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"Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."
- Goethe, Johann Wolfgang

The Marathon des Sables, or “Marathon of the Sands”, is described by the Discovery Channel as the toughest footrace on Earth. It is is a six to seven day endurance race with a total distance of 251 kilometers of mountain traversing. To put it simply, it is the equivalent of six regular marathons. It takes place every year in the inhospitable and unwelcoming Sahara Desert in Ouarzazate, Morocco. Participants carry  all the belongings and food they’ll need for the full duration of the race with them. My backpack weighed 9 kilograms. When my sister found out I had entered the race she told me I was Superwoman. I laughed at the time. I took part in the Marathon des Sables as a 46 year old South African woman, after just two years of training, with no experience in running multi-stage events, and with a lifelong fear of heights.

Sky above mountains

My aversion to heights was troublesome for me, as we started to climb to the top of a huge mountain during the race. However, upon reaching the summit I took the time to rest for a few minutes and look around. I realized that perhaps my sister was right- I was a “Superwoman”! Nothing could stand in my way! I was meant to stand here, to overcome my fears, to stand tall on a mountain in a desert far away from home. It was almost as if I could see my entire life, all that I had lived and all that I had left to live, stretching out in all directions as I stood at that peak. For a short while there, I allowed myself the feeling of invincibility! I had earned it.

Even with my husband running with me every step of the way, I can genuinely say it was both the hardest and most rewarding event I've ever taken part in. We ran for hours at a time along a single path. This was his 2nd MdS; he had vowed to run it again with me. He wanted me to feel the same victory he had experienced, and I’m so glad I agreed to join him. Although it was incredibly hard, it became possible for me because I had him at my side. He helped me find the resilience I needed to finish and the strength I needed to overcome my lifelong fear of heights. I was never more proud nor more thankful for my husband.

tanya and husband

Taking part in the MdS changed my life, and achieving the seemingly impossible changed me as a person. I came out of the desert a stronger person than when I ventured in. It has changed the way I see myself in the mirror each day. I now know that I can do anything I set my mind to, and I know that I can dare to dream big.

From this journey, I now understand that as humans, if we don't give up, take each day at a time and just continue to move forward, putting one foot in front of the other, we will be able to complete and conquer anything life throws at us. We truly are braver than we believe and stronger than we think. Sometimes in our lives we have to step out of our mundane routines and out of our comfort zones to do what we believe is impossible and what frightens us - this way our horizons are broadened and another realm of possibilities opens up to us! Otherwise, we will never know how far we can truly go.


Tanya PieterseAbout Tanya Pieterse
What most people don't know about me is that I'm forced to face so many fears when I'm out running… I  fight a constant battle with depression and anxiety therefore I have to keep my mind focused when I run, especially during the long quiet hours when I'm exhausted and battling to push through. I'm 47 years old, but I've come to the realization that age is just a number- it doesn't define you! I've met old people who are 13 and young people at 85. In my spare time I enjoy playing the piano, reading and painting. I'm an avert art collector, I make Venetian masks, express myself through photography, and am studying ancient manuscripts through Harvard University. I'm always in the process of learning something new to expand my worldview. I love traveling and exploring new places off the touristy radar. My daughter Arielle is 24 years old and the centre of my life. I have brought her up to be confident, self assured and most importantly, kind.  My family is passionate about photography and I think the two things we have the most of between us are cameras and books. Originally published at: push2extreme.com