Coverage of the recent Marathon des Sables was focused on the dog that jumped into the race during the second stage, and stayed with the runners to the end. But there was another unusual participant–unusual for his extreme youth. Sixteen-year-old Jack Davison of Fort Langley, BC recently finished the 34th edition of the gruelling, hot, six-day stage race with his father, Aaron Davison, a three-time (now four-time) finisher, and seven other Canadians. Jack’s reflections on the experience, which he shared by email, reveal an old soul who is still nonetheless very much a teenager. (He took a few days to respond to our questions, since he needed to catch up on his homework.)
Jack is a provincially-ranked tennis player who was eighth among U16 players in BC last year, so while distance running is not his primary sport, he has a strong background in training and competition, which is reflected in his comments. “I strongly believe age has no role to play,” Jack told us, “and that finishing the race is… a mental challenge… Dragging yourself across the finish line at 11 p.m. after you have been running for almost 14 hours (in my case, 21 hours for my dad) takes a lot of grit and determination that I believe cannot be taught and… cannot be trained.”
Jack also says “If it were up to me we would be going back next year to do the 35th edition, but dad wants a bit of time off here, so we might try a few other races in other parts of the world.” How’s that for an endorsement?
Here are his more detailed responses (edited for clarity and brevity).
CR: We’ve heard it’s challenging to carry enough food. What kinds of food did you take with you?
JD: The race requires that we carry a minimum of 2,000 calories per day. So you have to decide between how much your pack will weigh versus how much you want to starve to death. I packed about 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day. We didn’t have enough variety in our food, and I got bored with having Mountain House scrambled eggs for breakfast [a company that makes freeze-dried meals], so I ended up trading a bit of food with an American friend. I also brought Mr. Noodles, nuts, M&Ms, Sport Beans and Honey Stinger chews, but yes, it is extremely challenging to first, carry all the weight of almost 20,000 calories and second, add enough variety to your food so that you don’t get bored of the same old stuff day in and day out.
— MARATHON DES SABLES (@marathonDsables) April 20, 2019
CR: What was the most challenging aspect of the race?
JD: The most challenging part for me was the endless sand. It is really hard to feel like you are going very far or very fast when there is so much sand… The sand… seems to stretch for miles on end and as far as the eye can see. The longest unbroken stretch of sand dunes was 14K long, on the second day (known as dunes day), when we went through the dunes of Merzouga, which are the famous sand dunes you always see on TV. That day was super hot, as well.
CR: What part did you enjoy the most?
It was so neat to meet all the amazing people in the bivouac. The genuine cameraderie that comes from sharing this experience with so many like-minded people is not comparable to anything else… There were so many interesting people who had completed huge races, climbed mountains, or were recovering from military injuries, and it really made me realize how many really cool challenges exist and how many places I’ve never imagined and have never seen before…
CR: Did you and your dad run together?
JD: My dad and I were in the race together, but never ran together (I have been too fast for him since I was six years old [smiley face emoji]. His goal was always to complete the race rather than race the race. We would, however, meet up each evening in the bivouac when he came across the finish line, and we would make dinner and talk about the day and what tomorrow’s challenges would be, listen to music, look up at the stars and then eventually head off to bed.
CR: What do yo do to recovery? Will you take a few weeks off from running? And what’s next for your tennis?
JD: My dad made me take a number of days off of exercise and eat really well to recover. My body actually felt entirely fine. I have gone back to tennis training in a limited fashion and I will increase back to full-time tennis soon. I don’t do any specific run training, other than the fitness of my tennis. Tennis will soon be the outdoor season.