By Muhammed Aladdin
In one of the most excruciating marathons in all of the world, Marathon des Sables, one participant is rising quickly through the ranks, and the most exciting thing about this is that he is not even human.
Cactus, a name given to the stray dog by fellow runners, suddenly appeared on Monday, a day after the official inauguration of the marathon. The 140.7-mile challenge is in the heart of the Moroccan section of the Sahara desert, where runners are expected to complete 23.5 miles a day for six consecutive days.
On his first day, Cactus completed 15 miles, and on Tuesday, he managed to accomplish the required 23 miles. However, the next day, Wednesday, he astonished all partakers as he, through scorching sun, unforgiving wind, and rough stone plateaus, managed to complete an entire 47.7 miles.
The canine showed unprecedented resilience and great ability in navigating through the shifting sand dunes. In fact, it took the 800 participating humans around 31 hours to complete such distance; Cactus only needed 11 hours and 15 minutes, which unofficially makes him the 76th in the race results.
French animal magazines have raced to know the story of this mysterious contestant, while Moroccan television ran a story from his home village. The Berber of the region say that Cactus loves wandering as he often travels around 25 miles per day just for fun.
All over the race’s checkpoints, he is given food, water, and is allowed to rest in the shade from the unbearable heat. Fellow runners from all over the world are enjoying his company; each morning he wakes up in the camp to make his rounds around the tents posing for pictures and rolling over for belly rubs.
“Lots of runners are nervous in the morning, but he was pretty casual,” Meghan Hicks of Moab, Utah, who won the women’s race at the Marathon des Sables in 2013, told the New York Times. “I think he was channeling the spirit of the day.”
Another runner says that Cactus saved his life; Stephen Homesy of Washington strayed from the line and soon found himself in an unmarked area. Luckily, Cactus appeared and guided him back to the course.“I don’t know why I followed, but it seemed to be a sign that he knew where he was going,” Homesy said.
In a matter of days, the face of Cactus has become a symbol of perseverance, inspiring runners to push themselves beyond their limits. No one has ever seen anything like this.