Barker brothers beat sun and sand with 250km desert run

Barker brothers beat sun and sand with 250km desert run

Joburg brothers, Rhett and Lloyd Barker, have a thirst for adventure and the recent 250 km Marathon Des Sables was a chance to test their limits while running through the Moroccan Sahara desert.  

Rhett and Lloyd are no strangers to athletic quests, having participated in multiple running and cycling events, including the Cape Town Cycle Tour (Argus), Cape Epic, Ironman, Otter Trail Marathon, Two Oceans and Comrades.

Brothers Lloyd (left) and Rhett flying the South African flag in the Sahara desert

The Marathon Des Sables is a foot race in the Moroccan Sahara Desert taking place over 6 days, and runners carry their own backpacks containing all their food, sleeping gear, clothing and personal effects for the entire period of the race. Runners were supplied with a specific amount of water at each checkpoint and shared a berber (a Saharan tent) to sleep under. Everything else had to be carried by each participant.

Feet are the point of contact with the ground and take a beating

Lloyd and Rhett also managed to raise more than R150 000 for Qhubeka, which will fund 30 bicycles to deserving school children who walk up to 10km to and from school daily.

Qhubeka is a global charity that moves people forward with bicycles in Africa. Millions of people spend time and energy walking long distances to where they need to be. The impact of receiving a bicycle is immediate and lives change the day a person receives a bicycle. With a bicycle, children get to school quicker and easier, healthcare workers can visit more patients, adults go to work and can open micro businesses to earn income.

“It was without doubt the toughest event that Lloyd and I have ever participated in and judging by the higher than normal withdrawal rate this year of 34% (usually it is 5% – 8%) , we were not the only participants who suffered in the Sahara Desert,” says Rhett.

A desert sunrise greets the runners at the start of a stage

“The main reason why so many people were forced to withdraw was the heatwave that arrived in Morocco as we started, and it seemed to get a few degrees hotter every day with temperatures exceeding 45 degrees during the day and never dropped below 28 degrees at night. We were told by past participants that the race director had added a lot more soft sand sections to this year’s route, which slowed our progress down dramatically. Our goal was to cross that finish line together, so we slowed our speed down to cater for the heat and soft sand and made sure we did not risk getting dehydrated or suffering from heatstroke.

Lloyd and Rhett take a breather on a climb

“Our pack starting weight was 9.1kg and that’s without the 3kg water. But our packs got lighter daily as we ate our food which was +-800grams per day,” adds Rhett.

Conditions were brutal, recalls Lloyd. “We took in all the amazing desert landscapes, met the most incredible people from around the world, shed a few tears when receiving our daily messages from friends and family, and we had a lot of laughs along the way.

Our kit worked really well, says Rhett

“A huge thanks to Coach Neville for preparing us with an incredible training programme for this event, and our MDS experience was worth every cent and the hundreds of hours spent investigating and preparing for this unique and special event.”

Proud finishers, Rhett and Lloyd with their medals

 “We would be more than happy to assist and chat with anyone who is considering entering this race in the future. Best wishes and thanks for all the support and encouragement we received all the way,” say brothers Rhett and Lloyd.

Coach Neville

For the past 22 years I have helped hundreds of runners achieve their dreams, using the Recovery Based Training System I have developed. 

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