Marathon des Sables 2018

Sally rang saying “Dad will you wait up I want talk to you about my next challenge, you may want to do it with me”
My first reaction to her was no way, as I knew what this was but a couple of days later after thinking what a great thing to do with my daughter and what memories we would have of this week I said yes!

We then embarked on a fantastic journey that encapsulated lots of early morning alarm calls and weekends out running on the local moors and the beach at Bambergh culminating in heat chamber sessions at Leeds which were just awful.

The event actually felt as though it was always in the distance and not a reality, kit was constantly being purchased to the extent that I can probably open a second hand training shoe shop! – Boom it arrived and we were on the train down to Heathrow and the excitement was building we were giddy kippers.

Wait a minute the first drama…. as we get on the train Sally says ”my trainer has split!” Oh my God you are kidding me and its under the velcro for the gaitors to attach so a sand nightmare!
Thank goodness for Dec our BDM in London who instantly reserved the same trainers at a shop and then we identified a cobbler near Kings Cross who could saw the velcro on =panic over?
We arrived in London 2 hours later to go collect them, Sally puts the address in her maps -sun is blaring down we are pulling our big cases and carrying our rucksacks- we get lost she has put in the wrong address!

Eventually we get there and he hasn’t started them ! We eventually got them done at 6pm.

An early start the next morning and then a delayed flight but its great to see all the fellow GB competitors and meet up with some of our Tent team, everyone is in great spirits.

Eventually we take off and Ouzarrate, Morocco is our destination. Leaving a cold UK we get off the plane to hot sunshine and after clearing customs climb aboard our coach which is one of 21 and the massive logistical exercise of MDS hits home.
Not really looking forward to a 6 hour journey soon takes another twist as Sally is sick and she cuddles her sick bag for 2 hours until we stop! How I wasn’t sick on the back of this I do not know!
Darkness now falls as we arrive at the first camp, Rob who arrived on the first plane had our tent all sorted and he meets us off the coach and shows us to our new home Tent 135.
The next day is Saturday and this full of admin, checking in your medical certificates and compulsory kit , bag weighs and then finally we get our numbers 659 and 660- we are now officially in the race and cannot wait for Sunday.

Nervous excitement and a spike of adrenaline once AC/DCs Highway to Hell blazes out and we are off in bright sunshine. The first CP is reached in brisk run and we have smashed the first 10k. Water reload and off again but we now hit soft sand and the pace slackens with the advice do not push too hard on the first day ringing in our eras. CP2 is reached and then its another 10k to finish and day one is over. It feels great to get back to our home and its all fist pumps all round as tent135 get back at various times. Another 5 days to cross off.

Day 2 is longer by another 10k and is filled with arduous long stretches that just never seem to end but mentally we are right in the game and as we walk I say to Sally “welcome to your new office and day job” it really feels like it doesn’t matter how long or hard any of this is it is amazing to be here and we have all day to do it, what a revelation so just relax into it. After our initial push to CP1 we settle into running a marker walking a marker as midday sun really hots up, this becomes our tactic for the week get ahead of the game and then make sure we keep going- Do Not Stop! To finish this stage we have to cross sand dunes and climb the first Jebel, not high enough to be a mountain but certainly very steep. The sweat was just pouring off me and stinging my eyes as we climbed and climbed up through the rocks which seemed to never end. We came out on top and wow what a view! As we looked over the edge that you had to get over using a rope, Sally had a first wobble and for a fleeting moment we had tears as the steepness took hold. A quick harsh reprimand from me -bad Dad -and she snaps out of it overcomes her fears and dominates the descent, amazing girl!
Finally we get back to the camp site and our tent, unfortunately we lose Michel today which is really sad but he had done it before twice so his pulling out wasnt as massive for him, he had 2 medals already and we desperately wanted one.
I awake around midnight thinking we are being burgled but as I come awake realise it is a sand storm starting up and its about to become brutal! Luckily for us we have two army Captains in our tent who collapse our tent and we lie on our kit and grip the tent, others are not so lucky and kit is literally blowing from other tents into ours and all over the camp site. It lasts for good hour and sand is everywhere including every oriface but we settle down to sleep and get a few hours before sunrise at 5am and its back to it. First stop is the toilet and to say this is basic is a understatement, a metal frame with white PVC flaps a plastic buffet inside to attach your poo bag too and crack on. I have my one wipe for the day which I use to wipe my face and then my bum, grab my bag and deposit it in the bin outside. Sanitise my hands and then clean my teeth with my mini toothbrush and then its Gourney Goo on my feet while the water heats up on the stove, multitasking this is a first for me. Then cut the water bottle in half add my porridge and then the hot water, dehydrated porridge again for breakfast this is a mistake that I am regretting each morning but it is a must so I suffer the challenge again, calories are key this is a privilege remember! As always though I am still last to get all my jobs done in the tent and my bag packed ready for the start line, the Berbers are dismantling the tent over me and as every other day Sally is telling me off, I need to get my stuff together and off to the start line we go.

Day 3 on paper was only 31k sounds like a breeze, but look a the map and it shows we actually have 4 climbs today! We are getting acclimatised now and I actually am enjoying the heat after training all winter in snow and ice this is a welcome change! Each CP is our priority and re load with two more water bottles and constant salt tablets and electrolytes, we are averaging 15 litres of water a day! We soon become known as Team PeeWee as Alex one of tent mates joins us and as the race develops peoples inhibitions disappear and the sight of people just peeing gets ever closer to the race lines as the week progresses, one of us says I need a wee so all three of us go- every time it is a joke! Three climbs into the day we have a valley to cross and the distances now just seem to go on for ever in a mirage but all I can see in is the towering jebel at the far end. Soon enough we arrive and the slog along with the sweat starts, it is seeping down my face and stinging my eyes, this side we are climbing up the sand and around the rocks again another rope to pull us up, do not look down! We make it over and then its the final 8k to home. My first problem though now kicks in the constant downhills have put a massive strain through my knee coupled with the uneven footing of either rocks or soft sand over 3 days and I can’t run so we walk the 8k but as we get to camp I am hobbling, the worry then sets in as tomorrow is 86k! Anti inflammatries and a good sleep but as in every night a wee is needed and a gingerly step out of the tent and to my relief I can walk with no pain, my race can go on!

Day 4 we had as team PeeWee already decided to walk and as we had 35 hours to complete we would have loads of time to do the 86k. This really took a new mental approach from me as I like to be cracking on but this was new territory for all of us. I tried to run a couple of kms in but my knee growled at me, decision was made there and then settle down enjoy the brisk walk and as we are here to complete not compete this was the right decision. Especially as we were told the temperature reached 51 degrees at one point, we crossed a dried out lake that was hard under foot which was nice but the white surface just reflected the heat-boy it was hot! Where is the snow and ice? Our mentality was really tested as we reached CP4 about halfway and it was dark now, still another 40 plus km to go which we have just done and it has taken us all day. It starts to get colder straight away so on goes my jacket, head torch and glow stick on our backpacks. We now have pretty much 20km of sand dunes to conquer! It is mind numbing as visually it looks like we are just continuosly going uphill. All I am trying to do is find untouched sand which we have now worked out if you put your flat foot down on this you don’t sink and progress is so much easier….. On and on we go another CP and it is supper time a real highlight and realisation we are heading home. It is now freezing and people are trying to sleep in the tents, not for us we need to keep going! After getting the stove out and getting some luke warm water into our dehydrated meal that really is just horrible but it is calories and they are needed we do get a lift -its back to marching the dunes……CP7 is finally reached and now we have the final 10k to get home. As was a constant with regular wees with our team we took a moment to switch off our head torches and just look at the night sky. It was truly beautiful absolutely no pollution of any sort and no moon, the stars just shone like bright diamonds and the Milky Way was there in all its glory, the sight really was epic, enough of that we just need to keep putting another step in. These early morning hours really were a test of mind over matter as now we were literally on our own other racers had either finished or were well and truly behind us the night lights pointing the way were played out on front us and the next one was our target. Eventually we could see the camp – Hallelujah I think it is fair to say this was the defining moment for me and now I knew the medal and finishing was going to happen, one more marathon to do, easy after this slog of 21 hours none stop! A truly epic and magical day that absolutely was way beyond anything we had undertaken.
As we arrived in camp we were greeted by the sunrise and what a treat. A quick recovery shake and reflections with our tent team mates who were now our family and it was snuggle into my sleeping bag time with a massive grin on my face.
The afternoon was spent sorting a couple of little blisters on the end of the same toe on both feet which would later result in a nail coming off but looking around at other people I had well and truly swum the channel as Doc Trotters was in full flow and it was a procession of bandaged up feet walking past our tent. Another dehydrated curry yes you guessed it we had taken a curry for each night but these were also wearing a bit thin now! I am now well and truly into living by daylight hours and without a watch and all other distractions such as TV social media emails it is a great feeling to be getting ready to sleep at 6.45pm and as soon as it is dark at 7 well and truly fast asleep and apart from my nightly wee it is daybreak at 5 am that sees me and the camp jump to it. Last big day and I am raring to go, knee is now without pain and after AC/DC we get a proper trot on and smash it out over the dunes to the first CP 12k in 65 minutes, really am buzzing today and absolutely feel on top of the world. However Team PeeWee falls apart as Alex is suffering and decides to go on her own which later she says she cried as the bond was now so strong between us. It was for the best and actually was good for Sally and I to complete this magical journey on our own. Sally was feeling it in her legs so the last CP was a drag to reach but at no point were we getting separated. Only 8k to go know and as we contemplated the finish line we both very quiet and I was doing my best to hold in the tears as I could now see the inflated finish line blowing in the distance.

As we approached it some of out tent mates were there to cheer us over the line and we crossed together and to be greeted by Patrick the race director who started this epic race 33 years ago it was all too much for us both as we sobbed in our special embrace, our 18 month journey had reached its climax! This is what memories are made off and to have had Sally at my side every step of the way who has shown so much grit and determination never once complaining I cannot tell you how proud I am, she is one special girl! Our medals around our necks we were just thrilled with cheshire cat grins -it doesn’t get any better than this!

10 days in the Desert I look back on as a humbling experience, having nothing but what you can carry, sleeping on the floor looking at an amazing sky at night, nothing but you and sand dunes and beautiful vistas in the daytime very special.
I also feel very privileged to be able to take on this event and train for it as we have done. Looking back at our visit to Bel who we have raised money for and thinking of special friends who are no longer with us brings home that we have to make every effort to live life to the full and take advantage of every opportunity.
It has been epic and thank you all so much for your support not only in sponsorship but your emails every night of the event- Love you all!