Dr. Pushpa Chandra is set to test her limits in 250km ultra marathon

Dr. Pushpa Chandra is a soon-to-be 59-year-old naturopathic doctor who calmly accepted her latest mind-numbing challenge last Sunday.  The Vancouver, B.C. native has merely been pushing her athletic and mental abilities to the limit in this year’s 32nd annual Marathon des Sables – a 250-kilometer stage race through the Sahara Desert from April 9th -16th.  To celebrate her birthday, Dr. Chandra will be one of 18 Canadians, of 1300 competitors, (14 per cent of whom are women) competing in this gruelling event.
Running a marathon is no easy feat, indeed there are many weekend warriors that have failed to make it to the finish line.  Afterward, it can take weeks to recover, so imagine running six marathons back-to-back in five days? The Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the sands) is almost guaranteed to be more than some of the competitors can handle.
In a recent phone interview, Dr. Chandra talked about her passion for running and what inspired her to run in this year’s race, which the Discovery Channel refers to as the toughest footrace on earth, with competitors running in 50-plus degree heat, armed with a distress beacon, GPS (athletes have gotten lost in the past) and a venom extractor in case of snake bites.
Dr. Chandra’s last race was a 250-km race through Madagascar in 2014, which she described in a recent press release as adventurous and somewhat traumatizing:
“When (I’m) running close to sugar cane fires, crossing lakes with crocodiles and waking up with tarantulas outside… that’s tough.  But here I am, back at it!”
The idea to compete in the Marathon des Sables came to Dr. Chandra about six months ago.  “I didn’t have the money before and I always wanted to this,” she said, adding, “It was 7,000 dollars for the entry fee and it was on my bucket list. Life is about growth.”
The Marathon des Sables has its own peculiar challenges. For starters, it’s a self-supporting race. That means runners have to carry everything needed for survival on even the longest leg, which is 80km. Then, the Moroccan Sahara desert is one of the most inhospitable environments in the world.
Dr. Chandra says: “Your feet swell two sizes, then crack and bleed in the heat. The terrain has rock fields sharp enough to slice your skin open at the gentlest touch. Popping blisters becomes a daily routine and you have no showers for a week!”
The only home comforts supplied by the organizers are goat hair Berber tents and rationed water – but even water comes with a warning. If you exceed your ration you get a time penalty!
She says, “I have been running as a consistent runner for over 40 years. I have run over 500 marathons and ultra marathons.” Dr. Chandra is one of only 18 women in the world who is a ‘North Pole Grand Slammer’ - who has run marathons or longer races on all seven continents plus the North Pole.
Her passion for running began in elementary school in Fiji by running to school to save money instead of taking the bus. “I grew up in poverty. I know what it is like to be poor,” she says.
She is racing to raise money for the charity Plan International and their initiatives in the fight against child prostitution. With efforts being directed towards prevention, rescue, and rehabilitation, Plan International is working to reach 25,000 girls in Nepal, where it is estimated that 11,000 girls are trafficked every year.
To contribute to Plan International and follow Dr. Chandra in the Marathon de Sables visit  You can follow her progress using her race number, 709, as each runner is tracked by GPS.
By Christine Blanchette
Twitter: @christineruns
YouTube – runwithitcb1


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