Reflections

Friday, June 29, 2012 - 16:26
In Part 3 of “Running Through the Gobi Desert with a Mission”, and having completed the 2012 Gobi March, David Barnard reflects on various issues related to this unique experience, including what drives him to run through deserts and his future plans.
“No Pain, No Gain” - Running Through the Sahara Desert with a Mission - Part 3

The Meaning of it All

There is so much emotion linked to your participation in a race of this nature - shaped by months of training, fear of failure, tiredness, loneliness, missing family and friends, etc. The challenge is both physical and mental, and tests the body and mind to the extreme. It is not for the faint hearted, or as some might say, the right-minded.

Success is determined by a combination of factors - luck, conditioning, mindset, camaraderie and what we call “vasbyt” in Afrikaans. But more than the physical aspect, it is a mental thing.

Extreme endurance events such as the Gobi March give you insight into the awesome power that people have within them to overcome. You know you are going to be challenged, but the real challenges come from directions you do not expect - sleeping dirty, eating food that tastes like cardboard, running for hours straight into a head wind, etc. - and you just have to face them and carry on. It is very hard, but you find out what you have within you, and it is more than you thought.

Lance Armstrong's famous quote, "Pain is temporary, quitting is forever”, is extremely relevant in this context when you start questioning why you are running for seven days through a hot, unforgiving desert somewhere in the world.

Although everyone participates with the aim of doing their best in very trying conditions, it is ultimately only about one thing - finishing the race, whatever it takes. And all finishers are winners, regardless of time or position.

Completing the race in 36h18 (28th position overall) exceeded all my personal expectations.

The Gobi March, like any other desert race, was tough, very tough. The undulating and rugged terrain was very hard on the feet, legs and body in general. But driven by a “No Pain No Gain” attitude, and because everyone suffers together, the spirit and camaraderie between competitors, organisers, medical staff and the support crew, made this a truly unique experience. George Chmiel, one of my tent mates during the race, refers to competitors in these desert races as “warriors”, because unless you are willing to “fight”, you will not survive the physical and mental challenges associated with a race such as the Gobi March.

Participating in a self-sufficient multi-day desert race such as the Gobi March is ultimately a very humbling experience. There are very few if any luxuries (except the daily e-mail messages and blog comments from family and friends!). And let’s not forget the blisters and sore feet. All these issues tested the endurance and spirit of all competitors to the extreme.

But no-one expected it to be easy, and once we completed the first day or two of the race, our mindset changed to one of determination. I admire my tentmates who took real punishment during the race, but never gave up - Geoff Heald with his sore knee, Sarah Lord with blistered feet that will take weeks to heel, Tara Gaston with a sore ankle, and Luba Vaughn, who despite long hours on the course every day, always arrived at the tent with a smile and interested in everyone else’s well-being.

Preparing for the Gobi March and running the race is very much like managing an NGO in South Africa and many other developing country contexts.

It is often a very demanding, lonely, frustrating position, with long hours and much time away from home and family. There is always more to do than what time and resources allow for; the challenges at hand are always more difficult and complicated than expected; there are no short-cuts for success; and the funding and support environment is challenging and unpredictable.

But the people who work in this sector understand values and characteristics of integrity, determination and service, and the belief that only hard work and dedication will bring about change and improvement in people’s lifes.

These are the reasons why we work in the NGO sector, and why NGOs are at the forefront of the fight for social justice, while at the same time providing millions of South Africans with much needed social services.

I am passionate about the work I do and the organisation that I lead – SANGONeT. I am also passionate about the NGO sector in which I work and the issues which we are dealing with as we make South Africa a better place for all its people. 

Many South African NGOs are currently faced with severe funding challenges, with some closing down and others forced to scale back their work. At the same time, the socio-economic challenges facing many South Africans as a result of historical factors and the fall-out of the global economic crises, are more severe than ever before. With the government not in a position to respond to these issues in a meaningful manner, and NGOs fighting for their own survival, many South Africans find themselves in a very vulnerable position at the moment.

SANGONeT, as a service provider to the NGO sector, but also competing with other NGOs for funding and support, is not immune to the challenges facing the sector.

Running through the Gobi Desert, and linking such an extreme activity to a worthy cause - or in the case of the “No Pain No Gain” fundraising campaign - the work of SANGONeT and other South African NGOs, therefore adds real meaning and motivation to my participation in these events.

So, it if takes running through a desert in some remote part of the world to raise awareness and generate support for SANGONeT and other NGOs in South Africa, and experience the pain and suffering which characterise these events, then, without a doubt, I’m happy to do it all over again.

What next?

With the first two desert races of the 2012 SANGONeT “No Pain No Gain” campaign completed, the focus now shifts to the ultimate challenge of the year – The Last Desert Race from 16-22 November 2012 in Antarctica.

It will be a very different experience to say the least – from hot to cold, from sand to snow. But I’m already excited about the challenge and the unique opportunity of running through the snow of Antarctica in support of the “No Pain No Gain” campaign.

There is something very special (some will say insane) about running through a desert, even in pain, which is difficult to explain. It is something unique, something special, something to treasure. And changing from sand to snow will be no different.

The uniqueness of the Last Desert Race will hopefully also assist us with raising awareness about the “No Pain No Gain” campaign and meeting our fundraising target.

See you in Antarctica in November 2012. No Pain No Gain!!

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all my tent mates, and all the other competitors, organisers, volunteers and support crew for making the 2012 Gobi March a memorable experience.

Thank you also to everyone - friends, family, colleagues - back in South Africa and many other parts of the world for your e-mail messages and blog comments, for staying up many nights waiting for updates from the race, and for carrying all of us through the race in your dreams and prayers.

Thank you also to Nike, Muscle Science, TechSoup Global and Freedom Outdoor for supporting me with the clothing, equipment, nutrition and entry fees required for the race.

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To read Part 1, click here, and Part 2, click here.

For blogs from other competitors, race results, and photos and video clips about the race, click here.

To view my photos of the race, click here.

To support the SANGONeT “No Pain No Gain” campaign with a donation, click here.