Jenny Davis: Team Captain
This blog and it’s accompanying announcement has been in the making for so long now yet I find myself struggling to write it for fear of failing to capture just how much launching the team means to me and a result not doing the girls justice.
I’ll do my best to keep this succinct but even as I proof read this days later, it simply hasn’t been possible and some things deserve a little more attention than attempting to be crammed into 140 characters or less. So settle in nicely, grab a cup of tea and enjoy…
The inaugural women’s international team to take part in the 32nd edition of the infamous Marathon des Sables multi-day 250km race through the Saharan desert. There you go, consider it launched! Finally and with an insane amount of pride, I’d like to introduce you to some formidable women who have become dear friends over the last few months and who, together as a team of four, we’ll be tackling the race and raising funds for Free to Run whilst we go:
Much like the legend Mahsa Torabi who I coached in the inaugural 250km Iran desert multi-day, I’ve hit upon the Moroccan equivalent and can’t quite believe my luck. All Aziza needed was a voice - sponsorship and media opportunities in Europe aren’t too frequent when you don’t speak English yet her racing career is beyond proven. Aziza would like to learn English so next step is to arrange local lessons for her although the fantastic runners who attend our training camps (www.runthesahara.com) are excellent teachers and love helping her with her it!
Every single day I am reminded why Lizzie was perfect for the team, not only a brilliant runner but she encapsulates everything I was looking for in a team mate and I already feel she has my back every step of the way. Her main priority is the purpose of this team and what it means in terms of inspiring others to become more involved in sport.
With clashing race schedules it hasn't actually been possible to meet Didi yet although we are constantly in communication. Didi is a truly world class runner and has already won the MDS twice and was also the first Moroccan woman to bring home the win. Even with that track record she has struggled to find sponsorship for her race entry fees, being able to provide her with the opportunity to race once more is invaluable and means the world. As you can imagine, she is beyond excited at being in the team and having the opportunity to race MDS once more.
With the help of fellow endurance athlete and sports journalist Alice Hunter-Morrison, I set about finding our two female Moroccan runners. Even with Mohamed and Lahcen Ahansal by our side helping us find potential runners, I struggled to find “up and coming" runners who were able to make the most of an opportunity such as this one. Finding the runners wasn't an issue but convincing their families to allow them to take part was another matter entirely. A lot of understanding and appreciation for different cultures was key, hopefully this first team will act as a trailblazer even and in future years we’ll have more success. You can imagine the stories from this journey and I’ll definitely blog on that separately at some point. A regroup was necessary and instead we focused on known Moroccan runners who will and do act as inspiration for a younger generation. Baby steps required whereas I was hoping to make giant leaps. Lessons learnt.
Selecting the final GB Runner
We launched the team online last summer and received just under 120 applications to join the team as the final GB runner. Making that final decision is not something I enjoyed and I struggled with it, some trusted elites helped me make the eventual choice. Who am I to determine who or shouldn’t get this opportunity - queue a new plan to turn this into an annual event with teams taking part in MDS for at least the next five years. I continue to discuss this with Patrick Bauer, owner of MDS and we’ll be announcing something on that later in the year.
I have never felt such a sense of voyeurism in reading all the applications, some were heartbreaking as to their reasons for wishing to support a charity such as Free to Run and I took so much inspiration from all those women. For those who didn’t make the team, their offers of help and support were genuine and I’ve been blow
Also blown away by the reactions of those who didn't make the team, offering anything and everything to help the team and support us from afar and they’ve stuck to their word.
The Ultra Trail Morocco Eco Sahara (http://www.laufcoaches.com/ultra-trail-morocco-eco-sahara) takes place in February in Morocco and the team will be racing that together for the first time. We hope to see some of you there! A fantastic training opportunity for the team but mostly we can’t wait to spend some time together in the lead up to Marathon des Sables.
You’ll also find most of the team resident at our running training camp in Morocco - www.runthesahara.com. Through these camps we’ve been able to fund the racing careers of other up and coming Moroccan runners and also provide them with employment at camp. This year’s Moroccan male favourite for the Marathon des Sables is also our Head Chef at camp! By providing them with roles, exposure to coaching methods and helping to take care of our runners, their confidence grows and we hopefully not only increase their chances of securing sponsors in recognition of the talented runners they are but also provide them with a career in the tourism industry, providing security whilst racing but also as a long term career post-racing.
Each team member will be posting their own blogs over the coming weeks, introducing themselves and updating you all on how their training is coming along as we reach the last few months before the race. Follow us on Twitter @XBWomensTeam
As if I needed a reminder, even as I’m writing this I’m suddenly reminded once more why this means so much to me. I struggle to get it across on paper sometimes but thankfully the passion shows whenever I’m speaking to press or potential sponsors. “Women are the new china” one sponsor recently told me - now that made me chuckle. I’m afraid we’ve always been the damn china, just took you lot a little while to catch up. Don’t worry though, we’ll wait for you - meanwhile, we’ve got a race to train for.