Red Bull X-Alps

This athlete just ran across a desert

David Liano has one of the more unusual training programs among athletes – last month he ran across the Sahara desert.

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To prepare for the rigours of hiking and flying across the Alps, most athletes train by spending as much time as possible in the mountains, hiking and flying. But not David Liano. The Mexican athlete and multiple Everest summiteer returned last month from a 7-day race across the Sahara desert, the Marathon des Sables.

The race is a 250km run in Morocco over six consecutive stages across sand in sweltering temperatures, with the longest stage being 86.2km.

“It was an amazing personal experience,” David tells us. “It’s one of the toughest foot races in the world and it was run under very tough conditions: 50ºC temperatures during the day, up and down massive sand dunes, running over rocky ridges and dry lakes.”

The race is self-supported meaning athletes have to carry all their sleeping gear and enough food to last the entire race, although there is a daily water ration.  

“I’ve been running road races for over 20 years, including dozens of marathons, but the MDS was a unique challenge,” he says. 

It may seem a surprising way to train for the Red Bull X-Alps but David says the races have many similarities. “The mental toughness needed to go out day after day during the race, staying motivated, the physical ability to perform at my best, with little or no rest, no matter how tired I may be. Also, on both races we have to carry a backpack that’s about the same weight.”

He adds: “But basically, if during the Red Bull X-Alps we are having days when there’s very little or no flying, I will be moving efficiently and thinking I can go on not just walking but running for days and days because I’ve done it before. I’m ready for it. When I’m in the Alps, I’ll be thinking, this is much better than hiking up 200m sandy slopes in the Sahara in the burning heat!”

A highlight was the 82km long stage, which took 21 hours: “We had a full moon so I didn’t even turn on my headlamp. I was crossing a 7km section of sand dunes and the scenery under the moonlight seemed unreal. I could see the headlamp of a few runners ahead of me but for the most part I was alone. I was just following the glow sticks that marked the route every 200m. It was a special moment.”

Otherwise, David says his preparation is going well and he has an action-packed diary up until the race start. This month he plans to fly key sections of the route, he’s doing PWC in France and he has the Comrades Marathon in South Africa in June, a 90km ultra in South Africa. 

“I’m sure I will arrive at the Red Bull X-Alps starting line in Salzburg in the best physical shape of my life,” he adds.