In less than a month, Riki Abad has successfully completed the emblematic Marathon des Sables followed by the Garmin Titan Desert mountain bike race, two of the toughest endurance sport contests on earth - and achieved his main 2019 objective, the Desert Doublet.
The first part of the challenge began on April 5 when he ran in the 6-day Marathon des Sables, one of the world's hardest ultra-long-distance events, consisting of a 250 km foot race through the Sahara desert.
Shortly after returning to Spain, the man from Navarre packed his bags again to head off for another of the stellar events in the marathon calendar, the Garmin Titan Desert. Held over 6 days from April 27 to May 3, this is a multiple-stage mountain bike race of 600 km rising to altitudes of over 5,000 meters above sea level.
How does someone feel after tackling two challenges of this magnitude? How does a shift worker manage to train for this kind of challenge? How does the wear-and-tear of the first race impact on readiness to tackle the second one just 12 days later?
We spoke with Riki Abad to find out the answers to our questions, and why he continues to be called "Ironman."
Of the two races, which one was harder?
Undoubtedly, the Marathon des Sables.
Running is always much more wearing than riding a bike, and more so if you're running with a loaded backpack. And if we add in the issue of self-sufficiency, it really turns the Sables into a highly demanding contest.
How did you manage to recover between the Marathon des Sables and the Titan Desert given they were so close together?
The truth is I recovered very quickly and very well from the Sables race, as I was already back up and running practically the next day. I was really surprised by my performance in the Titan Desert race, given that I haven't clocked up many kilometers this year on the bike.
How are you now after fulfilling your challenge of being a finisher in this Desert Doublet?
I'm very satisfied, delighted in fact! It wasn't easy to complete it and even less to perform at a good level in two such demanding races, where the level of participation was so high. And these are two events for which people train very hard… In Sables, I came in 53rd and in the Titan, 63rd.
What is harder in these types of challenges, the physical or mental factor?
Both are determining factors when you’re looking at finishing.
Physically you have to be on top form but you also have to have the experience to keep going when it gets tough.
What do you think about how you did? Did you expect your body to rise to these two challenges coming back-to-back?
I was really well-prepared for the Sables and I expected to perform at a good level. I wasn't as well prepared for the Titan as I would have liked and so I was surprised by my response and much more so considering the wear accumulated.
Why are desert races so hard?
It's the extreme conditions of the desert, above all else. It's the heat, uneven terrain and the circumstances around these sorts of races. Above all, in this kind of race, what really suffers is your stomach because of the changes in diet, and almost more than my legs, this was one of the factors that most worried me about pulling off the Doublet.