The headline in the Helsingin Sanomat said it all: Jukka Viljanen, a 48-year-old adventure runner and ultramarathonist, had become the first person to run solo across the Sahara Desert in North Africa. completing the 1,600-kilometre distance across the desert in 31 days. Along the way he crossed over sandy deserts as well as rock lands from Morocco to Southern Mauritania near the Senegalese border
|Photo: MAX MÄKINEN|
“I feel euphoric. I was remarkably high-spirited throughout the entire journey, for which a big ‘thank you’ goes to the on-location support team formed by three friends of mine from Finland”, Viljanen explains.Jukka Viljanen who has a university degree in business and lives in Espoo, Finland, had prepared himself to complete up to 2,000 kilometres through the Sahara Desert, but the local conditions - starting with minefields - forced him to stick to a relatively direct north-south route close to the coast.
Viljanen arrived in Morocco on January 3rd and spent the first couple of days making preparations. The Finns acquired supplies together with a local desert safari firm, which also assisted in the actual effort by providing vehicles and crew.
During the first five days and 250 kilometres Viljanen encountered difficulties. His advance was complicated by a condition called "runner’s knee", an ailment that often requires a couple of months of rest to heal. But not for the first time in the history of ultra-long-distance running, as by miracle, the problem sorted itself out. This can happen when a person aspiring to produce an intense performance comes face to face with a tough situation. “Organising a run like this requires so much effort that after that motivation is just off the chart. This must at least partly explain the ‘miracle’ recovery”, Viljanen reckons.
The next ten days and 500 kilometres were marked by sandstorms. At times the wind was so strong that he was unable to open the support vehicle’s door. And there was sand everywhere, even in the breakfast cereal. The sand also worked its way into Viljanen's running shoes, causing blisters. “I treated a couple of painful blisters with antibiotic cream”, Viljanen recalls.
By the 750 kilometre mark the landscape was changing to sand dunes, small acacia trees, and also camels. “Camels are able to wander around for months without replenishing their water supply, but I had to drink about a litre of water fortified with electrolytes every hour”, Viljanen explains. And in providing the water the support team’s role was crucial. “At times they had to drive hundreds of kilometres to get water.”
Finally, after 20 days and 1,000 kilometres Morocco gave way to Mauritania and a new local support crew joined in the effort. Viljanen had his first shower since the start of the run and continued on without major incident to complete the crossing in just 31 days.
Jukka Viljanen was born in 1963. He lives in Espoo with his partner Kirsi Montonen, who is another adventure runner in her own right. Viljanen has run (and cycled) the North Pole Marathon in 2007, made a 200km run (non-stop) ultramarathon across the Libyan desert in 2008, a 100km Antarctic Ice Marathon in 2009, a 1,000km run across the Kalahari Desert in 2010 (with Kirsi Montonen and South African Greg Maud), and now the slightly more than 1,600km jog across the Sahara. When one considers that for this last feat he ran 50 kilometres a day for thirty-one straight days across soft sand or difficult broken rock terrain, it gives some idea of the man's determination and physical fitness.
The View from Fez says : Onnea Jukka. Rotu hyvin juosta!