Stage 3 Marathon des Sables 2014

Marathon des Sables 2014 

Stage 3

Tuesday, 8 April

Link to Stage 3 roadbook

After a much better nights sleep I wake up and it’s a warmer morning. I only need my buff on and can leave the gilet in its stuffsack.

There are a few people moving about quite gingerly, their feet having taken a pounding. I’m feeling pretty lucky at this stage. Artur is already trying to get on top of his feet, second skin going on and then a dressing over the top. The guy is really pushing hard.

My concern is that I’ve woken really hungry, but when I try and eat my brekkie, I really struggle. It takes nearly 10 minutes to eat one cereal bar. Everything feels like it is moving much more easily, my calf feels good, my blisters aren’t painful and I don’t feel too sore. I know though that I’m a bit light on calories and that means I have to get the nutrition right today. We’re supposed to be 3 km less than yesterday, but looking at the roadbook we know that with some climbs and 14 km of dunettes on this stage that its going to be a hard fought day.

Playing in the back of my head the whole time is the long day tomorrow, 80km. I need to get a tactic sorted, and I’m going to spend some time on that on course today.

Dave has woken up and his shoulders are much better, but he is still finding his bag heavy, a few things get discarded but the needs of the long day are still out there and nobody wants to lose the ‘just in case’ items before they’re needed. All our kit is now salt crusted, so much so that once soft shorts are stiff as a board. Nothing we can do about it, unless we’re prepared to give up drinking water. We’re not!

Phil is still smashing down the Raspberry and Granola for brekkie and evening meal. He’s doing really well on it, fair play to him staying on top of it all.

This morning is even more laid back than other mornings. The start line is on the other side of the camp to before, and that’s obvious when collecting the morning water. Today we’re only going about 10km west from our current bivouac, but we are doing a deep u-shape course that stretches out the distance.

We hear now that the first two days have eliminated more people, chatter is going around about flares being set off, people being airlifted. Rebecca who we had met in Gatwick had succumbed to her 15kg pack, and had had a nightmare route finding and was out. As were a couple who had had an epic on the first day, there was an airlift involved and together they had left the race. More people had been eliminated in the first two days than are normally retired in a whole edition. This year was tough and we hadn’t even gone half distance yet.

Phil and I again make it to the start line together, another handshake, another shuffle forwards and away we go.

To begin with the going is pretty easy, I hold off my TORQ fuel for the first three quarters of an hour just drinking plain water. That takes me through the first bit of the stony terrain, and through a good bit of the sand. There are 3km of dunes to cross before the first CP at 10km and I hit into the TORQ here. I made it into CP1 in an hour and a half. That’s slow for 10km, but with the sand this was okay going I figured. Into the next leg of the stage there was still more sand. This 14km leg was sand, hill, sand. I was really looking forward to the climb, just to do something different than plough through soft sand.

I started on my shot bloks during the third hour, this time just trying to eat one every ten minutes, see if I could stop my legs tiring. Still taking the salt tablets as prescribed had become second nature and with the watch on made for a useful reference point in the day.

The rocky climb started out slowly, crossed a vehicle piste that was well made before dropping into a little rocky gorge that wound its way up to the summit. The rocky gorge gave way to very soft sand at the base,  my two favourite things heat and sand were here now. I stay to the edge trying to find good rock to walk on. I’ve fallen in behind a very tiny French lady who I can only describe as a mountain goat. She bounces from rock to rock up to the top. I just stay with her when she gets caught in traffic. At the top there is a soft sand and rock descent, and I manage to overtake a few people here. At the base of the steep bit there is a hard crust of sand at a nice angle. Lots of people are staying to my right in the soft sand but I head a little left and manage a very cooling downhill trot. On the horizon to the left, and a long way off the bearing we should be on are a number of berber tents, and a couple of white markers that make it look like it could be a water stop. A group of four French runners cross behind me heading straight for the tents. I can see a marker off to my right, but I’m making places coming down the hard sand so stick with it.

We cross a sandy Oued and then climb onto dunettes. This are beautiful. We’re walking along the top of a knife edge dune, then plunging down soft sand before crossing up to another. My legs are tiring pretty fast and with the time towards noon the heat is really coming on. Even though I’m feeding better today, I’m low on energy and would love an extra TORQ fuel right now.

I get to out of the dunettes and into CP2, the last 13km have taken me 2hrs20. My mind is going away from the positive and the big day is playing on my mind. We’re back into the dunettes and my left foot is starting to suffer with a painful blister. I choose to “MTFU” and get the day done.

Wayne and I at the CP, photo credit Wayne Drinkwaters camera-random photographer!
Wayne and I at the CP, photo credit Wayne Drinkwaters camera-random photographer!

As I’m filling my bottles under the awning of a Land Rover I spot Wayne Drinkwater. Wayne is fundraising for Charlies Voice and with autism being close to my heart we’ve been bouncing Facebook messages back and forward in the lead up to the event. It’s nice to meet face to face, randomly in the desert. After a quick photo, I’m off again.

Big hot dried lake bed
Big hot dried lake bed

Pretty soon we’re out of the dunettes and heading across what feels like a big dry lake bed, with a large Oued out to the left. It’s really hot, and I can’t quite find a rhythm. I’m feeling negative and this is really a dark couple of hours. I know I’ve got to turn it around, but I feel a little overwhelmed, not that I can’t finish but that the enormity of what is to come along with how tough things are is really eating into me. The 6km I’m on now are taken up with thoughts of Pete and my Mum and Dad. What the hell am I doing here. I decide I have to kick myself out of this. I’m ok, I have a few aches and pains, but nothing that will stop me. I decide to eat a double meal tonight. I gobble down a TORQ gel. Slurp down more water than I should and double my salt dose.

MDS2014 Day 3 CP Finish from Ashley Charlwood on Vimeo.

I get to CP3 an 1hr40 after CP2, it’s been 9km, and I only have 5km left to go. Whilst everyone else is faffing about, I just stick to my routine, water, rubbish emptied, walk out. It’s really hot now but 15 minutes later, I’m shuffling a bit faster, I’ve set my jaw and I decide I’m going to get this f$%@er done. Belligerence has set in! It still feels like a big dried lake, but it’s not too far to the finish now. I talk myself through what I’m doing tomorrow and just concentrate on what should be no more than an hour to get into the finish.

We pass some small ruins, I’m thinking about the Jungle Book because I think the name Ba Hallou sounds a bit like the bear. I play “Bare Necessities” over and over in my head, but get to the dunes that lead to the finish. I’m angry at the sand now and stomp my way through it. Sure enough in just under the hour I’m across the finish line. The tea tastes better still, the water claim is quick. I meet Rachel as she is looking to find the video blog area, her and Linda have had a good day.

I get to the tent for the Golden Hour. I strip my socks and am relieved to see the painful blister isn’t too bad. I give it a quick clean and leave it dry out, my dressed toes are ok and my chafe stings. I give it a good Wemmi wipe, and decide to put antiseptic on instead of more lube.

After the hour, and the recovery powder I’m feeling far better. I have an evening meal, and then wander over to the email tent. With the long day ahead this will be my last email out for nearly 48hrs and I know people at home want to know how everything is going. I check the results for Phil and he has stayed comfortably inside the top 200. I’m really pleased for him. I head back to the tent after emails, to find a pile of emails on my kip mat. I put some water onto boil for my second supper and lie back and read the messages. The support and thoughts have a really uplifting effect. I feel more positive as I tuck into my meal. Maybe it had something to do with eating about 2000kcal in a couple of hours. I break out the Nuun tablets, get some electrolytes back into me for an evening meal.

Everyone makes it in before the cut off time.

Phil 5hrs08, Artur 5hrs37, Rachel 5hrs40, Linda 5hrs48, Me 6hrs25, Andrew 6hrs32 and Dave 8hrs19.

The mood was pretty sombre, the next day was on everyones mind. Dave starts binning stuff out of his rucsac, books and various things that aren’t going to be need. Andrew gives away food that he doesn’t need which Artur, who is really hungry happily takes. We all bed down early, but I have my worst night sleep yet, tossing and turning until the early hours.