My Running Adventure; Marathon Des Stables

I’m not sure where to start with this one - Marathon des Sables. In the ultra community, those that have done it know it’s hard. Those that haven’t done it like to slate it. There is some snobbery around it. The marketing calls it ‘The Toughest Foot-race on Earth’. I haven’t done enough of them to comment, but it’s hard. It’s brutal. It’s unforgiving. Every year those that have done it say they had the toughest year: the most sand, the most heat. I can only comment on the 32nd edition.

 

In 2017 it was hot. We hit mid-50 degrees Celsius on a few days. Most of the time during the day it was in the 40’s.

 

The seed was sown when a mutual work college of mine and Gaz’s completed the MDS in 2014 - this was the first time I had followed it. Mike had also mentioned in 2014 at the end of the Kilimanjaro trip that he was thinking of doing it. I had a mild interest in doing it. Towards the end of 2015 it had featured in a few more conversations and I remember talking to Gaz about it. We looked at signing up and sent a few emails to “run ultra”. The opening for the 2017 race was in November so we had a few months to mull it over. That weekend we both went home and discussed it with our wives. On Monday we had agreed that we would do it and Mike was also game.

 

When it comes to actually applying to get in, MDS is simple. You pay your deposit and you’re in. It’s not like a few other races that have a points system or require you to have run qualifying races. To that end, we were sat at our desks waiting for the 9am opening of the registration process. All my details were in a Word document ready to cut and paste: credit card information, names and addresses and any other relevant data. It is first come, first served. I know it’s quite a big race, but often it sells out in minutes.

 

All three of us managed to get in. MDS is an expensive ‘package holiday’. You pay just over £4000 and everything is catered for: flights, transfers, a tent for 8 nights, and 2 nights in a luxury hotel at the end.

When you land in Morocco, you are greeted at the airport by none other than Mr Patrick Bauer, the race creator and director. This is where the machine that is MDS starts - a very well-oiled machine. You are paying a premium for this race and they try to make sure you are well looked after. We were on the first flight out of Gatwick with the idea that we would be first to the camp to choose a good bivouac location.  We had our tent and we got ourselves comfortable. We had blow-up airbeds for the first few days before the race, which we planned to give to the Berbers before the race started and move to our racing gear..
 

In the year before the race we had decided on our tent mates. Gaz, Mike and I were a given. Scotty was one of Mike’s friends who also decided to join us. We met Katie at an MDS mixer night in the April a week or so before the 2016 MDS. David Hellard made an appearance in full MDS gear - it turned out he was top Brit that year with a top 20 finish. It was also the first time I became aware of the ‘Bad Boy Running’ podcast.

Mike met Wendy and Alison on the VO2 events race in Cornwall, the Atlantic Coast Challenge. The dynamic was good. We had assumed that was it, but as we came into camp the officials gave us Bill Mitchell - on his second MDS, he was the oldest Brit to do the event, taking the title from none other than Sir Ranaulph Fiennes. Initially Bill drove me mad. He loved to tell you how to do things that he had done in the previous edition. He actually meant no harm but it took me a day or two, well until the race started really, for him not to annoy me. He gave you a running commentary of everything he did. He would talk himself and everyone around him though every thing he was doing, “Got to make me dinner, cut me bottle, where’s me knife,” you know the type.  But as much as he annoyed me, I was in awe of him. In his 60’s he decided to take up walking; walking led to running, and before long he had done his first marathon. He has now clocked up over 100 all over the world. At the time of writing this, he has done 2016 MDS, 2017 MDS, then MDS Peru, and 2018 MDS, being the oldest person to do 3 MDS’s in 12 months. 

 

The next day was admin and preparation. We needed to decide on the kit from our basecamp bags and what we would need. I had some goodies that I planned to eat over the next day or so that I would keep hold of. Once checked in we would have everything that we needed to survive for the next 6 days. Well, the bare minimum - the required equipment and as few extras as possible. My bag weight, with water, on the start line was 10.5 kgs. I know I could have got it lighter, but I would have had to go hungry. I think the real racing snakes were looking for the Nirvana of 6.5 kgs, but I knew to have some level of enjoyment on this, that wasn’t my goal. 

 

As I walked to the start of the race I was eating what was left of my supplies. I had been told that you shouldn’t get to the start line too early. It was quite hard not to do that, with the Berbers taking the bivouac apart around you, the excitement, the hundreds gathering around the start ready for the iconic moment of Patrick standing on a Landrover talking in French and then kicking off the race to ‘highway to hell’.

While all that happened, a helicopter flew overhead kicking up sand and dust, a cameraman hanging out the door. The experienced already had buffs pulled up over their faces to protect from the sand blast. The rest of us learnt quickly. Day one was underway.

 

Day 1

Day one was a warm up, 30.2 km of mixed terrain. We knew the strategy: walk the hills and the sand, run where we could. Not too fast but enough to get us out of the sun as quickly as possible, into the shade of the bivouac where we would rest, eat and get our feet up. We did day one in 4 hours 37, an average pace of 9 mins 12 per km, slightly quicker than walking, I guessed.  It was a slow but steady run. We were probably at the front of the mid pack, though we weren’t the first members of our tent back. Katie was already back, about an hour ahead of us. We were all in good spirits, chatting and excited to have finished day one. 


We were not fully self sufficient. During the day we had passed numerous checkpoints - as you pass through them they give you either one or two 1.5 l bottles of Sidi Ali water, each bottle numbered with your race number on the bottle and lid. If either are found on the course you are given a time penalty. The distance between checkpoints and the terrain determines the expected running time and whether one or two bottles are offered. It’s your choice whether to take both if they offer two, but if you turn it down you do not get extra later. My strategy was to take every bottle. 

 

When you arrive back at camp they give you the water to last until the start of the next day. You are issued three bottles as you come into camp, two as you prepare to leave in the morning. Most people will use the bottles to prepare their food - cutting them in half, you can use the bottom half to hydrate your freeze-dried food. We also chose to take a small stove, meaning we could heat water and have hot drinks. I took a few all-in-one coffee sachets, which I drank using the top half of the bottle as a cup, with a ring from the middle of the bottle as a cup stand. It’s an art. The coffee was dual purpose: my luxury item, but limited to one a day for breakfast and to ‘get things moving’ before leaving camp.

 

Day 2
 

 


Today was 39 km and was the first time we went over the infamous Jebel El Otfal. We came up the back edge and down the steep side. Today caught a lot of people out. The whole one or two bottle strategy for some would be their undoing. It tended to be that before a tough leg you would be offered two bottles - usually this meant you had to carry a bottle. Most people had bottles on the front of their bags in pockets - far easier to fill than using a CamelBak. You just lifted them out of their pockets and you were done - but these tended to carry less water. Even if you necked as much as possible you ended up leaving a checkpoint with a bottle at some point. I would get one of the others to jam it into my bag. We came out of the checkpoint before the Jebel carrying a bottle. There were half empty bottles left by the bins - a lot in front of us had opted to ditch or simply not carry in favour of traveling light.


As we scaled the Jebel in the midday heat there were bodies sitting by the edge. A Frenchman asked me for water. I had a massive crisis of conscience as I declined to give him any. I didn’t know if he had taken one or two bottles, but as I still had enough to get to the next checkpoint, I surmised he had only taken one. As we came over the top of the Jebel we could see the next checkpoint. It was quite a climb in the heat of the day. At the top of the Jebel was another competitor with a small guitar, playing and singing. A small group had gathered to sing with him.

We did day 2, a total of 39.8 km, in 6 hours 30, averaging 10 mins per km. We were still doing very well, in the top 3rd. We were still running within ourselves and not pushing to the limit, but we had a long way to go. We still had ‘the long day’ which was starting to feature in peoples’ minds.

As we walked into the bivouac, Katie was in before us again. Today she said she had been back by 10 mins. The evening was the same as the previous one, as was the order of arrivals: Katie, us three, then Wendy and Alison, Bill and then Scotty.

Scotty is an established ultra runner, completing many events. However, as ever, life got in the way for him. Getting married in 2017 after the  MDS and moving to Twickenham he didn’t get the right preparation. I wasn’t sure he would finish it, but Mike was confident, telling us he was a tenacious character. I think that is an understatement.

The MDS has generous cut-offs - you can very easily walk every step, which is what Scotty did. Do not think for one minute that’s the easy way out. I’ll explain. Six hours running had us back home by early afternoon, but if you walk you are out in the sun longer and through the real heat of the day. You don’t get any more water, and, probably the hardest thing, you don’t get a lot of recovery and you spend a lot longer on your feet.

Scotty was sorting out some foot admin when he looked up and, like the bashed up car in “Top Gear” always waiting to pick up the one that broke down, he had the camels waiting for him, the Berbers smiling as he rushed to get his feet sorted. If the camels pass you, you’re out. They are the sweepers who are walking at the cut-off time. This happened to him twice over the week. Scotty was also on his feet longer than most. He had to adapt his Injinji socks - by adapt I mean cut a toe out, so he could tape it.

The rules of the camp for many years has been that the first people from each tent that make it back to bivouac have to pull the carpet - that is, the groundsheet - back and move the big stones and rocks from the hard desert floor. The Berbers do not do this for you. You then sort your admin, food, feet, recovery. As your slower tentmates come in, it’s nice to assist where you can - warm water, etc. We did all we could for Bill and Scotty. Scotty was more self-sufficient than Bill. Although he had done an MDS before, he was still getting tired, and as the week went on he got more so. We helped where we could, often cooking for him. His admin was a shambles too - all his food was there, but not organised into days. We had all ours in individual packs needed for that day: breakfast, dinner and any snacks. It made it easier. Not Bill. He did the previous year, but this year he had it all stuffed into his bag. We spent time with head torches on looking for his food for him; oh, and his glasses that he took every opportunity to lose or stand on.

 

 Day 3

Day 3 was a more technical day. We ran out of the camp and up a Jebel, before running across the ridge at the top. This was my kind of terrain - I loved these mountain trails. Mike didn’t. Mike, as stated on Druids, was like Bambi. He had a total inability to run in a straight line. Downhill on technical terrain he was beyond slow. Gaz and I stood at the bottom, chuckling as he came down. It was here we first saw Susie Chan out on the course, legendary Instagrammer and social media runner. We had met her in camp, but we were expecting to be a long way behind her. This is when we first realised that she was not having a good time of it. 

 

At the bottom of this Jebel was the first checkpoint of the day. We took our water and now it was back across the plain to Jebel El Otfal, this time up the sandy side and down the rocky side. This is one of the iconic images of the MDS, climbing up the Jebel with a rope to assist you to get some grip and purchase. As we ran closer and closer to it we realised how big it actually was - far steeper this side than coming over the other. Almost vertical. We didn’t seem to be getting any closer. As we hit the bottom it was back to walking - this was a long slog.

The climb is from about 650 m to 930 m in a short space of time, most of it on sand. Coming down is great fun and a photo opportunity that Mr Ian Corless relishes. Going up is far easier for him to catch you at your worst. 

 

We were already 20 km into day 3 and this was tough going. As we pulled ourselves up the rope, my thoughts went to Duncan Slater, the double amputee. How was Duncan going to climb this? Due to both Gaz and I having a military background and both raising money for military charities, we  had the honour of spending time in the heat chamber at the Institute of Naval Medicine with Duncan. It was here we met “Doctor Dan” Simon and Ayla who were experts in heat acclimatisation. Dr Dan was out doing MDS, but also was an on hand medic just in case a hard call needed be done to pull Duncan out of the race. This call had to be done by satphone the previous year. Duncan, after the long day, was told he may need further surgery to remove more of his legs if he carried on. 

 

Dr Dan had also worked on many other projects, such as the Walking with the Wounded trek to the Arctic. During our time at the Institute of Naval Medicine they took the opportunity to convince us to wear equipment that would record a mobile ECG, core body temperature, movement data and skin temperature. This was a joint test with INM and the American equivalent to look at the effects of heat on the body and acclimatisation under extreme conditions. We gladly assisted. I hope the data was useful!

As we neared the top of the Jebel we saw Ian ready with his camera. We were now well aware that Ian did not like people waving, smiling, doing heart shapes with their hands, or any other sort of action that did not show you working, sweating or struggling. You only need to look at his Instagram or website to see he is a great photographer who likes catching the moment. I was too tired to do anything else. We nodded and moved on.

As we hit the summit we knew by the maps that our next camp was out in the distance, somewhere across the desert floor. We could see for miles, but we couldn’t see the camp. We hit the bottom of the Jebel and it was hot. I had the Garmin Tempe temperature sensor attached to the underside of my bag, which is more accurate than the internal one on the watch as it isn’t affected by body temperature, and as we ran for the last 10 km of the day, it hit 48 degrees. It was hot, but oddly, it was still runnable. Had we totally acclimatised? I’m not saying we were running fast, but we were moving quicker than a walk - we were running 10 min kilometres.

Arriving back at the bivouac, we walked past the webcam and waved. It didn’t record sound, but we didn’t know that! We passed the finish and over to the place that served a cup of sweet tea. We stood and drank it, pulled out our bag and filled it with the three bottles of water we had now for the night.

It’s amazing how your 'run' or, as it’s known, 'the desert shuffle’, quickly turns into a hobble; it’s much worse when you have your slippers or flip-flops on. As we hobbled to our tent we fully expected Katie to be there. She wasn't.

We pulled back the carpet and spent a few minutes clearing the rocks. It became apparent very quickly that this was a task akin to painting the Golden Gate Bridge. We did the best we could and replaced the rug, then started our evening routine: recovery shakes and preparing food, although it was too early to eat just yet. Bedspace, changed out of my 'race' clothes - I did have another pair of shorts and t-shirt with me.

Katie arrived, almost crying. She sat down and was assisted in removing her shoes. Her feet were  in tatters. She was in a lot of pain. Mike went over to the medic's 'Doc Trotters' to see if he could get something to clean her up with. He returned saying she had to go over - he assisted her to her feet and took her over.

She was over there for an hour or so. When she returned her feet were extensively bandaged. We all prepped food and started to eat.

Next to arrive were Wendy and Alison, Bill and Scotty. It was dusk when Scotty arrived, so we assisted with food prep and getting him sorted. We had already had a few hours’ recovery, laying around. Senses of humour returning, the piss-taking started. No one was safe. We even had spent enough time now with Bill for him to get some. I’m not sure he got irony or sarcasm but it was funny nonetheless.

Katie had asked if she could run with us three. We were concerned now with her finishing. You see photos of people’s feet on MDS and she was up there with the worst of them. We knew that if she was on her own for the long day, she would suffer. She would suffer anyway, but with some conversation and things to distract her, she may find it easier. She was easily fit enough to finish, but now there was a different challenge - finishing in agony.

 

Day 4,  the long one

We had a strategy, not too dissimilar to every other day: walk the sand and hills, run where you can. The only difference for today was that we intended to walk though the mid-afternoon heat, the hottest part of the day. Then, as it cooled down, we were going to go as hard as possible. We had no doubt we would be going through the dark. Starting at 8am we had until around 6pm until darkness set in. I didn't actually have a time planned in my head for this - the terrain dictated the pace for us and although the 'road book' we were given had a fairly accurate description of the route, it obviously didn't have the day temperatures. The first 15 km went to plan, we were making hay while the sun shone, so to speak. We were doing anything from 7 to 10 min/km depending on the terrain. The going was good, we were all in good spirits and chatting.  We were up there probably on par with the pace for the week so far. We were more than happy. However, Katie was really struggling. As much as I took the piss out of Mike for bringing poles that he had neither trained with, or to this point used, he gave them to Katie to use and this made a huge difference to us. Katie was in a lot of pain. We made the decision between us that we would all finish today. The pace did drop a bit, but not a lot, in the second half of the 86.3 km - through the day we would do just over 1 km of climbing. To put that into perspective, we were basically climbing Mt Snowdon from sea level. If you do the Pyg track up Snowdon you are already halfway up. It was tough and it took its toll. The heat was searing in the afternoon.

Today was one of the days we met Cher on the course. Cher had been on Druids in 2016. We met her on one of the days where I photo bombed her - she was talking a glamorous selfie when I came and ruined it for her. Mike had struck up a bit of a friendship with her and they did some heat training together.  It was just before dusk when we met her and she was in a bit of a bad way. She needed some food. I gave her a handful of nuts and Gaz gave her some sausage. Actually pepperoni, I think you see where this is going. Cher had been quicker than us all week and had heckled us as we walked past her tent to ours. She came by our tent one day with a leg of her evening wear trousers considerably shorter, we enquired as to the reason. "I ran out of toilet roll," was the nonchalant answer.

She had teamed up with a few of her tent mates and they then overtook us as it got dark. We found out later the nuts and sausage were a lifesaver for her. Mike and Katie apparently were hungry and a small bit disgruntled that we had chosen Cher above them.

We put on our head torches and attached glow sticks to our packs. We were beyond running now. The only thing we could do was power walk. Katie was quiet - she didn't moan, she was just quiet, retreating into herself. She impressed me with her strength. Many would have not carried on. I knew already she was quick, but this was different. She must have been in agony for nearly 100 K steps.

We collected many people though the night who were on their own and stayed with us for a kilometre or so. We welcomed them into our group of 4 as we powered on. Checkpoint 6 is geared up to make you lose a few hours. It has tents for you to sleep, deck chairs and I seem to remember a big fire. It was our target to get there before eating our evening food. Every other day we had snacks on the go and the evening meal in camp. Today we knew we would need something more substantial as we were on the go. We stopped and stood in a circle and prepped our food. Around us were tents, people asleep, deck chairs with people sitting and resting. This was like the mythical sirens begging us to sit down. We knew if we succumbed it would be a big ask to get going again. We stood looking at each other as we ate. I think we were ready to go within 20 minutes, though time at this point seemed irrelevant. We were at 65 km now and had just over 20 km to go, but we had been going for over 11 hours now. I couldn't even work out how long it would take us to finish. Everything becomes very simple. All you need to do is put one foot in front of the other. Gaz had gone into full Sergeant Major mode. Katie was flagging badly now, so Gaz was 'encouraging her to keep up'. She did. She wanted to. The sooner we finished, the sooner we could get the bags off our backs and get some sleep. Conversation was now at a bare minimum. The only thing that kept happening was reminders to drink. I had a timer on Garmin to alarm every 15 minutes to remind me to drink - when it went off, I reminded everyone else. I left Gaz to give the encouragement to the team.

We could see Checkpoint 7 lit up in the distance. We spoke about how in previous years there was supposedly a laser light pointing into the sky from the finish of the day. It was, by all accounts, counter-productive due to the fact it never got any closer. This was a similar senario. The checkpoint did not seem to get closer, until we were on top of it. As we neared we could hear the hum of generators powering the lights. 

 

The checkpoint drills by now were slick. The beeps as you walked through the timer, turned your bag so the staff could get to your punch card that let them know the water you took from each checkpoint, shout your race number, preferably in French, so that they could write onto your bottles. Quick small talk and thank the staff for their support. Some of the staff were now familiar from the previous days. I took my two bottles, wondering if this was just a precaution of the speed, or did I need the two bottles for the next and final section. I added my salt - I had taken Precision Hydration tablets for my water, where most people added the issued salt. To be honest my solution was heavy. I had moved the tables out of their tubes into a big bag of maybe 100 tablets for the week, but for me it added taste to the water and I had not had any cramps or signs of dehydration. Neither had any of my tent, but I didn’t mind. It worked for me so the weight was irrelevant. I added one to each of my bottles.

Exiting the checkpoint, we were all ready to go at the same time. We were quick though the checkpoints. Time spent here was time out of bed. We knew we had about 10 km to go - two parkruns. I often rationalised distances like this: 'only the Stubbington 10 km to go, two parkruns'. If I think about a distance race holistically then it would scare me. If i break it down into smaller chunks,I very often get my head around it fairly simply. After all, running is simple. It's the mental side that's the hard bit, as long as you are well drilled with your fuelling and water.

The final 10 km was hard. It was along a dried river. A dried river that someone had driven a tank down and turned to fine dust - finer than sand. It wasn't runnable; it was barely walkable. We couldn't see the glow of the camp - mind games by Mr Bauer, we assumed, We knew he would put this camp so that you couldn't see the glow of it.  My Garmin told me we had done 85 km so I knew we were close. We climbed a small ridge maybe 10 meters in height and we could see it. Glowing, inviting. We knew we had our small section of desert floor where we could recover, and it was within a few kilometres. We all crossed the line together. I had expected more emotion from me as we crossed - I cried on my last 50 mile run. This time I was ecstatic but subdued. We crossed the line... fist bumped. There is no shaking hands in the desert. Hygiene is imperative to finishing the race. You can only control your own, so you don't shake hands. Fist bumps are the new handshake.

We did the usual post leg routine - waved at the webcam, had a cup of tea, took our water and shuffled back to the tent. We didn't bother clearing the stones, we just got our recovery shakes out. I took my shoes off. My feet felt as though someone had broken all the bones with a hammer. They hurt. I wasn't sure how I was going to do another marathon. I crawled into my sleeping bag, shivering, and fell asleep.

We woke up at first light, The first reaction was to see who was in from our tent: the four of us, plus Wendy and Alison. I  hadn't heard them come in overnight. I had a look at my Garmin - we had done the 86.3 km in 18 hours ,9 minutes and 8 seconds. Oddly this was incredibly close to my Lakeland50 time for 2010 of 18 hours, 29 minutes and 8 seconds. The Lakeland was 81 km, but the times were exactly 20 minutes apart, to the second.

My feet had recovered. Sore, yes; broken, no. I lay in bed looking out and could see a slow stream of people finishing, looking broken, but in daylight they seemed in good spirits. The mentality now was bizarre - if you ever, under any other circumstances heard this, you would think they were absolutely crazy.

        "Only a marathon to go"

The rest of the day was spent lazing around, eating as much as we had left for the day. Gaz and I took the opportunity to go to the email tent to message home. Most evenings the staff bring around emails for you sent by family and friends. Its also a small tradition to email your 'race number' from the previous year. To message back you need to go and queue for the tent and then you can send one email before having to join the queue again to send another. I queued to send one. I messaged my wife - I cant remember what I wrote.

I'm not sure what time Scotty came in. It was after Bill and after lunch. He had had a tough day out - he had slept at Checkpoint 6, as had Bill. Bill got his head down for a few hours and was back moving before first light. Scotty stayed until sunrise and then got moving again. It was a relief that they had both made it. We were starting to worry.

Oddly, after day one we didn't hear of too many people DNFing. We had a lady near us who went on day 2. I had asked her what her weight was, meaning her bag. She shouted back her actual weight. I was a bit surprised, but she didn’t seem at all bothered. Everyone was talking bag weight even at this late stage and cutting grams mattered. I figured I had lost 20 kgs over the past year or so, so I was still ahead with a 10 kg bag. Grams matter though. If something was loose it would get cut off; straps off your bag, if it served no purpose it went. Food was repackaged into lighter packaging. Anything you didn’t need was saving you carrying it. It became an obsession.

 

There is money in light equipment and the shops that sell it. It’s a boutique race and you need boutique equipment to do it. There are some really good shops which deal with probably 90% of the British entrants - my race kit, for example. You can book a slot and go there and get fitted out with everything you need. They offer a very personal online service, hand written notes with every purchase. They were my go-to for everything.

 

Day 5
 

The final timed stage was exactly a marathon, 42.2 km. Again the masses started before the elite 50. As we woke we were confident that today we would get the converted medal. Ian Corless, who was a photographer that we had become friendly with, had told us that this year they were giving us medals at the end of the marathon, rather than at the end of the charity stage. The charity stage is for the race’s official charity. Everyone is given a T-shirt and most people walk it as tent groups. By the end we had heard that it was an anticlimax. We were thrilled to hear that we would get the medal at the end of the marathon, though if we didn’t do the charity stage we would be struck off the official timing. How hard could an 8 km walk be after this?

 

We set off in good spirits, running along at a decent pace, chatting. It was the 4 of us. Katie was quiet but well up on pace. She was digging deep. She did feel as though she was holding us back, although she wasn’t. We had made the decision to finish together and it's what we intended to do. There were no huge Jebels today, but a variety of terrain including dry rivers, climbing out the bottom up the steep banks. It was as we approached this river that things took a turn for the worse. Gaz nearly collapsed - he became dizzy and was concerned that if he highlighted this to the course staff at a checkpoint they may withdraw him from the race, it was that bad. He had the monitoring equipment on, ECG and core temperatures. His temperature seemed good. We couldn’t see the actual ECG, but even if we could we didn’t know what we were looking for. We walked for a while and gave him some food. After a while he decided to try running again. He tried a few times to tell us to leave him and go on but that wasn’t going to happen. We started running again but after another 30 minutes or so it came over him again so we walked for a while. It seemed to go, or at least he didn’t bring it up again.

 

We went through a deserted village. Apparently a lot of filming happens in this area - Star Wars was rumored to have been filmed nearby and this was used as one of the towns.

 

More importantly, we could see the finish. Across a very long salt flat we could see the camp where we would spend our final night in the desert. We knew we would have medals waiting. It was about here that Rachid, Tom Evans and Mohammad came past us. Tom had come out of left field this week. No one knew who he was. He was a Brit who was going to make the podium. That’s who he was. No European had ever made the men’s podium at MDS. Day one everyone expected him to blow up, but no, he had gone toe to toe with the Moroccans who dominated this race.

 

They glided as the passed us, making running in this terrain look effortless. We cheered on Tom as he passed us. He shouted go GB as he did. Goose bumps.

 

I guess it took us half an hour or more to finish, but as we came to the finish in a line of 4, the officials lined up opposite holding up 4 medals for us to run into. Mike started to cry about 400 meters out. This had been a long journey for us all. Not just the actual race, but in the build up. It had dominated our lives. We had planned so much, probably overcomplicated everything - shoes, clothes, sun cream, lubes, food, everything. It was bound to elicit an emotional response. I thought back to the Lakeland50 where Nick and Gaz both looked at me as I cried. I’d expected my response to be the same here. The medals were put over our heads - it was actually Patrick Bauer who put it on Mike. As we shook their hands, we walked past them into the finish area where a few people were gathered in front of the webcam or generally congratulating each other. We all hugged each other. Mike was blubbing. I was amazed he didn’t start me off... I was ecstatic, I can't tell you how much adrenaline was flowing, but oddly I didn’t cry, well not until Gaz hugged me. 

 

I can't tell you how long we stayed here, but Ian took some photos of us, individually and as a group. We spent some time at the webcam, drank some tea, collected water - yes we were still under race conditions and had water rations. We still needed the required calories for the charity stage, it wasn’t all over yet. We walked back to our tent for the last time, dropped our stuff and had photos with each other. It was at this point that Rachid came round. He had won the MDS for the 6th time. He walked up to us and congratulated us on finishing. We had cheered him on as he had passed us - he didn’t know who we were, but he came and shook our hands, posed for some photos, then walked off to the next group of finishers. I stood and watched him, in awe of his humility. No air of  ‘I’m the champ’, just genuinely happy for everyone who had taken on the MDS and won. 

 

No one asks you where you come when you finish the MDS. Shaun Marsden told us this when he did MDS. He planned to run with his girlfriend Susie Chan and then propose to her at the end, but instead she had to drop him as he was not having his best race, for various reasons. He came around 900th, from memory. He still finished. He still has the same medal as Rachid. Finishing this is an achievement. He did finish and he did ask Susie to marry him. She said yes! It was great mental resolve to finish, dehydrated, unable to eat. He finished and proposed.

 

Although, Gaz finished 398, Mike 399 and I finished 400. 

 

 

Guess how many times I get asked if I finished in the 300’s?

 

Twitter: @JamesYeardley

Blog: www.myrunningadventures.com

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