For the next however many hours, Peter and i chased the laser across the sky, with it always on our left.    I’m not going to tell any of what we discussed as it was quite personal, and was probably mostly gibberish at times anyway (particularly from me).  Suffice to say that you learn an incredible amount about a person when you’ve got nothing to do but talk and help each other through the dark places.  And believe me, in the middle of the Saharan night, you find some truly dark places.

I can’t remember what made me feel the Buff on the back of my head at 4am, but i did, and it was wet.  Why is my Buff wet?  I turned around.  Oh, it’s raining.  It’s 4am, I’m in the Sahara, on top of a massive sand dune, and it’s raining?!  Wow.  This made me glad i’d followed my mate’s advice and ‘packed a cagoule’ in the form of the jacket that Montane had sent me.  I’d worn it overnight to keep me warm and also to protect me from the wind and sand combination, and now it was keeping my dry from the rain too.   We were slowly descending from the dunes now, and every now and then i turned around to see the head torches behind us picking their way through the darkness.  After a while, we started passing people lying in their sleeping bags on the sand, obviously too exhausted to continue to the next checkpoint.  It was at this time that i realised that it was slowly starting to get light, and in the distance i could see a large shape, with a laser on it’s back.  This turned out to be a large Moroccan army truck that was carrying the laser.  As we passed by, a shape moved towards us, and i saw a young female photographer stood in her sleeping bag as protection from the wind and sand that were battering us by then.  ‘ca va?’ i said, which was met with a shrug of the shoulders and she turned to take pictures of the runners coming in behind us.  Shortly after we saw CP5 and we made our way in to pick up water before continuing.  Peter took a pic of me in the checkpoint, which shows how knackered i was looking by then.  At this point it was about 6am, and it started raining again briefly, but it had stopped by the time we departed

We left the checkpoint, and i noticed that Peter was really struggling as he was shuffling along on his feet and was obviously in agony.  I gave him my walking poles to help and he moved with confidence for a short while so I carried on.  I kept turning around to check that Peter was ok, and realised i was slowly moving away from him.  I stopped a couple of times and he caught up, but then a long period passed before i looked around, and i reckon i’d moved up to a kilometre ahead of him.  I was struggling mentally at this point, and if i’d waited i wasn’t sure how i would get going again.  I figured that he’d be ok with the help of the poles, so with regret, i turned and headed off along the track.

At some point, i looked down at my leg, and thought that the Tag Heur chip that was velcro’ed to my leg would make a cool photo, so i took a pic.  Then i wondered what i looked like, so i took a pic, then another, then another.  Then i stood having a look around for a bit.  Then i thought to myself ‘what am i doing here’  Oh yeah, MdS, best get a move on then.

Shortly after this, the Wretch32 track – Traktor popped into my head.  Well, what i think was the song anyway.  Over and over in my head ‘i go peep, peep, peep like a tractor, i go peep peep peep like a traiiiiiiiiin, a choo choo your hardcore factor’ and repeat, over and over and over. Turns out the actual lyrics are absolutely nothing like this. Strange what happens in your head after about 20 hours on the move.

I think I started to catch a couple of groups of people coming into CP6.  I didn’t want to hang around, so i got my water and off i trotted down the dried up river bed.  From this point it was only just over 10k to the finish, but boy did it seem further than that..  The ground underfoot for most of this section was horrendous, really sandy, and gritty in some places, very fine sand that seemed to fill my shoes in no time.  By this point i’d had enough of the gaiters and wasn’t bothering to fix them, or indeed to empty my shoes of sand.  All my energy was needed to keep moving.

Crossing what was to be the last section of dried up river bed, i was struggling and kept stopping to rest with my hands on my legs.  After a while a Frenchman passed me just as i’d stopped to rest again ‘don’t worry, it’s not far, take it easy now friend’ were his words.  I was really grateful and it gave me a bit of a lease of life – i could see the final ‘dunettes’ or ‘small dunes’ which were to be at 79.6k, so i trogged on.  This last bit was horrendous and i had to weave my way through the dunettes, struggling with the slippery sand that had been churned up by other runners and the Doc Trotter trucks that were roaming around ensuring we were all ok.  I emerged from the dunettes to see the finish, about a kilometre in the distance across a flat expanse.  There were a couple of British runners ahead of me that i’d passed in CP6, who’d then passed me, and i was determined to beat them.  So i started running!  I’ve no idea how, but i managed to run the last kilometre and passed them just before the finish line and that was the end of the long one.

Customary Sultan tea, grab water, wander round to the tent to the welcoming smiles of everyone else who’d already arrived – some of them many hours before me it would seem.  The wind was starting to get up and sand was starting to fly.  Moments later it was a little sandstorm (little compared to what we’d seen previously), and it was time to hunker down with buffs on again, pulling some of the tent props (sticks) down to allow less sand in.  Then the wind stopped, and it started raining – absolutely hammering it down, and the tent was soaked and dripping inside where anything touched the material.  Thankfully then the rain stopped, but the hail started.  This was unreal – hailstones that were slightly larger than peas were bouncing off the tents and the desert floor.  Then we heard the thunder start, and we were peeking out of the tent to see if we could see any lightning.  Then someone said ‘there’s still people out there’, and we realised that in all that grimness, people would still be struggling to make their way in to the finish.

After the weather calmed down, and everything had dried out a bit, we emptied the tent of our kit, piled it up outside, and dragged the floor mat outside to give it a shake.  After that, we gave all our kit a shake to remove all the sand that had blown in and reassembled the tent.  It was time for me to get some food as i hadn’t eaten for over 24 hours (except a solitary peperami for breakfast at CP5).  I had some scoff and laid down with my feet up.  I guess I slumbered for a couple of hours, but there was loads of activity as people cooked, went to send e-mails, cheered new returners to the camp so I can’t be sure.  There was a lot of noise from near the finish line, and then people started to say that the last man was about to come in.  Most of the guys from the tent went to cheer him in, but i just had no energy left and could barely move to drink, let alone return to the finish line.  From a distance, i could hear the sounds of celebration as everyone cheered and clapped the last man in.

Later on that afternoon, there was more chatter and someone said that we were receiving cans of coke!  After a week of having no treats or sugary goodness, this would be unbelievable.  I can’t remember who i begged to get mine for me, but i was still struggling for any energy and therefore struggling to move.  Whoever it was (Rich?) agreed and returned shortly after with an ice cold can of Coke, which was the most amazing tasting thing ever.  I was a bit worried about the effect of the sugar and caffeine hitting my stomach after a week without, but my sweet tooth won the day and i chugged it down, with appreciative belch to follow.

At some point, i thought i’d better make sure that Peter had got back ok, as well as retrieve my walking poles from him.  I wandered round to find him ensconsed in his tent and he welcomed me with a massive smile.  We exchanged thanks for each others support during the night, and it was good to see he’d made it ok.  He said that his feet were stuffed though and i think he mentioned that the bottoms were falling off.  His strategy for the next day was to tape them up, put his trainers on, then leave it all held together until the finish line.

The usual night-time ritual of dinner, then sleep followed.ImageImageImage

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