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Jay Solman, far right, and his teammates l-r: Mark Bremner and Lara Rantoul survived a grueling 250-k race across the Sahara.

Running to the max in Egypt, New York

November 19, 2009

Who’d have guessed there are butterflies in the world’s largest and most inhospitable desert, where temperatures can soar to 50C and sand storms can blast the paint off an SUV?

Certainly not Jay Solman (pictured above, right). "It was magical," says the intrepid SFU ombudsperson and ultramarathoner who saw dozens of the ephemeral creatures last month while running the arduous six-day, 250-kilometre (150-mile) Sahara Race in Egypt.

"I was thinking ‘am I hallucinating or what?’ But, no, apparently there were two oases nearby where they have their cocoons. It was the most incredible thing."

Solman and his two Team Trailwinders partners placed 50th out of 130 race starters and just 96 finishers and came fourth out of 12 in team standings.

Meanwhile, two SFU English department members completed the New York City Marathon Nov. 1.
Associate professor Peter Dickinson finished in 3 hours, 42 minutes and 11 seconds, just behind academic and administrative services manager, Maureen Curtin, who finished in 3:39:06.

The Sahara Race is the first leg of the RacingThePlanet 4 Deserts series, which also includes annual ultramarathons in the Atacama (Chile) and the Gobi (China) and biennial ultramarathons in Antarctica. It’s considered to be one of the world’s toughest endurance competitions.

"The last three kilometres we had to claw our way up several huge sand dunes and I was literally stumbling like a drunken sailor," says Solman. "Those were some of the toughest physical and emotional moments of my life."

Butterflies aside, he says his biggest surprise "was just how much I loved it. There was no society, no meetings, no choices, just the basic essentials. It was very liberating, and I can’t wait for my next big race in Nepal, in 2011."

Solman and his teammates spent a year training for the event, raising more than $8,000 for Variety, the Children’s Charity of B.C., in the process.

To donate or learn more, visit www.trailwinders.com; for a race video recap visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEpy351-IMA. By Stuart Colcleugh