Marvelous Minimalism

......The last day of Marathon des Sables begins with a windswept morning. Sand swirls around us as we participants leave the campsite in three separate waves to ensure that everyone reaches the finish line at roughly the same time. The sight of the masses of runners from the first and second wave setting out to cheers and waves from the rest of us while the tents are being dismantled and the wind plays havoc with fabric, clothing, hair, and anything that isn’t tied down, is downright epic. What a sendoff from the desert! It has a feeling of finality, and as my wave is flagged off and I set out, I realize that tomorrow I’ll be back in civilization and this magical week will be behind me. 

At first my steps are tentative, each a test of the calf. So far so good. A little farther and still no pain. Could it really be? Is the nightmare of running MdS injured finally over? I dig my five-toed shoes into the sand and break into a sprint and, yes! No pain. No tightness. Just freedom. On and on I run. I can’t stop. It’s too satisfying a feeling to even think about stepping off the gas. All of the frustration I’d felt during the first days of the race turns to rocket fuel, propelling me through dry river beds, over towering sand dunes, and all the way to finish line of the 25th edition of the mighty Marathon des Sables.

The race’s founder, Patrick Bauer, is on hand to distribute the finishers’ medals. I bow my head for him to place the ribbon around my neck, and catch another glimpse of my Vibram Five Fingers shoes. Finishing the MdS at all would have been a dream come true. Doing so after overcoming an injury would have been an epic challenge to be proud of. But having done both while embracing my true running identity for the first time in a race of this caliber is a sweeter feeling than I could ever have imagined.

I find Daniel and we take our picture: the two-man minimalist team. I may have been physically alone for most of the race’s 250km, but really that was quality time spent getting to know my true self. It was many miles and moments of connecting with the spirit of barefoot running, which courses through a few crazy runners in the world, and which I now know has always lived inside of me as well.


Excerpt from Going Beyond The Wall by Ultrarunner Ng Seow Kong