And finally …
In our last race report for 2009 we have something a little out of the ordinary. Diminutive Singapore-based Nambanner Mika Kume performed an incredible feat this past October when she ran a six-day team-race through the Sahara Desert. Just stop for a moment and absorb that. Six days. Through a desert. The Sahara Desert! Mika may be small of stature but she is a giant when it comes to effort, determination and pure grit. And she did not just finish—her team finished second overall and she was the second fastest woman!
Her team, which went by the name “Mixed Bag”, in addition to Japanese Mika, comprised Swiss and Singaporean veteran male adventure racers and clocked 42 hr 2 min 55 s in claiming its 2nd placing. Mika’s incredible achievement is one in which all her Namban friends take great pride.
The Sahara Race is a six-day, 250-km footrace divided into daily sections of about 40 to 80 km. Each individual must carry his or her own gear, food (minimum of 14,000 kcal in total) and clothing in a backpack. The only provisions from the organizers were plenty of water, tents and medical assistance. The average backpack weighs about 20 pounds (9 kg). Mika recalls the six days: “No telephone, no electricity and no shower for a week but I didn’t miss anything. Maybe we don’t need any of them. When it got dark around 8pm, we would go to sleep in sleeping bags. We needed a good rest for the run the next day. We felt like animals living in the wild. Another month or so, and we may have all grown tails!” she joked.
This simple life of run-eat-sleep may have suited Mika as she weighed in 3 kg heavier after the 250-km run. “Maybe I was the only one who gained weight as all the men got skinnier and hairier every day. I wonder why my body was swollen after the long run. Not only my legs and feet, but also my face and hands, everywhere was swollen. The first time I saw myself in the mirror in the hotel room after six days, I screamed when I saw my ‘round’ face. Probably it was due to poor blood circulation as a result of the extreme fatigue”.
Will she do this again? Mika thought “No way!” when she remembered suffering from the 49-degree-Celsius heat, the deep sand and dunes, the daunting challenges when two fellow-competitors dropped out early in the race—faster, fitter physically superior males, or so she believed—not to mention her screaming Achilles tendon that reduced her to walking over the last sections of the race. However, Mika also remembered when she finished her first Ironman race (3.8 km swim, 180 km bike, 42 km run) in Langkawi 2002; she thought she would never do it again. Yet, earlier this year she completed her 9th Ironman race in Zurich. “This is just like when you’re suffering from a hangover, you think you will never drink again. But maybe you find yourself in the pub a week after,” she reflects. “We all forget the pain and only remember wonderful memories.” Mika said she will never forget the night sky in the Sahara. One night when she looked up at the sky, she was speechless; she had never seen so many stars in her life before.
Anybody who has met Mika knows that she herself is the biggest star of all. And as we contemplate her many achievements, it is we who find ourselves speechless.