Marathon Des Sables 2006
MARATHON DES SABLES APRIL 2006
In September 2004 I made one of my most difficult decisions ever and posted my £500 non-refundable deposit for the 2006 Marathon des Sables. I stood at the pillar box for about 5 minutes trying to build up the bottle to post the letter. I counted to ten and the thing was gone. A few days later confirmation arrived and training began in earnest. This was going to be my way of celebrating retiral from 30 years in the police and of my 50th birthday. I had the desire, I would have time for training and I knew that if I didn’t try it now I never would.
Family and friends all thought I was daft but I felt there was a bit of envy from some. I couldn’t , however, persuade anyone to do it with me.
Several friends persuaded me that I should do this for a charity and I felt I could pick no better cause than the Marie Curie.
Training throughout 2005 consisted of regular long runs interspersed with as many half and full marathons as I could fit in. I did the London marathon in April and followed it 6 days later with Fort William marathon. I finished both in good times and this built up confidence in my recovery stamina.
In June, I did the fairly hilly Edinburgh marathon and got a PB of 3hrs 11min. In July I retired and celebrated with a family holiday in South Africa where I managed to get a few runs in in the heat.
August I completed my first ultra - the 35 mile two bridges race. This was a undulating mainly cross country route and was delighted to be able to run the whole thing under 5 hours and doing the first 26.2 miles in under 3hrs 30.
I attended a very useful MDS seminar in York in November.
I started driving a taxi and by doing this in the evenings I was left with the rest of the day for training.
After Christmas 2005 I concentrated on hill runs and began carrying the back pack gradually building up weight. I felt that steep hills would be similar to running up sand dunes. I also travelled down to the coast for the occasional run on the dunes there. I teamed up a few times with 2 other guys Ron Logan , a farmer from Galashiels and Barry Duncan, an IT engineer from West Calder who were also entered for MDS. Both appeared impressively fit.
In February I entered the 54 mile Thames Meander which was billed as a training race for MDS. It was meant to replicate the long, day 4 stage as much as possible. We had to carry our packs for the race, mine weighing around 7kilos. The route started in Reading and basically followed the Thames into London. Somehow I managed to get a bit lost north of Maidenhead and ended up doing an extra couple of miles. I managed to run for about the first 40 miles but found the weight of the pack very tiring. I then went into a sort of run/walk for ten miles. By then it was dark, starting to rain and very demoralising. There was no way I could run another step and had to hobble the final 6 miles. There was only 6 weeks to go till MDS and I was terrified of causing an injury. Luckily I had teamed up with another guy and we managed to give each other a great deal of encouragement. I was pushing myself to finish in time for a few pints and a curry, but on reaching the school hall at the end I could only collapse on the floor and drink some soup. The following morning we attended a Sahara School with advice from previous MDS competitors. On leaving I had a great deal of difficulty in walking and realised that I had been using totally different muscles during the run/ walk carrying the weight as opposed to normal running. The event had been a great confidence boost I had completed it in just over 11 hours but felt I could have gone a bit faster. I realised that on the long day 4 stage I would be doing a lot of walking, particularly by the time that it got dark and that walking poles would be of great assistance in taking the pressure off your legs. I also discovered that it was very difficult to sleep on a hard floor when sober and that I would have to practice that before leaving for Morocco.
I read in several articles that you should try and acclimatise to the heat during the 6 weeks before. I managed to obtain sponsorship from Edinburgh Leisure who gave me the use of their sauna at Warrender swimming baths. I would run to the sauna and gradually build up my time as long as bearable before running home again. The theory being that your body would be used to sweating without losing vital salts. I think it worked. The local newspaper picked up on this and published an article with pictures of me fully dressed in desert gear in the sauna. This generated a fair bit of sponsorship for my charity.
Six weeks before leaving I discovered that my mother was terminally ill with cancer, and it was not certain if she would survive over April. We had a heart to heart conversation and she convinced me to run no matter what as she was taking great pride in the race and would be supporting me every step of the way. It was uncanny that she would now be using the Marie Curie facilities herself.. The day before leaving she promised me that she would take every step with me and that she would see me finish.
Wednesday 5th April 2006
Travelled down to Gatwick from Edinburgh with Ron and met up with Barry and a Welshman , who spoke with a Scouse accent, Mark Thomas along with numerous other competitors. Shared a room with Ron who discovered that he would have to purchase earplugs to kill my snoring
Thursday 6th April 2006
Made our way to terminal and checked in. Ron bought his ear plugs. Carried as much vital equipment in our packs as possible in fear of hold luggage getting lost. Numerous competitors were wearing their gaiters and running gear so all were easily spotted. Last few pints of Guinness and we were on to the charter plane to Ouarzazate. Spectacular views of Atlas mountains and desert as we landed at the deserted airport. Taken by bus to a very nice hotel. Four of us had a walk round the town before returning to hotel to a few beers and an eat all you can buffet.
Friday 7th April 2006
Early eat all you can breakfast ,then pile on to coaches for a 220K journey over mountains, desert and oasis towns to the remote town of Ait Saadane. Handed our road books and quickly realised that the organisers were determined to maintain the reputation as the toughest footrace in the world. There were a lot more mountain and dune stages with the long day being shortened to 72K but looking particularly difficult.
En route there were a couple of pee stops and then a lunch stop where we encountered our first scorpion. Dozens of children appeared from nowhere and scrounged the remnants of our lunch. Back to the buses which took us to the road end and we were then loaded into the rear of army lorries to continue the journey. Visions of the executions in The Great Escape sprung to mind. Eventually we arrived at our first bivouac. 100 sack type tarpaulins laid out in a huge circle. We were allocated tent areas by nationality. Mark, Barry, Ron and myself found four blokes in tent 87 who were happy to share. Phil Hampden-Smith, a Financial Director, from Singapore, Darren Schlosser a food importer from Kent, Neill Morgan, a drug dealer (medical) from Coventry, but adamant he is Welsh, and Guy Peters an IT Consultant, also from the West Midlands. So this was it for the rest of the adventure. 3 Scotsmen, 2 Welshmen, and 3 Englishmen, one of whom lived overseas. The banter started straight away and rules were laid down about no talk of 1966 or the Ashes. The laughter continued until our plane home. Didn’t realise there would be so many flies out here. Perhaps they would go once we started to really smell.
Once we had checked our kit we were provided with a fine 3 course meal, wine included, an uncomfortable night of farting and snoring followed, with Neill providing fine competition with myself.
Saturday 8th April 2006
Provided with breakfast by organisers and everyone then had to check in equipment they were not taking, have their packs weighed and examined for essential equipment and food content, and have their ECGs and medical certificates checked. There were brief interviews by medical teams and we were issued with emergency flares and salt tablets. This was done in numerical order at marquees and with my number being 629, it meant I was nearly last.
As the morning passed the temperature and winds rose. I was continually moving items between my suitcase and pack trying to reduce weight but was unable to get it below about 12 kilos (without water and flare) By lunch time it was 36C and a full and violent sandstorm was in progress. My suitcase, which had all my clean clothes and kilt was full of sand. As I went over to marquees with Darren a violent gust partially blew one down A French competitor was struck on the leg by one of the large wooden supports and was requiring medical help. Along with some Berbers we attempted to hold the marquee with ropes but this was blistering our hands and eventually the whole thing collapsed.. We were ushered into the remaining Marquees and the admin was re-organised. Another huge gust ripped open the side and there were shouts to get out. In the commotion I was pushed backwards over someone’s pack and ended up like a turtle on it’s back with the weight of my pack preventing me get up. Darren just managed to pull me out before the rest of the tent and supports collapsed. I was starting to wonder if I was going to survive until the start, never mind complete the race. Eventually admin procedures were completed and we sheltered in our collapsing bivvy for the rest of the afternoon. Because of the violent conditions the briefing by the race director was postponed until 5.30pm. Minutes before the briefing the storm abated. Motivating speeches were made, instructions given and a display of camel and horse riding was done by the Berbers. 731 competitors from 33 nations had passed the checks.
As darkness fell we sorted out our bivvy as best as possible and got rid of the worst of the sand. We were given our last meal to be provided by the organisers and this included a can of beer. We were now on our own.. Very little sleep probably due to the excitement and stress. Sand was now everywhere. Everything you ate or drank was gritty and every orifice, some that you didn’t even know you had, was stuffed with sand
Sunday 9th April 2006 Stage 1
Bivvy is pulled down by Berbers at 5.30am. Thankfully storm has completely stopped and we are able to make final adjustments to pack. Stuff myself with as much food as possible and its over to the start line. We are given final instructions and numerous aerial shots are taken. Press and TV crews are everywhere and loud rock music is blasted out. This stage was only to be 28K Sounded easy, just a normal long training run. There was ,however, mention of a lot of sand and of a mountain between CPs 1 and 2 with a 15% slope. The temperature was soon to rise to 41C.
I felt a little emotional as I crossed the start line after all the preparation. The adrenaline was pumping, with the Eurosport Helicopter repeatedly flying sideways just above head height filming us and I felt full of energy. We ran through picturesque palm groves and ruined villages with kids appearing from nowhere to give us High Fives. I soon became conscious of the burning winds which instantly dried the saliva from your mouth causing the tongue to stick to the lips or throat and became aware that I was using my water very quickly. I was out of water and feeling dehydrated when I reached CP 1. I decided to slow the pace and started to walk 10 m after every 100 m. The mountain was very hot and difficult to cross but once on the other side I picked up the pace to CP2 where on arrival I discovered, that to my horror, I had lost my water card which required to be stamped. I searched everywhere but realised I must have left it at the last CP. I was informed that I was to receive a 3 hour penalty which would put me right back at the tail of the field. I continued for the next half kilometre with my face tripping me and saying all sorts of swear words then looked down to see the card trapped between my front race number and pack. I immediately ran back against the flow and was able to cancel the penalty. An extra kilometre run but saved a lot of time. By this time a violent sandstorm was building up and the race involved more walking than running. I eventually reached the end of the stage in searing heat and feeling very dehydrated only to find that tent 87 had blown down. 5 attempts were made to erect the tent but each time the wind was too strong. There was no where to shelter from the sun and wind and attempts to mix recovery powders were disastrous. I managed to get into one of the Kiwi tents for a quick 20minute nap before it also blew down. Eventually the weather improved and we were able to get the bivvy up. I was fairly pleased as I had finished in the top half of the field despite my card incident. I had no blisters, just a few hot spots on my heels and balls of feet but I realised I would have to slow the pace in the following days as I was incredibly dehydrated. Barry, Mark, Darren and Guy all had blisters which required lancing and iodine poured in. I was so glad not to be in that position. Cooked a meal but there wasn’t even enough water to make my ‘Smash’. We were told that 12 competitors had been pulled out and another 21 had been given emergency IVs . That was as much as the whole of last years event on the first day. I felt heartbroken for these guys that were out. Everyone had put in so much training and effort and to end so early was very cruel. The organisers acknowledged the extreme weather and an extra bottle of water each was given out. A cheer went round the camp like it was Christmas. A very warm night just requiring sleeping bag liner. Spoke to an English competitor who had been given 5 litres of saline in an IV. He was carrying on and felt great. I would use that as my Joker Card in future as you only got fined 1 hour for your first IV.
Monday 10th April Stage 2 35K
Berbers appeared as ever at 5.30 am to remove bivvy. Looked like it was going to be another very hot day. Had breakfast and whist waiting for start I noticed a small rip at front of gaiters which I soon repaired with superglue. Race started with usual rock music and low flying helicopters. A quick 1 KM sprint across the desert to the foot of a nearby mountain where a long steep mining track led you up the side. The heat was already intense and only the elite runners were actually running up here. A tricky but speedy descent followed on the other side but as we neared CP 1 everyone was beginning to walk/ run with temperature already up to 42C. At Cp1 I could feel a couple of hot spots on my feet but on trying to remove shoes I discovered that superglue had soaked through shoes and glued my socks to the front of the shoes. What a twat. Do these things ever happen to anyone else. Put some compeed on and continued on over a series of dried lakes and sand dunes to CP 2. Feet were really hurting and feeling very dehydrated. Only shade I could find was by lying underneath Doc Trotter Land Rover where I had 20 minutes rest. Decided to use my walking poles for next stage to take some of the pressure off feet. Crossed a series of dunes then a huge flat hard boring plain. Could see tents in distance and thought would never get there. Once within about half a kilometre realised that it was just a Bedouin camp and a herd of camels. Felt very disappointed when I found there was still about 4 KM to go. Finished on autopilot with very sore feet and once again extremely dehydrated. I was advised to lance and iodine a couple of small blisters and to tape the soles of my feet in the morning. Didn’t have enough water to cook all my food and after a near revolution in camp we were given an extra bottle of water. It was discovered there had already been 68 retirements, many top experienced competitors, already a record for the event and that the medics were having to fly in more saline supplies. Struggled to eat my food and gave away a lot. (Not at all like me). Another sleepless uncomfortable night with a bit of a stomach upset.
Tuesday 11th April 2006 Stage 3 38 km
After the number of drop outs on the first 2 stages everyone was a bit concerned, but soon the rock music was blaring, the helicopter was buzzing our heads and we were off over a small series of dunes. I got about 1km before I had to stop to throw up. I don’t know if it was dehydration or a bug but I felt a lot better after it and maintained a fair pace with a mixture of walk /run up to CP 1. I continued to use my poles all the way. After CP1 where the temperature was already 39.5C we crossed a long flat dried lake to the foot of an enormous sand mountain. The temperature was soaring and a lot of competitors were falling by the wayside. Once again lack of water was a major issue. At mid-day I reached a small bush near the top of the climb offering limited shade with about 6 other French guys. I lay down there and the next thing I remember was a French guy pouring water onto my face. I must have momentarily passed out, but my immediate concern was that it was my water he was wasting. He indicated that he had been about to set off my flare. This spurred me into action again and I was told that CP2 was less than 1km further on after a very steep climb. I managed this climb with great difficulty. It was very steep and was almost rock climbing .
It was at this point, I later learned, that Darren tried to find shade behind a boulder only to find a Japanese competitor lying unconscious. He was unable to wake the guy and set of his flare for help.
He was totally unaware the CP was only 200metres away on the ridge and was amazed when the Race Organiser Patrick Bauer suddenly appeared about 30 seconds later to find out what was wrong. Darren managed to continue to the CP, but he was dehydrated, his feet were like mince and infection was beginning. He was out. and had to be flown off the hill by helicopter. He said he was in tears as he had to hand over his race numbers.
I reached CP 2 feeling very poorly. The balls of my feet and my heels were agony and I felt so dehydrated. I found a bit of shade and forced down some food but the temperature was now just over 50C and I felt best to get on. The rest of the ridge and the descent was fairly easy and I managed to get a good steady run going as there was a deep sandy path through the rocks which relieved a lot of pressure from my feet. As I neared the bottom I found a French guy who had gone down and appeared to have broken his leg. He indicated that he had already requested help and on reaching the bottom of the hill saw some girls were pointing him out to medics.
There was then a never ending stony flat plain to cross. It felt like a hot oven with no sign of shade.
I soon caught up with Mark. He was in considerable distress with the heat and his feet were shot.
I offered to walk with him and urged him on but he told me to carry on. I felt really guilty, but relieved as I knew he was out and that if I stayed with him I would also quit. What a rotten way for him to celebrate his 49th birthday. The plain seemed to go on forever and the heat intensified with no sign of shade. I was down to less the half a litre of water and was beginning to hallucinate. There were no sign of any medics as they were all obviously busy with serious casualties. It began to dawn on me that I was in serious trouble and for the first time I was genuinely concerned about my survival. I saw a Japanese film crew in a Land Rover in the distance, I approached then hoping to shelter in the shade of the car but as soon as I got there they drove off. I could feel my skin burning and my lips were beginning to blister. I lay down on the ground, which was in itself scorching and got out my white paper suit which I used to keep warm at night and was able to create a bit of shade and reflect the sun off me. I took my cotton tee shirt off and was able to wipe my face and head with it as the back, which had been under the rucksack, was soaked with sweat. After 20 minutes my body temperature must have dropped a bit and with the encouragement of a passing Swedish guy I was able to get going again to the end of the plain. I was convinced that the next CP was close but there was a giant dune to cross first. When I came down the other side of the dune I was shattered to see no CP but a second huge dune. There was a Doc Trotter Land Rover parked beside a small tree with around 8 people lying in the shade all receiving IV drips. I approached them a begged some water, knowing that there would be a 1 hour penalty for same. Unfortunately they were also out of water but did have a couple of litres of saline which they offered to me in an IV. There was a cut off for the next CP and as the drip would take over an hour. There just wasn’t time so I declined and crossed the next dune. There was another 2.5k of dried out lake to cross and by this time I didn’t have a drop of water. Luckily the temperature was starting to fall. I finally reached the CP 30 minutes before the final cut off. I took an extra bottle of water which I downed almost in a single gulp. I knew there was a time penalty for this but by now I had lost all interest in competing, I only wanted to finish.
The sun was now well down and I was feeling ok. We continued through a long Wadi before coming to a small village with a solar powered well. I was able to stop, pour water over myself and even wash my hat and shirt. It was heaven. The next 6km to the bivvy were easy albeit stony and tough on the feet. I was elated on crossing the finish. Another 60 competitors had dropped out. An Irish guy from the next tent was in a critical condition with a core body temperature of 41C. He had been ventilated , was in a coma and was being flown to France. It was not thought he would survive. 2 other competitors were in a serious condition and had both been in Comas. One of them, a petite Finnish girl ,had been given 7 litres of saline after a minor stroke. She was going to require a brain scan. On learning that Darren and Mark were out I felt even more down. No race is worth someone’s life and I was starting to wonder if it was all worthwhile but having survived what I had just done I was not for quitting I staggered over to Doc Trotters to get my feet patched. You were required to remove strapping outside the tent, wash them in disinfectant, then get treatment . As I removed the strapping over the balls of my feet I say that all the skin on my soles was peeling away. I had a problem.
I went into the tent and was lying on my back with either foot on a different doctors lap like a gynaecological examination. As the doctors removed the strapping both said ‘ooh la la’ A Japanese camera man was filming me from behind them . The first doctor said that the blisters were very bad and that I would not be able to do the 72 k stage tomorrow. I immediately burst into tears thinking of how much I had put into this. The cameraman came round and zoomed into my face. I picked up a tub of some ointments and threw them at him screaming to F, off. He did.
The doctors then calmed me and explained that they could not force me out because of foot damage and it was up to me but they thought it very unlikely that I would get through the next day. I asked them to do their best and they spent about 20 minutes cutting the dead skin from my feet and smothering it in iodine. I have never felt pain like it. They strapped me up and told me I should not touch the dressings. Other small blisters were lanced and I was shown how to strap them later. I returned to tent 87 and was greeted by the sounds of laughter and joking. All the guys were in great spirits even Darren and Mark were making jokes. Another announcement was made that there was to be extra water supplied. Extra bottles were also to be given out at the first 3 CPs tomorrow. The first severe mountain of tomorrows stage was also going to be missed out.
The organisers had realised the mistake they had made in restricting the water. The severe conditions had almost cost the lives of 3 and had already eliminated nearly 20% of the field. This was by far the hardest MDS ever.
Wednesday 12th April and Thursday 13th April 2006 Stage 4
This was the long stage that everyone feared. It was a huge relief that the first mountain had been taken out but other competitors were annoyed about this thinking it would diminish the day. I feel the organisers were afraid they could not cope with many more retirements.. Most of the competitors were to start at 10am but the top 50 men and top 5 women were to start 2 hours later.
As soon as the stage started I began to suffer with my feet. I managed to get a good rhythm going with the walking poles but my eyes were full of tears with the pain. After about 1km I was sick the same as the previous day. On this occasion I think it was nerves. I continued at a fair pace just trying to focus my mind on anything other than my feet and reached CP1 reasonably comfortably. The temperature had now passed the 40C mark and was still rising. I met Neill at CP1 and we walked together over the next section of small dunes. At that point the elite 50 began to pass us. The pace that they were maintaining in the heat was absolutely mind blowing and to be honest it began to disillusion me with my own performance. I stopped under some shade and tried to get some food down me. Neill felt that he would not be able to continue if he stopped so he carried on. Once going again I found myself near the back of the field and navigation was becoming difficult with few people around. A sandstorm was building up as I entered a huge dune area ,some of which were over 1000 foot high. Luckily the route took us around, rather than over the dunes ,but there was nowhere that you could escape the heat. I had misread the road book and thought that the next CP was 10k when in fact it was 14K. Once again I was out of water and dehydrated despite the double rations. The walking poles were a tremendous help but both hands now had blisters to help take my mind off my feet. Eventually I reached the CP and got a reasonable supply of water. I called into Doc Trotters to get the blisters on my hands treated and on leaving saw Neill seated in the shade. I spoke to him and was so upset to learn that he had withdrawn as his feet were wasted. Was there going to be anyone left from our tent?
As the day continued, thankfully the temperature dropped. There was a large salt lake to cross and I was joined for an hour or so by an elderly Swiss guy who was doing his 5th MDS. He confirmed that this was by far the hardest. My pace was slightly faster and I carried on regularly meeting up with other guys all of whom were fascinating characters had amazing adventure stories to tell. This was great for distracting my mind from the pain. By 6.00pm the temperature had dropped to a chilly 39C and water was no longer a dangerous issue. I reached CP 4 about an hour after darkness and I met Phil and Guy there just preparing to leave. They offered to continue with me but I wanted to stop and cook a meal and try and get some calories into me. I had to get to CP 5 before the cut off time of 2am and had 6 hours to make it. It was only about 10K and I had no desire to hurry. I just wanted to finish. I got the meal down and tried to get my feet going as soon as possible before they completely seized up. There was a full moon but also a bit of cloud cover/ slight sandstorm so visibility by headtorch was not easy. There were small fluorescent lights every 500m and every competitor had a lightstick on the rear of their rucksack which meant that there should be a column of light to follow. Unfortunately I was so far back by this time that the column was pretty spread out so you had to keep your wits about you.. There was also a large green laser shining into the desert sky from the next CP which was spectacular but annoying as you were unable to tell whether the source was 1km or 10 km away. There were numerous dunes to cross and it was particularly difficult to tell how deep the hollows were by head light. Some looked about 4 feet deep but were in fact about 40feet and you would be far better running around them than through them. You only discovered this when it was too late. About halfway to the next CP I lay down and rested my feet on top of rucksack for ten minutes. I tried to take my shoes off but found that the blood had soaked through the strapping and socks sticking to the soles of my shoes. I decided that I would leave it to the next CP and ensure where I knew there would be medics and that I would have the safety of having reached the cut off.. It seemed a long way but I got into CP 5 about 12.20am. As time now wasn’t a problem I decided to grab a few hours kip there. I took my shoes off but didn’t even attempt the socks. There were a few tent/bivvys around and I found one with a bit of space in it so got out my sleeping bag and almost went instantly to sleep only to wake about 10 minutes later with the feeling that my feet were on fire. The rest of the night continued with quick burst of sleep followed by attempts to get my feet into a comfortable position. I had intended to get going again about 3.30 but just couldn’t face the effort and waited until first light about 5.00am. The movement of people around and a rumbling bubbling sensation in my stomach finally booted me into action. I was just able to crawl on all fours from the bivvy and pull my shorts down before my bowels exploded. I looked up to see a Japanese film crew filming the 2 Japanese models, that were doing the event , making their breakfast. My motions must have made a wonderful background and I did have a little chuckle wondering if had been a live broadcast. I pulled on my rucksack and the pain from my shoulders took my mind off my feet for a short time. The pack didn’t seem to be an awful lot lighter despite the food I had gone through. I think the actions of using the walking poles had really stretched my shoulder muscles. I set off through a small cultivated area and there was a village nearby. A few women , with a donkey, returning from a well ,spoke to me but I didn’t have a clue what they were saying. There were various locals working on crops in the area but no sign of any other competitors. I had to pay careful attention to the roadbook and check the compass a couple of times and had an opportunity to soak in the scenery around me. The weather was cool, I felt great, apart from my feet, and imagined that I was the first westerner ever to visit the area albeit about 500 others had run through a few hours previously. I passed over a few dunes and then onto a huge rocky plain as far as the eye could see. The stones were like razors on my feet. Every 20 minutes or so officials would pass in their landrovers to check I was OK. I would give a hearty smile and a big thumbs up, terrified in case they thought I was distressed. I was suddenly joined by two boys and had no idea where the appeared from. They walked with me for about 2 miles and the older one could speak good French. He explained that they were brothers aged 14 and 10 and that they were on their way to school. They pointed out the horizon and named the place that their school was. I thought of the spoilt brats at home on the school runs, a couple of miles over the speed bumps in their 4 x 4s. We eventually parted and they asked for the usual cadeaux. I felt rotten that all I could offer them was some Imodium but they still gave me a cheery farewell. I reached the next checkpoint as the heat was building, but nothing compared with the previous days (By noon the temperature only reached 33C) I had some porridge at the next check point but couldn’t be bothered heating water so just ate it cold. I got the blisters on my hands re-dressed and set off the final 4km. What would normally be a 15 minute run took over 90 minutes through a village and then a series of dunes. I could see the camp in the distance but it never seemed to get closer. About 400 yards from the finish a figure ran out to join me. It was Mark the Scouse Welshman. He explained that everyone thought I was out and seemed delighted to see me. He gave me barrels of encouragement but all I could do was blubber. A huge crowd came from the tents and cheered me across the line. Mark immediately took my packs and collected my water supplies for me. The rest of the guys from tent 87 mobbed round me and just couldn’t do enough to help. I felt very, very lucky to have them as mates. I dropped my stuff off at that tent and decided to make my way immediately to Doc Trotters before my feet seized. I eventually managed to get the socks off and soak the feet in disinfectant but there was no point in removing the bandages at that time. I sat outside the tent in the treatment room until my turn came. A painful little operation followed whilst a female medic removed my bandages. As she removed each one she said ‘Ooh la la‘ She then went and got a colleague who came and looked at my feet and he also said ‘Ooh la la’. I got the impression that it wasn’t great news especially when he went away and returned with a photographer who began taking photos of my poor old plates. The male Doctor spoke a little English so I asked him if it was bad. He replied to my amazement ‘No good’ and explained that there was no infection. He then put a bit of a damper on matters by asking at what checkpoint I had quit. I explained that I was still in and both medics looked at each other and said ‘Ooh la la’. At least I was beginning to master the lingo. The girl asked me if I was going to carry on, and of course all I could think of was what I had been through and that I wasn’t going to throw it away now. They then spent over and hour doing a magnificent job cutting away the sandy dead skin and putting dressings on. I went over to the email tent on the way back to the bivvy and sent a message home. Only a marathon to do tomorrow, I had done plenty of these before, and I had 12 hours to do it almost 4 times my normal time. (I had hoped that there would be a 14 hour cut off) I spent the rest of the day in the bivvy eating and resting while the rest of the guys constantly cracked jokes. The organisers were now almost throwing water at us. I read the roadbook and to my dismay found that it was different from a normal marathon with a lot of mention of hills, boulders, dunes, a dangerous crevice and various other nasties. (To think how much they moan about the cobbles at the Tower in the London marathon)
Friday 14th April 2006 Stage 5 42.2km (marathon)
Another sleepless night ,due to throbbing feet, and dawn rises with yet another sandstorm. Once again the Berbers haul the tents down at 5.30 am. Too windy to cook so it’s cold porridge again. It’s bloody freezing and I lie shivering in my sleeping bag with my buff over my face and my goggles on. Sand is everywhere but at least there are no flies this morning. Everyone else seemed in great spirits. A Mexican wave went round the camp and I even waved my hand out of my sleeping bag. Got my pack on and hobbled over to the start. The wind died down to a cool breeze and the temperature was a very pleasant 28C. Patrick Bauer announced at the briefing that water rations were to be doubled at the CPs. We may be in danger of drowning. An even bigger cheer went up when it was announced that the Irish lad flown to France was out of his coma and was making good progress. The rock music was boosting morale and the race started immediately into a spectacular dune section. The competitors broke into two separate trails of runners picking a route through the dunes. The helicopter was flying spectacularly low and everybody seemed to be on a buzz. I longed to run. I felt full of energy and was soon able to get a fair pace up swinging my arms and poles like an exaggerated power walker. There was a tricky section through a deep crevice in an old river bed then I reached CP1 10.5km in well under 2 hours. I felt pleased and confident that I could do it all within the 12 hours. I met Phil and guy at CP1 and they said they wanted to go with me. Guy was struggling a bit with horrible feet but Phil looked fresh and was well capable of running. Despite persuasion he was adamant that he was going to stick with me. The terrain became very stony and it was agony on my feet but Phil just kept talking and boosted morale all the time convincing me that it was easy. It was a huge example of self sacrifice. He was capable of a good competitive time but refused to leave the pair of us. Guy mentioned that he was having problems with his legs and it was clear that his thighs had swollen significantly. As we continued we had to cut the sides of his lycra shorts to relieve the pressure. Eventually we reached the end of the stones and entered a huge dune area. The scenery was stunning and the sand a lot easier on my feet although I was now having problems with my calves having been walking on my heels and sides of my feet a great deal. By now Guys thighs were beginning to blister and a puss/ urine type liquid was bursting out all over them. ( He had a couple of boils in his groin lanced two nights previously and the medics had smothered his privates and bum in red iodine making him look like some sort of baboon.) He now looked like a cross between a leper and a zombie. The dunes finally ended and we reached CP 2 still in good time. Guy got medical help. Nobody knew what the problem was but suspected some sort of allergy. They poured iodine on his thighs and strapped them. Phil and I tried to make light of it but we were concerned for his well being, as was he. There was a 9 hour limit to reach CP 3 and with a lot of dunes to cross I slowed . My left shoulder was very painful and I had a searing pain up the front of my left leg. I was genuinely worried that I may have caused a stress fracture to one of the bones there. Eventually we arrived at CP3 just after 4.00pm meaning there were 5 hours to reach the bivvy only 11.5 k away. Even had time for some food.
The next section was a long painfully stony section that seemed to go on for ever. The pain in my feet, leg and shoulder were almost unbearable but Phil never stopped his morale boosting comments. We reached the 4th and final check point just as it was getting dark. With only 2.5 km to go I knew I could crawl it but was in pretty bad shape. I persuaded Guy and Phil to go on as I needed to get some electrolytes in me and have a few minutes. With the darkness it got fairly cold and I was soon able to get going and got the arms swinging into a good pace. I finished only 4 minutes after Phil and Guy in 10 hours 5 minutes ( 6 hours 55minutes more than my previous marathon)
On arrival a huge stage had been set up with a large screen showing highlights of the race. Members of the Paris opera and an Egyptian opera singer had been flown in to give a concert in the desert. An amazing logistical operation but I was just too exhausted to even appreciate it. I lay down in the tent totally exhausted, barely able to move. Ron helped me with my pack and then cooked a meal for me. I hardly had the energy to eat it but once again I was very grateful for my colleague’s help.
Saturday 15th April 2006 Stage 6
My right leg became inflamed and started to swell overnight. It was obvious that infection had set in. The final stage was only 12 km. 8.5km of stony desert then 3.5 km of big dunes. Anyone could do that. The temperature was a bearable 34C. The atmosphere was buzzing and everyone was ready for a sprint finish with very light packs. Everyone except Guy and me. Guys legs were very swollen and he had difficulty bending his knees. We agreed to accompany each other and persuaded Phil, with difficulty, to leave us and enjoy his run. For the first time I could detect a little jealousy in the eyes of Darren, Neill and Mark . It must have been so hard for them. At the start everybody sprinted off leaving about 30 hobblers at the rear. This was the first time that I had seen the dreaded camels that follow the race. If you are passed by them you are out.. I was wishing I had brought some rat poison. We struggled over the flat pain and realised that the leaders would be finished before we were halfway over. A tribe of Bedouins on camels stopped to watch us pass and they all hummed ’God Save the queen’ as we went by. A strange experience. We must have looked an odd sight especially with the puss oozing through Guy’s bandages. At least it was keeping the flies off me. Eventually we arrived at a ruined mud village and I gave my last ’Go’ energy bar to a grateful kid. The dune stage was about to begin . I was getting even slower with my infected legs but was now certain I would finish so Guy moved on ahead. The dune section was a bit of a blur but there was plenty of encouragement from passing officials on quad bikes. Suddenly and without warning I came over a dune and the finish line was at the start of a small town about 200metres ahead with an uphill finish. I decided to try and forget all the pain, put the poles behind me and sprint for the line. There were so many thoughts going through my head during that run between what I had been through and the support of others including my mother. By the time I reached the final small rise I was staggering from side to side and blubbering like a child whose dog had just been run over. There was a fantastic reception with all the guys from tent 87 cheering. As I crossed the line I couldn’t speak for about 2 minutes. Patrick Bauer was presenting me with my medal and asking me if I wanted a doctor. I could only blubber I was happy. There were about 3 TV cameras in my face and I felt a total twerp. Eventually I calmed down and I was given a packed lunch and a bus ticket back to Quarzazate!
By the time I got on the bus both legs had swollen to twice their normal width and I could not get my shoes on. I am certain, had the race continued for 2 more hours, I would have had to quit. A long and painful 6 hour bus journey followed back to the hotel where I could only get to my room by being pushed on the porters trolley. I didn’t even have time for the long promised beer as I had to bath and get to Doc Trotters at the French hotel before 8.00pm. I could hardly drain the bath because of the sand in it. Ron wheeled me to a taxi and chummed me to the Doctors sacrificing his own beers. My feet were dressed and I was given anti--biotics and pain killers. A substantial meal followed but disappointingly I could only manage a few beers. My body was totally wasted. Darren was able to get a signal on his phone so I phoned home. My family had seen on the internet that I had finished and said that my mum knew. They also warned me that she was very ill.
Sunday 16th April 2006
Ron wheeled me to the French hotel where we handed in our flares in exchange for finishers tee shirts. A lot of the guys went touring the town and souks but I lay in the shade with my legs up. In the afternoon I returned to the hotel, managed another bath and put my kilt on for the presentation ceremony. A lot of speeches but plenty of good food and beer. Met the Japanese models, Paul Le Guen, the new Rangers manager and had a chat with Patrick Bauer. The sight of a kilted Scotsman in remotest Morocco on a trolley was clearly unusual and attracted considerable interest. Sadly could not manage the disco at night but had a great meal with guys from tent 87. Unusually for me, I was unable to partake in too much alcohol as by now my legs and feet were about to burst through my kilt socks.
Monday 17th April 2006
Uneventful flight back to Gatwick where I was nearly put on an electric trolley with some fat Americans. Said goodbye to a lot of great friends then a flight to Edinburgh. Elaine, my wife, greeted me in tears which was not at all like her. She couldn’t be that upset that I was back.
She then told me that after learning of my finish, the family had celebrated with my mum. She had shed a few tears and had a sip of champagne but had slipped away later in the night. I was devastated but so pleased that she had held on till I had finished.
The race was much harder than any of the participants had expected, mainly due to the extreme weather conditions of the first 3 days. 146 very fit competitors had to be pulled out and 3 nearly died. No sporting event is worth that. The organisers should have provided extra water at an earlier stage but overall the organisation and medical facilities were first class. I am very glad and proud to have completed the event but had I known just how hard it was going to be I wouldn’t have entered it.
Would I do it again? As commented on in the tent, ’I would rather nail my testicles to a plank of wood and hang from it for a week‘.
There have been so many people that have helped me complete the event none more so than the 7 new friends I made in tent 87. I’d like to say a special thanks to everyone who made such generous donations whereby I raised over £3,500 for Marie Curie, everyone who e mailed me or sent messages of support , Mike Pinkerton and Edinburgh Leisure for the use of the sauna, Edinburgh Footworks running shop, Anatom sales (Smartwool socks,) for their sponsorship, Stevie Laurie for his training companionship, Dougie Paton for his Sports Massages and Fiona Bushby and her fundraising team at Marie Curie for doing what they do.
I’d like to say a special thanks to Elaine and all my family and friends for putting up with me talking about nothing but the MDS for the last 2 years and of course to my late mum for giving me that extra wee push when I needed it most
Cotton charity short sleeved T Shirt,
Long sleeved running top
2 x pairs smart wool socks
1 pair Saucony Grid 3 shoes (1 size too big)
Parachute silk gaiters glued to shoes.
3 x pairs pop socks
2 x pairs smart wool socks
2 x Velcro straps
1 x pair pants
Desert foreign legion type hat
1 pair sand goggles
1 pair sunglasses
White paper boiler suit.
Rab Quantum 200 Sleeping bag
Silk sleeping bag liner
Raidlight rucksack with front pack and 2 bottle holders
1 x 600ml 1 x800ml bottles
Solid fuel cooker
Swiss army knife
Needle and thread
20 x safety pins
SP 20 Sun cream
Tooth Paste and brush
Compeed, various sizes
Zinc Oxide tape
2 pairs swimming pool overshoes
10 x zip closing poly bags
Food Between 3000 and 4000 calories per day consisting of
High calorie freeze dried main meals, hot cereal breakfasts and puddings every day.,
Assorted pot noodles, super noodles and Cadburys Smash, removed from packaging, crushed and squeezed into zip closing bags.
SIS Reco Recovery energy powder for every evening
Assorted energy gels and go bars
Pepperoni Salamis and beef jerky
High calorie salted almonds and mixed nuts
ANYONE STILL WISHING TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE MARIE CURIE CAN DO SO AT
Donald Sandeman April 2006