How does it feel to run an ultramarathon in the desert?
Taher Merchant from Bengaluru is expected to become the first Indian participant for 2021 to attempt the four Desert Ultramarathon Grand Slam, a race that involves running 250 km through 4 deserts in a calendar year.
Taher, 38, father of two daughters, will lead the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon to support the education of underprivileged children.
There are less than 75 people in the world who have accomplished the Grand Slam since its inception. It is an annual event of four 250km races through some of the most beautiful and dangerous desert landscapes in the world – Namib Race (Namibia), Gobi March (Mongolia), Atacama Crossing (Chile) and The Last Desert (Antarctica). Each race must be completed in seven days.
For Meena, 14, from Raebareli, the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon may not mean much, but it could be life changing. And the lives of many like her. From the “sapera” community, Meena had to drop out of school and take care of household chores and siblings. The number of children who drop out of school ranges from 62.1 million (Ministry of HRD) to 84 million (2011 census). This was made worse by the 2020 pandemic.
“It’s sad to imagine even a girl being denied education or being forced into marriage because there is no money for fees. The pandemic made me decide to fundraise to help educate them, ”said Taher Merchant, a resident of Bengaluru.
Taher is no stranger to fitness and fundraising challenges. In 2020, he took part in Oxfam India’s Trailwalker Virtual-Challenge to walk in solidarity with migrant workers, who found themselves without money or jobs after the lockdown announced on March 25, 2020.
Of the Ultramarathon, he said: “The idea of exploring how far I can push my body and mind has always excited me. In 2016, when I finished the Ladakh Marathon which is considered one of the toughest in India, I felt like I had to do something even more difficult. And a few years later, I found myself crossing five Himalayan passes and completing the world’s highest Ultra Marathon in 19 hours, 15 minutes and 10 seconds.
But his search for an even more grueling challenge was still ongoing. “This search for the next exciting race ended when I came across the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series. Now I can travel over 250 km through some of the most beautiful and intimidating scenery in the world.”