Marathon Des Sables 2015

14 Apr

Good Friday, the day had arrived.  Arrangements were in place, packing was done. Just needed a bit of lunch and to chuck on some clothes, then we’re good to go, right?? WRONG!!!

Hmmm what’s that metal rod sticking out of my backpack?  Hmmm why won’t it go back where it came from?  Emergency call to Likeys, Evan gives an excellent tutorial on how to put it back in, so why the hell is it still sticking out?  Fabulous, just fabulous, my bloody backpack is broken. Cue mucho swearing, hot, angry, tears and emergency calls to all camping shops in Cardiff to see if they stock the same bag – guess what?  They don’t!

To cut a long story short I had to risk going to the biggest race of my life with a backpack held together with freaking gaffer tape!  Not the start I had hoped for.  Not the start, I imagine, Angharad envisaged either as I was still eating lunch in my underwear when we were supposed to be leaving for the airport!

There are many arduous bits of MdS but the unanticipated 2 hour wait on a coach, followed by a 6 hour vomit inducing journey (in said coach), with a baptism of fire in the the world of al fresco toileting was a good way to soften us up for the race.  This was followed by a demolition derby style dash, to obtain a tent, in the pitch black, carrying all our luggage! Tent obtained, tent mates gathered we were a merry band, with a pitiful black canvass over a few dodgy sticks to call our very own.  Needless to say we got on with some immediate exterior design additions!IMG_6991

Now here’s the secret to MdS success – get yourself 7 bloody amazing tent mates!  In this we excelled ourselves.  4 West Welshies, a lovely half welsh lady (we adopted her as a full blood) and her equally lovely fiance, who’s only failing was not being welsh too (only kidding Mark)!  We laughed from the moment we met until the moment we parted at Gatwick, post our epic, emotional adventure.  I’m quite sure Angharad and I have made 6 new friends for life. IMG_6994

Day 1 arrived and by now the enormity of the race had become an insurmountable beast in my head.  As I fought back tears on the start line, utterly terrified by what I was about to undertake, the atmosphere built to a head that culminated with the chorus of ACDC’s Highway to hell, the whoosh of the low flying camera chopper and the pop of the start pistol.  IMG_7006

Right then, we’re off, best man up Woodsford because like it or not, this is happening!  I watched Angharad shoot off, electing to chill and walk.  I needed day 1 to pass easily, let myself relax into the race and get my head round the task ahead of me.  The day would see me relax a lot, pass the legendary Sir Rannulph Fiennes and eventually catch up with Angharad as she was waylaid by a Donkey – you’ll have to ask her about that one!

Stage done – damage assessed – no blisters on the feet but really sore prickly heat around the cuffs of my calf guards that had given me the most unattractive cankles! Little did i realise the cankles would be my nemesis of the next few days and result in me taking a scissors to my calf guards and cutting them off halfway up a jebel!

Day 2 – epic amounts of climbing including a 25% slope with hands and knees scrambling action – loved it.  I found the long flats where you could see miles of runners, bobbing away, in front of you, interminably dull and as such was quite often bored at the MdS. Bored? How dare she? Is she mad?  But there’s a secret they don’t tell you about ultra running – it can be damn boring and the fight is not to stop, never give in.  Sometimes that means fighting pain, both physical and mental.  Sometimes that means fighting boredom!IMG_7023

Day 3 – time to have a little go at this race!  Flogged myself, absolutely emptied the tank to the point I was sobbing uncontrollably after crossing the finish line and had to be scooped up in a cwtch by a complete stranger!

Day 4 – 91.7km (57 odd miles) loomed large and the nerves were palpable!  The mood broken by a French man standing (starkers) outside his tent and announcing to the whole camp “This is the day we break”!!  Breakfast routine done, backpacks loaded and locked, here we go!IMG_7026

You have to have little treats ready for days like this, anything it takes to keep you going. I had clean pants, clean socks, a sachet of Nutella and some mini eggs to name a few!IMG_7016

The first 50km passed pretty easily, Angharad and I were sticking together and stopped to eat some dinner at the checkpoint.  Mmmm warm tuna sachets – minging, but did the job and no need to get out a stove/boil water etc.  I can’t imagine what would have happened to us, had we not stopped when we did as post 50km was where the stage actually started.  17 miles of solid sand dunes began, the sun went down, leaving us in pitch black so the end of any section/summit of each dune were invisible at all times.

Checkpoint 5 was a treat that almost lulled us into a big mistake.  It was done out like an alpine apres ski bar!  A neon lit perspex bar serving hot tea, deckchairs and a live lounge band – I kid you not!  The mistake would have been to stop.  It was so inviting there, so easy to slip into a sleeping bag, listen to the music and have a little snooze!

Push on – on and on and on and on!  I have never been so low in a race, never had to dig so deep to keep moving and still have no clue how I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  The ever present comfort of having Angharad with me made the sight of scuttling scorpions, the first sight of a dreaded camel spider and the weight of the all encompassing darkness more bearable.  Somehow despite stumbling around like drunks, my epic outburst of sweary rage, both of us hallucinating and the most soul destroying finishing strait in history – we made it!  22 hours on our feet.  How?  I’ll never know!  It was sheer hell and we only made it through with grit and determination.  It was 100% a mental battle, not physical.

Rest day – not restful! The MdS is a master class in sleep deprivation

Last day – the marathon.  Right, I’m going to have a bash at this, I’m leaving nothing out there, I’m going all in!  The plan was working, the legs were obeying and the mind was on board, until the freaking gaffer tape (remember the stupid bag) repair gave way 3 miles in. More swearing!  Much much more swearing!  Thankfully Dai had made me take some cable ties with me so 4 ties later I was back on my merry way.  Sadly I now needed to support the bottom of my bag, so I was basically running a marathon with 1 hand behind my back! Even so the stage passed pretty well, I had climbed the rankings some and was a Marathon des Sables finisher – the proud owner of the hardest won medal I’ve ever received and disappointingly the worst finishers t-shirt in history! IMG_7068

The final “Solidarity” stage is a frankly a pain in the butt.  No one wants to do it and it isn’t timed, but if you don’t drag your sorry, broken body round 10km of yet more sand dunes they DNF you from the whole shebang.  So tent day it was, we walked as an 8, chatting, snacking and tempting poor SteveO, with his skinless feet and gandalf style staff round with all the remaining pepperamis we could muster.  He was in a world of pain, as was Katie yet they both found the strength to finish with a smile.  Steve will however be forever known as “Gandalf” to me!IMG_7046

Over the week we had become a team and to end the adventure crossing the line all together was a special moment for me. It was what I’d come for – the experience, the camaraderie and the triumph over the obstacles first – the “racing” second.  I’ve never approached an event where I don’t feel any pressure to “compete” before, I was happy to complete knowing I had tried my best, regardless of the result. IMG_7053 IMG_7050

Back to the hotel, there was sunbathing, beers, some more beers and the odd Dai-query (don’t ask). Now we’re home.  I’m blister free, injury free and well.  Already the pain is fading through the rose tinted glasses of hindsight and only the good memories are sticking.

I suffered badly with homesickness this trip, which made me a bit weepy when all the fabulous emails from home arrived each night.  I never have before and was away much longer when I went to Nepal, so I was trying to figure out why.  I’m a pretty driven, type A, control freak, person and I can’t sit still for long before I feel the need to stretch myself again, but what I realised on this trip was I have a family who love me, brilliant supportive friends, a happy home and 2 ridiculous dogs, so I’m going to stop driving for a little while because its occurred to me, I’m already here!!

I haven’t included kit lists/top tips etc in this post because frankly I’m no expert, but if you want to know what worked for me and some of the mystery shrouded secrets please get in touch, I’m very happy to help.IMG_7061

Keep trucking

V 🙂

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6 Responses to “Marathon Des Sables 2015”

  1. Matt Clover April 14, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    Truly amazing and inspiring. Well done. Mx

  2. Guy Mawson April 15, 2015 at 8:08 am #

    Was looking forward to reading about how you got on! Sounds like you went into it with a good attitude and enjoyed yourself while pushing it a bit on a couple of days! I’ll take that attitude with me to Dragon’s Back, and swap heat, camels and scorpions for Welsh weather, sheep and slugs 🙂
    Rest-up and start planning the next big adventure!

    • Victoria & Dai April 15, 2015 at 9:16 am #

      Thanks Guy, I was always training to “complete” rather than “compete” as my triathlon season is the A game and this was just an adventure along the way, so I’m pretty happy with the outcome. I look forward to watching your progress at the Dragon’s Back – now that really is nails!!

  3. Chris Tasker April 15, 2015 at 6:48 pm #

    Excellent race report Vickie, thanks for the insight into the MdS, certainly a bucket list event. Congratulations again for completing it.

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