For those that don’t know, the Marathon des Sables is a multi-stage race set over a week and held deep in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. I completed this race during it’s 22nd running in 2007. I was still fit in those days and it was an incredible experience. We travelled around 150 miles through the desert under our own steam, carrying all of our stuff. It was one of those experiences that left me questioning a number of things in my daily life. I also found myself lacking in real impetus to train afterwards. Once you’ve carried yourself and 15kgs of kit through the desert then the only way to top it is to get more crazy and row the Atlantic, or run even further across more treacherous terrain.
I thought it might be interesting to give you a small taster of how I fared back in 2007. The following was first published on the BBC website:
“The sun broke above the hills to herald another beautifully clear day. This morning the Berbers did not come and take our tents down, as today we were set to face the final stage of the race. An 11.7km dash to the finish line at Merzouga that would see us complete the 221km of this year’s Marathon des Sables.
To the west stood the Erg Merzouga, the tallest sand dunes in Morocco, and it was those we needed to cross before we reached the coaches that would take us back to the city of Ouarzazate, a shower and a bed.
As the sun rose we started to warm up and get out of our sleeping bags. After finishing the last of the food that we had carried with us all week we packed our belongings into our rucksacks for the final time and shuffled painfully to the start line.
My feet had started to fall apart on the very first day.
Despite having clocked up more than 2,000 miles in my preparation for the event and not getting a single blister, I developed two corkers on that first stage; one on the back of each heel. As the week progressed they had become increasingly painful so that every day I developed new blisters from walking oddly to compensate for each fresh agony.
On this final morning both feet were mummified in white tape and had swollen so large that I had removed the insoles from my trainers and relaced them using only two holes.
More than 720 people headed across the rocky ground towards those gigantic dunes. For most it seemed that all thoughts of physical pain and the death of one of our fellows two days previously were forgotten.
As the majority ran towards the dunes I found myself further and further behind as I gritted my teeth, balled my fists and marched on like some demented, club-footed, Frankenstein’s monster. Eventually I reached the foot of the Erg Merzouga dune range.
My feet had started to go numb as I trudged slowly up the mountains of sand. From more than two miles away I could see our destination; the water tower in Merzouga. I still had an hour to go before I reached it. The dunes seemed endless as my shoes filled with sand. Eventually the shoes were full and I hobbled on, having decided not to stop to empty them today.
The water tower seemed never to get any closer. A manic urge grabbed me and I broke into a run, the first I had managed for three days. I was hobbling up and down dunes, past the groups of children asking for ‘cadeaux’ as I got closer to the village.
Suddenly I was over the last hump of sand and, shouting and foaming at the mouth, I broke into a sprint for the finish line. I can only imagine what a ridiculous sight I must have been as I crossed that line. Patrick Bauer, who founded the race, was there to present me with my medal and give me a hug as he does with all of the competitors.
I had a packed lunch thrust at me and I hobbled, bewildered, towards the coach waiting to take me back to Ouarzazate. We were on that coach for six hours before we got to the hotel and a shower and bed. There was very little conversation on that journey and everybody had a lot to think about.”