Mallya conquers Marathon des Sables

A gruelling race spanning nearly 251 kilometres over the treacherous Sahara desert. Five stages over six days, including one which was nearly 75-km long. Temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius.

Girish Mallya
Girish Mallya

The constant threat of scorpions, snakes and sandstorms apart from the fear of the unknown. 1023 battle-hardened competitors, some of whom have done the seemingly impossible for as many as 25 times.

Put all of this together and you’ll have the faintest idea of the odds that India’s Girish Mallya overcame to finish the world famous Marathon des Sables in Morocco, billed as the “toughest footrace on the planet”, in a time of 44 hours, 52 minutes & 52 seconds.

Did we mention that the 37-year-old, who finished 617th in the Moroccan ultra-marathon, carried a 12-kg backpack containing everything he needed to survive in the arduous terrain for the entire duration of the race? So, how does one prepare for a race like this?

Participants cross the dunes of Merzouga as a child eggs them on during the last stage of the 28th Marathon des Sables on April 13, 2013. PIC/AFP

“You need to be in distance running for a long time. I’ve been running in full marathons (42 kms) for 10 years now and have been participating in ultras (any race that is more than 42 kms) for four-five years.

In addition to that, I’ve done endurance cycling which means 200-300 km bike rides stretching across long hours. The longest I have ridden is 19 hours at a stretch,” says Mallya, who has completed 15 full marathons, four half marathons and two ultra marathons in the past.

Mallya adds proudly that he is one of the few Indians to have completed the race — in its 28th edition this year. If not the race itself, the cost of participating may come across as daunting for most people.

“There’s a lot of financial investment needed for this race. I spent nearly Rs four lakh on the gear, the food — which has to be imported — besides the participation fee of around 4000 euros (Rs 2.8 lakhs). I was ready to even participate without sponsorship cause this was something I’d planned to do for a long time.

But then luckily I managed to rope in two sponsors, and Apollo, who covered around 50% of my costs. The rest I shelled out from my own pocket.” Mallya, the editor and publisher of Popular Science magazine, says that his next big race will be the Ironman Triathlon in 2014.

Ask him if he’ll be back at the Marathon des Sables in 2014 and Mallya’s reply is an instant “No”, before adding: “It’s just too much of an investment, but I’m not completely ruling it out. Maybe some years down the line I will.”  

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