Marathon des Sables 2014
Monday, 7th April
Just as the sun comes up we’re all stirring in tent 96. It’s cool enough the morning to wear my pertex gilet and keep a buff on my head. After getting up for a first pee of the day I slip back into my sleeping bag and eat a couple of cereal bars. They’re still going down pretty well, and I still have some water left over from the night before. At 0630 the water truck opens, and this time we all hand our punch cards to one person and they head over to the truck to collect the 7 bottles of water for the tent.
We’d watched quite a few people coming in later than the cut off the night before, and because the day had been so tough the race organisers had allowed an extra hour. There were still a good few people who weren’t going to make the start line today.
The water gets split between the bottles and a TORQ fuel added to the one on the right hand side of my chest pockets. I’ve decided that I will empty out my left chest pocket so I can fit a 1.5l bottle in there at the checkpoints. I can’t do the same as CP1-2 on stage 1.
Todays stage is 41km, and whilst its longer than yesterday the chatter in the tent is about more of the day being runnable. Certainly the roadbook looks like it should be. We’ve got 11.5km to the first checkpoint, then 15 km to CP2, 8km to CP3 and then 7km into the finish. Today will be about managing the water over the first 2 CP.
Artur has been up for a lot of the night sewing his gaiters onto his trainers, and Andrew has been trying to get comfortable in bed, struggling to keep his feet elevated. We’re all feeling reasonably recovered though my right calf is still feeling quite tight. Everything is taking a little bit longer than it would normally now. We’re all working through the tasks methodically, and making small changes after everything that we had learnt from day 1. The tent gets removed again and we’re still applying sun cream on the rug. There is a good deal less urgency today to get to the start line, none of us want to stand around with our packs on our shoulders for longer than we need to. A few bits of food are redistributed around the tent as people realise that they have more than they need.
We all get ready together, but again get split up during the walk over to the start line. Phil and I hang together, and line up about two thirds of the way down the start line. “Happy” is playing again, and Patrick takes a while to get to the start line for his normal chat. The run through of the stage, the birthdays and the countdown. We’re told of a number of retirements, including the 16 year old, we all clap our recognition of the effort and sacrifice they have made and the disappointment not be taking the start. There are 1009 starters today, yesterday has had the effect the organisers wanted. Highway to Hell starts playing, the helicopter overhead starts runs down the startline and we’re shuffling forwards again.
The first leg is pretty straight, and between bits of soft sand everything is pretty runnable. It does get closer to being dunes as the leg goes on, but not anything as big as the day before. The going is a bit more stoney, but is very flat and makes for some good progress. The large antenna at Taouz comes into view after crossing an oued. I take my first salt tablets of the day and drink a lot of water. The aerial is a warning that CP1 is not too far away so I drink more to empty my bottles.
CP1 comes into view, and I beep my way across the mat after 1hr24…this is much faster than the day before. I empty one bottle of water into both of my drinking bottles, slug a bit back, pour a bit over my head and shove the full bottle into my left pouch. It fits well and I immediately feel better about running with 3kg of water on board. We leave Taouz to our left and make a general right turn, not quite a 90 degree right, but not far from it. There are a few people watching from the local village, I do wonder what they think of all us while they’re clapping and shouting “Bonne Journee”.
The ground underfoot here is tough going, but it’s not as difficult as the previous day, so progress is good. This 15km leg I think will take me about 2 hours so I roughly calculate that I need to drink 750ml an hour, I glance at my watch and decide that I’ll drink about 150ml every quarter of an hour. I’m trying to eat something of around 100kcal every hour or so, and wish I’d just gone TORQ for my daytime nutrition, the fuel powder and Orange and Strawberry Gels are much easier to eat than the other things I’m carrying and they have an instant effect on my body. We run alongside a large rocky outcrop and then start winding our way across little sandy channels in a bigger oued.
We start to swing back to the west and the sun falls warmly on the left hand side of my head, the water and salt tablets have been going in well, and although I’m just over 2 hrs from the last CP, I still have 200ml of water left.
After a short bit of sand we spot CP2 and it’s starting to get hotter now. With the temperature rising my energy is waning. I decide to eat some food and wash it down with the last bit of water. The controlleurs at the CP are very happy, and punch us through and hand out the water really efficiently. Same again for me, split one bottle between my drinking bottles, a bit of water over my head and the big bottle in my pouch. I’ve done the last leg in just over 2hrs15, making good time, but the heat is really on now and I’m definitely slowing down.
This leg being 8km should be just over an hour if I can keep the pace up. I try and keep that in mind as the course swings south and we start crossing the Oued with large lumps of soft sand and camel grass. I’m stuck on the idea of drinking every 15 minutes and keeping the salt tablets coming.
We’re onto a wide open plain and I’m starting to slow down a little. Neal Edmondson overtakes me here, saying he’d been stuck in a lull and had now got it together. He’s not stretching out the distance fast, but he’s definitely moving a little faster than me. My tired legs are craving food and I try and choke down a bounce ball. After chewing the same mouthful for a while, I spit it out and put the rest back in my chest pouch. Just totally the wrong thing for where my mouth is at. Instead I break out the jelly beans, munch through them fast and then swallow a few big mouthfuls of water. A little bit of water over my head here to cool me down. The whole process has taken me 20 minutes or so. The ground changes from dusty track to stony surfaces, with the rocks being about the same size as baked bean tins. I can feel the energy coming back to my legs and I pick up to a very steady slow run. The rocks are good, and I enjoy picking my way through them. The monotony of one foot in front of another broken. Neal comes back into view just as the ground starts to head uphill. I decide I’ll run to him and then walk with him for a bit. Neal’s lull has returned and we chat through whether this is a running race or a walking race. We think 50:50 and as we do, we turn a corner and see CP3. Neal is stopping here for some food, but I go through my CP routine as before. I have a quick chat with a medic, he tells me that I’ll love the view in a while. It’s been 1hr20 since the last CP, but I’m happy with that in the heat of the sun.
We’re still ascending on stony ground, but as the route turn vaguely North a large sandy climb up Jebel El Abeth comes into view. I chat with a big guy as we plod on the way to the top of this, he’s pretty broken, but tells me that the finish all downhill from the top here. It’s hot and whilst I don’t like it I’m eating the last of my Shot Bloks. On the top, a soft sandy descent stretches out in front of us. The big guy wishes me luck as he hooks up with one of his tent mates and I half ski, half run down to a rocky track beneath. It is gently downhill, I’m liking running along the good surface. However, the downhill doesn’t last, and it starts gently rising and falling and I have no power left. I walk as quickly as I can passed one of the little buggies parked in the shade of a tree. Over a small rise and the finish comes into view. I run walk for a bit, but a few people pass me, I just don’t have anything left, my nutrition hasn’t been right today and that’s getting inside my head.
The finish seems to take an age getting closer, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and slowly, I make it to the finish.
Today the sweet tea tastes even better than it had yesterday. With my legs in the state they are I creep over to the water tent grab my 4.5l and start the slog to the tent. Today for some reason the finish line is further away from the tent than yesterday and a bit like getting to the finish, getting to the tent takes longer than I expect.
The golden hour hits in, feet up, recovery powder, the rest of that bounce ball and a pepperami. Where I kicked the rock yesterday I have a blister forming, and my big toe isn’t in great nick. After the hour of feet up I head over to Doc Trotters. What a great service, Laurent works quickly on my right foot. Draining the blister, dosing it with iodine, it burns a bit, but drying it out is a good thing. He makes a hole in my big toe nail in an effort so release the pressure and save the nail. Iodine hitting the nail bed makes a goodly burn, but by the time he has put a dry dressing on it and we’ve chatted that I should keep the dressing on to the end of the race the throbbing has subsided.
My chafing is still stinging a bit, but I just add a bit more lubricant and hope it’ll settle down.
I head straight from here to the email tent, and meet Phil waiting in the queue. He’s had another good day. I get the email done and then head back to the tent and get some hot food on the go. We’re all back, Linda and Rachel have had a good day, Artur has placed well but has some pretty impressive blisters forming. Andrew has had a good day, beating Rory Coleman – a veteran of lots of MdS editions and also some treadmill records. Being based in Cardiff, we’re all quite keen to measure ourselves against Rory and all have a small glow of success.
Finishing times for day 2: Phil 5hrs25, Artur 5hrs38, Rachel 5hrs50, Linda 6hrs03, Me 6hrs27, Andrew 6hrs42 and Dave 9hr02.
The emails to us are again delivered just as the sun is setting. We all get one this evening and again we all go quiet. I struggle to hold back the tears on a few of them. It’s amazing how close to the surface the emotions are whilst we’re plodding away in the sand.
We’re expecting tomorrow to be a tough day too. There is a good size climb and 14km of dunettes, the effort from the last 3km of day 1 not yet forgotten we’re all slightly aware of needing to go fast, but not burn out for the day after. At 38km it should be quicker than today, but we all know that the terrain can make a massive distance.
Chatter soon quietens down and all the sounds around the bivouac change to deep breathing with the occasional crunch of stone underfoot as someone heads out for a wee.