Five Words To Conquer “The Toughest Race on Earth”

There are five words that have pushed Mark Wise through more than most people will experience in their lives.

From the battlefields of Afghanistan where he was injured, to the frozen landscapes of the South Pole, to the Sahara Desert where he recently finished running 155 miles over five days.

One. Step. At. A. Time.

While it has become a guiding life philosophy for the Army veteran now, it was once literally all he could muster.Mark Wise

In 2009, Wise – six months into his deployment – was engulfed in a firefight in Afghanistan when the soldier a meter away from him stepped on an IED.

The blast blew Wise’s body armor off.

The left side of his body from head to knees suffered massive tissue loss. He had several fingers on his left hand amputated. His forearms and knees both needed to be reconstructed.

Safe to say you could sum it all up with the phrase: major structural damage.

One. Step. At. A. Time.

Before his deployment, Wise had become more and more interested in weightlifting and running, the latter being the object of his athletic affection. He devoured books about ultramarathon running as he started building his distance.

Then Uncle Sam called. After his accident, the doctors at Walter Reed told him he’d never run again. The thought of that sent him spiraling downward.

But a doctor reached out and invited him on a 50-mile bike ride.

“It was on the six month anniversary of my injury, and it was very challenging,” Wise said. “But what it really was, was a reintroduction into being athletic. That was something that was missing from my life, and it was quite depressing to go from being an athletic and sports-oriented person to feeling like you couldn’t do that anymore.”

One. Step. At. A. Time.

Warriors. 2013. South Pole.The ride set him on the path to healing physically and emotionally through outdoor athletics. Wise joined up with No Barriers for 2013’s Walking with the Wounded South Pole expedition with Prince Harry. The race took Wise and team more than 200 miles over 16 days to the South Pole.

Wise said it was a big leap for him and he saw it as an opportunity to advocate and demonstrate how veterans could recover and reintegrate.

All the while, Wise kept running.

“With some of the amputations on my hand, my weight lifting has been adjusted, but you can always put some shoes on and run,” he said. “Getting back to it was such a challenge.”

While he’d done a few marathons, he wanted more. He remembered his doctors’ words: You won’t run again.

“I took that as a personal challenge and I went through a lot of painful days to make sure that was something I was capable of,” he said. “There’s not a pain-free day going out and running.”

One. Step. At. A. Time.

He set his sights on the Marathon des Sables, a five-day, 155-mile ultramarathon through the Sahara Desert billed as the “Toughest Race on Earth.”

“You just have to have a bold, ambitious goal and don’t let any physical or mental limitation obstruct your accomplishment of your goal,” he said.

Wise finished the race on April 10, finishing around 800th of about 917 runners. More than 100 did not finish.

Toward the end of the race Wise said the miles and miles of sand began to wear on his knees. At that moment he thought about Ranger School — it’s just getting from Point A to B, he thought.

The one thing he said he learned through it all? Patience.

“It’s a long, long road,” he said. “Push for it and then don’t accept anything in your way. It is ultimately achieved through many, many, many small individual steps.”