The mix of participants, 1000 odd runners comprised of people from different geographies, if I remember correctly about 50 different countries. Big chunk of runners from France and Britian, about 300 each and its capped at that, participants from these two countries have a two year waiting list. Most other geographies have it lot easier as they have country/territorywise quotas, this is a conscious effort to make it a truly global event. I had registered about 9 months before the race and got in quite easily.
I met some very interesting people, from different walks of life, an electrician, business man (similar to an Indian baniya), commodities broker, economics student, nurse, hobby photographer, printing technologist, professional athletes and retired professional athletes from different sports. Another interesting fact was the various shapes and sizes of participants, some who would consider as obese, they were visibly overweight but were tough enough and trained adequately to successfully complete the race. This was new to me, I could never have imagined such participants in a grueling race like MDS.
We had one runner without a leg and using blade instead. It's really hard to imagine how he managed those steep hills and the really soft sand dune downhills. Remarkable indeed. We also had two blind runners who were running with guides. All of them successfully completed each stage within the allotted time and were not given any extra concessions, they were treated as equals. And given the terrain, the race would have been extremely demanding for them.
About 50% of the runners are repeat customers of this race, this has been the biggest unresolved puzzle from the race. There is something addictive about this race, all I have come back with are a few observations which could provide pointers. Almost all those who come again are Europeans or professional runners. Most of them are runners in the top 100, who want to come back and improve on their performance, the second or third time, each having a target of top 30 or 20 or 15 or 10. The second set is Europeans, these are usually regular people in all shapes and sizes, for whom it's some sort of pilgrimage, like people who go for Haj on multiple occasions coz they can afford to or like attending an art of living workshop of sorts. these people are fascinated by the location, the pain, the minimalist bare basics lifestyle in the desert, it sort of helps them get in touch with their inner being. I definitely liked it as a one time activity, it totally live upto expectations but the soul searching bit did not happen to me, maybe coz I have lived for a few days in a desert already (Jaisalmer), I have experienced better and more stark landscape in Ladakh, Lahul n Spiti valley and sleeping on floor and leading a basic life is something which most Indians have already experienced at some point in their life. The only reason I would ever go again for this race is to enjoy the organizational marvel, a quick reality check just to ensure if I have still got it in me to push my limits and for enjoying the cultural marvel of interacting with people from different nationalities. Or maybe I turn into an India and South Asia & south east Asia rep for the organisers of the MDS at a future date :P
Another thing which made this trip enjoyable for me is the special me time I got while engaging in my favorite activity, running and extreme sports. I was in a tent with Austrians, Germans and Swiss, all of them conversing in German, and I had absolute peace, as none of it disturbed me. I was just purely able to indulge in my favorite sport, since running is usually a lone sport for me, this felt blissful. It was my sort of art of living, and no I don't believe something is missing or I was looking for answers of any kind. It was just pure indulgence of the highest order.
I also realised that is that I used case study style worthy methodology to fulfill my dream of running the MDS, goal setting 5yrs back, planning, resource mobilization and training, extensive homework, practical field trials, bringing lifestyle changes without making undue compromises, all without realizing what I was doing at a sub conscious level.