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Marathon des Sables

Before describing the event itself, for the many that were interested, I will endeavour to respond to the most frequently asked MdS question, ‘How was it for you?’ Well, the toughest foot race on the planet was even tougher than I expected - or anticipated - but was brilliant because of that. The conflicting impressions were down to the nine months of diligent preparation helped with the running and in all honesty some walking, however it did not prepare me for desert living. On the one hand life is very simple. It gets pitch dark quickly so you go to sleep, it gets light so you get up, eat, hydrate, run, hydrate, eat, hydrate until it gets dark, when the cycle starts again.

However, this year, Mother Nature threw everything at my running partner Brendan and myself, including:-
   The hottest ground temperature for some years at 56 ̊C albeit with an atmospheric temperature of 48 ̊C.
   The coldest couple of nights for some years at only 2 ̊C.
   The worst sand storm also for a couple of years, presumably measured by wind speed,
   The first hail storm in living memory (in the Sahara?!)

Would I have missed this great adventure in my life – certainly not! It still feels like a unique experience that I just know, will live on for many years.

What are the facts about the race? This year’s course was 155 miles, 48 nations were represented and David Cameron get this, we really were “All in it together” The camaraderie in my experience was second to none. The first day was much longer than normal at 21 miles, so a full to bursting back pack was hard. To some extent pack weight was a critical measure. It was noted that this was the first time in the history of the world that blokes were sitting around debating who had the smallest!

For the record, there were 900 entrants, 850 making it to the start line and around 800 finishing. 20% were women and Brits were biggest (just) contingent. Interestingly, both of these categories had the lowest percentage dropout.

What were other challenges? The obvious was around foot care, with many competitors struggling with blisters that burst, had yet more sand ground in, leading to infection ....and pain. The trick was to tape feet early and not remove it.

The terrain was remarkably varied. As well as sand dunes, there were mountainous rocky climbs, even one section where ropes were installed, as well as centuries old lake beds which threw up punishing heat. When it’s very cold there are many things man can do to keep warm, but when it is so hot, it is about body management rather than doing things to cool down.

Another conundrum is thinking what to do when a scorpion or a camel spider scuttles by the sleeping bag, or when a snake is spotted. Fortunately, those seen this year were clearly put off by our smell! And for the record, you can smell others after three days, but only smell myself after four. (So now you know). Finally, nose bleeds were a nuisance, and I’ve only just learned that this is where the expression “blood and sand” comes from, although technically it’s dust in the almost perpetual wind that causes the nasal irritation.

If this all sounds quite unpleasant well, maybe it is, but on reflection, it reminds me why I was so emotional at the finish. We all lead such relatively safe and comfortable lives that, just digging in for 6 legs in 7 days in harsh and extreme conditions was as different as it can be from my normal working day. The event was hugely satisfying because of that. I’ve chosen to share dimensions and some of my own thoughts rather than a chronology of the race. If you want the latter then I refer you again to It was an inspirational event. There was a blind chap; there were groups of French fire fighters who four at a time carried disabled children for a checkpoint to checkpoint section in a gladiator type vehicle, each giving them undoubtedly the experience of a lifetime. There was a guy who had testicular cancer at 23 which reappeared as lung cancer at 24 and he was running the MdS at the age of 26. Blisters, lack of sleep– so what? No big deal!

So, would I recommend it? On the one hand yes; most of my running friends at Holme Pierrepoint and Southwell could do it, but it is an individual decision as, you’ve got to want to do it and cope with the filth as the week progresses. It is a feat of endurance and if you appreciate the simple things like sleeping on the ground, seeing the stars with a clarity that very few places in the world offer set against the blackest background, then it is as I’ve said before simply a great adventure.

Finally, I’d just like to thank one more time all those who have been kind enough to donate to the Alzheimer’s Society.
.......….and if you haven’t donated, and enjoyed the story or video clips, then there’s still time on:

To view a selection of pictures please click on pictures



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