No pics from during the event on this day.  I’d worn the batteries, and the replacement batteries, out on my camera.  The only ones we got were at the end (spoiler alert!)

Waking was a relief.  We only had around 6 miles to go (so we thought at first).  We had loads of chat about water and whether we needed to take a great deal as we’d only be on the move for on an hour.  We all started binning the surplus food, medical produce and general kit that we’d carried through the week but never actually needed.  I think it was at this point that Ash read his route book (bastard, why he needed to prepare like that is beyond me), and established it would be close to TEN miles that we would do in the final leg.  Big groans all around until we put it into context.  It was the final ten miles after we had completed 145 over the last six days.

After the nights incident, i’d decided that my Montane shorts weren’t go to help me complete the last stage.  The conversation went something like this – ‘Anyone got spare shorts?’, ‘why?’, ‘err, cos i crapped myself in the night’. Nice.  Surprisingly, or maybe not considering, this comment didn’t generate much response beyond Rich saying yes, and getting a pair of 70’s porn star shorts out of his bag for me try.  I put them on and minced around in them for a while before deciding that they rubbed horrendously and i could do without a load of groin chafe to celebrate my final day. Oh and i thought they looked a bit ridiculous.  Not appreciating the irony of all this, and of my comment, i said ‘cheers rich, but i think i’ll give it a miss and wear these’, at which point i dug out my Montane shorts, coated in poop, from the bin bag outside the tent.  Classy.

It was quite a cold morning, so we all dug out jackets and long sleeved shirts to protect us from the wind and another sand blasting.  Without thinking, this meant that Beavis and my mum were subsequently unable to spot me at the start that morning as they were looking for my green Macmillan t-shirt, and i was wearing bright orange. I stayed close to the right at the start as i was trying desperately to see them as i sat off but to no avail.  Turned out that i passed within a couple of feet of them.  When we got back, my mum showed me the photos she had taken at the start after they’d tried to see me, and there was one of me passing close by in my bright orange jacket.

As it was the last day, i thought i’d better put a bit of effort in and i trotted along for a while with Rich.  We passed along on fairly flat tracks for a good while, with the national park of sand dunes rising to our front and right.  Eventually, we could see ant-like figures moving up the dunes.  I felt sick.  I couldn’t believe the size of some of the climbs we were facing on the final stretch.  At this point i wasn’t sure i had enough willpower or energy left to finish.  It was to be the same as the rest of the race, one foot in front of the other, one checkpoint at a time.  We got to CP1 at 6.5km and that was it.  Turn left and we were into the dunes. Only 9k to go. Less than 6 miles.  Should be about an hour right? My arse.

We moved along the dunes following everyone in front, but i began to get frustrated as the sand had been churned up and it was two steps forward followed by one step back as we slid.  Rich started moving slowly off in front of me and i had no energy to keep up.  I didn’t want to become de-motivated or use all of my energy so i stopped and had a look round at the view.  It was stunning.  The dunes were truly incredible and we had climbed slowly but had already gained a fair bit of height to see across the desert were we’d come from the day before.  Incredible.  As i looked around i could see a few sets of footprints far over to my right so i slowly tracked across the dune ridges and picked up to follow them.  Good move, as these feet had obviously picked the hard sand line.  I felt like i was flying, and it was very rare that i ended up in soft sand or struggling up the face of a dune.

We passed by a serious of small camps that looked like semi-permanent Bedouin settlements which had incredible views.  There was nobody around at this stage other than some noisy dogs.  Slowly we carried on climbing until it felt like i had reached the top.  There was a spot where my route crossed with that of everyone else, and i met up with Owain from Wales, so we had a good chat as we trogged along (no longer running by this stage).  We shared some of our experiences of the week, along with what we were looking forward to when we got back to the hotel and when we got home, as well as our sense of relief at being nearly there.

We kept leap frogging an American named Terri who was quite annoying so i kept using my energy to try and get some distance from her.  Eventually it became apparent that she was trying to keep pace, and ignorant as this is, i decided to move over to the left on to harder sand, leaving Owain and Terri to follow their own route.

As i did this, Blue came thudding up towards us sideways on, film crew recording out of the side.  It truly was incredible to see this helicopter coming towards us up the dunes, and this was to be the last occasion i saw it in the sky (it didn’t crash or anything, i was just close to the finish)

A small time later, we saw a strange sight, which turned out to be a massive inflatable Bedouin, which marked the finish line.  I thought it was one of the usual cruel twists of this race that it would still be 2-3k away and i resigned myself to a tough half hours slog before i finally reached the finish.  I crested a sand dune and there it was!  The finish!  After 7 days in the desert!  I felt my chest heave and as i started running, i also started crying with relief.

There were a surprising amount of people around the finish cheering us all in, and as i used the very last of my energy to get me to run, i continued crying until i saw Beavis and my mum waiting at the finish. I think i gave them a bit of a wave and then i felt a bit confused by everything.  After moving for so long, i was done. I’d finished the Marathon des Sables. Wow.  I turned to look at my fellow runners, all of whom were in a similar state, and two French guys were crying and sobbing and celebrating all the same time.  I felt my chest rise again and had another blub as one of them looked at me and said ‘C’est fini’.

Patrick Bauer was there at the finish, doing what is apparently customary, giving us all a hug and handing us our medals.  I asked him to turn towards my mum who got a photo of us stood together.

It got a bit more surreal then as we were funnelled out into the town where the race had ended.  I was given a ticket to the coach that would take me back to the hotel in Ouarzazete, which wasn’t for another forty minutes or so.  I hobbled my way past and past all the kids shouting for my trainers ‘i need your shoes, i need your shoes’ was the shout repeatedly.  ‘Aye, so do i kid’ was my response.  Beavis and mum were waiting at the end, and i can’t really remember what happened at this point, other than needing the toilet.  They led me into a restaurant, where i had my first use of an ACTUAL toilet, for 7 days, which was incredible.  As i came out and went to wash, one of the Doc Trotter medics was having a wash in the sink too.  We had a quick chat, part-English, part-French and it was only as we spoke that i realised that the staff hadn’t had any washing facilities in the desert either.  We were both in awe of the amazing feeling that soap and water had to revive you.

I came out of the bathroom to see Beavis, and just felt confused, and perhaps a bit claustrophobic at the environment.  I made my apologies and said i’d see her back at the hotel and i was off to the coach.

I went and sat on the coach, which gradually started filling up.  There was a brilliant French woman who was obviously delighted to have finish the race.  In what i reckon to be her late 50’s she started singing in French ‘champions, champions’, which made me laugh, and then cry with pride.  She saw me cry and spoke in French, asking me what was wrong?  It’s all over now! We are finished!

The coach eventually filled and we finally set off.  We’d been given a packed lunch as we boarded so i slowly munched my way through bread, dried sausage, cheese, apple sauce, and a load of other bits i can’t remember now.  I drifted in and out of sleep, and a long journey didn’t take very long.  While i was awake, i got my scissors out of my medical kit and slowly cut all of the tape off my legs and feet, taking a load of hair with it.  I also started cutting the Skins off, as i couldn’t exactly strip on the bus.  As i cut them off i could feel the stink emerge, but it felt lovely to have my legs exposed after spending most of the week enclosed.

We stopped a couple of times for toileting and i remember from the very first day that Tony had recommended not getting off the bus.  This was apparently because the stench when you got back on was almost unbearable.  I stayed on, and watched as people got back on, most of them recoiling from the smell of 60 people who’d not bathed for a week.

We eventually got back to Ouarzazete and drove around the town dropping people off at the various hotels.  Different nationalities were in different areas, with the Brits in supposedly the best hotel in two.  Unfortunately annoying Terri had got on my coach, and as the staff were giving us our directions in French and telling us what would happen, she would ask in whiny voice ‘can you repeat that in English’.  EVERY time the staff spoke she would ask this, as if on this one occasion after translating everything else into English, they would only do it in French. Pissed me off a bit that she was so ignorant.

Eventually we got back to the hotel, and i shuffled my way back to our room.  Mark had already made it back and was clean and fresh looking.  He went off to the hotel and left me to my shower and shave.  Watching all the orange/brown/red sand wash down the plughole was a strange experience.  It was to be some time before the sand fully disappeared.  Eventually after getting clean and smelling nice for the first time in a good while, it was time for something to eat.

We went in to the restaurant and got a table, before approaching the buffet.  I can’t remember what i ate, but i know there was a lot of it, and a lot more, and then a lot more again.  I think i had a five-course dessert alone, which was a record even for me.  And two cold beers.  Amazing.  Then the shutters started coming down and i started to feel sick as the exhaustion kicked in, it was time for beddies.  A proper bed.  Without stones underneath. And with very little chance of a sandstorm.  I’d still have to put up with Mark’s snoring though, but that was the least of my problems.

There’s one more post to come, from after the event, but i’ll leave that until this years competitors are done…

Sobbing and running into the finish

Sobbing and running into the finish

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