Category: MdS


After the MdS – recovery and post-race reflection

Sunday 15th April – Presentation Day

After one of the most incredible nights sleep ever, i awoke with a hunger i’d never had before.  Breakfast time.  Lots of it.  On top of more food, followed by more.  This was to become a theme for the following few days, and possibly weeks, as my body re-stocked and replenished.  I’d become incredibly lean over the course of the MdS, probably as a result of not eating enough.  Eventually we finished breakfast, and it was to be a wander down to the Hotel Cos to pick up our race t-shirts and have a wander round buying goodies from the MdS boutique.

We got to the Hotel Cos and joined the queue, which was out of the door, and looked like it was going to mean a long wait.  I don’t think it’s worth spending a load of time on the ‘queue incident’, other than to say our British patience was tested one last time by the French organisation, which i truly believe almost resulted in a riot as the boutique was closed to encourage us to go and watch the awards ceremony.

We eventually got our goodies, including the incredible, bright yellow, finishers t-shirt, which i wouldn’t take off for some time, and the grey MDS tshirt i bought, which often ends up stinking as i refuse to wear a great deal else.

I went down to the awards with Beavis and mum and we sampled the fruit juices that were on offer (incredible) and the Sultan mint tea which had been on offer throughout the week.  We spent a bit of time at the awards ceremony before getting bored and deciding to have a wander round the shops to buy some bits for the kids and ourselves.

The shopping was to be almost as much of an adventure as the race, with bartering, negotiation and being blatantly ripped off all being part of the fun. There were some real characters in the shops around the Cos, and it was a great experience to spend time in their shops, although Beavis and mum felt a bit threatened and overwhelmed a couple of times.  It came to the point that my stomach decided i needed further refuelling, so off we went to find somewhere to eat.

I could labour the story here, and it has felt like i have a bit.  But there are a few things more to tell.  Without going into loads of detail….

I nearly paid 135 Euros for three pizzas and three drinks

We went and had some beers by the pool (not allowed in the pool due to manky feet though)

I felt incredibly sad as Beavis and mum left me to go home.  It was a really weird sense of loss, and i don’t think i got to spend enough time with them in Morocco, mostly due to circumstance.  It was very weird having family there, but i’d recommend it to everyone to have someone share that experience

After they left I had another pizza

I sat for a while in the sun, then it was time for dinner, lots of it.  We also had beer, only a couple

 

Monday 16th April – Homeward Bound

The last leg of the adventure, or so i thought at the time, was the journey home.  We were up horrendously early, and hopped on the first bus, which meant front of the queue, as we’d been warned it could be a nightmare.  Turned out that our plan was a good one, as we got to lounge around the airport, while everyone else milled around stood up trying to get checked in.

I caused a bit of a worry for the guy in the cafe after i asked for a tea, rather than everyone else who was wanting coffee.  I got personal waiter service, by a guy who brought me traditional mint tea which was amazing.  As we sat waiting to board, the only entertainment was the flood of coffee that was emerging from under the counter of the cafe and spreading its way gradually across the floor of the ‘lounge’.

As i boarded, i sat down and said hi to the guy next me.  I noticed that he was wearing a Lakeland 50 t-shirt from 2011, so we had a chat about that experience as well as the MdS.  We both commented on how small the ultra-running community was.

I again made the most of the time to snooze on the way back as always, emerging from sleep only to adjust in the seat and try my best not to let my legs go numb.  As the flight went by, it was both entertaining and disturbing to see the cripples passing by on the way to the toilet.  This didn’t bode well for what was to come

We eventually got diverted to Luton, as a Virgin plane had been evacuated at Gatwick and the runway had been closed.  It turned out we weren’t the only ones to have been diverted though and the queues for immigration were quite something.  There was much banter going on as we stood waiting, and all the holiday makers were looking at us strangely, most of us wearing our finishers t-shirts.  Again, there were mini adventures at the airport, but the important story has been told now, so:

Ash and I got a taxi to Milton Keynes, which cost £60 – i just wanted to get home

I hopped on a train to Crewe, not knowing if my ticket was actually valid, but not particularly caring by then – turned out all was fine

I got to Crewe and sat around for a while, not particularly enjoying the experience. It was bloody freezing after Morocco

I got home, to what felt like a hero’s welcome.  It’s true what they say, there’s no place like home, and was good to be there.

I’m not sure i unpacked as soon as i got home, but when i did, everything stank of the stuff used to clean our feet in the desert.  Some of my kit still stinks of it now.  I wasn’t sure that some of the kit would be useable again, but most of it has survived and has been cleaned!

And i ate. A lot. And had some drinks

Tuesday 24th April and onwards – return to ‘normality’

It’s been pretty weird since returning.  Some of the people i’d spoken to who’d done the MdS before, said to prepare for feeling depressed.  I’m not sure that i’ve been depressed, but it has been different that’s for sure.

I’ve felt empty, but not in a bad way, just at peace.  It was as though all the thoughts i had, had been thought through, leaving my head empty.  It’s been a very cool experience feeling like that and has gradually faded.  I think that this might be the reason people return to the desert or feel that their souls have been cleansed.  Another phrase that i’ve heard used is that they’ve been re-set by the experience, which i think could be true also.  This all seems a bit like spiritual toss, but I’ve spoken to a few people who understand so i guess you can’t know until you’ve experienced it

I’ve felt incredibly proud of what i’ve achieved, but at the same time can’t understand some of the awe from people i’ve spoken to about what I’ve done.  I don’t feel anything other than normal and truly believe that anyone can do what i have done.  You just have to want to do it enough.  If you want to do something like this, you will

I’ve had nightmares about being back in the desert.  In the weeks following my return, i awoke a couple of times, bolt upright, with my heart pounding, screaming inside NO, I CAN’T DO ANOTHER STAGE.

Recovering has been something else.  Within a week of returning i felt that i could have run again, but i didn’t.  Indeed it took me too long to return to running properly for a number of reasons.  It did feel good to run without purpose, and without HAVING to train, and without crying with exhaustion.  This feeling hasn’t lasted though, and i have struggled with my running mojo and lacking direction

I ate like a horse for quite a while, putting on all of the weight that i lost, and too much besides.  It’s a fine balance between replenishing and becoming a chubber

I have been reminded of what we take for granted and what are the simple things in life – shower, rain, colours, a toilet.  I still love all of these things, particularly rain.  I dreamt and wished for Cumbrian rain for a full week in the desert, and i love it for that reason and many others.

I miss the silence!  The biggest thing i miss from the desert is the silence.  There was rarely any noise except wind and the talking of fellow runners.  It’s incredible how noisy our lives are every day, from things like PC’s, TV’s, phones, cars, air conditioning.  All of these things make constant noise, and it’s unusual that we ever escape from these things in our normal lives now.  I found it difficult to deal with noise on a good few occasions, and found refuge on the fells far away from traffic.  Over the summer following the MdS, i found that closing my eyes while facing the sun, particularly on a breezy day, helped me return to the desert and on a few occasions helped calm down feelings of claustrophobia.  It’s strange that it’s only as i type this that i’ve realised that what i’ve actually been doing.

A number of people have asked what next.  I don’t know.  I don’t think i need to do anything else after pushing myself through this incredible adventure, it’ll be whether i want to do anything else.

 

 

MdS kit checklist – this is the kit that i took with me, and the checklist to confirm i had it all.  Took FAR too much food!  Particularly the sweet stuff, which I ended up binning – some after day 1, the remainder on day 2

Rucksack – Aarn Marathon Magic 33l   Sunscreen  
Sleeping bag – Mountain Equipment Xero   Ibuprofen  
Sleeping mat –   Ibuprofen gel  
Walking poles – Leki   Immodium – around 3 pills per day  
Signal mirror   Paracetomol  
Whistle   Zinc Oxide tape  
Knife   Blister plasters  
Hexy blocks (ordered)   Electrolyte tablets (Nuun)  
Titanium Stove   Chapstick  
Titanium Kettle   Towel  
Spork      
Goggles      
Tyvek suit (binned before starting)      
Anti-venom pump      
Sun hat – Mammut nubian      
Water bottles x 2 – Raidlight 750ml   Toilet roll  
Skins   Toothpaste  
Shorts – Montane Terra   Toothbrush  
Base Layer – Montane Bionic   Wet wipes/wash wipes  
T-shirt – Macmillan charity shirt   Trail mix  
Injinji sock   Pen/?paper/diary  
Cushioned/compression sock – Asics      
Trainers (Inov8 Roclite 295) half size too big   Powdered Milk?  
Gaiters – Raidlight   Tea?  
Montane Oryx jacket   Sugar sachets  
Slippers      
Headtorch with fresh batteries – Alpkit   dessert x 6 – apples and custard, rice pudding with cinnamon  
Spare batteries for camera      
Matches   Dinner food x 6.  Chicken korma, pasta with chicken and vegetables, med veg pasta  
Compass   Breakfast food x 6, porridge with strawberries, porridge with sultanas  
Camera   Frusli x 14? Or flapjack  

 

 

The final days running

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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Marathon day! It’s only 26 miles across the Sahara

Friday 13th April – Stage 5, “Marathon Day”, 42.4km or 26.2 miles

Again, same ritual as previously, but the atmosphere was slightly different today.  This was the last long one, after this it would be a short hobble to the finish.  I’m still not sure why they choose to term this one ‘marathon day’, after we’d been through so much already, but i guess it’s the only one that’s true marathon distance.

Nervous on the start line, and my guts started churning a bit, which i thought may have been the Coke from the night before.  Mark and Rich were walking together and I asked if i could tag along, they looked surprised i’d asked and said of course.  We got away from the start and into some dunes and my guts were churning even more.  I needed to answer a call of nature so i told Mark and Rich I’d see them later and dashed around a dune where i had a bad attack of the squits.  This came as a bit of a surprise, as i suffer from a bad stomach at the best of times so had been taken immodium regularly since arriving in Morocco, just so i could control my ‘movements’ (nice i know!).  I got up and moved back into the stream of people making their way through the dunes.  I was ambling along when i thought to myself i didn’t want to just amble today, i wanted to finish in a decent time, and thought i’d quite like to spend the day with Mark and Rich.  I trotted along to catch them up and we exchanged a bit of banter for a short while. It was only later that day that we realised that the going through the sand dunes was pretty easy, and this was probably as a result of the previous days rainfall, which meant that the sand had all packed down.  If we hadn’t had the rain, this stage would likely have been much tougher than we experienced.

We passed a French guy sat by the side of the track and never gave him much thought.  Shortly after, he passed us again, before sitting down again.  ‘ca va’ i said to him, as he looked a bit rough, but he just nodded and waved me on.  We emerged from the sand dunes to see a medic team running to a helicopter far to our right.  They both had massive packs on their back and were in a rush to get somewhere.  It was a week after the MdS that i read about Albert on facebook.  He’d been having chest pains all week during the event, and it turns out that he’d had a heart attack just after we passed him that day.  Thankfully the last i heard he was recovering well.

We plodded on through the day passing the time with banter, and struggling through the terrain, again made easier due to the previous nights rain.  I think it was Mark that at this point said i didn’t eat enough, which made me realise that i didn’t, and that was probably why i kept running out of energy.  A few times i had felt like a car running out of fuel, particularly towards the end of stages.  It was only now that i started to regret binning so much food after day 1.  I think it would have been a far more comfortable experience in the long run if i’d carried the food and eaten more as i went.  This was a problem that i always had, and continue to have, in training.

At some point during the day, Rich took my “Lawrence of Arabia” picture, where i’m striding along the ridge of a sand dune.  One of my favourite momentos from the week, alongside “argument with rucksack”

I quite enjoyed the day as a whole, but not much of it is that memorable. We probably talked crap for much of the day to be honest, although there may just as well have been deep, insightful realisations.  It was good to spend time with Mark and Rich though, and they introduced me to some of the people that they’d met during the event so far.

One conversation that stuck in my mind was Rich kicking off a discussion about how tough our Armed Forces work in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Here we were plodding along, chatting away, with what we thought were pretty big weights on our bag.  Not only that, but there was the terrain, and the heat to cope with.  We couldn’t comprehend that soldiers etc had the additional pressure of being shot at or encountering IED’s during their day, all while they were in this alien environment.  We all agreed that they do an unbelievable job in such conditions day after day.

I think it was at CP3 that the terrain changed.  It went from yellow/orange/red sand to black rock which looked volcanic and in some places was really smooth.  This was quite weird and the trails became a bit more challenging underfoot as we moved along.  Then we went through some mines and an old village, with quite a few people around cheering us on.  Rich dished out some jelly babies around this point and my energy boosted a bit as i’d started to flag.  I spotted a photographer and trotted down a slope to the sounds of Rich shouting ‘dont waste your energy’.  Wise words, as shortly after, my energy went, and i started struggling to keep up with Rich and Mark as they pulled away.  I started to trot four paces, and walk four paces in an effort to catch up, but i couldn’t, and they carried off into the distance at a steady pace.  It was at this point that i spotted the finish for the day which was about 5k away.  Again, the end took a long time to arrive, and i was stuffed by the time i got in.  Same ritual though, tea, water, tent, unpack.  Only this time there was a really positive atmosphere to the camp.  We’d almost finished now as we only had short of ten miles to go until the finish. By this stage, nothing short of broken limbs and serious incident would prevent any of us finishing.  The comissaires that came round mentioned that everyone was really upbeat and that we’d all done well to make it so far.

I was also really excited as Liz and my mum would be arriving in camp some time tonight, and it would be great to see them.  I was worried that i’d somehow miss them, or that they wouldn’t be allowed to venture into the camp to meet us.  I decided that i would go to see Doc Trotter to get some medication for the next day (painkillers, just in case), and hope to catch them on the way.

I hobbled from our tent across the uneven desert floor.  Which was made worse by my blisters, that had been taped up, then sand had got in, and made them worse.  I arrived at the Doc Trotter tent, to be greeted by a smile from Anais, who gave me some drugs and asked for my water/medic card. Crap, it was in the tent attached to my pack.  Ok, she said, bring it straight back then.  So off i hobbled back to the tent.  On my way, i noticed gangs of fresh-looking people standing around, so i hobbled slower in the hope that it might be Liz and mum, but to no avail.  I made it back to the tent, explained the medic card story to everyone. After waiting long enough for them to rib me, I turned and went back.

Hobbling back, i put my head up briefly to see another group of unfamiliar people stood in the distance. One of them put a hand up and shouted ‘wayne’, and i realised it was Liz.  I’m not sure whether this happened, but there was then one of those romantic moments when a stinking, decrepit and almost crippled runner hobbles his way to his love who is running towards him with her arms out.  I think i might have blubbed with relief at seeing Liz, and i’m not sure i summoned up enough energy to tell her how pleased i was to see her.  I think the conversation was probably a moan at having forgotten my medic card.  I continued the hobble to my mum and said hi, then we went to Doc Trotter where i produced my card for Anais.

We all then made our way round to the tent and i introduced everyone to everyone, and i agreed to meet Liz and mum in a short while for the opera that would be happening.  I made a special effort and used an extra one of my wemmi wipes to clean up a bit – not that i’m sure Liz noticed any difference in smell at all.  I also brushed my teeth.  I’m sure this was all wasted effort as i’m pretty sure we stank at this stage, and the only thing that made it any sweeter was the smell of antiseptic that had been used to clean blisters out.

I decided not to cook my food before the concert, as it was only due to be on for a short while, and i would probably be late if i did (bad move).  I put my fleece on as it was starting to get cold (cheers again Montane!) and off i hobbled in my special MdS slippers, over to the concert area.  It was all a bit surreal, as we were right on the outskirts of a massive national park, where there are sand dunes the size of the mountains in the Lake District.  As the sun went down, the dunes changed colour and they were truly stunning.  In front of this, was a French opera singer with full orchestra, and behind the audience was the army truck, firing the laser off into the sky as the sun went down.  It was an amazing experience though, but in true French style, it started late, and i was starting to get really hungry.  I laughed with Liz that she could never say we never did anything together after this experience, she reminded me that she’d had to pay for it herself, so i couldn’t claim it as a romantic night out.  Eventually my stomach got the better of me and i said to Liz i needed to go and get some tea as i was starving.  I hobbled back to the tent and sorted my food out before the night-time ritual of bed preparation and banter.

During the night i awoke with my stomach doing a massive gurgle.  Crap! Literally! I desperately fumbled around in the darkness for my headtorch before realising that i’d put it at the foot of my sleeping bag, with my slippers.  I put it on, hopped out of bed and dashed out into the darkness.  Trying desperately to see a bush in the darkness, while i tried to put my headtorch on, not stub my toe on a rock, and tried not to release my guts was a challenge.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a pleasant experience and i didn’t make it to the bush….

Hobbling back to the tent, i fretted briefly about stinking as my legs dried off in the cold desert night.  Then the reality sank in.  Most of the people in camp over the course of the week had had the squits at one point or another, and the reality was that we ALL stank after moving through the desert for a week without washing properly.

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The long one – Day 2

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

The start of ‘the long one’

Wednesday 11th April & Thursday 12th April – Stage 4, “The Long One”, 81.5km or 50.6  miles

…and the ritual started of Ash slowly clinking his way through making breakfast, then Paul doing the same, then us all getting up.  The Berbers came round and dismantled the tents again, and then a photographer turned up and said five, two, eight?  I said yes mate, that’s me.  You like taking pictures?  I said yes mate.  He then asked me to get my camera out, and put it up over my eye while he took pics of me.  I got some great pics of him taking pics of me, and his photos were to be one of the few runner profiles that were put online.  Shortly after, another guy came up and interviewed me, asking me questions about why i was doing the MdS amongst other things.  It was only when i got home that i realised how lucky i’d been to have this interview, and how delighted friends and family had been when they saw it on the website.

A couple of the lads had become mildly obsessed with a lady called Sarah from Mauritius who was in one of the French tents opposite us.  One of my tent bro’s (who shall remain nameless), had developed a particularly entertaining spanking motion to describe what he would like to do to this lady.  Alas (or possibly not), this unrequited love (i use the term loosely), was never recognised, and was often interrupted by Lydia one of the comisaires du bivouac, who unfortunately regularly disturbed the motion, amongst other unpleasant activities such as yours truly donning my Skins, on more than one occasion.

I can’t remember much of this morning, but the mood must have been a tad subdued.  We had a long distance ahead of us, wherever it’s completed.  But over two days in the Sahara, it added an extra twist!  A couple of guys had read the route book and mentioned a couple of snippets, including the legendary jebel, and the laser that would be fired across the sky during the night, but i’d tried to ignore any comments, and focus solely on the fact that it would be around 10k to the first checkpoint, and similar distances thereafter.

As usual, it seemed to be a big, long, flat, straight distance at the start of the stage, with some cracking comments in the route book “small stony hill”, “end of hill”, “becoming sandy before dunes”, and then at 6.5km, “dunes start”.  Nightmare.  The sand in the dunes was incredibly slippery and moved away with every step so it was difficult to make any headway.  I’d started walking with Dani and Mia again, plus an Australian lady who’s name i can’t remember.  We caught up with the French firemen, who were having a mare pulling the disabled kids (or one of them at least) through the dunes.  I chose to trog on and leave the ladies at this point, as i was feeling pretty good and wanted to make up some ground at an early stage, rather than just drag my feet, which at this stage is what i felt i was doing.

At 9km, we started the rocky ascent of the jebel.  I started walking more quickly as it became massive slabs of rock, and for the first time, i started passing a lot of people.  Quite a few guys in various languages (English, French, Spanish) were cursing the ascent, and struggling with how difficult it was.  I on the other hand, was absolutely loving it, it was just like a training session up Garburn, or Nan Beild, or Gatescarth, or any of the other rocky trails and passes around the Lakes that i’d done repeatedly in my training.  This is one of the few sections, that i can genuinely say i enjoyed in the whole week, and i felt like i flew up the jebel.  I got to the top, and Blue was sat on top, along with loads of photographers and people enjoying the views

I carried on walking along the edge of the ridge of the jebel, and saw a queue next to a rope, on the way down.  The view from here was incredible, runners stretched out into the distance, like tiny specks as far as the eye could see into the hazy distance.  I could see CP1 about 1km away, with a bunch of ants moving towards it across the valley bottom.  There were stacks of photographers and film crew taking pics of us all moving across the jebel ridge, and down to the top of a rope that stretched over a section of rocks.  It was busy with people stopped enjoying the view, hydrating and scoffing,  but i carried on to the queue and grabbed the rope.  After slipping down the first section, there was another two sections of rope, but these just covered a PROPER steep section of sand.  One guy at the bottom of the rope stumbled, fell and yanked the rope round which made it quite painful for everyone higher up still hanging on.  With a shout of ‘sorry guys’, he was off.  Sod it, i thought and let go of the rope and jumped!  It was amazingly liberating experience letting go of the rope and bounding down the sand.  Every time i landed, my foot sank, taking it all the way to the shin in the softer parts.  I jumped my way down, overtaking people struggling their way through the sand.  I got out of the sand section and removed my gaiters, then took off my shoes and emptied out the sand that had got in anyway.  The gaiters were rapidly becoming a bag of crap, and i was getting frustrated with them.  A Geordie voice called over “raidlight mate?  Shite eh, mine died on day two”, and i could only respond with ‘aye mate, not the best’.  Off i trotted down the rocky trail that wound it’s way gradually down to CP1.

On arrival at CP1, i funnelled into the middle of the three queue lines, which were numbered according to race numbers.  The woman in front of me turned and said something like ‘bloody French, three lines, two empty, and we have to queue’ – i was gobsmacked and this was to really annoy me for some time.  Here we were undertaking an amazing experience, and all she could do was moan about a three-person queue and a two minute wait.  I was later to find out that this was a proper annoying woman who was in a tent near us – i’ll leave it there, but she annoyed the crap out of me.  I got my water and walked to some shelter to fill my bottles, before trotting on.  As i got out of the CP, i reached up to my hat for my sunglasses, to find nothing there.  I realised i’d put them on my hat coming up the jebel, then had got hot and taken my hat off for a while, losing the shades in the process.  Gutted.  Thankfully it wasn’t too bright, but i was bothered about the rest of the race.  I picked it up a little bit, even breaking into a trot at one point, until i reached a familiar figure trudging along in the distance and realised it was Peter who i’d sat next to on the bus on the way to the desert.  I recounted the story of annoying lady and he laughed, telling me that he was the cause of the ‘queue’, as he couldn’t find his card to be stamped for water.  I also had a moan about my glasses, and he said he had a spare pair in his pack i could have.  He’d been advised by Rory Coleman to take a spare pair in case he lost them, or for some other idiot he might have the misfortune to meet who’d lost theirs!  We got on with a good chat for the next few k’s until we reached a RIVER!!  This was a pretty amazing sight, as some people had stripped off and were floating in the water, while others washed off, and others still just carried straight on.  We navigated our way across the rocks, trying not to get our feet wet.  About half way across i heard cheers and clapping and turned to find the race leaders passing us. Having set off three hours behind us, they were passing us at 18k!  Amazing.  They seemed to be skipping across the sand, and then leaping across the rocks across the river.  Some plank had stopped on a rock and blocked the passing of one of them, who had to leap into the river and then skip back out and onto the bank. Turns out this was the guy who was due to be in the lead up until the end of this stage, but more on that later.We trogged our way along the track, with more of the ‘fasty’s’ passing us, including the first of the women.  Gradually, we made our way to CP2.  I had acquired some more blister action, so asked Peter if it was ok to spend some time at the CP getting them sorted.  This was to be my first encounter with the awesome Anais, who sorted my blisters out and then sent me on my way with a ‘courage, bonne chance, until later’.  Peter had been sorting his water out and a couple of other things in the tent next to Doc Trotter.  Off we moved again, and chuntering away to each other, we passed the miles, until catching up with Mia and Dani again (or did they catch us!).  Either way, they stopped by Doc Trotter at a ruined fort that the medic said was 15th century. 

Shortly after, a Dutch girl caught up with us, not looking at all well.  She stopped and bent over, so i asked if she was ok.  She said that she’d had sickness and diarrhoea since the start of the event but she was ok and didn’t need help.  About a hundred metres down the track, she bent over and started retching and didn’t look at all well.  I could see a truck up ahead so i started walking towards it with my poles in the air making a ‘V’ as we’d been instructed.  The truck stopped some way off and a guy hopped out, and attached a fluorescent fishing light to one of the way markers.  He saw me, and hopped back in to the truck and drove towards us.  Peter had stayed with the dutch girl so i wandered back up the track with the truck following me, while i explained to the driver what was happening.  He was in the truck on his own without a Doc though which was unusual.  We stopped beside the Dutch girl and he hopped out and had a brief chat.  He asked if she wanted a doctor, but she said that she was fine, and after a couple of minutes she seemed ok again and carried on.  Peter and I shrugged at each other and followed on.

Along the way, we started seeing that all the way markers now had the fluorescent markers attached, and with a quick look at the watch, i realised it was approaching nightfall.  We made it into CP3, and got our headtorches out of our packs.  We then walked slowly out of the final checkpoint.  A couple of k outside the CP, Peter suddenly shouted ‘what the fuck is that!’, i turned and said what.  He kept pointing his finger, then his headtorch, at something moving really quickly across the floor, and eventually i caught a shape in my own headtorch.  ‘Camel spider!’ I shouted, reaching for my camera.  The next couple of minutes resulted in my trying desperately to catch a photo of this tiny, but incredibly quick, thing moving around the desert.  It was obvious that it didn’t want to be in the light of our headtorches, but i got the shot eventually.  I’m not entirely convinced that it was a camel spider, but it was a scary looking beast regardless.  Night had truly fallen by the time i had the picture and it was pitch black, except for the dozens of head torches in front and behind us.  We moved off hard packed trail and onto sand, and started climbing dunes.  We could see head torches stretching far into the distance ahead of us, and the little way markers showed us the way.  This was to be the start of a total of 2 hours climbing up the massive sand dunes.  Trying to find the best route through the dunes and over the ridges proved almost impossible and on occasion i found myself confronted with about a foot of sand over the top of my head.  This meant jamming my walking poles into the sand, and swinging a leg over the ridge while hauling myself over.  It felt more like climbing at some stages, using the poles as ice axes.  At this stage, the line of torches started to disperse over a wider area as people tried to find easier routes.

The climb flattened out a little bit and i smelt smoke.  Shortly after, we came across a group of Berber tents, and then passed some people sat on mats smoking and watching as everyone passed.  I thought that this was a bit surreal, but as we emerged from the camp, i could see one of the way markers moving around. I’d expected a bit of hallucinating after an experience in the Lakeland50 when i saw frogs, but hadn’t quite thought it would be this early.  Moments later i was reassured when Peter asked if i could see it moving.  As we got closer, we could see the marker swinging around in the air, closer still and we could see someone walking along behind it.  Then we realised that a local lad had picked up the marker, attached to some string and was swinging it around in the air.  Whilst this was entertaining, it was a bit disconcerting as we couldn’t see the next marker.  We’d been warned that this sometimes happened as locals nicked the way markers.  Thankfully we had a huge line of head torches to follow through the darkness.  We started climbing yet again, before moving along a huge ridge line and then the ground started to flatten out again.  The footing changed from sand to gravelly trail and the going became a bit easier.  Just as the footing got easier, we heard a strange crack and crackle behind us and turned to see a red flare flying up into the sky.  It was a pretty awful feeling to know that potentially someone was in enough trouble behind us to have set off their flare.  As we carried on walking, we could see lights coming toward us, then a truck pulled alongside.  The driver asked if we knew where the flare had been set off, but we could only reply by saying sorry, it was somewhere behind us.  Shortly after that, as we continued on the long walk to CP4, we saw the Dutch girl lying down beside one of the trucks, with a doctor attending to her.  I’m not sure what happened, as we didn’t see her again after this.

We seemed to round a bit of a corner on the track, and suddenly could see a huge green line in the sky.  This was our first view of the laser that was fired across the desert to guide us in from CP4 to CP5.  We knew it couldn’t be far to CP4 now, but it seemed an absolute age.  After a short while, we could see truck headlights heading down a track to our right, and then we could see the inflatable markers that signified the checkpoint ahead.  Peter agreed that we’d get our head down for a couple of hours in the checkpoint and potentially have some food.  When we arrive into CP4, we could see a number of tents, and we split up to try and find space to get our heads down.  It was quite windy by now, and it felt quite exposed so it was good to find some shelter in one of the tents.  We eventually found two spaces in one of the tents and got our kit out.  Peter started preparing some food before we got our heads down for a sleep.  One of the checkpoint staff came round and asked if we could shift our gear closer together so that another runner could sleep next to us.  Grumpy Peter responded by asking where he was supposed to sleep.  After a terse exchange, Peter moved his kit so that the other runner could get in the tent.  I unpacked my sleeping bag and got in, putting my feet up on my pack.  Peter set an alarm for 2am (it was now midnight) and we settled down.  I was right  in the side of the tent, so it sloped down almost over my face which was a bit disconcerting at first, but i was too knackered to care, and i quickly sank into sleep.

Only moments later, i was awoken with a feeling of agony in my feet.  I opened my eyes to find a guy shaking my feet, the only words i could manage were ‘aaaargh’, whilst Peter awoke and said ‘what the fuck are you doing’, an American accented voice responded saying ‘sorry, my mistake’.  I didn’t have any trouble getting back off to sleep, and it seemed only moments later that Peter was shaking my shoulder and urging me to wake up. It felt like i raised my head once to emerge from sleep, then i opened my eyes and raised it again and actually lifted my head to look around.  Peter was cooking something to eat and appeared to be mostly packed, as i got myself together and sorted stuff out.  I couldn’t eat as i felt so sick.  Thoughts whirling round my head were about quitting.  What was i doing? Why was i doing this?  I felt awful, it was 2am, i was in the Sahara, and i still had over 32k to go.

I’m quitting, I’m quitting, I’m quitting.  Get out of sleeping bag.  I’m quitting, I’m quitting, I’m quitting.  Sleeping bag into stuff sack. I’m quitting, I’m quitting, I’m quitting. Stuff sack into rucksack. I’m quitting, I’m quitting, I’m quitting. Rucksack on back. I’m quitting, I’m quitting, I’m quitting. Head torch on. I’m quitting, I’m quitting, I’m quitting. Let’s move says Peter.  And we’re off.  ‘Peter, this is as much for my benefit as for yours, but whatever happens, we don’t quit in the night, because as soon as the sun comes up the world is a less scary place’.  This was the second time i had this sort of experience and i still don’t understand it as i write this weeks after the event.  How we can consciously want to quit so much, but still everything physically moves us on towards achieving what we’ve set out to do.  I think it’s an incredible example of what human beings are capable of, and explains a lot about how people survive in life-threatening situations – not that I’m claiming my life was threatened at all during this adventure.

Next bit to come very soon!

Climbing up the jebel

Climbing up the jebel

Jumping off the jebel!

Jumping off the jebel!

The River

The River

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503

Instalment 5 – where it goes a LITTLE bit wrong…

Tuesday 10th April – Stage 3, 35 km or 21.7 miles

Same ritual, up at 5ish, try and slumber for another hour while Ash and Paul get their breakfast.  Wake up, sort breakfast.  Big difference today though, i feel that i can do this.  We’ve only got 22 miles to do today, nice easy day in advance of the long one.  I had some blistering on my feet, that i hadn’t had time to sort the evening before due to my late arrival.  I decided i’d make a visit to Doc Trotter at CP1, as it was only 12k and was pretty easy terrain to there, although the words ‘false flat ascent’ in the route book were to become apparent and a bit of an understatement.  Mark D and I said we’d walk together to start off with and did this to CP1.  I popped to Doc Trotter and got my socks off.  Medic asked me to wash my feet with a mix of water and TCP (or similar), which i did, then i showed him what i had – a blister on my right big toe and another on my left big toe.  While he was looking at my feet, he pointed out that i had blisters on both little toes too, as well as one under the ankle of my left foot.  Standard procedure for Doc Trotter with blisters mid-stage – slit blisters with razor blade, drain, inject zinc oxide after looking in your eyes and stating ‘this might burn’, then dress, then nod to runner and said ‘bonne chance’ or ‘bon courage’ or similar.  Runner says thanks, puts socks on, grimaces when putting shoes on, then off you trot.  Mark and I made our way from CP1 to the top of Zireg and saw a dune field ahead or, as the route book describes ‘succession of sandy rises and dips to Km 17’.  We descended from Zireg and down to the dune field and started crossing.  The heat rose as we made our way through the sand.  Mark turned to me and said ‘OK Wayne? I can’t f***ing hear you, as I’ve got my ipod in’, and off he went.  I whispered ‘no mate, i don’t feel well’, and tried desperately to catch up. Five minutes later, Mark turned and shouted ‘Ok Wayne?’ then turned and went on. ‘No mate’ i said to myself, and watched him slowly disappear into the distance.  I didn’t feel right.  And i remembered Rose’s face the previous day on the dried up lake.  It didn’t sink in at the time what was wrong but i knew i needed help.  In the distance was a 4×4 with the medic stood outside, watching competitors go past.  I put some effort into getting to them in order to ask for help.  I got within 100 meters or so, and the medic turned, opened the door, hopped in the truck, and they drove off.  Marvellous.  They stopped again about a half mile away, so i gritted my teeth and dug in, and trudged on.  As i was approaching, the medic turned again, to get into the vehicle, crap. ‘STOP!’, the medic turned round and walked towards me.  ‘are you ok’? she said, ‘no, i don’t feel well’ i said.  She led me round to the sheltered side of the truck and sat me down, taking hold of my arm to support me.  What’s the matter, she asked.  I just don’t feel very well was my response.  She took my water bottle from my hand (one of the 1.5 litre ones, from the last CP), and tipped some diarolyte in it.  Drink, she said as she handed it back.  So i drank a little. Quicker, she said. So i drank a little, and a little more, then retched. More, she said. More i drank, then i retched.  Here, she said, and gave me a little pill.  For the nausea, said another medic that had just arrived.  I took the pill, and drank a little, then retched. More, said medic number two, you need to drink quicker she said. So i took a good glug, then retched again.  One medic under each arm, and i was being marched/dragged towards the only tree visible in the sahara (that’s my story and i’m sticking to it).  By this time, another vehicle had arrived, and the medic (a dentist?!) was attending to the tree, moving bits out of the way, as these ones were bristly, spiky beasts that could do some injury. My two escorts asked me to lie under the tree, then one of them said ‘this will scratch and sting’. What will dammit?!  Ah, the needle in your hand, that’s now in my arm…

Then needle was in arm, bag hung in tree, tube from bag to needle, and i was having an intravenous drip.  I decided it might be a good time for a snooze…

When i opened my eyes, the angel that is Steve was stood there, with a halo (sun behind his head) ‘what the f**k’s happened Wayne’ (not sure he swore, but it adds to the story).

‘I dunno Steve, i just feel ill, can i go home?’.

‘you’ll feel better after this mate’ (exchange in French) ‘you’re having three bags of salt and two of sugar, after that you’ll feel better, you’ll probably start feeling better on bag number four, you’re on three now, when we’re done you’ll probably want to pee a lot as it’s five bags straight where it counts, and you need to think about what you want to eat, you wont want to eat at the moment, but you need to, when you’re done here, you’ll feel great, you’ll fly to the finish’, and, sleep….

‘how you feeling mate’, says Angel Steve

‘well i don’t want to home anymore, so i suppose i’m better’

‘you’re on bag number four now, one more to go’

I looked up and saw the drip hanging in the tree by a contraption cobbled together by some paracord and what looked like a carabiner.  I thought it looked pretty cool, so out came the camera, and i snapped a pic.  Steve asked if i wanted a pic of me, and then Doc Trotter picked the camera from my hand and snapped a couple.  Steve and I were laughing ‘bloody Doc Trotter, stuck needle in my arm, then nicked my camera and took pics of me to add insult to injury’

Then Pablo arrived, the crazy Italian that’s done the Marathon des Sables about 23 times and was very popular with the medics it seemed.  He was trying to get rid of an empty can of Heineken, as he’d just drunk it on top of the jebel.  He asked the medics if they had anything to drink and they began joking about having wine and cheese especially for him.  Bizarrely i think this conversation happened in French and i understood it all.  Then Pablo went and i phased out….

When i woke up, some guy was standing there saying ‘you know it’s a two-hour penalty for having a drip mate’, and Steve responded bluntly with ‘yeah but it’s better than the alternative isn’t it’.  The staff didn’t appear to like this guy much, and i was to find out why a short while later on.  I can’t say i liked him much either, but that story’s to come.

Five minutes later, and my bladder was bursting

‘i need to pee’

‘now?’ said medic

‘no, i can wait until you’re finished’ – bad idea, my bladder nearly exploded by the time the fifth bag had gone in!  Medic took needle out my arm, and strapped some cotton wool on to stop the bleeding.  ‘stand’ said medic #2.  ‘how do you feel’ said Steve.  ‘dizzy. And in dire need of a pee’ i said as i wandered off towards a bush. ‘No’, shouted the medic, ‘other way’.  Then exchange in French, which presumably indicated i was going to urinate, which i promptly did, for about fifteen minutes.  Then i wandered back towards towards the vehicles.  ‘off you go, 18k’, said medic – and pointed down the track. So off i went…

I felt INCREDIBLE, and was rocking along the track.  I caught up with two guys that i found out were called Aaron and Dave and said hi.  I walked alongside them for a while and realised that Aaron was the guy that had helpfully reminded me about the time penalty for the drip.  They were both discussing how, with 18k to go, we couldn’t finish before the cut-off.  I felt really disheartened and disappointed, i couldn’t believe that i would be pulled for being so slow, particularly after having just spent 1.5 hours under a tree with a drip.  But shit happens, nothing i could do about it except trudge on to the next CP.  Then a 4×4 drove up fast behind and slowed down alongside.  The window came down and a head popped out ‘4k guys, we got it wrong, it’s only 4k until the next CP’.  That meant 4k to the next CP, and another 10k to the finish.  I did some quick maths, which is never my strong point, and i figured i could make it, and live to fight another day.  AWESOME!  Aaron said that it didn’t matter, he was going slowly and would wait around at the next checkpoint so they would be pulled/disqualified from the race.  I decided that i couldn’t be bothered with their losing, negative attitude and i got my head down and walked a load quicker, gradually pulling away from them.  I decided that i would put everything into finishing as fast as i could, bearing in mind that the terrain and pack weight mixed with the continued heat, meant that i was doing some fast walking.  I couldn’t bear the thought of being pulled from the race having not put all of my energy and motivation into finishing.  So off i went, with Steve’s words ringing in my ears ‘you’ll fly to the finish’…

Trotting along down the track, then up a mini-jebel, then launching myself off down the sand, i spotted the next CP in the distance.  Then i heard cheering and shouts of ‘Courage’, and ‘Bonne chance’ from above, and looked to see a bunch of staff from the CP cheering me on.  Having a little blub, and feeling incredibly proud, i trotted on to the CP and grabbed my water.  It was across another dried up lake bed then, which was difficult due to the sand being blown across.  Part-way across was Blue, and the pilot was shouting and gesturing ‘gauche, gauche’, so i looked up to see the route markers some way to my left.  I whistled to Pablo, who was around 200m ahead of me.  When he turned his head, i gestured, and he waved to acknowledge me, before moving across to pick up the route.  Shortly after, i passed Pablo and he muttered his thanks.  Next to reel in, were the two guys ahead in pink gaiters – hereafter known as the Pink Gaiter Brigade, who i passed just before the end of the lake.  Then we were onto a ‘road’, and i use the term lightly, which led to an incredible oasis, and an auberge, where the darbaroud staff appeared to be congregating for beers and ice cream (or so i dreamed).

I knew that it wasn’t far to go now, only probably a matter of about three miles, and at least there was plenty of scenery to keep me occupied as i trogged along.  I passed a dilapidated building, with a teddy sat on a ruined wall, and a load of abandoned clothes on the wall.  I wondered what had happened to the people who had once lived there, and stopped to take a couple of pictures before carrying on.  Then i heard a noise behind me and turned to see a three or four year old girl stood in the doorway of the ‘house’.  This was one of the many times that i was struck by the poverty (or apparent poverty) that existed in Morocco, and many of us talked about how people managed to survive or scrape a living in the landscape we were running through.

I carried on along the track and saw the camp in the distance through a sand haze and wondered whether we would be experiencing a sand storm later.  I made it to the end, to rapturous applause (or maybe that’s part of my exaggeration again), and went through the usual processing.  Grabbed my cardboard cup of Sultan tea, have a bit of a drink, wander to the truck for my issue of 4.5 litres water, but this time, i asked them to put two bottles into my rucksack for me – such a genius!.  This left me to carry my tea, and another bottle of water back to the tent.  Wandering back, i got a bit overwhelmed again by everyone congratulating me for being such a slow coach, and felt so proud about what i’d achieved despite a rough day.

Back at the tent, and everyone said they’d be concerned again, which was worsened by the story i then told.  I was really unfair about telling everyone that Mark deserted me, and i hope that he’s seen the jest in what has now become my standard story of events!  I think that this was also the day that Mark R had ended up collapsing at the finish line and ended up in the doc trotter tent for a bit.  The start of the “have you ever had a drip, under a tree, in the sahara? No? Then don’t talk to me about hardcore!” story commenced.

Feed time and i had an awesome chicken korma with rice, followed by rice pudding with cinnamon, and a peperami (not together).  Rich started what was to become a long running joke, by complaining that he had spag bol again, and he hated spag bol.  It seemed that he’d not packed much other than spag bol though!

After scoff, we were having a bit of banter and i started to get worried again about the event, and the next day that was looming.  I got a bit overwhelmed by the distance again, and after i’d fucked up so royally by getting dehydrated, everything was bothering me about drinking enough water, and taking enough salt tablets.

As expected when i’d been coming into the finish, the wind started increasing, and the air started filling with sand.  We tucked into our sleeping bags and tried to cover our exposed skin, which included buffs up over our faces.  I tried to take a few pics of the guys in the tent lying there with eyes closed while we got whipped with the sand.  As i was taking the pics, i could see that we were slowly getting covered with a layer of sand, and i could taste it in my mouth,  We hadn’t quite figured out how to pull the tent front and back down by this stage, so the wind was still blasting through

(In the pic shown with us all tucked up, it’s still daytime, and the flecks in the air are sand, as we were slowly coated)

After a while the wind calmed down, and the sand slowly sank, covering us even more, and the taste of sand and dryness in the mouth was incredible.  I needed to drink if only to wash out some of the sand, but it was SO cold it was unreal.  I could see my breath and reckon it was probably down to about 2 degrees C.  During the night i woke up many times feeling really really cold and shivering almost uncontrollably.  The buff now came in useful to try and keep me warm, rather than just protect me from the sand.  Wriggling down into the sleeping bag, i slept fitfully until the sun came up….

As I write this, I am referring to all the stages of the route book as I go along.  As i opened this stage, a small, perfectly pressed and incredibly dead fly fell out of the pages! ImageImageImage

Marathon des Sables – Instalment 4 – Stage 2

strapping the 'injury'

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'I can't do this'

‘I can’t do this’

strapping the 'injury'Quick word of thanks before the blog entry. Devinder Bains has corrected my dates (unsure how i messed up on it!), so they don’t follow on from the last blog entry – cheers Dee!

Monday 9th April – Stage 2, 38.5km or 24 miles
Same routine as previous day, but with added complications. Running through my head all night was doubt. I can’t do this. It’s too far. It’s too hot. The rucksack is too heavy. I feel sick. Is my leg sore? Ash awoke around 5:10 and started making his breakfast. Paul did the same shortly after. Tony was still asleep in the corner, expecting to go. I committed to myself that if he left, I was going with him. I got up, got my breakfast on, and started packing my kit into my bag, sorting feet and shoes out, got water from the centre of the camp, filled water bottles, all the time with the thought running round my head ‘I’m going to quit, I’m going to quit’. Bit of light relief when Mark R decided to ‘enjoy’ the Bodyglide experience and I was well amused by him for long enough to get a great picture which is unpublishable!
Mark D took a picture of me that morning that demonstrates perfectly the way I was feeling. It looks like I’m having an argument with my rucksack. I’ve posted it onto facebook with the following words ‘What misery looks like – morning of Day 2, i want to go home, i can’t do this, it’s too hot, my bag’s too heavy, why am I doing this, I’ve got another SIX days of this, what am I doing, repeat (close to tears). Stand up, grit teeth, rucksack on, get to start, only 22 miles today. At least I don’t have cancer….’. It’s probably not far from what happened with the conversation going over and over in my head, all the time I was preparing myself and making my way to the start line. After the event, the guys in the tent were to say to me that they had no idea how I did this, how I got up on Day 2, let alone start, let alone finish the day. I think it’s testament to what people are actually capable of, albeit in a small way I think I’ve demonstrated what we can each achieve. Liz and Mum were due to fly out on Thursday to see me, and I was rehearsing the phone call I would make to them from the hotel. All the while, I was stood on the start line, half listening to The Pope talking about standings after day 1, the route ahead, cut off times, those who had birthdays that day… and then Highway to Hell started, and I moved my feet, and I crossed the start line for Stage 2. Only 12.3km until CP1…. One foot in front of the other….
I don’t remember much of that morning between the start and CP2, apart from the next paragraph, but i think i was alone for much of it. I think even if i was accompanied, i would have been alone with selfish thoughts of quitting, all the while plodding away. Anyway, i got to CP1, then only another 7km to CP2. Easy.
Part way to CP2, the front of my leg started hurting. Last year in the Lakeland 50, I’d tied my shoe laces too tight and had done some damage to tendons/ligaments. My not-so-little sister Kerry had given me treatment and told me what it was (didn’t pay much attention sorry Kez) at the time, but this felt like the same thing again. It got progressively worse and was all i could focus on which was bad news. There was a 4×4 going past when i pulled up – and an English voice (i think it was Steve, soon to become my guardian angel) asked if i was ok. Not really, was my response, and the medic hopped out. I explained my story, Steve translated, and the medic pulled my Skins up to look at my leg while saying something like “je veux strapper?” – “shall i strap it?”. Translation happened with me saying yes, and her getting some tape out. The tape wouldn’t stick to my extremely sweaty leg, so medic said to get it done at CP2. She then gave me a pill the size of a baby’s head, stamped my medical card and then looked at me. I looked back at her. Steve said, ‘go on then’. And i stood up. And moved on. To this day, i’m not sure there was anything wrong with my leg, but think i was looking for an excuse to give up. Except Doc Trotter and the Commissaires don’t allow you the luxury (escape/easy way out?) of an excuse, unless you’re really in trouble. I trogged on to CP2 and went to the Doc Trotter tent. I rolled my Skins up, and got strapped up, ready to go.

A voice shouted ‘Hi Wayne, fancy joining us’ and i looked up to see Mia there, along with Rose. I nodded my acknowledgement and we made ready to move after sorting water, electrolyte, and taking salt. It was just short of 10km from CP2 to CP3. Across a dried up lake bed. With no cover. And plenty of wind and heat. We were later to discover that the temperature in the camp/bivouac had got up to 52 centigrade. Just about the time i was moving across the lake bed then!
Mia, Rose, and I moved out of CP2 and started the long, straight trek across to CP3. I felt like a desert version of Shackleton – goggles on, buff over face to cover from sand blasting, Foreign Legion-style hat to cover head and neck. The world was seen through the frame of darkened goggles and i was plodding along with the weight of the world on my shoulders…. except i wasn’t… i was ENJOYING IT! I suddenly realised how amazing this was – i’d trained hard to be here. I’d cried from exhaustion, exhilaration and frustration during training. I’d been through incredibly poor weather including gales, hail, pounding rain and snow in the depth of the Great British winter. I could do this. Ashley’s words came back to me ‘stick with it, it’ll click, you’ll start enjoying it’ and I realised he’d been right. I didn’t want to quit, this was an amazing experience, i was doing it for an amazing cause. And I felt proud of myself. Only 10k to the next CP, only 6 miles. Around two hours walking. Easy.
About halfway across the lake, Mia stopped to sort something, and we carried on walking slowly. Rose and I chatted away a little, but conversation was challenging due to the wind, sandblasting, and the buffs we had across our faces as protection. Then Rose pulled up dead and said ‘i feel sick’. She tried to move, and managed a few steps, before stopping again and looking around in a daze. 4×4 appeared in the distance and drove up, the driver shouting ‘ca va?’ out of the window. ‘Yes’ shouted Rose. ‘NO’ shouted yours truly. Medic hopped out and said ‘what’s the matter’. I explained about Rose, and the medic asked her to sit down – in the direct sunlight and sand-blasting, so i suggested we move round the other side of the truck where there was protection from the sun and wind. The medic took Rose’s water bottle off her and tipped in some rehydration salts, handed it back to her and said ‘drink’. Rose drank, and retched, then drank, then retched, then the medic gave her a pill for the nausea, then Rose drank, and drank…. Then Mia walked by and shouted over ‘i can’t leave you for a minute can I’ and came over to see what was occurring. I filled Mia in on the situation, while Rose carried on drinking and slowly started feeling better. Meanwhile, i ligged out on the sand with a couple of the other medics that had turned up, one of which Mia was particularly pleased with as he looked George Clooney-esque. He was an interesting bloke and i think was a heart specialist (and I found out later he was the Medical Director for the event). He said that Doc Trotter was an amazing organisation, and we were very lucky as they had better equipment than the hospitals of many small towns (cardiologists, surgeons, even a dentist). After a full 1.5 litres (i think) of water, Rose felt better and we got up and plodded on. This experience watching Rose was to come in handy for me the next day. The medics kept driving past us, then pulling up by the route markers and waiting for us to pass. After a short while, i realised that they were pulling up the markers as we passed, and the realisation that we were the back markers sunk in.
I think we were silent again for a long while due to the wind, and i became introspective, but for the first time this was positive. I came to enjoy the time to think, and remembered the Depeche Mode song “Enjoy the Silence” and tried desperately for a while to remember the words, before my brain skipped to the theme from ‘the littlest hobo’, then skipped to ‘Star spangled banner’ before being reminded of Winston Churchill’s words ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going’. All of this entertained me greatly, and i was pleased to be enjoying my experience. This was one of the first times through the MdS experience that i realised that my head was starting to empty, and i came to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of what we were doing. Wake up, eat, run (walk!), finish, eat, remember to drink throughout….
Towards the edge of the lake, we began to see large animals in the distance and realised that they were herds of camels – HUNDREDS of camels. I’d never expected to see so many, and didn’t realise that camels came in loads of different colours, most of the ones we saw were a dark brown. Then we saw herds of goats too and i was snapping away at all the wildlife, enjoying the experience even more as the camels were amusing me greatly. Mia and Rose gave me some strange looks as i chuckled at one of the camels in particular that had crossed the trail in front of me.

We reached CP3 and it was only 9.2km to go, along with 1.7km of ‘dunettes’ ahead. It was here that i realised the French were particularly inventive with their descriptions of the sand we went through. These were ‘small dunes’, up to the height of around the first storey of a building, but we managed to weave our way through them, being drained by the terrain with every step. After the dunes was ‘sand bumps’, ‘sandy terrain’ then 0.7km, followed by ‘small line of dunes for 200m’ after which was the finish. We made our way slowly through this and could see the start in the distance. We could see a lot of people at the finish gesticulating, then some began running towards us jabbing their arms in the air. Then i heard ‘FOUR MINUTES, YOU’VE GOT FOUR MINUTES TO CUT OFF’, and realised they were showing us four fingers. Shit, we started running, using the last of our reserves, and managed to get over the line without being disqualified. I’m still not sure that we had only four minutes, as the sweeper camels weren’t anywhere in sight. The camels were the cut off, if they caught up with you, then you could get disqualified (they were led by Berber’s, they weren’t just wandering the desert). Crossing the line, i grabbed a cup of the almost-mandatory Sultan tea – and i loved it – minty, hot, sweet and maybe a little salty, it revived me and i realised i’d loved the day. Hobbling past the finish area, i went to get my nightly issue of 4.5 litres of water, and wondered if i had enough energy to carry it to the tent. On the way to our tent, i passed many other runners eating their tea, and experienced many moments of pride as they were clapping, shouting ‘Well done mate’, or ‘Bravo’, ‘magnifique’, ‘courage’ (from the French tents on my right). I realised that they were respecting me for being out so long, and i felt honoured that all these people who were so much faster than i was, realised how difficult it can be at the back of the pack. Another example of the amazing support between competitors in this event.

Back at the tent, my colleagues were sorting themselves out, and i dumped my bag, and we relived the days events. Again, i was enjoying the experience. I got emotional as i said thanks to all, but Ash in particular for his words the previous day. Tony was still in the tent, as he’d not managed to get transport back to Ouarzazete. It was good to see him, even if i couldn’t understand a great deal of what he said due to his strong Midlands accent. We received e-mails at some point, and i’d got more tonight than last night. I also decided that my pack was too heavy and decided to either bin or give away a load of Frusli bars and some flapjack. One of the most memorable comments was from Dean who asked me what i would do for food during the day. It wasn’t until Friday that this sunk in, and part of the reason for my slowness at the end of each stage started sinking in. That said this was the night for me that the banter really started in the tent, and i remember having a good crack and enjoying what remained of the evening before the sun sank dramatically at around 7pm, and we climbed into our sleeping bags

Saturday 14th April

Up early, had breakfast (no idea what it was), starting to get REALLY scared by now, and today was the day we had to finalise the kit we wanted, as we had to hand in our suitcases.  We got changed into our running kit which was to be our clothing for the next week (thankfully I didn’t have to check in until 11:30), and packed everything else in suitcases.  A few of us in the tent had to go to check in at 10am,  so there was a load of waiting around for the rest of us, before the time came to drag our suitcases through the sand to the check in.  Being stood out in the bright sunshine for around an hour, while waiting to get into the check-in tent, was to be the start of our induction to the desert.  By the time I got in to the tent, I couldn’t remember my race number. I’d been teaching the other guys how to say their race numbers in French, and, mixed with the time spent in the sun, my head was a bit fuddled.  The staffer at the tent entrance asked my number ‘cinq cent vingt quatre’ i said, ‘sure?’ he said, ‘no, no i’m not’, then, ‘cing cent vingt cinq’, ‘are you sure, it’s very important you get this right’, then i remembered i had my race number written on some of my docs in my pocket and produced them. ‘Ah, cinq cent vingt HUIT’ said staff, and then ‘over there’ as my suitcase was taken away.  The rest is a bit of a blur, but was all very serious, as we were issued with 120 salt tablets in a small bag, our race numbers, emergency flare, along with being given instructions on what to do – take 2 salt tablets with every litre of water you take (more if you move slowly in my experience, but that story will come later), then speak to Doc Trotter – 3-4 medics around a table, who talk about hydration, review your ECG and ask you a load of questions, i was to see some of these guys and girls later – we all would.  Then a quick nod, a thanks, and you were directed to a VERY bright rectangle, which led from the tent, back into the afternoon sun blinking, confused, and a touch scared by the experience.  I waited outside for a few minutes for the other guys and then off we went to lunch, before meeting the remainder of our crew at the Sultan tent for a cup of the local tea, along with an amazing picture opportunity of us all gleaming in our nice white kit (or if not white, at least gleaming and clean!).  The rest of the day involved some lounging around, chat about how much our packs weighed (i refused to weigh mine, knowing it was too heavy anyway) and all sorts of other banter.  Then dinner, then back to the tent, more tent, and sleep.  Tomorrow was the first day that we would be fully self-supported, starting the day by making our own breakfasts.  Due to the amount of water we were being issued, we were already pissing like race horses, and there was a steady procession of guys off to stand for a couple of minutes at the edges of the camp.  The locals had started gathering and were all looking bemused at us, particularly the kids.  Earlier in the day, there’d been a shout, and one of the security guards chased about a dozen kids off into the desert.  Next thing, a jeep flew off after them, and shortly after brought back a kid who was interrogated, clipped round the ear, kicked on the backside, and dismissed.  This stopped the kids from getting close for about half hour, before they returned in force, looking inquisitive.  This was to be the first of regular interactions between this massive number of strange foreigners intruding in their desert, while they asked for gateaux and bonbons to no avail on the whole (or as far as I know anyway)

Sunday 15th April – Stage 1, 33.8km or 21 miles

Truly crap nights sleep.  Awoke at 05:30 as Ashley started on his breakfast, then Paul started on his.  This was to become a familiar sequence of events for the week.  Think I gave it until 06:00 before starting on my water for the lush porridge with sultanas that I was to have for breakfast.  06:15, the Berbers started dismantling the tents, 06:30 we got issued with another 1.5-litres of water to add to the 1.5 I had from yesterday.  I started chugging water and filled my Raidlight water bottles and popped an electrolyte tab in one of them.  First salt tabs got thrown down the throat, and within ten minutes, my bladder was full and ready for the first of many trips to urinate that morning.  It was at this time that I realised that stage fright kicked in whenever I needed to pee in the middle of the desert, unless there was a bush to go on – it didn’t matter how big or small the bush was, it just had to be there!  At around 8, we made our way over to the start line, to prepare for the ‘27’ picture (as this was the 27th Marathon des Sables), which each year is one of the iconic images of the event.  I think it was about 08:00 that we got there, and mooched around for a while, while drinking more water and electrolyte.  Standing around for a while, we got into the taped area that made out the ‘27’ in the desert, and after a while, the blue helicopter (‘Blue’ and ‘Red’ were very regular companions and our guardians thudding across the sky, making me feel incredibly safe) went up and started circling, taking snaps as well as film for the international news, and for uploading to YouTube.  Photographers and camera crews were everywhere throughout, and it was pretty overwhelming at a number of times, most particularly after receiving our first e-mails when we realised how many people at home were watching and following us.  After the ‘27’ pic, we stood around the barriers by the start waiting.  I looked down, and said ‘bloody hell, look at the size of that ant on my foot’, and bent to flick it off.  I think it was Tony that then shouted ‘Wayne, you’re crawling in them, you’ve stood on an ant’s nest’, and off I ran into the desert a little way, squealing like a schoolgirl and flicking ants off every time I stopped.  Thankfully the ants were only interested in trying to chew through my trainer and I think I managed to get almost all of them off before the start (note the almost).  I’d had some good advice from Ian about tucking my gaiters into themselves when i wasn’t wearing them, so i could get some air to my feet.  Looking around, everyone had their gaiters attached to their shoes, so i pulled  mine down too.  The terrain around the start looked pretty sandy, so i thought this was a wise move.

As more and more people assembled in the start pen, the tension and excitement increased, and then ‘The Pope’, otherwise known as Patrick Bauer, the race director, appeared on top of one of the 4×4’s to do his pre-race speech.  Telling us all we looked ‘magnifique’, for the first but not the last time.  Blue was thudding around overhead throughout, taking snaps and film of us.  And Drone made a couple of appearances – this was a pretty weird experience, a bizarre camera hanging underneath a number of tiny rotors, which you can see in some of the MdS pics on darbaroud.com.  It was always accompanied somewhere close by with the operator, who was sometimes shrouded in a blanket, presumably so he could see the screen while Drone filmed us.  It always made a strange noise as it appeared out of the dunes, reminding me a bit of an Apache helicopter come to search us out.

After Patrick spoke, the music kicked in, and Blue lined up on the other side of the start.  Highway to Hell came on over the loudspeakers, which turned out to be incredibly apt throughout and seemed to amuse Patrick greatly.  Then there was a countdown which we all participated in, then we were off and running….

The rucksack was SO heavy, it was SO hot, the footing was SO slippery underfoot, the experience was SO incredible.  Blue came thudding overhead, flying side on towards us, with the photographers scanning us all with their cameras.  Drone was off somewhere making a noise and no doubt filming as well.  Runners were carrying small HD cameras on Perspex sticks to record their day.  Those of us carrying poles raised them and crossed them in an ‘X’ overhead – we’d been told to hold our arms open in a ‘V’ if we were in trouble and needed assistance!  10 miles later, i’d run my first half mile, and decided that i was going to struggle to run this event, due to everything mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph.  I decided i’d maintain a run/walk strategy, which then changed into a walk strategy about three minutes later.  I was struggling to come to terms with how far i had to travel in the week, and my head was getting blown by the enormity of it all.  I was about ten minutes in, and had gone nowhere, and was worrying about the rest of the week already.  This was to be the start of a bad day ahead.  I started up a dried out river bed, and the wind stopped, and the heat increased.  I could feel my feet swelling in my shoes already, as i had my gaiters on.  I decided to take them off and get some air to my feet, which had an immediate effect as my feet got automatically smaller.  I trogged on up the dried up river bed, getting loads of sand in my shoes, as they weren’t covered by gaiters.  Stopping a while before CP1 to empty my shoes of the sand, a voice with a French accent behind said ‘Ah, five, two, eight’.  I turned to see a fellow runner with my tag in his hand – it had fallen off my ankle when i stopped to remove my gaiters.  This was to be an early indication of the camaraderie of the marathon des sables, people looking out for each other in all sorts of small, and sometimes large, ways, all while we endured and faced the adversity presented by the desert!  I don’t recall a great deal more until CP1, other than the incredible heat.

Passed CP1 and shortly after, met Dani, who also appeared to be struggling a bit and was to be my companion for a good while on this day.  We looked up to see the first of the big climbs up a jebel.  According to the route book, it was 200m up a 15% gradient.  All i knew when looking at it, was i could see a group of specks up a bloody steep face of sand and rock.  Step by step, we all plodded our way up to the top, to find about 10 locals sat cheering and clapping us on.  The rest of the route until CP2 is a bit of a haze.  Dani and i chatted and explained our life history, while bemoaning the flatness and straightness of some of the terrain ahead of us (once we were off the jebel).  Seeing a couple of 4×4’s together in the desert ahead, i chugged all my fluid, expecting a checkpoint, only to find it was Doc Trotter attending to a poorly runner.  Bit of a disaster then, being in the desert with no water!  Thankfully it wasn’t too far to the next checkpoint.  At CP2, we met up with Mia and Keith and had a bit of banter.  I got my second wind so decided to trog on alone and said goodbye to Mia and Dani (Keith had left us immediately after CP2).  I think i managed to make pretty good time until the bottom of Tibert jebel – which turned out to be a mountain covered in sand, with some bits of rock poking out here and then. It took some time, effort and motivation to keep trekking up, and i was starting to get really upset (diplomatic language) with life.  Eventually, I reached the top, saw the finish, and started the descent.  What i didn’t realise at that time was that the descent alone was 1.2km, and that the finish was 4.1km away.  Felt relatively good on the descent, and then ran out of energy as soon as i realised that it was still 3km to the finish. And it was in a straight line, across the desert.  I got a bit further, and a 4×4 drove past, dropping a medic with the bloke behind me who seemed to be struggling a bit.  The 4×4 then pulled up alongside me and a face that i would come to appreciate poked out of the window, as he drove along.  He was a very gallic looking “Comissaire du Cours”, now i’m not sure what this means or what they were for – but they were the most incredible motivational speakers and coaches in the world.  As evidenced by the following exchange:

 

Him – Hey guy, how is it going?

Me – Mate it’s so hard (in my head, this is the whiniest, self-pitying voice i’ve ever heard, and not one i’m proud to have heard coming out of my mouth)

Him – Why are you here guy, are you here because this is easy? No, you are here because it is hard. If this was easy, everyone would do it.  Now it is hard. You have 2k to do, this is why you are here, so go on guy, DO IT

And i smiled, and realised he was right, and not for the first or the last time in this particular week, i gritted my teeth, put my head down, and got my arse into gear.  He drove off to pick up the medic shortly afterwards, while i trogged on, feeling appreciative of his words.  Eventually i got to the finish line, had some Sultan tea (which was rank today), got my water, and dragged my sorry behind back to the tent

All of my tent buddies had been in some time, and someone said that they’d been a bit worried as i’d been out so long, but this was to be a familiar story in the week!  Tony announced that he was going home, as he’d had enough, his heart wasn’t in it, he wasn’t motivated, and he knew what was coming (he’d run in 2011 and had signed up for 2012 ‘by accident’).  This set me back a bit more than i already was – we could quit?!  And not only that, i had a quitting accomplice!  I voiced some of my concerns with everyone in the tent – so hot, pack so heavy, couldn’t come to terms with another day of that hell, let alone the rest of the week.  I felt unbelievably down, and despite numerous words with myself, i couldn’t drag myself out of it.  The other faces in the tent didn’t seem to know what to say, and we didn’t know each other well enough yet to have blunt conversations.  I recall Tony trying to motivate me, saying it would get better (rich after what he’d just said), but then Ash said ‘stick with it, it’ll click, you’ll start enjoying it’.  I boiled water, added to freeze dried food, drank water, forced food down, arranged bedding, slept fitfully and tried not to think of the next day….

 

The start of the first stage!Stage 1 SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503

Marathon des Sables – Instalment 2

Friday 13th April (unlucky for some…)

Friday morning came around, and Mark went off for breakfast, while i decided to fart around in the room, before we had to get to the coaches. I waited for Mark to return, then we met our new tent buddies in reception, before joining the carnage that ensued outside as we all tried to pile on to coaches as quickly as possible. I managed to get a seat right at the front of the third coach, behind Doc Trotter staff ‘Alexis’ and a wizened French bloke (i’ll call him Brian), who’d staffed on three previous MdS experiences – 7th, 10th and 13th. I sat down next to a guy with an Ironman t-shirt on and thought ‘that’s all I need, an ironman, he’ll be way fitter than me’. Can’t remember when we introduced ourselves, but his name was Peter, and I was to meet him again a number of times in the next week, but more on this later. We had a few good cracks on the journey, as well as with others on the coach. We left the hotel in convoy, only to pull over near a load of 4×4’s after ten minutes, there was much scurrying around as every coach was loaded with bin bags, cardboard boxes, and crates of water (turned out that this was our packed lunch – Moroccan style). The scenery was pretty spectacular, except the bit just outside Ouarzazete where the hills for miles around were strewn with plastic bags due to the open rubbish tip there. The coach pulled over after a couple of hours for a toilet stop – the sight of hundreds of people piling off the coach was pretty amazing, all to pee into what turned out to be the local towns irrigation system (nice). Shortly after that stop, the coach in front of us stopped, then got going again, eventually stopping again. Brian’s walkie talkie made lots of noise in French, some of which i understood ‘Coach 2 is not working’ and then a few bits i didn’t. Alexis translated ‘the gear box is knackered’, or words to that effect. In awesome French-style, all the other coaches overtook it, and we carried on! Shortly after (a few hours) we pulled over for our lunch, which was pretty lush – massive chunks of Moroccan flat bread taken from the bin bags, cheese, baby salami things, couscous, crisps, peanuts, chocolate filled pancakes, stewed fruit and yoghurt, along with what would become the obligatory 1.5-litre bottle of water. More spectacular scenery followed, Moroccan villages and towns, as well as numerous oases, all of which made us wonder when they would finish building, what people did for a living, and where the hell the water came from (bearing in mind the annual hose-pipe ban down South in the UK). After only around 5 hours of travel (or so i remember), the coaches went off-roading, and we started along a dirt track through what seemed to be a town under construction, with future roads and estates laid out in grids of stones. Then the coaches swung off to the left, and arced round before stopping with a load of trucks in front. It seemed then, that we were told to get off, grab our bags, and pile into the back of what looked like cattle trucks.

We helped each other on along with our kit and suitcases, then the Berber driver/assistant put the back of the truck up and we waited for the other trucks to fill. Once they’d filled, they lined up, and it was like the start of a rally as we revved off through the desert to our first bivouac. After a tense ten minutes hanging on for dear life, the trucks pulled up, we piled off with our bags, and the sprint to claim tents started. I must admit to fannying around at this stage, taking some nice pictures while I did so, and it was only much later that i realised the error of my ways. I then walked, dragging my suitcase through the sand, to try and find a tent. Bearing in mind the Brit tents started at 61, I walked as far as 78 before finding one that was vacant, for me and my tentpals. Shortly after, Mark arrived to ask me why I hadn’t taken the first tent, which was still apparently vacant at that time, bugger

Slowly over the next hours, we sorted some of our kit out (again), found out when dinner time would be (we were to be fed by the organisers for the first two nights), and sorted our bedding out on the awesome Berber rugs in our tent. It was at this time that we were first introduced to the crap bag – a lovely brown bag that we were to take into a small cubicle in the distance, put over a stool with a toilet seat attached, and then poop. Once we’d pooped, we disposed of it in the bin by the “toilet”, then it was anti-bac gel and off we went. These toilets were to get pretty grim over the next couple of days, mostly as a result of (I think) bad food at the hotel. This was outlined when big Mark arrived and said he’d had a close call with the squits on the coach after having omelette for breakfast– recounting the fact that he thought eggs would be safe (followed by wry smile). Mark had a gurgly gut a short time (an hour i think!) before the coaches pulled up. He’d managed to hang on until the coaches pulled up, and had then sprinted round a wall and got his kecks down before his world fell out – this was to become a pretty familiar story over the next few days particularly, but seemed to calm down a bit as the week went on. Warning, there’ll be more rank stories to follow.

At dinner time, we went to the organisation tent en masse to be welcomed by beer, wine, or coke as our choice of drink, and then an awesome tagine with couscous as main course, and some lush dessert, but i can’t remember what it was. I was sorely tempted by the booze, but after a big drinking weekend watching the rugby at the 6 Nations in Scotland, I’d promised no drink until after I finished, so coke it was. We sat on the floor, with small tables, and nattered with each other in the middle of the desert as the moon rose and the sun sank. This experience was pretty amazing throughout the week, the moon came up, then it started getting dark and then the sun plummeted and it was pitch black moments later.

The first night in camp was to be a good test of kit, as well as of our patience, and resilience. It was bloody freezing! I was fortunate to have the Oryx jacket that my kit sponsors Montane had provided, and this would prove to be essential nightwear despite the down sleeping bag that i’d bought, which probably didn’t cope well with the night-time temperatures which I reckon got down to about 2 degrees C. I recall more terror in the night, but think managed to sleep ok all things considering, and think we were up pretty early. …

At some point during the day, I’d been bitten on my right arm just above the crook of my arm and it was bloody sore. Not only that, but it seemed really sensitive to the sun despite a liberal coating of sunscreen. I took to wearing one of my buffs wrapped around my arm to cover it and prevent any burning. This seemed to work for the next three days, after which it wasn’t too painful

Image.Image

MdS 2012 – Instalment 1

Probably best to start the story with the abject terror i felt in the week leading up to the Marathon des Sables, there’s more amusing stories to tell about training for the event, but they’ll wait for later. I’m not sure why i felt so terrified by the event when it came close, but it’s possibly the thought of running 155 miles across the Sahara with a massive rucksack on your back in 40 degree heat (although that was to be a conservative guess!). What follows may be subject to gross exaggeration and may differ mildly from what actually happened – think this is called artistic licence?! On the other hand, most of it as you’ll see, will be graphically truthful (there’s an apology there)

In the end, the event came round incredibly quickly, and the days flew by as i undertook final preparations in blind panic, and tried to ignore last minute ‘advice’ from people on facebook, twitter and friends in person. At this stage, i think that the blind part of blind panic is the best to focus on – ignore everyone and stick with your plan. Unless your plan involves taking debris gaiters to the Sahara rather than sand gaiters of course, in which case (as i did), you’re best to get them sorted pretty sharpish.

The cycle of pack, panic at weight, unpack, try to lose some weight, then repack, went on for a little bit in that final week. Then had to decide which bits of the pack to take as cabin luggage, just in case, as the helpful advice said “hold luggage does go missing”! What? Our luggage might go missing?! Again, best not to think of that.

Thursday 12th April

On the first day i managed to get from the Lakes to Gatwick without a great deal of incident, but then arrived at the check-in desk. ‘sorry sir, we don’t have your details’, says the check-in clerk. ‘Err… what? How’s that possible? I’ve got confirmation details here’ says and panic-stricken Wayne ‘is there another name you could be under’ says he, ‘nope, i’m called Karl Wayne Singleton’ says I, ‘ah, says he, you’re in as Wayne Singleton, not Karl Singleton’ and abruptly beckons me off…. This was to be the start of a bad experience at Gatwick…

Off i trotted to security, and unload my rucksack into one of the trays, along with my belt, money etc, feeling like a good boy. I walked through the gate and went to wait for my rucksack to come through the conveyor, and i waited, and waited, and waited, then a supervisor arrived to speak to the man checking the screen… Then aforementioned supervisor looked round and said ‘who’s this jacket belong to?’, holding up my green berghaus jacket. I could hardly leg it, so i stuck my hand up and said it’s mine. Supervisor said, can you tell me what you think this might be about? With a deep breath i said ‘is it my titanium kettle, that has batteries and shoe laces and my stove inside, and might look a bit bomb-like?’, ‘yes, that might be it’ said supervisor, a few more runners walked past me and shouted ‘you’d best get ready for rubber gloves and lube mate’, to which the security guard responded with ‘we don’t use lube down south mate, it’s only you northerners that get that pleasure’. Good bit of banter from the security team i thought, all things considered. Anyway, they checked my bag with a swab thing, informed me that three other runners had been pulled for carrying knives, checked my medical kit for scissors (rounded ends, so ok), and then let me re-pack my bag.

Shortly after, met the first of my to-be-tent brothers – Mark D from Cornwall. We wandered aimlessly for an age, sat down for an age, had some scoff, wandered around, sat down, wandered around and finally headed for the departure gate after an age of nervous waiting, as well as finding out a fair bit about each other and agreeing to be roomies at the hotel in Ouarzazete. On the way to departure gate, met Ian, that i’d got in touch with through facebook – and his mate Dave – both of whom looked (and turned out to be) ‘fastys’. Eventually we made it on to the plane, and i was sat in the window seat, with the middle seat unoccupied (hurrah shouted my long legs), and the aisle seat occupied by Richard. Over the course of the flight, i snoozed and had some great chat with Richard about his experiences trekking to both Poles, amongst many many other things. The banter on the plane in general was pretty good, and the mood was really positive, as you’d expect when it was full of ultra-fit, ultra-athletes who, after three years of preparing, were off for their adventure. Finally arrived in Morocco, to be met by the awesome (heavy sarcasm) border control. Thankfully i spotted that Richard had a pen, so nicked it in order to fill in the forms, and managed to get through to the baggage carousel really quickly, grabbed my bag which has just appeared, then went to sit on the coach and wait for it to fill before going to the hotel. I later found that my moves had been very well executed as some of the runners had gone on to spend almost three hours at the airport before getting to the hotel!

Arriving at hotel, i nicked a pen (pen’s are very valuable in Morocco, particularly during the MdS it seemed) off the concierge, filled something in, then demanded a room of the harassed staff “where is your room mate” was the response “he’s coming” was mine, “what is his surname”, “good question, i don’t know, he’ll be here in a minute, can i take the key and he’ll be here”, exasperated look from the receptionist and he threw the key at me. He got his own back though, as there appear to have been 575 rooms, and ours was 574, which was around three miles away from reception.

I legged it to the room, dumped my kit, and ran back to Reception to find Mark who walked in two minutes after i got there, out of breath (athlete, good start). ‘What’s your surname mate’, ‘Dymond, with a y’ said my roomy, and off we trotted again to the room. Arriving in the room, we realised that there’d be some discussion over who slept in what bed, one was a camp bed, the other was one of the largest beds i think i’ve ever seen (and subsequently slept in!). ‘Well, you arrived first, so you have the big bed’ said Mark valiantly, ‘cool mate, i’ll take the small bed when we get back, as i’m sure we won’t be arsed about what we sleep in by then’ was my response, and how right i would be!

Mark had found a couple of people to share tent with, and Paul and I had been in touch through Twitter, so that made another two (his room-mate Tony, being the other part of the pair), and i’m not sure how we managed to acquire the final two layabouts, but by the end of the evening, we had a tentful. Paul and Tony popped to our room for a quick chat, which proved one of the first linguistic challenges of the week as they are both from the Midlands and have incredibly strong accents (sorry gents, but you do), and Tony in particular was aware of how misunderstood he was. We eventually went off for dinner, and had to restrain ourselves at the dessert table, as well as avoiding some of the ‘hot’ meat dishes on display as the thought of dodgy guts was too much to bear with an 8-hour coach journey to follow the next day. Quite a few of the athletes made the most of the final night in the bar, but i decided to go and move my kit from suitcase to my Aarn rucksack, which was bulging by the time i’d finished. A restless nights sleep followed, with more terror facing me, and a mid-night awakening of sheer panic again.

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