Updated 31 January 2020

Unfit mom shapes up and completes 91.7 km desert marathon

Health24 reader Tanya Pieterse shares how she changed from an unfit mother to someone who completed the toughest marathon on the planet.

Tanya Pieterse lives in Centurion with her husband Genis and 23-year-old daughter. She plays the piano and loves painting and has a photography business with her daughter.

Never settle for second best

Two years ago Tanya set her sights on completing the gruelling Marathon des Sables in Morocco. One of her main aims was to make her daughter proud and to inspire her never to give up in life and never to settle for second best.

Since taking up running Tanya has enjoyed a fuller life and enjoys the health benefits of a fitter body. She loves trial running because of the cleaner air and being in nature. Her husband Genis is her running partner and keeps her motivated.

Read: Trail running tips

Tanya has run in some amazing places and met some wonderful people.

The Marathon des Sables

Tanya describes how she managed to complete the 30th Marathon des Sables, called 'the toughest footrace on the planet" in Ouerzazate Morocco against all odds:

It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do or face.

The longest stage of 91.7 km saw me starting at 8am, running through the day, the entire night and the whole next day, finishing at about 5pm.

During this time we had just one hour’s rest. I ran it with my backpack weighing in at about 9kg. Genis’s weighed 12 kg.

We ran over huge dunes, through sandstorms and over a mountain range in temperatures ranging from about 53 degrees Celsius during the day to what felt like below freezing point at night.

Image: Tanya and Genis at the Marathon des Sables. Source: Facebook

tanya pieterse, Marathon des Sables

Read: Running alone less rewarding

During this time I completely lost my sight and had to rely on my husband to lead and guide me.

Afterwards I literally collapsed in the medics’ tent and was given a drip because my glucose levels and blood pressure had plummeted and I was totally dehydrated, due in part to the fact that I battled to swallow and therefore wasn't eating or drinking enough.

I had every reason and excuse to not finish the race! I was also in unbearable pain.

While lying there, frightened at what the last stage had in store, especially as I could no longer see, I made the decision to get up and continue no matter what!

Image: Tanya receiving medical attention on day 2 for dehydration and blindness. Source: Facebook

The doctors also gave me a morphine injection for the pain, and after waiting for it to kick in, and reassuring them that my eyesight had completely returned, although it had actually worsened, we resumed the race.

During this time and for the entire duration of the race Genis stayed by my side, reassuring me and edging me on. He had total faith in my ability to finish even when I was in doubt, and this, in part, kept me going.

Read: Running slows ageing process

During the dune section at night I started to hallucinate from sheer exhaustion and the footprints left behind by the runners in front of us morphed into grotesque skulls looking up at me.

Another runner saw a huge fence surrounding the finish and told his friends it seemed too high to climb.  

'I kicked Superwoman's butt'

The next and last stage of the race was about 44 km. After a night’s rest I was able to start with my eyesight fully restored and under the watchful eyes of the medics.

I refused to even imagine myself at the finishing line, so when we finally crossed the line together, it was actually a surprise.

When they put our medals around our necks to the rapturous cheering of the other participants, the organisers, medical staff, photographers and even the Minister of Tourism, I knew I had accomplished what few people ever would or could and that I will never again have to stand back for anyone.

As a friend of mine exclaimed, "You kicked Super Woman's butt!"

Read Tanya's blog post on 

Watch: Trailer for Marathon des Sables, ranked by the Discovery Channel as the toughest footrace on earth.

Watch: Tayna and Genis talk to Rekord Pretoria about the race (Afrikaans)


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