend after, we ran thru Hot Springs and thru a heat wave with temperatures close to 80 degrees. This weekend we hit rain and temperatures not going north of the 40’s! Note: Photo above was not taken during the run, I just thought it looked good!

Me, DC, Mason, and Rob met at the Cracker Barrel at 0700. For some odd reason I was under the impression we would have breakfast there, which I was looking forward to. But this was only a rendezvous location. We drove down to the Linwood access of Crowders and met up with Greg. The five of us set out from Linwood to run towards Pinnacle. I had my Houdini jacket on and although the cold rain was soaking my body, I warmed up after the first few miles and wrapped the jacket around my waist. We pushed thru sloppy wet trails and flashbacks of Mitchell paced my mind.

As we passed the ranger station, and began the approach up Pinnacle I began to hike up the steep sections as both DC and Mason passed me by. They took off and I would not see them again for the next 4 hours. A few hundred feet below the summit of Pinnacle was the new trail that leads to the Boulder Ranger Station (Not opened yet) and I veered left. Before I took off both Greg and Rob hollered and said that they were turning around here. I paced back a few feet to say good bye and grab a gel from Greg that mentioned he did not need. They both headed back down Pinnacle and I turned left again and tried hard to catch up to Mason and DC. It rained harder, it was pouring rain, and I ran harder. I stopped for a minute and put on my rain jacket and added the extra thin layer between my body and the elements. I was cold and gloveless so I yanked my sleeve from the jacket down to keep my hands warm. I had never been on this trail and I was excited to experience it for the first time.

I had two handheld bottles which were both half full by this point and decided to drop one of them on the side of the trail for two reasons. One, I consume a lot of water, so in the event there is no where to refill I will at least have a half a bottle to take me back from Pinnacle to the car. Two, there was not need to carry two bottles, carrying one made me faster. I skipped down the steps and crossed a road. I found it odd that DC and Mason were no where to be seen, but kept trucking along. I knew they wanted to get 20 miles in today and that we would cross paths on their return because obviously they were blazing his section.

I ran/hiked the uphill’s and I was determined to catch up to these two. I crossed another road, and kept moving. Then another road, and I kept following the red blaze. I questioned myself at this point, was I lost? I knew I was on the only trail that led out of Crowders so that couldn’t be the case, I wasn’t lost. I was just moving slower than both DC and Mason. I kept going and finally reached the Boulder Ranger Station and was full of joy when I saw water fountains. I guzzeled what water I had left in my bottle and to my shock the fountains were not working. My watch said 2:10 which was how long I was on my feet from Linwood to Boulder. I spoke to Danny the ranger and asked him if he had seen two crazy yahoos running in the rain. He quickly said “No.” I was getting cold talking to Danny and took off on the return. I was alone, cold, wet, and with no water. Somehow I lost both DC and Mason. How did I get myself into this situation? I did what I could and truck back along the same way I came out. I would push my pace a little and then my hamstrings would start talking to me. I quickly told them to quite down and would slow my pace. I found my water bottle that I had left half full, and guzzeled about 200 ml right away. Finally I was back on Pinnacle and running down the sloppy mud past the main ranger station and back towards Crowders. I was back at Linwood in 4:24 with the inbound run taking me 4 minutes longer than the outbound. I was wet, cold and dehydrated and could only think of food at this point as I had only slammed down two gels.

Mason and DC were no where, and neither was their car. Whoa! I thought to turn this 20 mile day into an 80 mile day and run back to my car, but then came to my senses and knocked on the Linville ranger’s door. From their I was able to call DC and have them turn around and pick me up.

What happened: Both DC and Mason ran to the true summit of Pinnacle and waited for what they thought was me, Greg, and Rob to reach the summit. Well of coarse none of us made it to the summit, Greg and Rob turned around and I turned left on the new trail hoping to catch them. After DC and Mason waited for a few minutes they decided to go ahead and thought we had all turned around. I was ahead of them the entire time on the new trail, and I made it to the new Boulder ranger station while both Mason and DC turned around half a mile from the new Boulder ranger station. On the return they were ahead of me and I never caught up to them. When they finished they thought I had gotten a ride from Greg and took off!

Thank you to the Linwood ranger who kept me warm and let me use the phone! Exciting adventure for sure. We all went out for a foot long subway after the run.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Trot Thru Hot Springs – Devils Fork to Davenport – 70 Miles on the AT

Matt and I left Marion at 4:30am. After all the logistics panned out there were 5 of us on the AT at Devils Fork Gap just after 8am, and we were off. Adam Hill was gracious enough to take the car back down to Ash-vegas so on the return we would have to drive all the way back to Devils Fork. The 5 of us were about to embark on a journey together for the next 70 miles, running, hiking, essentially trotting all the way to Hot Springs, NC and then to Max Patch and finally back to our final destination Davenport Gap. Matt dubbed the trail run “Trot Thru Hot.”

Day 1: Devils Fork Gap to Hot Springs, NC – 35 Miles

At first my 20lb pack felt awkward but after a few miles I was coasting. I had the following in my pack: Sleeping bag, pad, tarp, cooking gear and food for the entire trail. All five of us, Matt, Kevin, Liz, Scott, and I ran together for the first 10 or so miles. We then began to spread out a bit. With warmer temperatures as the weather forecasted a high of 78 in Hot Springs! It was only last week that runners were pulled off the Mt. Mitchell Challenge course for hypothermia. If that race was on this weekend, some runners would have been pulled for heat exhaustion. Remnants of the wintery snow storm that passed thru last weekend were evident. Traces of snow and ice laced the mountains despite the higher temperatures.

I was carrying weight to simulate some of the same experiences on the Marathon Des Sable. The heat was a plus for me, and a wakeup call, on what to expect in the Sahara Desert. I was filling my water bottles up at ever stream and every small spring that trickled any water source. I was also downing NUUN electrolyte supplements and salt tabs. This is to ensure that I replace my electrolytes during such heat, otherwise face the inevitable; Hyponatrima. This is not a good scenario while atop some back country mountain in Tennessee! There was one section on the trail where I ran out of water for 2 miles or so. This forced me to slow down a bit until I was able to refuel near a shelter and hydrate my system.
I was consistently hiking up the hills, and running the flat and downhill sections of trail. My goal was to average 3+ mph. Running downhill with heavy weight can be tricky. Your body becomes top heavy and you just have to become used to such balance. Thankfully we won’t have huge mountains to climb in the Sahara, but a few sand dunes!

It wasn’t long and I was on the trail alone. The sun was blasting heat and I was soaked in sweat. Every now and then I would fill up my bottle in a cool stream and soak my head and cool off. Refreshing. Liz and Scott had planned a hotel in Hot Springs and packed light, so they took off. Matt and Kevin were ahead of me, and I knew it would be a long two days, so I was in no hurry. I descended to the French Broad at 6:30 pm exactly, and made it into Hot Springs 15 minutes before 7pm.

I was searching for Matt and Kevin, and knew that they had to be chowing down on some food right about now. They weren’t anywhere in sight, so I began to walk up the sidewalk in Hot Springs that was blazed with the AT and saw a showered Liz and Scott flagging me down. They told me that we all had planned to eat at the Iron Horse Station. By this point I was getting a little cold because my entire body and cloths were soaked in sweat and cool spring water. I was starving.

We sat down and waited for Matt and Kevin, and after waiting for a while decided to order. I had no idea where they were at this point. After a great meal that was over priced I decided to wus out and get a room, shower, clean up, and get a good night rest. I did test out my sleeping bag in the room which worked fabulous. Scott, Liz, and I had planned to wake up the next morning at 8am (we lost an hour due to day light savings). While eating breakfast at the dinner I learned from a thru hiker that Matt and Kevin were at this very same diner last night scarfing down a pizza around 7pm. They had hiked South on the AT and found a place to camp for the night.

Day 2: Hot Springs, NC to Davenport Gap – 35 Miles

The three of us together started Day 2 just after 8am again. On any given stage run/hike, Day 2 is always the worst. Your body has not fully recovered from Day 1, and psychologically you mind tells you to stop and rest. If you can over come Day 2 then you can do multi day stage running in my opinion. Of course I have limited experience with this other than the Bartram Trail last year. I was ascending the steep climbs at a rate of 40 feet per minute which is moving with a pack on your back. Later in the day I noticed my ascent rate to be closer to 30/25 feet per minute as I slowed down during the later part of the day. The morning sun shined on the trail and gave me energy to push harder. The first few hours felt great as a perfect breeze cooled my skin. Later that day the hot humid air filled my lungs and made traveling at a faster rate more difficult. I paced myself.

Apparently between Hot Springs and Max Patch there is a bold bear that has been stealing food from hikers and backpackers on this section of the AT as I saw several warning signs about this one bear.

It seemed like forever, but eventually I reached Max Patch which had a large snow patch on the side of the mountain. The sun warmed this 4,600 foot mountain as people enjoyed the day at the summit. I stopped for a moment and asked someone to take a photo while at the summit.

Then I descended down Max Patch. I have done this section from Davenport Gap to Hot Springs, so I was familiar with the climbs still ahead. Several steep climbs came and went, and I was now heading up Snowbird Mountain. It was here that I laid on the trail for two 10 minute breaks waiting for Scott and Liz, and cooling my over heated engine. “Could it be that they had already passed me?” I questioned myself. I would have seen them. A few false summit of Snowbird kept emerging and finally a grassy treeless patch is at the top with a homing tower. This is how you know you have made it to the true summit.
The descent is a 2,500 foot drop to a gravel road that leads into Davenport Gap. I ran where I could and even began to hike downhill as the mileage and heat had taken a toll on my body. When I reached the gravel road I instinctively turned left and ran/hiked down the last mile to the car. It was here I saw the entire crew waiting for me with an iced coke. I was happy to have finished successfully this long distance speed hike. My combined time for both days covering all 70 miles is 21:30.

Work it!

Ed Runs his 10th Challenge

I have run the Mt. Mitchell Challenge for the last three years, and turned around at the Marathon point last year due to the flu. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Ed who is 61 years old. This would be his 10th Challenge finish. Despite drastic weather Ed came thru and crossed the finish line for the 10th time. The Charlotte Observer did a little write up about him.

I can only hope that I will be as strong, and as determined as Ed is when I am in my 60’s. Go get em Ed!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Splish Splash I Was Taking A Mud Bath - Mt. Mitchell Challenge 40 Mile

My gloves were wet and my fingers curled in a semi clinched fist frozen. I had zero dexterity and my hands were useless at this point. It was 11:40am and I was standing on the summit of Mt. Mitchell atop the new deluxe tower. I stood on the summit for two seconds while sleet and light snow showered my wet body. I was numb from my mid thigh down to my pinky toe. The piercing wind made the low thirty’s temperatures feel as if I was standing on the Pastukov Rocks on Elbrus. As I ran back down the tower the volunteer informed me to get my race bib signed by the aid station crew as his marker malfunctioned at the summit. A 100 meters away was the aid station, I refilled my bottle and grabbed an orange slice and all I could think of was I needed to descend off of Mitchell and seek warmer ground.

Earlier that morning I rose at 5:45am from the Preacher room at the Red Rocker. Doug the owner had some granola and sliced pineapple and cantaloupe ready to go early in the morning. The Charlotte crew was all up at the Red Rocker; Ashley, DC, Bedford, Mason, and Ed. We all walked over to the start in a light rain. I had my houdini on with my sombrero. I was expecting intense heavy rain later in the day. The cut off was bumped up to 3.5 hours vs. 4 hours to the parkway due to the conditions on the mountain today. We were running right into the storm, and it was expected to rain all day and possibly snow at the summit. I knew I could meet the cut off and set a goal of being at the summit in 4 hours. After the first few miles I knew I wasn’t off to a great start. I slowed my pace thinking that I had a long day ahead of me and that I need to conserve my energy. I ran comfortably, and hiked up some steep sections.

I reached the parkway at 9:56am and was greeted with “you have 4 minutes to leave the aid station, the new cut off is 10am!” I was shocked to hear this and I had not realized how close I was to being turned around. I quickly filled up my bottle, put on my arm warmers directly above my rain jacket and scooted out of there. I later learned that over 50 runners were turned around who were only minutes behind me.

Apparently the park rangers and the Yancy County Fire and Rescue panicked due to fears of some runners encountering hypothermia problems and decided to turn runners around after 10am. They even cut the sweet runner Stu G!

As I descended off the mountain back down Commissary Ridge I was splashing water and mud all over the trail. Me and DC descended together at a good clip passing a few runners. Liz Bauer had passed us and I knew that when she was out of sight it would be close to impossible to catch up to her. At this point I was hiking uphill on a gravel road still not feeling my best. Moments went by and another aid station appeared where I refueled and began descending the asphalt that would ultimately take me back to the parkway. Me and Mohammed Shamji ran together on and off to the parkway where I saw Stu G patiently waiting for the last runner to come off Mitchell so he could continue sweeping. Stu, thanks for hanging in there in the freezing temps! I had a nice hot cup of tea with honey here which really lifted my spirits. My gloves were 100% soaked and I decided that I would be better off without them, so I took them off and wrong them a few times and put them in my pouch. Off I went and back on the trail. For the next mile or so I kept shuffling. I knew I would run this years time slower than 2007’s. Something happened here, I was 28 miles into the run, and endorphins began to over flow to my brain. I dug deep from within my inner chi and began to sing out load, and started running hard. I was skipping large rocks and slick boulders. Sometimes splashing intentionally in the semi frozen puddles of water and mud. My feet would numb up for a few minutes while doing this and I ran harder.

I kept sucking down water and fueled my body at each aid station. I kept descending and singing out load, and running hard, and passing a runner every 15 minutes, I felt great. Could I hold this pace for the next 10 or so miles? I was determined to do just that and kept pushing myself harder. At the next two aid stations I refueled quickly and didn’t spend more than one minute thanking the volunteers and scooting my way down the mountain. Finally I hit asphalt again and kept running hard, I wasn’t going to let up I wanted to finish strong. I began to pressure breath, a climbing technique that is used in high altitude mountaineering. I find it very usefully when your heart rate is pumping at its max, or very close to it. I caught up to Liz and we both made a small wrong turn forcing us to forge a small river to get back onto the main road. I kept pushing and finally turned right nearing Lake Tomahawk. I circled around the lake crossing the finish line in 7:44:45 and it was over.

It took me 4:40 minutes to get to the summit of Mitchell and 3:04 on the return. The weather played a major factor in this run and forced some runners off the mountain. "A dozen runners had to be driven down the mountain because of concerns with hypothermia" Jay Curwen (RD) said.