Libya Challenge Smashed

My dad just a few days ago returned from Libya after completing the Ultramathon there. Just want to say what a huge inspiration this is for me and how proud I am to have a dad who challenges himself and others in such a way. I am very priviliged to have a dad who I can look up to so much for direction and inspiration and who has done and continues to do so much for others. I don't think you know how much of an influence you are on my life.

Write up from New Foundations :

The Libya Challenge is held in the UNESCO heritage Akakus mountain range in the south east corner of Libya right on the Algerian border. The route covers 194km trailing some millenia old salt caravan trails of Touareg traders and traversing a variety of terrain, Cambrian sandstone mountains thrust up and crumbling to reveal metres thick fossilised seabeds, the ancient coastline dramatically and forcefully realigned by volcanic activity, the plugs majestically fracturing and littering the swirling igneous rocks over the sandy plains like a sea of broken crockery. In other areas vast dunes with airbrushed shadows reach to the horizon against plateaued basalt hills that shift from grey to purple as the sun traverses the sky. There is precious little wild-life, the odd scarab and snake, bleached goat skeleton and haze of flies. Small tenacious tamarisk trees stand to give some perspective to the horizon, and dotted around are occasional windformed overhangs that protect ochre paintings of distant hunting scenes when the area was more verdant some 12,000 years ago.

The camp lies at the edge of the dunes and the day preceding the race medical forms were checked , the mandatory kit signed off (bag, sleeping bag, flare, mirror, compass , whistle, knife, space blanket, antiseptic, and venom pump.) The calories carried in the single stage event must exceed 8000 , and are duly checked, the remainder of the day given over to some serious obsessive compulsive behaviour as kit , sand gaiters and clothing is checked and rechecked.

The next morning all 109 runners are ferried to a road junction where bedouin 4x4's take us to the inflatable arch set , quite bizarrely in the empty void of a plain as it funnels in between two ranges, and untimately into a central wadi (riverbed) that drains the sparce rainfall of the region.

Within an hour of so the field of runners is widely spread and it is clear that for maybe 80% of the race will be run alone unless you are part of a team or find a similar paced athelete.

Checkpoints are place 25kms apart, navigable to only by GPS. the waypoints provided in advance. 4.5litres of water are given to each competitor at each station.

Undertaking this sort of ultramarathon requires training on several levels. Hydration is fundamental yet must be balanced with electrolyte intake, enough to conserve water yet enough to ensure filtration via the kidneys. Passing urine every few hours is a good benchmark of reasonable control, and even at night the occasional headtorch beam reveals an anxious runner at a checkpoint studying the colour of his urine as he pees.

Food is equally important. The stomach shuts down when running and food can stay slushing about for some time resulting in vomiting and acid reflux. Exerting 1000 calories hourly cannot be sustained by carbohydrate intake alone and protein becomes converted to supply fuel, this deriving from muscle breakdown. This is a disaster and protein must be taken in with carbs to maintain stasis. I use a protein/carb mix in drink form to sip throughout the race, with electrolyte supplements hourly.

Heat is another factor the temperature fluctuating between 2-3 degrees and 30+ midday. Heat increases fluid loss, which must be factored in.

More than 50% I think is mental. The repeated voices of dissent rise and resurface complaining of jointpain, the distance, the dry throat, blister pain and even questioning the whole point of the exercise. Dealing with this inner dialogue and debate is something that persists throughout the race. My room-mate Mark, a veteran of ultramarathon running argues that it is best to thrash the body to the baseline state of constant pain as soon as possible, maybe 5-10km knowing that this is the state from which it can't get much worse. From this point therefore you can get to grips with establishing mental acceptance and move on. As one of the 20 people who have completed the double Blackwater ultra, he should know...

I decided to leave my ipod at home to release my mind to think. I chose a challenging book 'Hard to Believe;' - by John Macarthur. I have been reflecting on the sermon on the mount and the narrow door that Jesus talks about, and how many will one day be turned away by Jesus with the chilling words,'I never knew you'. Macarthur expands on this , and quite unfashionably in this present day of inclusivity and the lifestyle church brings us back to the core of the gospel, the cry of the convicted sinner for salvation through the blood of Christ and the new life that is built on the certainty and conviction that comes by acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I read the first half before the race on which to reflect, the second on my return. I am not interested in the religiosity of mans view of God, but seek the reality of a relationship with God that Jesus promises.The claims of Jesus are so powerful, extreme and carry such consequences you have to conclude He is indeed the Son of God, or lunatic. There is no middle ground of the beneficial prophet or the winsome stained glass benefactor man has reduced Him to. He is radical and challenging, anarchic and alluring, and each of us have to deal with his claims, to reject to accept. Even to those who professed allegiance His claims were hard to accept, and affirm exclusivity of salvation and heaven through His death; ('No-one comes to the Father except through me')

43"Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus answered. 44"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. ... 46No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

53Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." 59He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"
61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit[e] and they are life. 64Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
John 7

His words offended then , and they offend now. They are not open to interpretation or dilution, they are a stone wall of divinely revealed statute. Mans intellect recoils, but this does not justify manipulation to suit our tastes.

Unsurprisingly Jesus retired to the desert, John wandered the Dead Sea basin and the early desert fathers sought refuge in the western egyptian desert to make sense of these claims. It is an environment ideally suited to pray and meditate, to experience the vulnerability of oneself, and the fragility of life amidst the grandeur and permanence of Gods creation.

Why the fossils, why the brevity of life and the geological timeline all around as you run...I don't know, and never will. Certainly the bible repeatedly illustrates the eternity of God, that we are but a breath, a grass, a flower of the field, gone in a season, and the permanence of God is infinite and eternal. Without the frenzy of daily life this truth is reinforced in the solitude of the race.

The nights are velvety black, the stars too numerous to begin to count, and the silence deafening, broken only by footfall on sand. The GPS is a disaster, telling only direction and not elevation or topography (having bought the cheapest). At 3am I almost step into a black ravine some 200ft to the desert floor, having inadvertently climbed a slow incline whilst concentrating too hard on direction. It takes 2 hours to find a safe way down, the narrow headtorch beam swallowed up by the void on each side until it illuminates a sand tongue from which to descend. The night disorientates and for many, lost in similar circumstances retiring to sleep is the only safe option until first light.

The third day traversed a long plain, hot, dry and without shelter. Diarrhoea, shivering, slight confusion, and hallucinations heralded early heatstroke, and water had to be sacrificed for cooling my now throbbing head. The GPS located the bivvy set just behind a line of gorse, a location not visible until within 300metres. I had hallucinated bushes into huts and chicken farms for the past 2 km so I had little hope of finding the tent with rational thought.

A rare offer of Coke was magical, it settles the stomach, replaces electrolytes,provides a caffeine boost and the taste almost universally accepatable, amazing stuff. With a packet of crushed crisps for salt this combo had staggering restorative powers and the next stage was hammered. Checkpoint nine was the final check before the finish , the last stage being 15km across high dunes. Deciding caffeine was the key I brewed a pint of coffee, ditched the rest of my food , filled my camelback and setoff. Thankfully I completed just as night fell. The prospect of another night in the desert was not a good one , and the relief of arriving enormous. No fanfares, no crowds, just an official to take the flare off me, check my time and a handshake. This is not a race for a sprint finish and the glory of the podium. Even the prize money is only a few hundred euros. The greatest crowd gathers for the final competitors, who demonstrate more guts and effort that the winners, as they have fought for longer, with often crippling blisters and problems with hydration and heat. Kirsi, a finnish girl finished with a third of the skin on her feet gone, ulcerated blisters and raw flesh requiring morphine infusions and transfers by wheelchair.

These races are against yourself, your limits, fears, and thresholds of pain, and endurance.

Would I do this again?.......don't know.......I gave it everything I had, it took me into areas of myself I had never been, and distances I had never covered.(until feb this year only 44km/marathon distance, then Thames Meander mid feb, 90km, then Libya within the month to 194km). It is staggering what the body and the mind can do. The sport is very selfish, it takes time and money and I am concious how much Shirley has had to put up with. For this alone its hard to justify a re-run. I am so very grateful for the experience, and to have had such great support in raising funds to establish the clinic for New Foundations.

In this age we are always trying to improve ourselves and develop our potential...nothing wrong with that , but if theres one lesson that comes out strong its that this should never be the priority, but that we should use every opportunity to find out what God reveals about Himself, and to find the narrow door that leads to a eternal relationship with our Father through his Son Jesus Christ, for in doing so His word states that God the Father , His Son and Holy Spirit will come to dwell in us, what could be more amazing and relevant a purpose for our short little lives.

David Donovan


  1. Well done David!! You are awesome! :D

    Huge accomplishment to have done such a marathon. Well done.


  2. Wot up, Jin?

    Amazing text..
    Congrats to you and your Dad..
    Such a challenge indeed..

    Cheers from Brazil,


  3. Hey dude - how sweet to read this; I bet your dad is well choked. I know I am when twin teenage boys say things like this to me:) Having had patient treatment from your dad as a doctor, I can also certainly say that I am eternally grateful for everything he has done for me; he lifted and inspired me, encouraged me from very low points in my health and life. The faith of both your parents and how they help people is also inspirational too! I met your mum recently for the first time and she is absolutely cool too!!! I think you have picked up some of the family traits, my dear jin:) Hope the return to studies is going well.

    I have just got back from travels/ treks around switzerland and then manchester and am feeling dead hyper-! Interesting reading your dad's part on the rejuvenating effects of coca-cola; as I always crave it when I am dehydrated and it certainly does do the trick for me too but people I mention this to think I am mad:) Seems like my body craved the right thing all these years!! Wicked!...lol, rj

  4. Amazing. What an incredible man your father is. I hope he'll be at the next Traceur Gathering, as I doubt I'll get the chance to meet him any other way. Which reminds me, you won't be coming will you, Jin? Considering you're in China :o

    Well done David Donovan!

  5. What an incredible achievement for an important cause... huge respect for this, it must be really inspiring and motivational to have your father doing such mental things!

    Are you guys still doing the marathon des sables together?