Jeffrey Chand
official competitor in the 2006 Racing the Planet event in the Sahara desert, Egypt

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Don Denton/Saanich News

Jeff Chand trains for a seven-day Sahara Desert Race by running up Despard Avenue, followed by long-distance running coach Mike Suminski.

By Andrea Lavigne
Saanich News

Sep 13 2006


Just a jog under the blistering sun through the scorching Sahara sands...

At the peak of summer in midday heat, a strange figure clad in thermal underwear and a tuque could be spotted slogging along Greater Victoria's roads and pathways.

Jeff Chand isn't avoiding the sun, he's trying to increase its effects.

The 29-year-old Saanich resident is training for the hottest seven-day marathon known to man: the Sahara Race.

"This is the toughest one," explained Chand, who also works full time as a Chinese medicine practitioner and Registered Acupuncturist.

The Sahara Race in Egypt is part of the international 4 Desert running series - a collection of footraces that take place across the largest and most forbidding deserts on Earth. Deserts are divided into four categories: subtropical, cool coastal, cold winter and polar. The other races in the series include the Gobi March in China, the Atacama Crossing in Chile and the Last Desert in Antarctica. Conveniently, they are also the driest, hottest, coldest and windiest terrains on the planet.

This is Chand's first desert race and he picked a doozie.

Temperatures are expected to reach 50 C during the day and drop to 10 C at night. There's snakes, scorpions, blinding salt flats that look like snow and sand, lots and lots of sand.

"That's what worries me," he said. "It can be so insidious."

The 250-kilometre course makes a beeline path across the Sahara Desert to the pyramids and is divided into four stages. Racers must complete between 35 to 42 kilometres during each of the first four stages - roughly the equivalent of a marathon a day, four days in a row. During the fifth stage, runners must complete 80 kilometres running through most of the night and part of two days. Grueling - yes, but it makes the sixth and last stage all the sweeter. Within sight of the pyramids, racers have only 10 kilometres to the finish line.

During the event, participants must carry their own supplies in a 25-pound pack. At the end of each day, they'll cook their own food over an open fire and sleep in a tent with nine of the other racers.

But Chand won't be completely alone. His wife, Kristina, will be volunteering at the race to help cheer him on and the racers often bond in their down time. According to the race website, many racers say meeting like-minded friends is the best part of the experience.

The competition is limited to 100 participants from all over the world. It's first-come, first-served, but Chand had no problems registering.

"There's not too many people chomping at the bit to do this thing," he joked.

But ever since Chand first heard about the event last February, he's been doing exactly that.

He recalls visiting the website on a cold winter night at about 11:30 p.m.

Looks interesting, he thought and crawled into bed. But he couldn't sleep. He got up again and took a second look at the website and he spent the rest of the night thinking about "what if?"

"I don't know what it was, but something just made it seem tangible," he said. "You know when you're reading about someone summating Mt. Everest or doing something like that - it just seems so far away. But something made this seem like, maybe I could do this."

The 4 Desert race series isn't marketed to world-class athletes. Most of the participants are working professionals who are high achievers. The race can be run or walked and the emphasis is on completing the event, rather than getting the best times.

Chand's played pretty much every sport there is and has completed two marathons, but he's never solely focused on running.

And since he started his training five months ago he's lost 30 pounds.

He typically logs 95 kilometres a week, alternating between the hills in Rockland and the Galloping Goose trail.

Chand's not worried about the physical aspect of the experience. "At some point, it becomes so simple as putting one foot in front of the other."

However, unable to recreate Cairo conditions in Canada, Chand has to mentally train himself. "If you're prepared to handle that mentally, then that's 90 per cent of it."

In addition, he's raising funds for Doctors Without Borders, a charity organization that provides doctors, emergency relief and health care to developing countries.

For more information or to donate contact Chand at 384-1700.