Marathon des Sables – “The Highway to Hell”

The long day had finally arrived it felt like all my training and preparation had been for this very day. Hence a very restless night thinking of the following day and how it would go. On finishing the stage I felt like having a single line in my diary:

“The long day can only be described as very hot and very long”

However after a wee break (sleeping solidly till the next morning) I managed to fill in the details.

The day started very well with another chorus of “Highway to Hell” as we all ran out under the start line. The biggest issue today being that the top 50 competitors (who knew the route) started at midday. This lead very quickly to a small issue, no one really knew where to go, as 3 groups quickly formed none of which were taking an obvious route. I ended up going with one group who went straight through what felt like several large hedges. It also turned out we were all going out rather quickly, including myself as I bumped into a Scot who was always in the top 100. Normally in a race I would say this is a good sign when your near the front but when  you remember there is still 80 odd km it kind of changes things. Anyway we were off to a flying start with  as the sun kept rising into the sky and the temperature along with it hitting about 50C in the shade (I think), it was just incredibly hot. This along with a few more passes through hills and over them (as if the day wasn’t hard enough) was making for a very challenging day.

Crossing another plain

I passed the time chatting initially with a guy whose experience was in the much colder climate of the Arctic and later on another guy joined us who normally competed in endurance motorbike races. You do really get people from all walks of life. It was too hot during the middle of the day to run, so we ended up briskly walking across the desert. As temperatures cooled (still in the 30’s) we reached the dunes and luckily for us before dark. It turned out some local kids moved all the markers come night fall.

The sun began to set over the desert and the first stars became visible, it was an incredible sight but unfortunately the end was still no where in sight and there was still a couple of check points left to go through and a huge laser display to follow into the finish line.

At this stage I realised I had hardly eaten any of my days rations and was beginning to feel the effects of this, the heat and the distance. So I began stuffing my face with the one luxury for the week of cashews nuts. They tasted incredible.

As the night set in I was passed by Britains best hope of making the top 25 Tobias Mews and decided that I had done enough walking through the day and it was time to run to the finish. I started chasing down the  white bobbing lights of the head torches a head of me. I felt strong and the constant changing target of those up a head kept me going. Features and things oozed out of the dark, like the big rock you dont see till you have gone over on your ankle, the odd camel skeleton or the sudden appearance of a 4 * 4 with flashing lights on. I reached the final check point and could finally see the sight I had been wanting to see all day a massive laser shining into the night sky and highlighting the route into the finish line. After a very quick refill and a chat to a fellow Brit I started making my way into the finish now knowing it should be only an hour to 2 hours away at most. Just before the finish I met my fellow Scot who I had run with at the start (who was not only in the top 100 but also had a pacemaker, a truly amazing effort ) and we crossed the line after sheering heat and 82 kms of desert in 12 hours 40 mins. I was over the moon and wondered over to my tent to congratulate 3 of my tent mates who had finished a head of me. This was quickly followed by removing my trainers, which felt incredible to be finally out of them and collapsed into my sleeping bag for the night.

The huge laser calling us into the finish

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