THE MARATHON DES SABLES 1996
The following in an excerpt from “Fartleks and Flatulance” by David Berridge
Copyright (C) David Berridge. All Rights Reserved
THE MARATHON DES SABLES 1996
All men dream but not equally
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.
T. E. Lawrence
What is it: The most famous and the original Desert Stage Race.
Distance: 240km (150 miles)
It is: A six day multi stage Desert race.
One saturday morning in 1994, I was up early, and with a cup of tea and half a dozen chockie bickies, in hand, I plonked myself down in front of the television to watch “Transworld Sport”. I finished my tea and was busy brushing away the crumbs (trying desperately to hide the evidence) when a ten minute piece came on about a foot race across the Sahara Desert, the race was held annually and was called the “Marathon Des Sables” it was a 210 kilometer running race, across the Sahara Desert, the people running were an odd mixture, elite type racing snakes, young, old and middle aged, fast and slow, tall and short, fat and thin. I was fascinated! I grabbed a video tape from the mountain that was beside the tele, “Dirty Dancing” that would do, shoved it in and hit record. Over the weekend I watched it a couple of times, amazed that any one could, or would, want to run across a desert.
The following weekend whilst reading the Telegraph I came across an article by Mike Calvin, a journalist covering that year’s ‘Marathon Des Sables’ and in particular Dr Mike
Strouds participation, Dr Stroud had not long returned from his epic crossing of Antarctica with Ranulph Fiennes. I read the article and watched the video for the umpteenth time and decided to write to Mike Calvin to find out a bit more about the race. A few days later a letter from the Telegraph arrived along with the details of the UK organiser, Chris Lawrence ‘The best of Morocco’ was the man to talk to, another letter and another reply only this time from Chris Lawrence he had kindly sent me an official video. I watched it and read the details of how to enter, ‘how to enter’, I hadn’t planned to do the bloody thing, doing the bloody thing was for other people!
Even if I did fancy having a bash, which I didn’t, the reality was that I was 34 years old, had not run a step since I was at school, and I had hated running at school, memories of the dreaded cross country runs, cold red legs, runny nose, humiliation and black plimsolls all came flooding back.
I hadn’t got the money, 1800 was a lot. I hadn’t got the time or indeed the knowledge to train, how far is 210 kms, how does anyone train to run for seven days on the trot, carrying a rucksack and across the desert. I wouldn’t know how to navigate, what to take, what to wear or what to eat and I’d never flown, the list of why I couldn’t was impressive and long, and getting more impressive and longer by the minute. I knew what I had to do, just watch the video again to confirm what I already knew, and as I was watching it for the 50th time my wife came in wearing that look, the look that only an exasperated wife can a give a husband, she sat down and I proceeded to waffle on about the ‘Marathon Des Sables’, sort of explaining that I would love to have a go whilst knowing it was completely ridiculous, she politely listened as only that same slightly exasperated wife can listen, as you can see my wife spends a lot of time being in a state of utter exasperation, I thought I was making a pretty good case when
bloody Patrick Swazey and Jennifer Grey started faffing about on the tele, the words you’ve taped over my “Dirty Dancing” bought the whole thing to an abrupt end! The more I thought about it the more I wanted to do it. And if I really wanted to do it I needed to commit myself, could I find the money, it would be difficult but yes, just! Could I
train, the race was a year away, plenty of time (I hoped) what sort of training, that was a difficult one, all I could do is run and walk as much as possible, whilst carrying a rucksack. Time off work, with enough notice it should be OK, If I did manage by some miracle or other to get myself on to the start line I WOULD have to finish! After the ‘Dirty Dancing’ debacle had died down (I had promised to buy her the video) I plucked up the courage to ask, well not ask exactly, more suggest, that my running 143 miles across the Sahara Desert, and paying 1800 for the privilege would be a good idea, it was a tough sell, but I got away with it (It was only after I had returned, that my wife said she only said yes because “I didn’t think for one minute you were stupid enough to go through with it”). With my wife’s “blessing” it was time to get my arse in gear. Three things needed to be done, train for it, pay for it and complete it. Easy. First the money, I would start saving immediatly. Second, the training, ah! before I start training I’ll have to buy some trainers, bollox, I’ll have to start saving when I next get paid. In the mean time I’ll just get out and run round the street, with in 20 minutes I was back and trying to put the kettle on, I was bolloxed, couldn’t talk and needed a cup of tea. Watching the video again and trying to pick up some tips, on running through the desert, I noticed that there was one hell of a lot of walking involved, that made me feel a bit better. With the training all I could do was to be patient, increase my distance bit by bit, but not my speed, do plenty of hills and lots of ‘speed marching’ whilst carrying a pack containing the
plastic milk containers filled with water, slowly increasing the weight. Buy a compass and practise walking on a bearing, whatever that means (fortunately the compass I bought had an idiots guide to using it) Only the year before an Italian runner had got lost and was not found for 10 days, when he was eventually found he was in Algeria!
Over the following months I steadily increased my mileage, but with Christmas rapidly approaching and the race scheduled to take place in march, I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t any
where near ready and I knew it. Yes training had gone well and yes I could run/walk 10 to 15 miles a day for three or four days, but it wasn’t enough and I was very aware of it! So my first major decision, well second if you count my entering the thing, I decided to not do the 1995 race but wait another year and enter the 11th ‘Marathon Des Sables’ in 1996. Decision made, I let my wife know of my revised plan and was once again treated to that exasperated look. With the training side of things going well and with time rapidly passing by, it was time to sort the logistics out, the funds were coming together, I might have to borrow a bit, but the funds would be in place.The time off work, I managed to get 10 days off and with swapping a couple of shifts, that was all sorted. What gear, ie: rucksack, cooker, clothes, shoes and food etc etc. Off to the local outdoor shop, when I say the local outdoor shop, we live on the Isle of Wight, the choice of outdoor shops is somewhat limited, Milletts! So it was a trip to Portsmouth, managed to find a rucksack a 35 ltr Lowe Alpine ‘Mountain Contour’ jobby, I also managed to find a pair of trainers, I tried a pair on in what was supposed to be a ‘Sports Shop’ when a spotty, bored looking 12 year old shop assistant asked if I was going to run in them!! Food, this was a tricky one, what type of food could I carry in a rucksack, the food had to be light, I had to carry 7 days worth, plus an emergency supply! It had to give all the required nutrition for hard physical labour, easy to prepare and not get spoilt whilst being carried in a rucksack and in the heat. I had got no idea, then I remembered the book I had just read by Ranulph Fiennes, ‘Mind over matter’, an account of his journey in Antarctica, in the list of sponsors at the back, was the name of the company that had supplied all the nutritional requirements used during that expedition, I wondered if they might be able to help or advise. I wrote a letter explaining my predicament, and luckily they had not only heard of the “Marathon Des Sables” but could supply me with all that I would need, problem solved. They gave me a list of what was needed and more importantly why it was needed, I was impressed and after all if they were good enough for Ranulph Fiennes they were good enough for me. A few days later the postman arrived with my food parcel, he struggled up the garden path, his face and upper torso hidden behind a quite substantial package or should I say ‘crate’ containing my ‘essential’ food! On opening the box I saw it contained 28 ‘power bars’ (3 a day), packets and sachets of god knows what, I reasoned that if this is what the ‘experts’ considered essential I was in trouble, I wouldn’t be able to carry that amount, let alone all the other stuff I would need. In the end I decided on about two thirds of their total, of which I ended up eating less than half, and only ne mouthful of the 28 power bars! What to wear, I sound like my wife now! But like everything else to do with this race I had to get it right. The clothing needed to be cool, (not as in trendy) not chafe, prevent sunburn and be comfortable. The clothing couldn’t be heavy or bulky. I decided on the following, 2 Great Ormond Street T shirts, Great Ormond Street was the hospital that I had decided to raise money for, 1 pair of coolmax shorts, 4 pairs of socks (I had to look after my feet, so decided to treat them with clean socks) 1 Helly Hansen thermal top, 1 Helly Hansen thermal leggings, 1 pair of training shoes, 1 pair of sponge flip flops and 2 pairs of underpants. Sleeping bag, with what little research I managed to do, I found out that at night the desert was freezing, so a good sleeping bag would be essential, but again it was which sleeping bag, I reasoned that the warm sleeping bags would be the big sleeping bags, however I had to squeeze mine into a rucksack and carry the thing! Like everything else I hadn’t got a clue, I didn’t even know where to look. Back to Portsmouth and the shop where I had purchased my rucksack. Trying to look as if I knew what I was doing and exactly what I was looking for, I stumbled on Mountain Equipments ‘mountain marathon’ (I didn’t even no there was such a thing as a mountain marathon) at 750gms it was light, and it was down filled, down filled = warmth! Cooking, I don’t even cook at home, so this would be a challenge. Luckily most of the meals were the ‘just add hot water’ type even I couldn’t cock that up! I was a little bit limited in my choice of cooker because most airlines don’t allow fuel ie: gas, meths, or petrol. So I would have to use solid fuel tablets, these hexamine blocks worked magnificently, I did practise a lot in the garden. The training had gone well, I had remained injury free and felt confident-ish, the thing was payed for and my place secured, kit was assembled, Leave from work sorted and I had passed my medical, flights organised, I was in effect ‘Good to go’ (I think)
D Day Friday 22nd March 1996, it was here, the day I had been dreading and looking forward to had arrived, and so had I, at Terminal 3, London’s Heathrow airport. My first flight, I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing but just bimbled my way through, I had a strange feeling I would be doing a lot of ‘just bimbling my way through’ over the next few days. After completing my ‘check in’ I grabbed a coffee and a few quiet moments to contemplate what the hell I had done, and indeed was about to do, I was actually flying to Morocco, to
take part in what was billed as the “Toughest Foot Race, on Earth” running 143 miles
across the Sahara Desert, what a plank!
I had nearly 3 hours before the flight, 3 hours to kill, I looked around and tried to see if I
could spot any other like minded individuals, I couldn’t everyone else looked relatively
normal. Surely the people that would be having a bash at the ‘worlds toughest foot race’
would be easy to spot, Strong athletic looking, a spring in the step, confident and cool,
trained toned and ready for the task in hand, wrong, I never spotted any of them, because
we were after all just average, runners, dreamers and joggers, young, old and middle
aged, but we had got one thing in common we wanted to, no needed to take part in this,
the maddest of adventures, the “Marathon Des Sables”
Touching down in the small desert town of Ouarzazate, the air was oppressive, the short
walk down the aircraft steps had me sweating, the little airport was quite literally swamped
with nearly 200 hundred athletes, and god knows how many race staff and tourists. The
officials fortunately rose to the challenge and started the long labourious job of processing
each and everyone of us, there was a pained look expression on the check in staff as they
desperately tried to get to grips with the various languages, English, Russian, German,
Italian and Danish to name but a few.
After having my passport stamped, I was taken to one side by a member of staff who was
wearing an ill fitting and grubby uniform, a small man who but for his position I would not
have given a second glance, behind him stood a sour faced stern looking individual who
was dressed in plain clothes, strangely it was the plain clothed individual who seemed
more menacing, after placing my holdall and rucksack on the bench in front of them, the
smaller uniformed man asked, well indicated that he would like me to open them, it was at
this point that I remembered placing seven packs of dehydrated food very neatly on the
top of my kit, all the uniformed bloke saw was seven bags of white powder. the look on his
face said it all, whilst I had visions of the film ‘Midnight Express’ and 15 years in a
Moroccan jail, and the inescapable fact that my life was now officially over, he called to the
plain clothes bloke, he looked at the bags of white powder, they looked at each other and
then they each looked at me, I smiled, well I think I smiled, it was definately supposed to
be a smile, I then explained or at least tried to explain that it was food, I was with the
‘Marathon Des Sables’ I said ‘Marathon Des Sables’ using my very best french accent, I
don’t know why but I did.Thankfully and thanks in no small part to my impressive language
skills, he understood, smiled and waved me through, the uniformed bloke looked crest
fallen. I zipped the bag up and got the hell out of there.
I boarded one of the coaches that would be taking us to the Hotel, it just so happened that
I had boarded the wrong coach, the one that was last to leave. After 20 minutes waiting I
was getting fidgety, after half an hour I was bored and fidgety and after an hour everyone
was bored, fidgety, hot and fed up.
Eventually we were told what the hold up was, apparently an Israeli athlete was having all
sorts of problems getting through customs, he did however manage to eventually ge
The next problem was Helen Klein and her husband Norm, Helen is an bit of a legend in
Ultra running circles, she holds numerous world records, she is also in her seventies, a
truly remarkable women, who at the age of seventy five took part in the ‘Eco Challenge’,
one of the toughest adventure races on earth. Both she and her husband had apparently
missed their connecting flight from New York and would not be competing in this years
We finally arrived at our Hotel late at night, and I have to say it was far better than I was
expecting, and as luck would have it, our time here was to be short, we literally had a quick
meal, were allocated rooms and were told to be ready to leave at six in the morning, we
were to be taken to the airport and then on to the coaches for the 310 km trip to the start.
My room mate, and as it would turn out part time running partner, was a thirty something
rugby playing, Welsh policeman Alun, who in the next few days would impress everyone
with his huge appetite, love for dehydrated food (which I thought tasted like wet saw dust!)
and ability to out snore anyone else.
The morning saw us up bright and early for breakfast, I decided to eat as much as I could
as I knew that this would be the last proper food we would see for a while. After breakfast
we were taken to the airport to meet the coaches. As was to become the norm we had a
bit of hanging about to do, it did however give me the opportunity to meet the other
runners and write a post card or two. It was noticeable how hot it was even at eight o’clock
in the morning.
The all day drive was long, hot and uncomfortable (thats twice I’ve moaned about the heat,
and I’m in the Sahara Desert, Plank!) it did however give me a chance to look at the terrain
that we would have to cross over the next few days.
Stopping at a very scenic area for a lunch break we were handed packed lunches, and
people started taking pictures, the terrain was very beautiful but extremely harsh even
though I had just arrived, I liked the place.
When we finally arrived, the kit bags were loaded on to 4x4 vehicals to be transported the
mile or so to the camp, which we could see in the distance, I decided to carry my small
rucksack and along with all the other runners proceed to walk to the camp. The image of
190 people walking during the early evening across the desert, was somewhat surreal. the
elongated shadows cast by the setting sun, the strange colours, and total silence,
combined with the dust that nearly 400 feet were kicking up made the whole scene other
Arriving at the tents the little group of Brits that had walked more or less together made for
an empty tent at the far end of the camp. Dropping my bag and claiming my little bit of
floor, I noticed that even after that short walk my back was soaking with sweat!
Eleven of us squeezed into the tent, the term tent would be somewhat generous, the floor
was covered in carpet, the roof was a collection of sewn together hessian sacks, raised
above the ground using several wooden poles, the walls well the walls didn’t exist, it was
roof and carpet.
It was now that a discovered my first major error, the thread bear carpet covered the sharp
stoney ground, and in my stupidity. I thought the desert was sandy and consequently I
wouldn’t need a sleeping mat, mattress thingy. Wrong it turns out that the desert is mainly
small sharp stones and rocks. Owing to that one stupid mistake I would miss out on a lot of
vital sleep during the next few days.
It was interesting to watch little groups forming, various nationalities occupying ‘their’ tents
which in turn became a little piece of Japan, America, Italy, France or what ever, we Brits
were no different with our Union Jack proudly unfurled and gently flapping in the breeze.
The evening meal was to be in one of the large ‘admin’ tents, and once again I felt obliged
to eat as much as I could, this was helped by the fact that the food was really nice.
The following day it was up early, breakfast and administration. Every one of 197 runners
had to have their kit checked, checking to make sure we all had the right kit and the
compulsory kit, ie: compass, anti venom pump, sleeping bag, 2000 calories a day, cooker
etc, etc, once the staff were happy the whole lot was weighed, my pack weighed a little
That done it was on to the medical tent, paper work was handed in, an ecg reading, letter
from the Doctor stating that I was physically up to the challenge, blood group, heart rate,
blood pressure reading, height weight and inside leg measurment, well not quite but they
When the Doctor asked me what preparation I had done to my feet, I had to say none, (I
didn’t know you could prepare your feet) he didn’t say anything but he did give me a look,
the look that said I know something you don’t know, YET.
On returning to the tent, I decided to sort my kit out, whilst packing at home I decided that
the only things that I would take to Morocco were the absolute essentials, everything I had
was therefore needed to get me through the race. Now that my pack weighed 13 kg it was
different and like everyone else I was having a rethink, I packed and repacked, decided on
one T shirt and not two, got rid of some power bar bars and a pair of socks.
I tried the rucksack on and really didn’t feel that much different, but I felt better.
Looking around I noticed that some runners had hugh packs, one Japanese lady’s
rucksack was so big that when she had it on it went above her head and below her bum.
I also noticed that the Japanese had bought everything with them, pots and pans, spare
clothing even their own TV crew that filmed their every move, they were always smiling
and always eating.
There was a lovely campfire atmosphere forming, everyone seemed happy and smiling.
The various nationalities were mixing and chatting, singing, checking maps and eating,
members of the press were mingling and interviewing.
It was noticeable how quickly it got dark. Once it was dark there wasn’t a lot to do and so
most of us were tucked up in our sleeping bag by 19:00.
Lying there, discreetly picking my nose (the super fine dust, honest!) I was listening with
great interest to the conversations that were going on around me, mainly reminiscing
about past races, Ironman triathlons, Ultra’s and previous ‘Marathon Des Sables’, training
tips and schedules were talked through and analysed, the horrendous desert conditions of
previous years, the blisters, rucksack rub (where the rucksack rubs the skin until raw
patches form) sunburn, twisted this and twisted that.
I should have put my fingers in my ears and hummed pleasant tunes, but no I had to listen
and scare my self shitless!
I was now begining to seriously think that my training was woefully inadaquet, and I had
got my ambition mixed up with my very limited and as yet untested ability, in short I was
way out of my depth.
The questions were now coming thick and fast, would I manage to survive day one, and if
so, would I survive day two etc, etc, on top of that had I got enough food, would the heat
be too much (3 weeks ago I was out training in the snow!) and so it went on and on.
Trying to sleep on what was quite literally a rock hard floor, with my confidence severely
shattered, and nerves frayed, I lay there selfishly hoping that the others were having the
same the thoughts and worries, but judging by the impressive snoring that was coming
from one end of the tent, it was plainly obvious that at least one of us was having a very
good nights sleep, bastard! Though I didn’t or should I say couldn’t sleep dawn arrived
much too quickly. It was here the day of reckoning, race day had arrived.
I was knackered before I started. Tired, dishevelled, dusty, looking bodies started to rise,
cookers were lit, teeth were cleaned and with toilet rolls in hand a steady prossesion of
happy campers made their way to distant lands for their morning constitution. Likewise and
with toilet roll in hand I marched off into the distance, yes the there were toilets, half a
dozen canvas telephone box shaped objects, I tried, I really did but the fact that I could not
hold my breath long enough meant that I had to make alternative arrangements, hence the
long walk that I was now making. There wasn’t anything to hide behind because the whole
area was snooker table flat, the only thing to do was to walk far enough away so that you
were not recognisable.
After about half a mile I was confidant enough, mission accomplished, I made my way
back, and lit my stove for breakfast, porridge and coffee, I couldn’t eat the porridge but I
tried small malteser size portions were forced down. A couple of cups of sweet black
coffee, a handful of mixed fruit and nuts and a glucose sweet and I was good to go.
With less than an hour to go I started to get dressed and packed, the rucksack still
weighed a ton and worse made a noise when I ran, I repacked and that seemed to do the
trick, it wasn’t lighter but it was quieter. With about half an hour to go people started to
make their way over to the start line, the atmosphere was changing camp staff and
volunteers were buzzing around as were the helicopters high above us, film crews and
photographers were jostling for the best positions and runners were indulging in nervous,
I stood there amongst them all, quietly taking it all in, this was it, the culmination of two
years hard work, months of training, planning and dreaming, I was here actually on the
start line of the ‘11th Marathon Des Sables’, the race I had seen on the television early
one Saturday morning, whilst eating a handful of chocolate biscuits some 2 years ago.
The time was now 07:45, the race was scheduled to start at 08:00, early enough we were
told to avoid the searing heat for some of the day.
With muscles warmed and streched, packs tightened and adjusted and with the nervous
chatter dying away, we were ready, however the race organisers were not. We had been
issued 1.5 liters water to get us to the first checkpoint some 9.5 kms away however an
hour and a half later we were still on the start line.
It was 10:00 before we started and it was bloody hot. The start was a mad dash, everyone
shot off at a great rate of knots, the relief of finally starting coupled with the buzz of
cameras, helicopters and cheering supporters, meant that we all set off too fast,
fortunately it didn’t last, everyone settled down to a more sedate pace. I was running along
slowly, runners passed me, I passed runners a quick exchange of pleasantries and they
I reached the first checkpoint relatively comfortably and was pleased but fully aware that it
was early days. I grabbed a bottle of water, had my ID card checked and was off within
seconds. Leaving this first checkpoint it was noticeable how the atmosphere had changed,
people were now looking very serious and had gone much quieter.
Most of the terrain encountered thus far was stoney with the occasional minute sand dune,
a few yards long and a few yards wide. However these small dunes had high lighted a
problem, I had worked out that my feet were likely to swell up in the heat, and the
pounding that they would be taking, so had bought a pair of training shoes that were
slightly bigger than my usual size, thus allowing for the swollen feet, however I was getting
sand in my shoes before my feet had swollen, and now that sand was acting as an
abrasive rubbing the skin on my feet, causing blisters. I had been running less than a day
and already I had blisters.
Arriving at the last checkpoint of the day was a blessed relief. 25 kms down 185 to go!
The campsite was a hive of activity and efficiency, the staff accounting for all the runners,
the medics working hard patching up blistered, battered, limping and dehydrated runners,
and reporters and photographers frantically filming the carnage.
The routine for this first night would not vary much during the course of the race, get in,
find the tent, claim a space, try and eat then patch up the bits of feet that were blistered.
Dinner for this night consisted of dehydrated beef casserole, a handful of fruit & nuts, a
few fruit pastilles and a cup of sweet black coffee, through the night I drunk as much of the
water as I could desperately trying to keep myself hydrated.
I now had a good look at my feet, I was now the proud owner of three blisters, one on
each heel and one on my small toe on my left foot, I cleaned them and put plasters on,
crossed my fingers and hoped they wouldn’t get any worse.
I lay back on my sleeping bag too tired and too sore to move very much, watching camp
life going on all around me, people hobbled and limped about some with bandaged and
dressed feet, one or two very relieved looking stragglers crossed the finish line.
I was bloody uncomfortable lying on the stoney ground, I put my T shirt and warm clothes
under my sleeping bag hoping for a little bit more cusioning, but I was still uncomfortable it
was going to be a long night. Tossing and turning I tried to sleep, my feet hurt, the ground
was hard and uncomfortable, Alun was snoring for Wales and someone was farting,
looking at my watch and worried about over sleeping I noticed it was very nearly 20:00, it
was going to be a longer night than I thought.
Eventually the morning arrived, people started to get up. I lay there for as long as possible,
trying to break wind as discreetly as I could hoping against hope that no one would notice.
The whole place looked like a bomb had gone off, bits of kit every where. The camp crew
put on an impressive display of dexterity, they went to each tent grabbed the poles (I don’t
mean the polish athletes) that were holding up the roof and with a quick flick of the wrist
the whole lot had been removed, anyone still lying in their sleeping bag were suddenly
sleeping out in the open.
Usual routine, cooker on for breakfast, teeth cleaned and toilet roll in hand off for my
morning constitution, again I tried to find a little bit of privacy however on this occasion
necessity dictated otherwise, it was literally now or never, mission accomplished it was
back to the tent and breakfast. I was not in the least bit hungry but knew I would have to
eat, I made some porridge and tried to eat, but just retched instead of swallowed, then I
had a brain wave, mix in some chocolate powder to make a sort of chocolate porridge,
again I retched. I gave up, two cups of coffee a couple of fruit pastilles and a glucose
sweet and I was ready.
Day 2 ERG Chibi-Touz
This mornings start was a little more sedate, people hobbled and limped over to the start
line, tatty, dirty kit, and the apprehensive looks gave the impression that we had been at it
for days and not just the one 25 km stage! *mention staggered start
Though my feet were very tender I had decided to run non stop to the first check point
some 8 km away. This was managed, using a strange mixture of hobbling, waddling and
shuffling. I collected water and was joined by Alun. The terrain was getting noticeably more
sandy, I tried to remember what the ‘road book’ had said, something about CP 2 being at
the end of the “DUNES”. I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but even I could work out,
that before we reached CP 2 we would be going across some sand dunes.
We approached the dunes with a degree of trepidation, even from a distance they looked
huge. On arriving, all was confirmed as the first one loomed high above us.
Clambering up the side, following the zig zagging path left by previous runners, my
breathing became laboured, my heart rate had increased and my legs were like jelly, I was
climbing slowly but had no choice but to decrease my speed. With my hands on my knees
I pushed onward and upward, my lungs felt and tasted like they were bleeding, the heat
reflecting off the sand was also another worry. As we got to the top all we could see up
ahead was more and more dunes an endless prosession of dunes and runners.
Dropping down was a somewhat short relief, because, 1. you knew had had climb up
again and 2. the dip or depression that you ended up in was so bloody hot you actually
wanted to start climbing again.
When we reached one dune summit we noticed one of our tent mates Alan just sitting,
taking a breather, Alan had come storming past us earlier and had looked pretty
impressive, and annoyingly always seemed relaxed as if he were on holiday, we had a
quick chat and moved off. I think we both thought that Alan was suffering, but by the same
token so was everyone else.
The dunes were tough, demoralising and extremely unforgiving, to reach the top sapped
away what little strength you had, and on reaching the top you saw nothing but more of the
same, really soul destroying. It wouldn’t take much to get disorientated and lost, it was only
the fact that we could either see other runners or their foot prints that we knew we were on
the right track.
A little light relief came in the shape of a small teddy bear that Alun was carrying, it was the
mascot for the charity he was raising money for, apparently this well travelled Teddy had
been all over the world, and was now to have his picture taken on top of a Saharan sand
dune. Moving on from the impromptu photo shoot and summiting our umpteenth dune we
were rewarded with a magnificent sight CP 2 and what was even better was that it was out
of the dunes. Arriving at this checkpoint we came across another one of our tent mates
Martese, a Homeopathist from London, she was doing this race with her brother, who
unfortunately due to illness had had to pull out earlier.
The three of us left the checkpoint together, the terrain was flat and stoney. We walked a
bit and ran a bit, My feet were now giving me real problems, they hurt when I put my
weight on them and they hurt when I took my weight off them. I was glad of the company
of my two companions and happily plodded along in their wake, without them I knew my
day would have been that much longer.
We passed by a small village called ‘Khemliya’, very few people were about, but the odd
one or two that did see us looked at us as if we were quite mad, strange looking, brightly
coloured, sunburnt, limping, rucksack carrying mad people running through their village.
We were now travelling along on what appeared to be a dried up river bed, the firm flat
ground was a welcome relief after the nightmare that had been the sand dunes.
On arriving at CP 3 I again noticed how tatty we all were, there were 4 runners having a
rest at this checkpoint, they, like us were dust covered and sweat streaked, bleary eyed
and knackered. ID cards were checked, water collected and we were off. The campsite
was just 7 km away, we were now moving along what appeared to be a track for wheeled
vehicles, not quite a road. There were wheel marks where a driver had driven through
while the track was water logged, the whole thing was rutted and had been baked solid by
the sun. At the end of the track was a small climb part way up a Jebel (mountain) dropping
down the other side and a short run along another small dried river bed, and we found the
campsite ‘hidden’ around a bend, I was begining to realise that the organisers had a
sadistic streak, always hiding the campsites.
After checking in and collecting our water rations, we made our way over to the tent some
of the runners were already there, they greeted us and congratulated us. I plonked myself
down in a spare part of the tent and had a quiet five minutes, just reflecting on the days
running, and watching the activities around the camp, it was begining to resemble a war
zone with casualties hobbling about. After unrolling my sleeping bag and getting the stove
on for a hot drink and some food. Whilst waiting for the water to boil I examined myself, I
felt pretty good and unlike some others had not got rucksack burns. My legs felt good, but
my feet were now a complete disaster area, a real mess. They were sore and swollen, the
blisters were weeping and the bits that weren’t blistered soon would be. I washed them
with my precious water, wiped them with wet wipes, and tried in vain to avoid knocking
them or get sand in the sore raw bits!
It was now 21:00, we were all in except for Alan the guy we had last seen sitting on the
dunes, we weren’t the only ones, apparently a few people had seen him just ‘sitting on the
Dunes’ we were getting a little concerned especially as it was now dark and it was with
some reluctance that we approached the the race marshals, they were immediately on the
radios and were able to confirm that he had left the last checkpoint an hour and a half ago
and was heading for the camp. I was impressed on two counts, one they were able to pin
point the exact location of a runner so quickly, and two Alan had not given up, even though
Alun and I both thought he would. On returning to the tent we went via the ‘daily progress
board’ I had come in at 128th place and had taken 6 hours and 44 minutes to cover the 33
Some three hours later Alan limped into the tent, he looked to be in a bad way, he wore an
agonised expression and looked like a man who had literally given everything to get here.
We helped him with his kit, and a couple of runners prepared a meal for him and
encouraged him to eat and drink, he was shattered and all he wanted to do was sleep, but
he had to eat and drink, eventually he eat a little and drank a little. Looking at him I
personally thought that the price he had paid to get here was too high.
It was now late and time for sleep, I was very tired, more so because of not having had a
lot of sleep during the past two nights and unfortunately tonight was to be no different. The
rock hard ground and the stupidity of not bringing a sleep mat was one thing, but my
painful feet were giving me real grief, my badly blistered heels meant I couldn’t let them
touch the ground, the alternative was to sleep on my side and unfortunately we were so
tightly packed together in the tent that we were quite literally inches away from one
another if I slept on my side I would be breathing over some one and some one would be
breathing over me, not nice for either of us.
I decided to sleep on my back, and resting my sore heels inside the back of my trainers,
afforded me a little relief.
Morning arrived just as I got to sleep or at least thats how it felt. Prising myself out of my
sleeping bag, I went through the morning ritual, stove on for coffee, fruit and nuts and a
couple of glucose sweets, teeth cleaned, a stretch and pack (luckily for me I didn’t need to
make the long walk with toilet roll in hand, I really hoped I was constipated, it would save
me a lot of time and energy!)
My feet were very sore and swollen and I had real trouble trying to get my shoes on, the
‘popped’ blisters had now left rolls of excess skin, I had to cut away this loose skin, using
the scissors on my swiss army knife, then and only then could I prise my shoes on. When I
initially stood on them with my full weight, the pain made me suck in air, clench my fists,
and shut my eyes, all in perfect unison. (and they say men can’t multi task)
I looked over and saw that Alan was up and packing, he said that yesterday had ‘totally
bolloxed’ him, and those ‘fucking dunes’ were by far the worst experience of his life! But
that was yesterday, he felt better today and was going to continue.
Like the rest of us the 210 km distance was the last bit of the jigsaw, the getting here, time
off work, raising the money, time away from home and the endless hours of training, and
the fact most of us were raising money for charity made giving up just a little bit harder. I’m
sure that most of the other runners were like me, in that this experience was a one off, you
wouldn’t get a second chance if you failed to finish, you failed, end of story.
Day 3 Taouz-Remlia
Standing at the start, on feet that now resembled water filled ballons, trying to keep people
keep away from them, lest they stand on, or kick them,. Not only would I scream like a
baby, I would probably cry, no one likes to see a grown man cry, and of course being
British it really would not do!
I was successful in keeping my feet safe, but less successful in understanding what the
organiser was saying about todays stage, he spoke for about 45 minutes, luckily there was
a translation in to English, that went something like “its going to be bloody hot today, keep
you head covered and drink plenty of water”. When we did finally get going it was a
blessed relief. Running along side Alun we quietly got on with it, talking just occasionally,
we both just wanted to get today over and done with as quickly as possible.
After a while I noticed that Aluns pace was a little slower than usual, I plodded on in my
usual way, reaching the first checkpoint, I turned around fully expecting Alun to be close
by, but he wasn’t and he had still not appeared when I was ready to leave, I plodded on
knowing he would catch me sooner or later.
Today was another hot one, the faster runners were now catching and over taking me. I
carried on in my own little world.
Up ahead I saw that we were about to enter a village, this village was called Jdaid, running
through the village and out the other side, I was surprised to see a load of support crew
and vehicals, I was obviously doing better than I thought, I wasn’t expecting the next
checkpoint to be so close. I downed most of the water I had and poured the rest over my
head to cool down a bit, approaching the vehicles I was horrified the see it wasn’t a
checkpoint but a collection of photographers and film crew, catching us leaving the little
village. Bollox, another cock up to add to my ever expanding list of cockups, I now had no
water and no idea how far the next checkpoint was. On leaving the ‘phantom’ checkpoint I
was joined by another one of our tent mates Charlie, a police woman from Hampshire, we
moved along together, the terrain alternated from stoney one minute to sand the next. The
sand was becoming more prevalent, until finally we were into another set of dunes.
Plodding along quietly, cursing the wretched dunes, I looked up ahead and wow! the
steepest wall of sand I have ever seen. The runners that were already trying to get to the
top looked as if they were crawling on all fours. We started our slow ascent, I had started
with the sand down at my feet a couple of steps later it rose to my knees then hips and
before very long it was a sand wall in front of my face, I now adopted the ever popular
hands and feet technique, it was like trying to ascend the descending escalator.
I was not only worried about my ability to reach the top, but having no water was also a
major concern and on top of that there were photographers and film crew on the summit of
the dune filming us, I was trying to look the part, and failing miserably. Finally and after a
huge effort I reached the top, and looking down the other side could see the second
checkpoint. We arrived at the checkpoint collected our water and were off, I was very
relieved to have the water and was lucky indeed that my stupidity had not become serious.
As we left the checkpoint, a lot of interest was suddenly focused on what was going on
behind us, some one had let off a flare. We had all been issued with flares for use in an
emergency, so some poor sod was obviously in the shit! There was nothing we could do
and as all the race crew seem to have seen the flare we carried on.
Though the going was tough and the temperature was bloody hot, with a bit of company
and the realisation that I had had a lucky escape with the water drinking fiasco, the miles
sort of flew by and we arrived at the next checkpoint pretty quickly, whilst here I asked how
hot it was, and was told 124 degrees. There was now just 9 kms to the campsite, but
between us and the finish were some small dunes, they were luckily not the monsters we
had so far encountered, just constant, one after the other. Moving through the dunes we
came across a herd of black camels, they appeared to be wild with no one around except
for us lunatics, I attempted to take some pictures whilst on the move, I didn’t stop because
I knew I would never be able to get going again.
As we got to the top of yet another dune, we spotted a landcruiser 4x4 vehical parked
some way off, as we got closer we could see a runner sitting in its shade obviously
suffering with heat, the driver was giving him water, which meant that the runner was now
out of the race! What made it so sad was the fact that you could see the campsite up
ahead, so near and yet so far.
We eventually reached the campsite half an hour later, one of our tent mates saw us come
in and guided us over to the tent. We also found out that the person who had let off the
flare was Alan, one set of dunes too many.
Usual routine grab a space and get sorted, I was knackered and my feet hurt even more
and looking at the state of them I realised that I had collected a couple more blisters, my
heels had been replaced by blisters and my toes were also under attack, three on one foot
and two on the other. The days were getting progressively longer, day 1 had been 25km,
day 2 33km, today 39km, and tomorrow a wapping 76km.
It was interesting to watch the runners deteriorate, myself included. Runners that had
previously looked so impressive were now slowing down and looking tatty, runners had
given up and runners had been pulled out, the medics could pull any runner from the race,
if they thought that to continue would put the runner at risk, they were pulled. We all looked
and smelled awful, covered in dust and smeared with sweat stains.
I can’t comment on the other tents but the runners that had been pulled out or had decided
not to continue, were really generous and supportive to those of us left, things like guiding
us to the tent when we crossed the finish line, carrying our pack over and because they
were now being fed by the organisers they split what ever goodies they had amongst us
and they smuggled in bits of bread and the occasional orange. Just because they were no
longer running didn’t mean they were no longer part of the team, they were!
With tomorrows 76 km monster looming, I went all out to prepare, I scrounged a couple of
bits of cardboard to use as a mattress, tried to eat as much as my stomach would allow
and sort my feet out. My feet were in a desperate state blisters on blisters, blisters
overlapping blisters, blood blisters, popped blisters, blisters instead of heels, blisters were
on my toes, on the soles of my feet and under my toe nails. I had to admit defeat and
wandered over to the medical tent, it was like entering a battle field hospital, bodies every
where, some were under foil blankets, some were on intravenous drips but most were
lying on their backs with one foot or other on a medics lap having their feet amputated,
well, by the expression on their faces thats what you would have thought they were doing.
There were two people in front of me, and as I looked around I could see that one or two
of the male medics were enjoying the slicing and dicing, I really hoped I got a sympathetic
gentle female nurse.
I was lucky a young nurse called me over, I placed myself at her mercy, I didn’t have to
explain the problem she just told me to lie down, and put my feet on her lap, she smiled
sweetly, cleaned my feet and proceeded to amputate. Her skill with a scalpel was
impressive, she sliced and cut away any loose skin taking it right back to new and as yet
unblistered bits, after about half an hour she had finished cutting, then the ‘coup de grace”
IODINE, WOW!! she dressed the wounds and I hobbled off, trying to look all macho with
feet covered in dressings, waddling like a duck and wearing yellow sponge flip flops.
Lying back on my sleeping bag, I tried to focus on the enormity of tomorrow’s 76 km. The
previous two days combined didn’t make 76 km, I had struggled with each of those as
individual days. The up side was that if you survived tomorrow the chances were high that
you would survive the whole race, with just the two days left (even though the very next
day was the second longest day) you would surely make it!
In the morning I was awake early but decided to treat myself to a bit of lie in. I lay there
watching the camp getting organised, had some breakfast and got up.
I packed up and noticed my ruck sack didn’t seem any lighter than when I started. Trying
to put my shoes on, it would have been easier and quicker to do “rubiks cube”, I tried every
possible combination but try as I might I couldn’t get me feet in my shoes, I started to
remove bits of dressing I removed as much as I dared, but still I couldn’t get them on, then
I had a brain wave remove the insoles, Eureka, it worked! I had shoes on my feet, but no
cusioning, can’t have everything I suppose.
I made my way over to the starting line and the atmosphere was a little sombre, more like
a dentists waiting room than a start line. I think everyone was aware that today was the
day, the big one, the day that counted, if you survived today your chances were pretty
good, however if you didn’t survive it had all been for nothing, so, much was at stake.
After starting I instantly got into a nice steady pace and decided that no matter what, I
would run to the first two checkpoints a total distance of 26 km, then, well then I would
have to play it by ear.
After 9:5 km we entered the village of Er Remelia and unusually there were spectators, the
people seemed curious, normally they would be shy and reserved, but a quick smile and a
“bon jour” or two usually resulted in a smile being returned, especially from the children.
On reaching CP 2 I was joined by another british runner from our tent called Dave, we ran
together for a short while but he was much faster than me and ran on ahead. I preferred
running on my own going at my own pace, in a world of my own, not having the worry of
trying to keep up or slow down to someone else’s pace.
Since leaving CP 2, my already slow pace had somewhat decreased, and again my feet
were giving me real problems. I could feel every rock and stone underfoot and with the
insoles removed, the little bit of cusioning that I did have was gone, every single step hurt.
There was no respite.
The flat rock and stoney ground finally gave way to sand, very nice soft sand, however the
price paid for the soft sand was that the sand led up through a pass, it was a steady climb
on reaching the top I could see runners snaking far into the distance. The column of
runners were all heading in the same direction, and seemed to be making for a mound like
object in the middle of what appeared to be a dried up lake, this mound looked as if it
could have been an island when the ‘lake’ had, had water.
I studied the mound hard as I started my descent, and could see that it was indeed a
checkpoint I reasoned that I would be there in about 20 minutes to half an hour, wrong! 45
minutes later I was still trying to get to it, it eventually took me 1 hour 45 minutes, to reach
The ability to judge distance in the desert was a skill I had yet to master, arriving at the foot
of the mound was a blessed relief, unfortunately the actual checkpoint was on the top, it
wasn’t a particularly high mound but it was particularly steep, it also required a lot of
huffing, puffing and swearing to reach the top. On reaching the top I noticed there was not
a lot of room, and certainly nowhere to sit down, however I was told that there was a place
down on the other side, I walked over and saw a bigger tent full of dead, decaying bodies
all trying to have a bit of a breather out of the sun.
Unfortunately it was full to overflowing, so I had to sit outside. I thought I would check on
my feet and instantly wished I hadn’t, they looked awful, felt awful and by golly they smelt
awful. Open, weeping and raw, pus, blood and sand, mixed together with bits of dressing
and loose skin made for an interesting spectacle, I attempted to restick the dressing and
brush away the sand, but it was really just a token gesture not really, making a blind bit of
difference. I put the whole horrible mess back together had something to eat and drink. It
was now late afternoon and would soon be getting dark, I got out my head torch and a
long sleeve top, ready for the on coming night then hobbled off in to the setting sun.
For some reason I felt pretty good and was surprised to be catching people, I knew it
wouldn’t last so decided to make the best of it. At a little after 20:00 hours I spotted the
next checkpoint, on arriving I saw that there was plenty of room for a sit down and decided
to have a decent break, this was made all the better when I was offered some mint tea, I
gratefully excepted, it was very sweet, very refreshing and a real treat for my now
redundant taste buds, I handed them my empty glass and was offered another one, and
then another. Apparently 3 cups of tea meant that you were a friend. This checkpoint was
now officially my favourite, the trouble was prising my carcass away, it was dark, I was
comfortable but knew if I didn’t get my arse in gear soon I could well be here until the
morning. It was with the greatest reluctance that I left and hobbled my way back into the
race I had been there for 45 minutes.
To pay for my tea and laziness I decide to do a bit of running, looking at my watch I
decided to run for 45 minutes, the 45 minutes that I had spent languishing at the 5 star
checkpoint, had to be paid for some how. As I ran I caught and passed a ‘runner’ then
continuing on I could see another one, though my 45 minutes were up I decided to carry
on until I caught them, I did. I started walking again eventually I came across the last
checkpoint before the finish, this checkpoint had loads of room and was kitted out to
accommodate the runners that decided to have a sleep, it was tempting but I decided to
get out ASAP, spending less than 5 minutes there.
Moving on I could see a couple of runners, moving slowly, when I eventually caught up
with them I realised it was a couple of blokes from the tent, Nick and Charlie, we teamed
up for a short while, until Charlie who was moving along quite well decided to push on,
leaving me and Nick. We were both knackered but were happy to get on and finish this
stage together, it was now late getting on for 23:30 and we started talking all sorts of
bollox, the sort of bollox that blokes come out with when the situation is desperate.
As we were both waffling away the time, and the distance, we both noticed something up
ahead a shadowy figure just in front of us, the waffling stopped and the ears and eyes
strained to make sense of what it was, then suddenly and with out warning the whole
place was lit up, the sudden brightness made me lose my balance I wobbled and stumbled
a couple of steps and then heard voices in my head, what the *&^%$ was going on, and
then my befuddled brain worked out what was happening I realised that it was a film crew
eager to catch out unsuspecting weary runners, we both politely declined the offer of an
interview (at that moment I would of struggled to tell them my full name and date of birth).
They understood and switched the lights off, my carefully built up night vision was now non
existent and I moved with unsure jerky movements, unsure of where to place my feet!
We continued along and noticed that the terrain was becoming very rocky and the green
glowing snapsticks were becoming more numerous, turning a corner to our right and
following the line of lights took right in to the campsite and the finish line, we had done it, in
a little over 16 hours we had completed the long stage day.
We crossed the line together congratulated ourselves with a very manly pat on the back or
two, then BANG Nick collapsed, the staff on the finish line called the medics over, Nick
was taken to medical tent put on intravenous drips and wrapped in foil blankets, he looked
bloody awful and yet not five minutes ago we were talking bollox! I was happy he was
getting sorted out and was in safe hands, but I was knackered and in pain, needed
something to eat and drink and as I was of no use to any one just standing around the
medical tent. I made my way over to our tent, a few people were awake including Charlie
who inquired about Nick, but some lucky sods were sound asleep and had obviously been
here for hours. A quick bite to eat and bed time. A little over four hours later and the camp
was awake, today was a day off, well, it was for those of us lucky enough to have finished.
Looking around I noticed that some of the tent were still out there, but stragglers were still
coming in in dribs and drabs, the loud clapping and cheering when some one crossed the
finish line gave us ample warning that another runner had arrived.
I sat there watching camp life, had a cup of coffee and something to eat, then made my
way over to the medical tent for more surgery and a little sympathy, unfortunately they had
completely run out of sympathy and weren’t expecting any, any time soon!
On my return to the tent I saw that three people had arrived two girls and Alun, it was good
to see them, but they did not look happy. On entering the tent I immediately detected an
atmosphere, my ‘atmosphere detecting abilities’ are acute and have been honed and finely
tuned over many years of getting myself in the dog house at home! The two girls seemed
furious, something or somebody had upset them, maybe they had upset each other, I
desperately wanted to know, but to broach the subject would require a degree of tact and
diplomacy, skills that I didn’t possess, two very angry, tired females was something that
most sensible men would be frightened of and I’m ashamed to say that my courage
deserted me, I lay on my sleeping bag pretending that all was well. Eventually however
and once they had calmed down a little (It takes a lot of effort to be that angry, effort that
was for now in short supply) the whole story came out. Apparently it was all to do with the
Italians, or should I say one Italian in particular, this one Italian had been in a desperate
state, hardly moving, constantly stopping and sitting down and was generally in a bad way.
The girls came across him gave him some water and little bits of food, talked him into
continuing when he had been so adament that he would have to give up, they walked with
him and encouraged him to keep going. However a couple of hundred yards away before
finishing line, the Italian machismo, ego or pride kicked in, he just could not been seen to
have been helped by the girls, so he ran off trying to reach the finish before them, they
were furious and the red mist descended they gave chase caught him and beat him, to the
line that is. It was the ingratitude and down right cheek of the Italian that had so angered
Later on during the day Nick came over to the tent, he looked a lot better than when I had
last seen him, however he was out of the race, couldn’t remember collapsing and was
more embarrassed than annoyed, he looked thoroughly dejected but vowed to return.
Its a strange mixture of emotions when some one, who for what ever reason is unable or
unwilling to finish, as the girls had demonstrated you would do whatever you could to help
some one keep going, be it a dose of encouragement or more practical help, however the
moment the decision is made you secretly think to yourself, yes, another one down. A
guilty thought that no one will ever admit to but a thought that 90% of us shared. It’s not
meant to be malicious, cruel or nasty, it is just a relief to know that you are not the only
suffering, regretting or crying your way round, others are as well, only you have for what
ever reason, be it luck or stupidity, managed to hold on for just a little bit longer.
With Nick now out of the race, it bought the total of non finishers in our tent to 4. With still
two days to go I wondered if there would be any more casualties, I hoped not, could I hold
on, physically it would be touch and go, but with a little bit of luck and a large dose of
bloody mindedness I might (fingers crossed) just make it.
Stage 5 Amjerane- Ifert
Though I had been lucky enough to have so far survived, and by survived I do mean
SURVIVED, I was under no illusion that today was going to be tough.
At 42 km it was the second longest stage, virtually a marathon, any normal marathon
runner would have been tapering off (gradually reducing their running prior to marathon
day) not us, from day one we had slowly been increasing our running prior to marathon
It was my total ignorance regarding training that was now a blessing, had I known that you
were supposed to decrease and not increase the milage I might have been a little
concerned, I wasn’t, all I knew that today wasn’t as long as yesterday and after this stage
we only had one even shorter day, left, just 18 kms.
Walking over to the start line, we must have looked, like the zombies in Michael Jacksons \
‘Thriller’ video, we hobbled, waddled, limped and dragged ourselves forward, we were a
group of tatty, decomposing bodies that blindly moved forward.
With yesterday’s rest day, you would think that I would be fairly rested and fresh, wrong.
My rucksack still felt as heavy as it did on day one, my feet were still in a desperate state
and rigor mortis had set in from a day of inactivity, I was stiff and sore.
As the countdown began, I needed to formulate a game plan, how the hell was I going to
survive today, I got away with it yesterday, but my luck would have to end soon. I just had
to get to the end, in theory a very simple task, keep moving forward no matter what
happens, just keep moving!
Three, two, one and we were off, shuffling along I soon found a nice steady pace, if some
what slow pace and as the mass of runners thinned out I looked ahead and spotted a
runner with an orange coloured ruck sack, and that was it, my master plan, no matter what
happened I would keep the orange ruck sack in sight. I locked on to the ruck sack, I didn’t
know or care who was carrying the thing male, female, old or young, all I knew was that
the rucksack would pull me along, like the worst kind of stalker, I followed, altered my pace
and concentrated my very limited efforts on the orange rucksack nothing but nothing would
stop me following that ruck sack, it would always be in sight.
I followed it to CP 1, it left as I arrived, minutes later I left the checkpoint and continued my
now quite obssesive stalking, nothing else mattered, the pace wasn’t fast but it was
constant and I needed that constant pace.
I followed it to CP 2, collected water took a rough bearing (the “road book” gave the
direction to follow as 220 degrees,) I roughly set the compass accordingly and left the
checkpoint, then bugger me if the orange ruck sack didn’t disappear in the opposite
direction, now I was confused, worried, and worse I had to make a decision, do I follow the
rucksack or do I follow the compass. I weighed everything up, the rucksack had so far not
put a foot wrong, but, there is an old saying that you should ‘trust’ your compass, I also
knew that when navigating you should not just blindly follow the person in front, and then
just as panic had started to make an appearance the rucksack altered course, which was
fortunately the 220 degrees course.
Lesson learnt, I followed on, still keeping one eye on the rucksack, and the other on the
compass. Moving along, with thoughts of finishing, coca cola and ice cream running
around my head, I suddenly realised that I was on a very steep incline and was breathing
hard, once I reached the top, I looked down on to was a very nasty looking and steep
descent I would need to watch every foot step, the trouble with descending was that it hurt
my feet more than they already hurt.
Once at the bottom it was just a short distance in to a village, and like all the villages so far
the kids came out to ‘inspect’ us, one or two deciding to run along with us, laughing and
chatting away thinking it was great fun running with, and beating the so called athletes. At
one end of the village was a well, that a couple of runners were using and it looked like a
bloody good idea, I reached the well and lowered the bucket, the water was wonderfully
cold, I poured the lot over me, then I felt extremely guilty about wasting the precious water.
Moving on I realised that my faffing about meant that I had lost sight of the orange
Moving through the village I was struck by how lush and very green it was with crops
growing, and water filled irrigation ditches, running this way and that, There were even
birds flitting from one tree to another, a little green Island in the harsh and barren
landscape from which we had just emerged.
It was now extremely hot, the hottest day so far. Trying to find my way out of the village
wasn’t easy, there were three groups of runners that I could see, one group were going
one way, the second group were going the other way and the third group, were sitting by
an irrigation ditch cooling off, and again I had to make a decision, eeny, meeny, miney, mo!
It was very, very tempting to stop and dangle my swollen, sweaty, sore feet in the cold
water, the trouble with that one would be that I would be there for hours, unwilling or
unable to get started again. As I was making a decision I took my hat off submerged it in
the cold water and watched as the group that had been cooling off moved off, I decided
that they were the sensible ones and followed them.
CP 3 came and went, a curious thing about checkpoints was that each time I left one I
spent all my time and energy trying to reach the next one, as I struggled along it was the
thought of reaching the next checkpoint that kept me going, kept me motivated it was the
reward I craved, and yet as soon as I got to a check point I wanted to leave and was
annoyed if anything delayed my departure. I wanted to get there but didn’t want to be
As the day wore on so did my fatigue, I was getting slower, quite an achievement
considering I was already going bloody slow. The distance I had already covered, the heat,
lack of sleep and inability to eat properly were now taking there toll, I was now like an
automaton, programmed to do nothing except move forward.
This day had been my toughest I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth. Up ahead I saw
a couple of runners and beyond them what appeared to be derelict stone buildings, I really
hoped the this was the campsite, it wasn’t, but I could see it up ahead maybe a mile, mile
and a half away, normally I would try and speed up, but my speeding up days had long
since gone. It took me another 50 minutes before I arrived, I was now beyond knackered,
so much so that when I collected my water I was shaking, I made my way over to the
nearest tent, I didn’t care that it wasn’t the right tent, it was a tent and it would have to do,
fortunately for me a guy from our tent, called Tony came over and not only led me to the
right tent but also carried my rucksack, the bloke was a hero. Though he was out of the
race he had been watching the runners coming in and realised that I was struggling (I must
have looked a right mess), so came over to help. On getting to the tent I was lucky to find
a space at one end thus affording me just a little more space.
Tomorrow was the last day, a short 18km (a little over 10 miles). After a cup of coffee and a
few sweets, I felt better, and decided to sort through my kit throwing away anything that
was no longer required, it was mostly packets of food and drink, I was shocked by how
much I had left over, the implication being that I had eaten nowhere near enough, I was
loathe to throw perfectly good (if not horrible tasting) food away, so decided to have a
feast. I got the cooker going, this evening’s chefs special was casserole, and two cup a
soups and a rice pudding, washed down with sports drink, hot chocolate and a very sweet
coffee. Fed and watered it was time to visit the medics tent, this would I hoped be the last
time, it certainly turned out to be the longest time. The poor old medic cleaned, cut,
dabbed and sliced, patched and prodded my oh so tender stumps. I was clenching my
teeth and buttocks, whilst trying to stifle the little high pitched and involuntary yelps. Whilst
hobbling my way back to the tent two things crossed my mind, one, had I done any
permanent damage to my feet, all the toes, a large percentage of the soles and both heels
were blistered, they had been blistered and re-blistered and of the ten toe nails I had
started with, only three remained, the second thought that crossed my mind was, how the
hell am I going to get my shoes on.
Getting back to the tent, I noticed someone had moved in next to me, it was Alun the
worlds greatest snorer. The tent had an all together more relaxed and lively atmosphere,
we all knew that this was the last night together, and consequently spent most of the
evening swapping stories, these stories I’m sure will take on a life of there own when we
get back home, the hills will be steeper, the packs heavier, the dunes higher and the heat
hotter, but for now the stories were real and didn’t need exaggerating.
The Last Day
Even though I was sleeping next to the worlds greatest snorer, I had, had the best nights
sleep so far, was I that tired, or was it safe in the knowledge that I had all but completed
the ‘Marathon des Sables’.
This morning was a totally different atmosphere, not only because it was the last day but
because of the guest runners, the race organisers had ‘invited’ people to take part in the
last day, consequently the field of runners had practically doubled. They looked very out of
place, they were clean, smelt nice and walked properly. Once we were all lined up and the
count down began, they did seem to get a little apprehensive, maybe they thought they
would end up looking like and smelling like us. Once we got going the bulk of them shot
off, they probably weren’t fast runners but they were, fresh runners and that counted for a
The terrain today was more urbanised, buildings and people were more prevalent, tracks
more defined, this made the going easier than it had been, but my feet dictated my speed.
I hobbled along and approached the town of Tazzerin, entering the town, and expecting a
heros welcome, I was disappointed most people didn’t even notice, some clapped and
some looked annoyed that we were disrupting the routine of the place. I was now
desperate to finish, hanging on by a thread, willing the finish line to appear and then I saw
the wonderful 1 km to go marker, I tried to speed up but failed, then two girls from the tent
appeared and with the finish line in sight we grabbed each others hands and ran, I wanted
to, no I needed to reach that finish line, I wanted the excruciating pain to end, two years it
had taken me to get to the finish line, two years, a small fortune, blood, sweat and god
knows how many layers of skin.
And then the shouting and the clapping intensified as we got closer and then suddenly it
was done we had finished, Patrick Bauer put a medal around my neck, and that was that it
was over, my two year dream had come to a very abrupt end!
Flying home I ate and I ate, I had lost 16 pounds in weight, my feet were so swollen that I
had had to cut the leg of my trousers just to get them over my my feet.
It took me many days to recover.
Had it been worth it, the cost, the pain, the time and the effort, the answer I’m afraid was
yes, would I do it again, no. Would I recommend it to a friend, yes!
But having said that I had learnt a lot about myself, I had not once thought that I would not
finish, not once did I think about giving up and stopping, I had loved it, the challenge the
people the whole atmosphere.