Answering Student Questions

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Some of the students at Gardner Pilot Academy composed a list of questions about the race:


How does it feel to run the race? Running the race was surprisingly fun. I was able to set a pace for myself that was enjoyable and competitive. Running is also cathartic. That means that I find running to be relaxing and meditative. While the temperatures were very high (120 F on average) and my backpack weighed a lot (24lbs on the first day, including the weight of water) I enjoyed the challenge of running!

Do you like running in the desert? I loved running in the desert. There wasn’t anyone else around except for the other runners. I liked the solitude and the scenery was spectacular.

What types of animals and plants do you see in the desert? I saw a few small tress. There were some palm trees in an oasis I ran past. There was also a plant called Camel Grass. These were small mounds of long, thin groups of grass. I saw a few bugs, some field mice, and wild camels.

Are you able to sleep at night? I was able to sleep at night. At first it was challenging because the ground was hard and there were many other people sleeping around you, which means there was a lot of snoring. After the first night though I was use to the conditions and tired enough that sleeping was easier than I thought it would be.

What were you eating and drinking? The race provided us with 10.5 litres of water per day. I drank all of it. I added a drink mix to one of my water bottles. The drink mix had calories and nutrients I needed that plain water does not have. I ate dehydrated camping food. That means the meals I had were made of dried food and I would add hot water to them to rehydrate the food. They tasted pretty good. I also ate some granola bars, beef jerky, and gu (which is a syrup that contains a lot of carbohydrates).

The Women’s Champion Describes How She Won MDS

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Here is an article written by the women’s champion, Meghan Hicks. She describes the race and what it takes to win it. This article give great insight into the challenges of the race.


Why the race was shorter than expected…

Monday, April 29th, 2013

I had entered the Marathon Des Sables under the impression that the race would be at least 150 miles and knowing that it was more likely the distance would exceed 155 miles. In all but one of the previous 27 races, the distance had been 150 miles or greater. The prior exception was a shorter race due to unusual flooding. Therefore, I was extremely surprised to find out that this year’s race was shortened. After factoring in distance covered when misguided/lost/staggering about in the desert the final distance was about 147 miles.


The race organizers decided that the final day of the race should be a charitable UNICEF walk/run that non-racers could participate in. The final day of the race is typically 13 miles; this year they shortened it to about 4.5 miles in order to have an attainable distance for non-runners to participate. Since this charity walk/run took place in the middle of the Sahara, not surprisingly, there weren’t actually many people joining us. The race brought in a few kids to walk, some of whom were crying by the end of the 4 miles. I felt badly for them. 4 miles of sand dunes isn’t fun if you don’t actually want to do it.  All the runners had to complete the charity leg of the race in order to get to the buses.


The race also claimed, that while the course was shorter than usual, it was actually just as hard or harder than previous years. The first day of running had higher mileage and the second day had an unprecedented 3 mountains with unprecedented elevation gain.


While I am happy the race has a social justice theme, I wish it had been at least 150 miles, or I wish the race has announced the change in distance sooner. I feel somewhat mislead. If you can believe it, there were many disgruntled runners who didn’t want a shorter race either.


So here’s to only running close to 150 miles in the Sahara.

Media coverage on Runforlaptops

Monday, April 29th, 2013
Here are a few links to media/articles/videos on the fundraiser and race:
Huffington Post Article
CBS News 
Boston Herald video
Boston College Chronicle


Thursday, April 25th, 2013              Thank you to all donors!

Some Photos of the Race, Videos Coming Soon: Double Click Photos to make them bigger

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Climbing Mountains, rope assistance was rare, only when it was really steep.

But I guess when I climbed and there was a rope I didn’t hold on to it. Probably not a great idea.

Running across a valley, to a mountain rage, then directly OVER the mountain range.

Sand Dune “Running”

GPA banner running through the Sahara!

Enjoying making morning oatmeal. My neck buff became a hat. The bottom of a water bottle became a bowl, and I was the only person I knew who ran through the desert with a down winter jacket.

If you look VERY CLOSELY you can see a trail of runners 1,400 feet below me on the valley floor. If you look right below me you can see another racer climbing the mountainside. The mountain range on the other side of the valley was also crossed about 2 hours earlier. Lots-o-mountains. Lots-o-fun.


Dunes and a helicopter’s shadow.

The start of one of the stages.

What makes this race so challenging? How was teaching great preparation?

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

This race is pretty absurd. I finished in really good health and with happy feet. I was lucky, or maybe prepared, thanks to teaching, which is more of an endurance sport than running through the Sahara.

But if you do run through the Sahara here’s what might happen, and here’s how teaching is sometimes preparation for the desert:

1. Your feet blister. Most people’s feet were severely blistered by the end of the race. I saw people who literally lost the ENTIRE sole of their feet. Yet, they finished.

2. Your feet swell. You start the race in a shoe that is at least one size to big and by the second day, the shoe fits!

3. Your ankles swell; I needed to cut the calf sleeves off my legs at the end of the race because my ankles were so swollen I couldn’t get them off otherwise.

4.People break bones in their feet, but they kept on running/walking/hobbling. A doctor told a racer “You have a broken ankle, you cannot continue with the race.” The runner said “No, I will finish.” Multiple people I knew had broken bones in their feet. The stress of running on jagged rocks caused most of the breaks.

5. We climbed mountains. It wasn’t all sand dunes. There are mountains in the desert. One person got an IV on a mountain side. How many metaphorical, behavioral, instructional mountains do you surmount everyday as a teacher? There are more teaching mountains per day than there were literal mountains in the Sahara.

6. I need water! But there just isn’t enough, at least not for me. I, however, don’t want to incure the 30 minute time penalty for getting an extra bottle, so I stay thirsty. Enough work days without a lunch is good preparation for this.

7. DUNES. Running on sand is hard, running up mountains of sand for miles at a time is harder. But maintaining the attention of a 6th grade class is even harder. So good work to good teachers! 

8. People had to redesign their shoes. Feet were swollen, bruised, broken, and blistered. Many toenails fell off (I finished with all 10 of mine still intact!). The solution to damaged feet was to cut the toe box out of your sneaker, or cut up your sleeping pad and tape parts of it to your sole for extra cushioning.

9. One man did the second half of the race in crocs because his feet were so swollen. One woman finished the race barefoot.

10. It is so hot you can cook your food in the sun.

11. It’s the only race where the start is delayed because “There is a Land Rover stuck in the dunes on the course.” “My mom’s car was stuck in a sand dune” is not an acceptable excuse for being late for school.

12. People had heat stroke, kidney failure, and tissue infections. Legs were swelling because blisters were infected. Many people were on antibiotics by the end. I was fine though. I think teaching must build up your immunity!

13. The amount of laughter and happiness was crazy. I asked my tentmate one morning why he was laughing. He said “I think it’s funny that I’m still alive.” In general, jovial spirits! I was happy the whole race! Now I just need to figure out how to remain calm when the copy machine isn’t working.

14. It was so hot people were passing out waiting in line to write their allotted one email per day.

15. This race was absurd, crazy, challenging, incredible. What is more amazing, is that, to me at least, teaching is much more challenging. Finding the energy, the patience, the creativity to execute and attempt to inspire middle schoolers is harder. The endurance needed to for the school day is typically greater than the endurance I needed to run for 5 to 12 hours through the Sahara.  So if you are a teacher sitting at home thinking this race is nuts, please know that you could probably complete this race; teaching is the perfect preparation for the Sahara.

Check back for more posts in coming days/ Thoughts are with Boston

Friday, April 19th, 2013

I am flying home to Boston tomorrow. My thoughts and prayers have been with all of you.

I wrote a few posts as optional reading for those seeking a distraction from the turmoil. I will post more vignettes, photos, and videos later.

Thank you for all your support. Stay safe. I miss you all.

The Most Interesting Post-race Concert Ever

Friday, April 19th, 2013
          After the final marathon stage there was a concert, yes, in the middle of the Sahara there was a stage and a cover band. This was unexpected.
          The lead singer kept trying to convince people to get up and dance. I do not know if she realized she was talking to a crowd of about 600 tired runners who had literally just run across part of the Sahara. Most people were having trouble walking because their feet were so blistered. Almost everyone was politely sitting in the sand.
          Of course if you read the other posts, my feet and my body were in really good shape. So with about 5 other people (most of which were race workers or berbers) I got up and danced. I dance really intensely. HA. I broke a sweat. By the next song a few more runners hobbled up to the front and danced, Meghan Hicks (womens champion) rocked it out like she had not even run at all.
          Pretty soon many people were dancing with whatever energy they had left. Maybe the painkillers had kicked in or maybe the lyrics of Adele in the Sahara were just so intoxicating they could not resist?
          Do not worry I have this concert and the gradual increase of dancers all on video! It might be the most important footage of the race! I will post it when I return to the US. Check back for updates.


Friday, April 19th, 2013
          There were an unusual number of rules about running in the desert, at least it seemed like there were a lot of rules. Breaking rules meant time penalities.
          Receiving certain medical treatment also meant time penalties. The medical staff wants everyone to finish, but getting IV fluid is a 2 hour penalty. However, once you are hooked up to the IV the 2 hour penalty does not change if you get one bag of fluid or 13 bags of fluid (like one racer ended up receiving). Yes, 13 bags. A second IV meant you were out of the race.
          An extra bottle of water is a 30 min. time penalty. (We received 10.5 litres of water per day; I was always thirsty in the morning, and running faster than I would have liked in order to get to the first check point to get more water).
          Forgetting to pick up your water in the moring or upon finishing a stage is also a time penalty. If you are late to pick up your water there is also a penalty.
          So basically my tentmates and I decided that not getting water or getting too much water meant getting a penalty; they are really strict about water.
         Also if your timing chip blows away in the wind, you will probably get a time penalty.
          There were many other ways you could get penalties, you can refer to the lengthy rule book to learn more.
          Thankfully I finished without getting a time penalty! This might have been the biggest victory of all! It proves that Ms. Byron can follow the rules; and also not need extensive medical attention. Phew.

Thank you to all supporters; Special thanks to Ms. Sanchez, GPA media teacher

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Thank you to everyone who has supported me through this race and fundraiser. I could not have done as well without all of you. If you are reading this then you likely had a postive and highly motivational influence over me while I was in the desert. There is still work to do and about 14,000 dollars left to raise but I know it can and will happen.

A million thanks to Ms. Sanchez, GPA media teacher, who happens to exemplify the dedication of GPA teachers. Ms. Sanchez willingly edited and posted all the links and information while I was running in the Sahara. In addition, when I have issues with uncooperative technology she is always available, even after school via phone or in person. She engages our 6th grade in meaningful, authentic, and creative lessons. Like so many GPA teachers she has gone far above her job description to help execute this blog and learning via technology.

Eating Healthy in the Desert

Friday, April 19th, 2013
          Hours after posting that I ate a Snickers in the dunes, Djeneba, GPA kinder student, sent me an email discussing healthy eating habits.
          Djeneba said she hoped I was eating healthy. Well, Djeneba, my diet was not ideal; the desert conditions called for some unhealthy foods in order to replenish the fats and salt I was losing in the heat of the competition.
          But Djeneba is right, eating healthy is very important and it is something I look forward to returning to, now that I am done running through the desert.
          Thank you Djeneba for reminding us all that eating healthy is very important! Enjoy your fruits and vegetables EVERYDAY!
          Next time I run through the desert I will try to be healthier!

A Full Inclusion Race

Friday, April 19th, 2013
          Gardner Pilot Academy is an inclusion school. When other runners would ask me where and what I teach I´d always mention how GPA is an inclusion school. Then I´d get asked ¨What´s that?¨ An inclusion school is a school where kids with special education needs receive their education in the general education classroom with the support of a special education teacher. Everyone is included.
          Then I would draw the parallel to the Marathon des Sables, which turned out to be an inclusive race!
1. 2 blind men completed the race with the assistance of a sighted guide.
2. A man with only one leg completed the race. Not only was his one foot blistered, but his hands were severely blistered from using his canes.
3. Several firemen pushed several children who could not walk through the desert. The children took turns and were in a modified and covered wheelchair. Don´t worry their safety came first, and I don´t think the kids were carried over the 3rd mountain on the second day because it was not safe. Otherwise, these very strong men, made sure the kids finished the race with them!
Stay tuned for photos and videos of these inspirational finishers.

Things I Left Out So Mom and Dad Wouldn´t Worry!

Friday, April 19th, 2013
          1. Two days prior to the start of the race I was very sick, and won´t get explicit, but I couldn´t stand up let alone walk, this was worrisome, but I got it together for the race. The illness might have accounted for the extreme headaches on Day 1 of the race, but who knows.
          2. I got a minor infection on my palms and on my face, but all are healing well, and I´m fine.
          3. While I was exceptionally healthy during the actual race, I did collapse after the 50 mile stage. I held it together for some webcam hellos so Mom and Dad wouldn´t worry and then immediately offscreen I fell over. I was extremely dehydrated. I ran out of water about 5km from the finish. I was so tired that that particular 5km took almost an hour. I was staggering about in the dark; I think I ended up going father than 5km. Eventually when a man would pass me (no sign of women; it seemed we were very spread out) I´d ask for water; they kindly gave me some and then ran onward. 4 different men gave me water, thank you to every single one of them. After finishing and falling over, I tried telling the doctors that all I needed was water, then in the light of the finish line I could see my legs for the first time in a while. My thighs had been bitten hundreds of times by bugs, and I hadn´t realized it. I then started saying ¨The bugs, the bugs¨ while pointing at my legs. The docotors thought I was hallucinating; we had a slight language barrier. Then they took my vital signs, and I went on to say ¨No penalities, please no penalities.¨ Some medical treatment incures a time penalty, and all I needed was water and to be told my bug bites were ok. After being reassured I would not get a time penalty I went to the medical tent. I drank some of my alloted water, took some salts, and was told my legs were not infected so they´d be fine. I also ate a Twix candy bar (I know another melted candy bar!). Then I was good enough to be dismissed from the medical tent without a penalty. My bug bites weren´t an issue and I felt fine the next day. Thank you to the nice doctors who took care of me but didn´t take too much care of me to incure a penalty.
          4. My blisters were not bad at all! I had three tiny blisters on my toes, nothing to write home about, but the 1000 character email wasn´t enough to go into any detail. My ankles, however, were extremely swollen. By the end of the race I cut off my calf sleeves because I couldn´t get them over my swollen ankles. Now my ankles are back to normal. I wasn´t the only racer cutting off calf sleeves.

Correction to Final Results and Video

Friday, April 19th, 2013
                 I preemptively posted final race results. I finished 12th overall in the female category and 211th in the combined category. A total of 1,027 runners started the race.
                Huge congrats to Marathon des Sables Female Champion and American: Meghan Hicks! She is such an incredibly humble and kind runner. Check out her blog on the race and ultra running at Here is a link to a candid video of Meghan discussing the race and the amazing sportsmanship among the women.
               Huge congrats to all finishers, this was quite a race! For those who took many hours to complete the race, my hat is off to you. Being out in the sun for entire day is incredibly grueling.
Check back for more posts and photos soon.