DALLAS - Ever the teacher, Liz Byron quizzed her students about how many times they would have to run around the school to cover the same distance of her upcoming journey through the Sahara Desert.
The Dallas native and former Bishop Hoban standout athlete will be running in the 28th Marathon de Sables, a 155-mile, self-supported race starting today. By running, she will attempt to raise $50,000 to buy laptop computers for the Boston, Mass., school where she teaches sixth-graders.
Before she left she measured the circumference of the Gardner Pilot Academy and determined 9.2 times around it equaled a mile. To match her feat it would take 1,426 laps, but not continuously; she has six days to complete the stages of the point-to-point race.
She wore her gear at an assembly at the school and did two laps with the students. “It was a great, grand event,” said her father, Tom Byron.
He said she has trained at high altitude in Boulder, Colo., raced in the sand at Cape Cod in January, hiked alone for 200 miles in Switzerland and France and competed in an Ironman triathlon in Louisville, Ky., over the past two years in preparation for the race.
He drove her to Logan Airport for her overseas flight and was at the school for her sendoff on April 1.
“She figured it was the toughest race,” Byron said of why his daughter was competing. She has paid her way for the trip.
The last he heard she was planning to sleep in the desert to acclimate herself and figure out what she needed to put in her backpack for the nights when she bedded down in the open air tents along the course.
“You have to carry everything,” he said. She is packing food, clothing, a stove for cooking her meals and other essentials such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, compass, sunscreen and a snake bite kit. Between 10 and 12 liters of water are provided daily, and she’ll take 3 liters, a little more than 3 quarts, with her. The temperature reaches as high as 120 degrees in the desert.
“She’s prepared. Her game plan is to hydrate every 5 minutes and take calories every 15 minutes,” he said.
There are cutoff times for elimination and other rules that can eliminate any of the more than 800 runners.
A camel trails each stage; the shortest and last is 10 miles long and the longest is 55 miles. “If that (camel) passes you, you’re done,” he said. You’re also out if you receive more than two IVs, he added.
Besides the personal goal of finishing, his daughter is fundraising for the computers for the school where she’s been a special-education teacher for two years, he said.
“In the spectrum of things, it’s in between a charter school and a public school,” her father said. More than 90 percent of the students come from households below the poverty level and more than half are Hispanic.
The students and her family and friends can send her emails. However, she is allowed only one email daily.
Tom Byron said he and his wife, Joan, and their other children, Caroline and Tom, are excited for Liz and will be following the race.
“We’re confident she’s going to finish,” said the father.