Tuesday, 11 February 2014

But what happened after the MdS?

The final chapter of the book (see the previous post) gives a taste, but you can find out more and pick up from where the book Running from Shadows finishes at www.runningfromshadows.com.


It's been a long time coming but finally, yesterday, I received the news that Running from Shadows has hit the presses!

Many viewers of the blog commented "Great blog! What about a book?" (thank you all!), particularly as there's little to read about competitors' actual experiences of the Marathon des Sables itself.

So the next project, after the blog, was to produce a book. After 18 months or so of piecing together  lots of memories, notes and research Running from Shadows went to the publishers and now I'm delighted to say its gone into print, available to purchase from mid-March 2014 in both paperback and e-book.

The book explains why I was motivated to enter the Marathon des Sables and explains how I went from a 16-stone unfit former mid- to back-of-the-pack runner to finally crossing the finish line of that event in April 2012. Much of the book recounts my experiences of each stage of the race and ends with my returning to the UK with a new perspective on what I wanted to do. The book contains lots of helpful tips with appendices detailing the kit I carried, weights, food and calories taken.

With a Foreword by highly-regarded ultra-running performance coach Rory Coleman, himself a multiple times finisher of the MdS, the book is both entertaining and informative for those who have run or aspire to compete in the Marathon des Sables as well those who would never consider it but wonder what all the fuss is about!

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did putting it together.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The end

I'm now back in the UK and it's been four days since I finished the Marathon des Sables.

Various memories start coming back, including the mild hallucinations I had during the night stage. Having had a very poor week of sleep (and sleep just doesn't really happen when in the bivouac) it was during the night of Stage 4 in the sand dunes that I saw a white Berber tent complete with guy ropes and folds in the cotton of the tent. I started moving softly and taking a wider berth around it, keen not to disturb its sleeping occupants . . . until my brain reinterpeted what I saw for what it really was: just a large collection of clumps of grass on top of a mound of sand. The lamb I saw also wasn't a lamb. There were other weird "sightings".

Back at the hotel it took an hour and 3 showers to get off a week's worth of sand and all the detritus of human existence but I felt amazing afterwards.

It had been over a week since I'd seen myself in a mirror and I was really surprised at what I saw after a good shower and a shave: there was very little body fat left on me, it having been consumed in place of calories from food that I didn't have.

On the morning I left the UK (4 April) I weighed in at bang-on 14st and this morning (18 April) I weighed in at 13st 12lb. Bearing in mind I've absolutely stuffed myself for the last 3 days (I and my tent mates were having 3 main meals and 3 breakfasts for the day or two after the MdS, and lots of snacks in between!) I'm guessing I must have lost between 7lb and a stone during the week. When my wife first showed me after the finish a picture of a runner on her camera I asked who it was, not recognising that in fact it was me.

Would I do the MdS again? After Stage 1 one of our tent mates, Tony, decided to abandon (he completed the MdS last year) with the ominous words "I know what's coming and I realise I'm just not motivated to do it a second time." We all gulped at that.

It's unlikely. Once the "toughest footrace on earth" has been completed I'm not sure what my personal motivation would be for trying to complete the MdS a second time.

But having said that we were shown a few videos of the event in the hotel the day after the finish at the British presentation ceremony (see gadget top right: MdS 2012 videos). The videos (there are more on YouTube) show lots of smiles, uplifting music, inspirational interviews . . . and the pain has all been forgotten by then. Was it really that bad and uncomfortable? Wouldn't it be great fun to come back and do it again? When I see these videos it brings a lump to my throat and I'm itching to get my cheque book out!!

To get a faster time might be a motivation but it wouldn't be enough for me as so many external factors beyond one's control can put paid to that.

What the MdS does do is break you down both physically and mentally and it's up to you to build it all back up again, or quit. I was very lucky to have been a part of Tent 78 during the MdS with the best tent mates you could hope for (Tony, Paul, Ashley, Mark, Richard, Dean and Wayne) and we all variously agreed that the MdS also teaches you what is most valuable in life: the simple things and family. The day we were told we were going to get a cold can of Coke, for example, we were all like giddy kippers, kids at Christmas! During the night stage I suddenly became overwhelmed with excitement at the idea of getting home to simply sit and read a few pages of my book; in the dark painful moments I covered a few hundred metres with memories of cuddling up with my wife watching TV, or of my nephew recently explaining to me over a pub lunch how his Lego toy and beer mat invention would help me defeat camel spiders and scorpions in the desert.

I've certainly got the bug back from my 4 year hiatus from keeping fit and doing mad events and this time I don't intend stopping. The world is full of other ultra-events that are similarly tough and I guess I'll aim for them (one or all of the 4 deserts? the Fire and Ice Ultra?) . . . and the goal of joining The 100 Marathon Club one day seems a good one to aim for.

So I'll crack on with that then for now: just another 83 to go!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

14 April 2012 Stage 6 - MERDANI/MERZOUGA: 15,5km

The final stage: a short distance of 15.5km but with a sting in the tail. It's Dunes Day for the last day: cruel. 9km (just over 5.5 miles) of tough sand dunes (the Chebbi Erg dunes, the highest in Morocco) with the last one a couple of hundred metres from the finish.

Decided to push it harder for this last day.

Ran most of the first 6.5km to CP1, managing my water as none was being given out at CP1. Kept going through the CP. Took a 234 degree compass bearing per the road book and kept to it, mostly, passing dozens who'd decided instead to take what deceptively appeared to be an easier route.

Some of these dunes were steep enough to need me on all fours to get over them but my leg strength, surprisingly intact after 144 miles in the last 6 days, powered me up and over most of the dunes. I saw a lone Berber sat atop a high orange-yellow sand dune with the bright blue background of the sky making a great photo, and we came across a few Berber camps sat in the middle of the dunes. Amazing to see.

Finally I saw the white finish-line inflatables in the near distance at the outskirts of the town of Merzouga, signalling the end of my 153 mile journey. Here I knew my wife, Mum- and Dad-in-law were waiting and this gave me a terrific boost.

From where I've no idea but I summoned enough energy to run hard over the last few dunes, powering down the other side and across the sparse stony flats. At last I summited the last sandy dune and ran my heart out towards the finish line, various friends and families of other competitors and other spectators around me clapping and cheering this group of stinking, ragged runners stumbling towards the end.

I heard the final "Bleep" as my GPS transponder crossed the finish line and I was done, 246.5km or 153 miles and 7 days from the start. I could see my wife and family and I was beaming: no pain, no sickness. Just utter relief and joy that it was all finished and a tremendous amount of satisfaction at having completed the toughest footrace on earth.

I joined the queue to receive my medal, hug and kiss from the Directeur Patrick Bauer, the creator of this event, and then funneled through to give my wife the biggest hug!

Too shortly later I was on the bus with my packed lunch for the 5 hour trip back to Ouarzazate and the comforts of real food, a shower and cotton towels, bedsheets and pillows, a journey that began in 2009 now almost over.

And believe me, that bus really stank!

Friday, 13 April 2012

13 April 2012 Stage 5 - JEBEL EL MRAIER/MERDANI: 42.2km

After a day's rest feel OK. Not fully recovered though from collapse and IV drip: can't get fully hydrated on rationed water so have to manage effort and water intake. Sore chest and bloody nose: shot-blasted from too many sandstorms.

A marathon today. After the 51 mile long stage we all feel like we've cracked it but today still has to be treated with respect. [It was later confirmed a number of people still dropped out today, including a leading competitor who suffered a heart attack out on the course and has been put into a medically-induced coma].

Mix of stony tracks, sand dunes and dried river beds. Seem to be getting stronger as each day passes but the sandy tracks and seemingly endless sand dunes just absorb all energy. Passed old abandoned village near end and started running more. Incredibly hot. Decided to put on iPod: tapping screen but couldn't see what was on it as too bright in the sun. Ended up in "Shuffle" mode: sad music saw me blubbing like a baby in my pained state; more uplifting music saw me smiling and bounding along seconds later. Decided to switch off iPod and play uplifting music to myself in my head.

Powered past dozens of people to finish feeling nauseous in a reasonable 7h2m for the marathon.

The organisers have flown in the Paris Opera for our evening entertainment! Classical music and opera under the stars: magical atmosphere.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

11 & 12 April 2012 Stage 4 - EL MAHARCH / JEBEL EL MRA├ĆER : 81,5 Km

An ultra-marathon of just under 51 miles. This was the tough bit. Huge amount of sand. Included a hard mountain climb and steep sandy descent, then miles upon miles of soft sand: completely draining on legs. Miles of high sand dunes before Checkpoint 4.

Got to Checkpoint 4 just after dark and had a meal: headtorch on and fluorescent stick on back of rucksack. Intended to plough on through night to the finish. Complete darkness now so took 70deg compass bearing to follow dim light sticks and laser beam in sky to next checkpoint. Got my second wind. Pressed on hard for last 30km and passed dozens resting. Felt completely free of pain after 12 hours; had problems but felt I was gliding along. Runner's high!

Finished at about 3am Thursday morning and crashed into rucksack. Because I've ploughed on through the night I get a rest day (Thurs 12 April).

Rest day: sandstorm. Dust everywhere in everything. Then thunder and hail storm. Then scorching again! Feel good. Rumour: cold can Coke for all later!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

10 April 2012 Stage 3 - TAOURIRT MOUCHANNE / EL MAHARCH : 35 Km

Made it to the start line! Felt better as day progressed. Very hot between 12 noon and 2pm when ascending hill and descending into sand plain: like running into an oven.
5km to finish: don't know what happened! Felt fantastic. Managed to overtake another 25 places in 5km. Huge smile to finish: ready for tomorrow's 51 miles!
Bad sand storms continually filling the lungs and have sandblasted my nostrils!