Marathon des Sables 2014
Friday, 11 April
Link to stage 5 roadbook
The tent comes round sharply, the main pack are away at 0700 on the 42km of Stage 5.
My body feels fairly battered. My head had been in the “get the long day done and the Marathon day would be a walk in the park”. Everything is taking ages this morning. Eating breakfast is a real trial. It just doesn’t want to go down.
A quick look at the road book… CP1 12km, CP2 11km, CP3 9km, 10km to the finish. They’re ok chunks.
For the first time in the week the sky is overcast. Perhaps its not going to be too hot. A lot of chatter about how today was a fast and flat day. I was going to need it to be. Phil is fired up, if he can pull of a good stage then he’ll lock his top 200 finish into the top 150 pretty comfortably.
We’re told we need to collect a new, clean race number. We all do it, but a bit confused why. Apparently its for the photographs today. It’s done grudgingly. Another queue!
My ankle is really, really sore. I pop a tramadol hoping it’ll deal with the mush that my feet have become. Pulling compression socks and socks on, followed by gaiters I decide my feet are so swollen that I can’t wear my normal two pairs of socks. It can’t make things too much worse. Andrew’s collapsed Hoka is looking worse, Artur’s feet are looking worse, Linda has strapping on her knee and a couple of blisters, but she’ll be quick again. Dave is holding it together much better than the rest of us, but we’re all realising that today is going to be hard.
Rachel has made it into 199th overall, so along with Phil their start is at 0930. We all drop into our own worlds this morning, and saunter over to the start. Today it has a little taped box around it, this should cram us in a bit tighter. I meet up with Sarah (Swampy Tigs) and she is in good spirits having finished her long day. Worried about the cut off time for CP3, but we’ve all come so far I hope everyone makes it round. Linda, Dave and Andrew are around too. We all know today is going to be a battle.
The helicopters are noticeably absent this morning. We hear that we’re down to 926 starters today. That’s well over 10% of the field gone from Day 1. Normally the whole race only loses about 4%. This edition has been tough.
“Happy” plays again, but I tune it out. I know I can cover the distance today, but its going to be mentally much tougher for me than the long day. Because I hadn’t expected it to be, I was really in the right zone. I’d checked out the results, and I really wanted to beat Rory Coleman home. For no other reasons than I needed a motivation, this was it.
“Happy” gives way to “Highway to Hell” and we’re off.
I can’t call it a run, I’m hobbling on my left ankle, each heel strike is sore and I’m dreading any downhill on my right foot blisters. But I’m moving faster than 5km/h and that’ll do.
It is flat, and it is quite cool by contrast to the last few days. The running is easier, this would definitely be fun running on a fresh legged day. After 12km and an hour and a half I hit CP1. I think of Phil and Rachel lining up on the start along with Danny, Steve and the Morrocan runners in the top 200. Mentally I try and work out where on the course they’ll pass me.
Onto the next CP, we’re crossing more fertile ground. It looks like crops though the ground is too dusty to be obvious to me as what they might be growing. I’m still managing a fast hobble. Some of the discomfort in my heels have gone, but my ankle is not getting any easier to run with.
I finish my TORQ fuel and eat half a pepperami, this goes down really well. After 1hr35 I see the next CP and look forward to collecting some fresh water. I’ve a Nuun tablet in already, I just want a different flavour to my water.
The fast runners are going to pass me in this next leg. I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping to see Phil early on.
This section winds over slightly more undulating terrain, small sandy Oueds. Rachid and then Mohamed coming running through. It all looks so easy, I’m envious and full of admiration. I lock onto the back of number 27, Christian. He’s a 26 times veteran and I reckon I can stick with him. Danny Kendall comes by, and I give him a big shout. He says thanks, gives a wave and keeps going.
As we start a short ascent. Rory passes me. I can’t find anything to stay with him, so I just hunker down behind Christian. Next Steve Hodges comes passed and I give him a shout too. he gives a brief wave. He’s obviously working really hard.
There is a short descent into a gorge and we’re all shuffling along. The first lady comes by, and it’s Irish lady, Claire Morrisey. Claire had been in our tent a few days before and she is absolutley flying along. “Go-on Claire” I shout and she’s away. Then “There’s my man” comes from behind me in a South Walian accent. It’s Phil and he is gunning it. Not quite on Claire’s shoulder but not far off. He’s having an awesome run and I tell him.
We all enter a little area of crops, round a small wall and then there are a whole bunch of people. It’s CP3 and there are some spectators here as well as the water stop. I’ve taken 1hr30 to cover the 9km, elegant running this is not.
I try and be quick through the CP, I have a TORQ gel to try and put some energy in my legs. It only vaguely works. Immediately after CP3 we’re into a soft Oued. I pull alongside a welshman now living in the Netherlands, Hywel. I can do nothing but walk with a bit of a limp on this soft surface. As we move to the right side, the ground firms up and Hywel makes a break for it, getting back into a run. I have to wait until we’re out of the Oued and I start shuffling on a bit faster.
This is a large stony plain, there is a support truck on the horizon, I decide I’m running at least to the truck. As I get closer I can see it is Steve from Running Sahara. “Looking Good Ash” he says. I grunt a “hmmm” back at him. “You’re probably not feeling good though” comes the response. I keep it going.
Next rise and I can see the finish. There are some soft dunes between me and the finish. I slurp down a load of water. I run downhill, then walk fast uphill. I’ve my head down.
At the top of the next hill, I look up it’s downhill to the finish. I’m shuffling a little faster, I pull out my Welsh flag. I spot Phil with his flag just in front of the finish. I lift the flag over my head and Phil replies with the same.
I run over the line and it’s done. I’m knackered, I bend over taking the weight on my arms through my knees. There is a great big S-shaped queue winding back and forward to Patrick Bauer and getting our medals. Everyone is sharing around the last bits of water we have.
Rachel comes in and Andrew is just ahead of ,e. He has beaten Rory home, and I reckon I can’t have been too far behind him either.
Phil finished the day in 4hrs 39, Rachel in 5hrs 23, Linda in 6hrs 04, Andrew in 6hrs 26, Artur in 6hrs 30, me in 6hrs 6hrs 38 and Dave in 8hrs 28. We all made it through the racing stages.
A special mention for Claire Morrisey who is the first female home. I’m sure racing in Ireland is going to get a massive boost when she moves home later in the year.
After getting my medal I head over to the medical tent and get some supplies to sort my feet out. Then back to the tent and take my socks off. It’s pretty obvious that I should go and see Doc Trotters. The middle toe nail on my right foot is floating on a big blister. I give them a quick wash off and then shuffle over to the tent.
I wash them off with iodine solution, put on the blue socks and wait to go in. The Doc gets to work on my feet. Draining the blisters first and working some iodine in. This I can cope with. She then says that she’d like to puncture a nail or two to try and save some nails. The big toe on my left foot is first. I can feel she is putting some pressure on, and then the needle goes through. because she has some weight behind it the needle goes well into my toe. A searing pain, and bang of my hands on the floor and a “nnngh” is how far I go. Then the iodine. This makes a throb. But it’s ok, I can cope with this. She dresses my feet and I shuffle back to the tent via an email.
I’ve beaten Rory, but will wait for the end of the charity section to get my classification.
We’re all chuffed with our medals and the evening ahead is going to be relaxing.
There is a presentation of the top runners, medals and trophies. Some great video footage.
Danny Kendal gets an amazing cheer as he collects his trophy.
I’m really impressed with Marco Olmo, he wins the Vet 4 Category (70-79yrs). If that isn’t impressive enough he finishes 23rd overall. He also controls the microphone really well, paying tribute to all the other runners. A really inspiring guy and story. Here’s a short intro to who and what he is.
As the French Opera fires up, there is a fairly mass exodus. As amazing as it is, we’re all tired and not really in the mood to party.
Back in the tent, it feels like we’re all pretty content. Aches and pains, are with us all. Phil has given the race everything. Mentally and physically we’re all broken. We agree we’ll walk as a tent tomorrow on the charity/solidarity stage for Unicef. Quickly we’re all asleep, medals not too far away.