EXCLUSIVE: Victor Consunji Details His Struggles During The 250-Kilometer "Ultra" Marathon Des Sables He Did For Charity
The Marathon Des Sables is a 250-kilometer ultra-marathon in Morocco that certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. Victor Consunji, Maggie Wilson’s adventure-junkie CEO spouse, completed this marathon recently, with charity goals for World Vision in mind.
This major race finish was attained painstakingly so at the expense of Victor’s well-traveled feet, which continue to heal since his return to Manila just last week. Throughout the journey, he endured severe blistering, dislodged toenails, dehydration, partial starvation, and temporary blindness.
There’s nothing like hearing from the man himself about the great lengths he took and the physical ordeal that awaited him with each stage before the finish line. We sat down with Victor at home to hear him tell his story.
“13,000 competitors, 120,000 liters of mineral water, 300 berber and saharan tents…”
Victor Consunji together with Belgian-Italian racing partner, Enrico Menichetti
“The race is called the Marathon Des Sables, Morocco,” Victor points out. “It’s a 250-kilometer ultra-marathon done across the Sahara Desert in six stages. It’s essentially one week, but you’re really out there about nine days.” In many cases, it’s daunting enough for one to consider a full marathon, what more an ultra-marathon that spans a quarter of a thousand kilometers across cumbersome desert sands?
“This isn’t my first ultra [marathon] but it’s definitely the first one that made me feel it," Victor laughs at the thought, considering the current misery of his physique post-race. “Any race longer than 42 kilometers is an ultra-marathon. If you had to compare the difficulty of this race, I’d say that every [connector] stage was the equivalent of doing a full Ironman [marathon]. That’s the difficulty of this race at every stage.”
“My quick answer towards someone interested in an ultra-marathon who’d say they’ve done an Ironman would be ‘How cute… you’ve done an Ironman’ (grins). This is not a race for everybody. Physically, anyone who’s done training can do it, but mentally it’s something else,” Victor shares.
Spot Victor and Enrico holding up the Philippine flag
Victor’s beautiful and supportive wife, the ever-lovely Maggie has continually expressed her full support for Victor’s adventure “vice” ever since. “I’ve learned already that if Victor wants to do something he’s going to do it anyway. It doesn’t matter what I have to say about it. So, when he said he wanted to do the Marathon Des Sables and that he and Enrico would do it for World Vision, of course…all out support. This is his first race that he’d be doing for charity.”
Just two souls holding hands. #SunsetsInJordan #ThatsMeAndMaggieObviously #IStandStillWhenIHoldYourHand #SeeICanBeTaller #WadiRumDesert #WhenWasTheLastTimeYouSawYourShadowCastByTheSunset #DoYouKnowWhyHusbandsHoldTheirWifesHand #IfShesHoldingYourHandThenShesNot... #StartsWithAnSAndEndsWithHopping #AaaandIveBeenLeftAloneInTheDesertAgain #BabyComeBackTheHotelIs250kmAway #PleaseDontMakeMeRunThatAgain #IWasJustKiddingAboutBeingTaller #ANDaboutTheShopping ?? #MarraigeDesSables #ForTheRecordThatIsNotEnrico
“At first, I was so worried because it was seven days in the desert with all their food in their bags, and no real mobile signal. Although, Victor is so techie, so he bought himself a satellite phone. That’s how we communicated. Otherwise, he would have had to fall in line like all the other runners to send a simple message or make a phone call.”
Today, my husband @victorconsunji starts the final leg of his 250km race across the Sahara Desert. He’s smiling in this photo but this race has taken a toll on his body. His feet are shredded from the combination of blisters, sand and heat over the past 5 days, and he’s suffering from partial blindness and needs to run alongside someone to make sure he stays on course. Not to mention the harsh conditions and terrain, lack of sleep and lack of nutrition. He and his good friend @emenichetti are running this race to raise funds for @worldvisionphl, and the only thing keeping them going is knowing that they’re doing it for a good cause. Vic has also pledged to match all donations peso for peso, dollar for dollar, so pls show some support for their superhuman effort by donating any amount big or small at https://www.simplygiving.com/enrico-and-victor-race-for-world-vision. ???????? P.S. There is also a clickable link to where you can donate on my bio. To everyone who has donated already, who sent him messages of encouragement, for all the love and support, Thank YOU! I means a lot to me and vic!
The race scene
If the mere mention of the Marathon Des Sables race across the Sahara didn’t sound challenging enough, consider the terrain involved; sandy trails, rugged and sharp cliffs, speed-hindering dunes, and rocky spreads along certain ridges. Victor explains how huge a logistical undertaking the Marathon Des Sables appeared to be from day one.
“When you first arrive, two days are dedicated to just safety checks; whether you have all your equipment, health checks, a kind of orientation race briefing and all that stuff. Kind of like getting settled in. Then, you have seven days of racing. There are three connector stages, these are shorter races between 30-40 kilometers each,” Victor explains.
“The amount of logistics involved to secure this thing, it’s like an entire mini city. At one point they had over a thousand organizers, staff, or support along the course just to ensure that it [the race] went smoothly,” Victor adds.
“What most people think about this race is that you’re just racing across the desert. The problem is, from Day 1, you have to carry everything in your backpack; you’re carrying food, you’re carrying your sleeping bag, you’re carrying a venom kit (in case you get bitten by something), you name it—you’re basically carrying everything you need. There is no shop where you can buy something from, and it’s not allowed.”
A (desert) day in the life
In the Marathon Des Sables, there are no constant race nannies on board to make sure you’re all set or remind you to keep track of your gear. Yes, there are people at checkpoints, but they’re there merely for the purposes of the checkpoint, which are for refreshment or minimal aid. Being alert at orientations at the beginning of the race is key. “In this race, by the time you race Stage 2 and onwards, you haven’t gotten any sleep, you haven’t gotten any rest, you’re still trying to recover from Day 1,” Victor explains. “On top of all that, you’re very keenly aware that you’re carrying 12 kilos on your back.”
12kg of survival... 10kg of food and essentials... 2kg of water... carried over 250km on your back. #ITravelLight #SBCPackers #YouKnowImAGoodPacker #ThatsWhatSheSaid #RexNaverete #DesertSurvivalTips #DontRunOutOfToiletPaper #AfterAll #Thats9DaysTotalInTheDesert —— Enrico: Did you bring the Venom Extraction kit? Victor: What do we need it for? I don’t bite. Enrico: What? Victor: What? —— #Thats9LongDaysWakingUpNextTo @emenichetti —— We have a small favor to ask... we are soooo close to making our goal. I think we have less than 15k to go! Believe me, your actions matter. The kids will appreciate it... I will appreciate and remember it... and my feet definitely appreciate it! And to make it a little bit more worthwhile, Enrico will add a bonus of 100k if we make our target! #ClickableLinkInBio @worldvisionphl #MarathonDeSables @marathondessables
“When I look at these marathons right, like a typical road marathon, you know there’s an aid station every two kilometers. In this case with these conditions you don’t get an aid station for at least 15 kilometers. You can bring it all, in which case you’re probably going to end up carrying something close to four kilos of water, or you can bring just enough and hope that you have enough water to make it to the next aid station.” When it comes to trail races especially, the lighter the weight you carry, the better your chances are of enduring the long distances. Choosing whether to carry your own water load or relying on your own ability to reach the next aid station are both different types of risks.
“Racers are there to support you if you’re in trouble and will do what they can to make sure you’re able to finish the race, but what they will not do is support your slacking,” Victor says, claiming, however, that if an accident or something unfortunate does happen to any competitor, other racers on the trail will rally to help without hesitation.
Overall, the responsibilities coupled with the trek at stake truly tested the most determined of contenders. Victor shared how a connector stage day more or less progressed from dawn ‘til sundown, and we totally picked up on the harsh fact that it was all zero percent luxury.
“They set up these tents. What it is, is a heavy piece of cloth propped up by some sticks. It’s wide enough for eight people. You’re always with the same eight people, you’re tent-mates. You get this tent; it’s open on one side and open on the other… it’s basically just a sun cover. You basically provide everything else; what you’re going to sleep on, whatever you’re going to cook with, everything else you provide,” Victor continued to recall how the addition of self-care consumed additional energy at the end of each race leg.
“Let’s say you came in [after racing] at around 5 o’clock one afternoon. You basically had to cook yourself something to eat, get some sleep and by 5am you have to be up and be ready to go so that you could start at 7am or 8am that morning for the next stage.”
The pain—the struggle is real
Clearly, as mentioned, Victor did not complete the Marathon Des Sables unscathed. The current state of his injured feet has forced him to forego his upcoming Ironman races in June. “Going into the race I was perfectly fine. I knew I had problems by Day 2. Day 2 was after 68 kilometers; it doesn’t sound like much, but see, nothing was flat. There was this mountain ridge where we had to literally climb up a very steep ravine, where there were boulders the size of these chairs… and you’re kind of like crawling over the boulders to get up from one step to another—up, and up, and up. It’s not running anymore,” he shares. At the end of each race stage, Victor constantly texted Maggie updates about his physical condition and what would be in store for the next day.
“It was really that rubbing that really destroyed my right foot, I guess because I favor my right.” At one point, the state of Victor’s feet got pretty graphic. We were thinking of sparing you the details, but this story might not hit the sweet spot without the gory truth. “On the third day, my left foot started having problems, because again…we were just going up and down these ravines.”
Victor details, “My toes, what happened there is when a toe dies you get some blood underneath the nail. In my case, what happened was the blister was so bad that it was under the nail bed, not in between the nail bed and the nail, but under that. Then, the blister progressed through and it ripped the nail off from the nail root. That happened on multiple toes. So the toenails are dislodged, but not exactly—it’s really weird."
If having blisters like that wasn’t enough challenge for the race, Victor even had to deal with coronary edema. “I suffered from a coronary edema (causing impaired vision) because of the race. A very small percentage of runners basically get it in ultra-marathons, not in normal marathons," Victor shares. "So apparently, I’m one of those runners who’s susceptible to it. It’s a build-up of fluid in the cornea. Once the fluids build up, your vision gets blurry. You have no ability to focus and you basically just see shapes.”
“It happened to me by Day 3 and it was only in one eye. It started with my left and then it progressed to both eyes. In the daytime, I could see shapes and whatever, even in the distance. The problem is it happened to me at night. So I had to stop and wait for another runner to catch up. At least they could see where the glow-sticks are.”
Unknown to many, Victor also lives with a chronic health condition which flags his finish as even more of a feat. He suffers from ulcerative colitis, an auto-immune disease that lurks behind his extremely active lifestyle. “In a race where there are no bathrooms (laughs)…there are no showers, and no full medical support, if something goes wrong, my condition flaring up is always a risk. Ulcerative colitis is where the body partially rejects the internal lining of the large intestine. Untreated at its worst you’re basically cannibalizing or destroying the internal lining of your large intestine. So on maintenance meds, when everything’s going well, everything sort of feels normal and you just try to stay away from trigger foods. If I get sick though, because of my immune system, I get double sick.”
Upholding the Cause
Victor reiterated that having a purpose for racing beyond one’s self was what helped see him through to the end of the 250-kilometer Marathon Des Sables. Partnering with World Vision to raise money for children, Victor and Enrico set a target to meet during the race as seen at this link on Simply Giving. “We did the Marathon Des Sables for World Vision,” he quips.
UPDATE: @emenichetti and @victorconsunji have successfully finished the toughest race on earth... all for the benefit of children! They're fast approaching their fundraising target too! On top of that, Victor has promised to match every donation made to the cause. Congratulations and thank you, Enrico and Victor! :) You can still send them and the children they run for your support by clicking the #linkinbio ??
“It mainly benefits children in the Philippines. I agreed that for every peso someone donates, I will match that with a peso of my own. So currently, we reached about Php560,000. We met our goal, which means that we will be presenting over a million pesos to World Vision for charity. Enrico himself also will be providing his bonus, which was an additional Php100,000 if we reached our target, and we did," he says.
Victor agreed that having a goal beyond one’s personal glory will push individuals to reach even further. In times of doubt, remembering the cause and taking up the flag will ultimately give you that last needed push. Victor shares, “In those moments, where you’re walking or running, battling headwinds or a sandstorm or climbing these ridiculous mountains, or feeling somewhat lost on the trails, and you’re having this conversation with yourself and asking yourself ‘Why?’ it really helps that you have a purpose a little bit more important than yourself.”
Photography by Julia Arenas, with additional photos courtesy of Victor Consunji