Marathon des Sables; The Final Update!

A week on from completing the 2014 Marathon de Sables I’m still not quite sure how to describe or explain the experience. It was everything I imagined and more. And in some cases less (but not many cases of that!). Here is an attempt of describing how it felt on the final day.

The Finish

After 18 months of training I was stood at the start line of the most exciting marathon I have been involved in. It doesn’t take much, considering I’ve only run 2 marathons before (if I exclude the ultras). Nevertheless it was promising to be an interesting day. The top 200 were being held back by 90 minutes. Disappointingly I was position 201 going into the final day. To say I was gutted is an understatement! I wanted to be with all the quick guys chasing the rest of the pack down! However, that all changed as we were milling around at the start line and one of the guys from tent 110 announced to me that I was the fastest guy on the start line. The fastest guy out of 800 people! Oh shit… I’ve never been the fastest guys at the start line before. And most likely I’ll never experience that again! For a very brief second it was excited, then I had an “oh shit” moment at the prospect of navigating (well following the pink rocks) with with lots of people following! The reality is there were plenty of people around me who are quicker at marathons, it’s just my cumulative time over the first 4 days was a few minutes quicker – I think my double marathon nudges me ahead of some guys who are quick at the “short” stuff. I had no doubt there would be faster runners who would be keen to lead the group off and set the direction. Just like the other 4 days, I planned to let them shoot off and then chase them down as the day went on. I wanted to run a 5 hour marathon and hoped to beat the front of the elite group home. I was assuming they would run 3:00-3:30 marathons so it would be pretty tight (almost impossible) with a 1hr30 lead – but figured it would be exciting to try!

Before we knew it music was blaring over the speakers, helicopters swooping over our heads and we were off. The final marathon was under-way! The chase was on! Run! At the first check point I was still feeling fresh and the temperature was still cool so I pressed on. A  number of runners were stood refilling water bottles, so I continued with my week-long tactic of always moving. Even though it means carrying the empty bottle in my bag, I wanted to save that precious minute in my attempt to stay clear of the elites. Over the next 11km we ran on some awesome trails and flat stony plains. Having taken 80 mins to get to the first CP I spent the whole of the next leg thinking of the elites that would now be chasing me down. Not that they knew they were chasing me but it certainly helped keep the legs turning. As I checked in at CP2, I noticed that there were very few foot prints in the sand and not too many bottles in the waste bin; I seemed to be doing OK. I grabbed my 1.5L bottle of water and poured half on my head (much to the amusement of some cameramen and the check point officials) and half into my drinking bottles. In all the excitement of running I hadn’t been drinking as much as I should have done. it also meant I hadn’t been taking much salt on. So I swigged down a belly full of water and 3 salt tablets. All of these checkpoint shenanigans lasted no more than 20-30 seconds and I was on my way again.

Early morning miles

 

With my legs starting to burn and my hands throbbing (a sign of dehydration) I set off for the final CP whilst slurping on my carb drink. This was may favourite leg of the whole race. Perhaps in my life. Bold claim, I know! But it was truly epic, the route, the company, the solace, the views, the climb up to a jebel pass and then a few km up high before a fast decent into a lush green check point I ran hard. I was still ahead of most of the 800 in the early start and none of the elites were in site. In fact, I could barley see anyone in front of me. As I arrived at CP3, I received a huge applause from some families that were in Morocco to see their friends/family finish. The CP staff were also extremely attentive and rushed… I got the impression I was near the front and they did everything they could to get me in and out as quick ad possible. I declined half of my water ration in an attempt to save time and repeated my speedwalk and water admin departure from the CP. This was going better than I had planned and I could sense the finish.

No more CPs left in the MdS 😦 no more “beep” as I cross the CP entry gates, no more practising my pronunciation of  “Bonjour, six deux six”. The next “beep” would be as I crossed the finish line! Best a get move on. For about 3-4 km we were running along a dried up river bed… I say running…. it was a jog! My shuffle was still reeling in one or two of the front runners of the early start. I could see them in the distance in the river bed. As we neared the end of the river bed I was overtaken by a camera crew in a Jeep who jumped about 400m ahead and set-up their tripod. Surely not for me…. nope, just the winner of the day, Abdelkader el Mouaziz! His PB for a marathon is 2hr06min! I could see him in the distance behind me. Minutes later was I running alongside him, albeit for a matter of moments… what an phenomenal athlete! His exit from the river bed was effortless, he dashed up the side of the rocks to climb onto the plateau.  I clearly looked bemused as the Camera crew pointed me towards the trail of footprint I should be following… there were 5 maybe 6 sets of foot prints in the sand.

With 5km to go I crossed the “stony plateau” described in the road book. I could smell the finish. I could also sense a couple of elites not too for behind me. One of the marshals gave me a great a cheer and  said “they’re about a half a km behind you. you’ve got 5km to go!!”. As I started the descent down the rocky hill I kicked a rock so hard I screamed. And swore. I swore lots! but F#@K it.. I had lasted all week… there was only 4km to go I wasn’t going to stop and check it now! From a quick glance over my shoulder and I could see Danny Kendall and Carlos Sa – the fastest two Europeans in the MdS (British and Portuguese respectively). 300m behind.. and they seemed to be speeding up. As we hit the final descent onto the last 2.5 km of dunes Danny flew past me. Shortly followed by Carlos. I felt like I was stood still – I think they were locked in a head to head race for the marathon stage (if I remember rightly Danny needed to beat him by 5 mins to over take him on the overall GC). As I crested the first dune and I could see the finish… I overtook one last person and then ran as hard as my legs will let me for the last 2 km of dunes.

250km later!

Choked with tears, excitement and some dehydration I collected my medal, tried to smile for the camera and gave Patrick a big sweaty hug! I then hobbled to the water tent to collect my 4.5L ration of water before slumping in a heap to recover. I had a brief cry (not sure if that was pain from the marathon, the relief of finishing the MdS or disappointment that the best 18months were about to be over). A few harsh words with myself and I soon realised I should gather my shit together and cheer in the rest of tent 110! We had been together all week and the best part for the others was just about to happen. By the time I dropped my kit at 110, Andy was also home and dry. We wandered up and cheered in the rest of the troops. First Chris, then Gerrit… a short while later Tom, Matt and Adrian made it over the finish line of the 250km hammering.

So that was it… the last day in the MdS. How did we get there? Well, I had intended to write a detailed review of  each day when I got home. But in all honesty I have been pretty tired and still trying to get my head around what happened over those 10 days. When I finished the race and for the first few days after the run I didn’t feel like I had been running at all. Let alone 250km in the desert. By Tuesday I was tired, the adrenaline and endorphins had all died away and I was left genuinely exhausted. I’ve been napping most days and having lots of sleep every night. Recovering is the easy bit: eat, sleep, stretch, eat, sleep! So, there’s my excuse for not writing a full report of the week. Also, I kind of like the short summary that I sent from the desert. It captures it as it happened…. so there you have it. the MdS 2014.

Thank you

There are countless people I want to thank. so in no particular order… here goes.

The office – thank you to everyone in the office. You have put up with a lot of running chat (sorry, but that will likely continue). The support has been phenomenal!

Mum and Dad – I know you didn’t really want me to do this when I first signed up. I blame dad! He did Kilimanjaro – that got me hooked!

BMHAC – great club, great coach and great Sunday morning runs!

Ruth & Luc – The endless lunchtime running chat, the company on the treadmill, stretching, Wednesday runs to work, kit chat, all the stuff that non-runners hate. Awesome work at London by both of you! Ruth posting a “good for age” time and I think Luc securing a “Championship Start”! Both huge achievements!

Mike – Epic training partner. Enough said!

My mates – all of the guys I should have been out drinking with for the past few months… it’s time to catch up on those nights out!

Tent 110 – you know how much fun and pain the week involved. Awesome tent mates.. looking forward to a catch up beer soon!

Lucy – a HUGE thank you to you. I know I have been obsessed with the MdS for the past 18 months. Thank you for being so patient (most of the time ;)) and putting up with all my stinking kit, washing and early mornings. I’m looking forward to a few normal weekends just as much as you are 😀 xx

What next?

No idea. I haven’t planned anything yet. I’ll perhaps run a few road races and work on my speed over the summer.. I popped to ParkRun this weekend and found it hard going, so need to get back down to BMHAC soon.  I’d like to run a sub 1:30 half and maybe a quick marathon. who knows. In the meantime, lots of food, sleep and rest is needed.

Until next time…. no, not the next MdS, just the next adventure….

Rob

p.s I’m still counting up the cash donations… looks like we’ve smashed £6k… will update tomorrow!

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Fundraising for The Evelina Childrens Hospital

The fundraising is all going to plan, with over £4,000 on the Just Giving page and a few hundred quid in cash donations! Thank you to everyone who has donated so far.

To stir up a little extra support at the office we had a coffee and cake sale whilst Adrian (@MDS_Runner) and I did a presentation on the MdS and the charities we are running for. Much to the excitement of my boss and some of our colleagues I had somewhat foolishly agreed to having my head shaved in the build up to the MdS. Well, with a boss volunteering to be a barber and a generous audience willing to throw a few quid into the charity pot, Thursday seemed like the perfect time to do it. Here’s how it went:

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Shaving my head after 8 years of having long hair was a pretty big deal. In fact I was more anxious about doing that than I am about the MdS. It’s all for a good cause though. You can find out more about the Evelina here: Evelina London

If would like to donate (either for the head shaving or the running :)), you can do so at http://justgiving.com/running-for-evelina  

Thanks again everyone!

2 weeks to go….and now the sun hat fits! Perfect!

Marathon des Sables; Sand Dune Training

It’s been a while since I blogged, so will try and rattle out 2 or 3 in the next day or two to fill in the blanks. First up sand dune training and hill work.

Sand Dune Training – 8th March

With 4 weeks to go until I am in the desert, I wanted  to do a full dress rehearsal to test my gaiters, hydration, bag, shorts, t-shirt, snacks, camera, hat and perhaps most of all… running on sand.

A quick dash along the M4 into south Wales and through Bridge End eventually brings you to a great little village called Merthyr Mawr. Methyr Mawr is the home of a big sand dune,  so it’s an ideal place to train for the Marathon des Sables. On arrival I started to get the feeling I should have done it sooner; aside from the Big Dipper, there are great sand trails to run and some stunning views.  Never mind, too late to worry about what I could or should have done, I need to use the time to train. So I get kitted up to a few funny looks from some tourists that are here for casual weekend walk.

Gaiter Options:

After taking the plunge and buying the Sandbaggers knee lengths gaiters last summer, I recently discovered the shorter ankle height options from Raidlight and RaceKit. They look better (not that looks are important in the desert – but they did catch my eye 🙂 ) and look less “flappy”. Though they might not keep all the sand out when I am ankle deep in the dunes. Being keen to make sure everything is just right for the MdS, my credit card took another hit and I ordered the RaceKit  gaiters (pictured below)

RaceKit Gaiters

The plan was to run an hour of hill reps in each style of gaiter in order to pick my favourite. I set about a my first hour of hill reps on the Big Dipper. I ran the first rep before realising that the energy sapping sand quite simply prevents you from running more than a few yards. I could have managed running the second one at a push, but it really wasn’t effective… you waste a huge amount of extra energy for very little gain. At the top of each rep I added in a  200m loop along the undulating trails to get the legs moving more quickly and get a feel for the gaiters whilst running. After thee or four reps I started to get a cramp in the bottom of my left foot- I’ve never suffered from cramp here, so suspected the gaiters were a possible cause. I slackened off the ankle strap and continued with the hill reps. This helped a little, but still didn’t completely clear it… I pressed on until I hit 65 mins. Time for a  check point style break. As brief as possible, but enough time to get the next set of gaiters on and drain some of the sweat that was accumulating underneath my waterproof jacket .Pretty disgusting, but the sun was getting warm and the extra layers were doing a good job of raising core temp!

With the Sandbaggers strapped on I start knocking out another hour of hill reps on the Big Dipper. They feel quite airy as the wind blows and the silk moves around my calves. Also the cramps seem to have stopped and no sand gets into my trainers. Whilst it isn’t conclusive that the RaceKit gaiters were the cause of the cramps, I don’t want to risk it during the MDS. It’s perhaps as much psychological as it is a physical difference. come to think of it, I’ve never got on with wearing my Compress Sport calf guards whilst running- felt like they were squeezing my Achilles tendon. I love them for recovery after long runs though… real or placebo? I’ll take any benefit for the MdS.

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After a legs sapping two hours on the sand dunes I’m still happy with all of my kit. A good morning of testing. My bag, water bottles, the 0.5 size larger trainers, t-shirt, compression shorts and socks all feel great. The only things that doesn’t work for me s my raidlight cap… it’s too bloody tight and doesn’t come down onto my head enough. It feels like it will blow off! Still, of all the things not to work I’m happy it’s only the hat.

For those of you that are interested, I’m going to post my full kit list at some point. Maybe one night during the taper when do a dry run of packing,

Brecon Beacons

No rest for a wannabe ultra runner…from the dunes of Merthyr Mawr I drive straight to the Brecon Beacons to meet training partner Mike at the Storey Arms and hit some more hills!

By the time I arrive in the Brecons I have cooled down a lot and started to stiffen up – the wind is blowing hard when I step out of the car and get the shakes within seconds. Time to layer up and hit the fells. Mike and I kit up and get straight out on the run, we’re aiming for a 13 mile loop that takes in Corn Du, Pen Y Fan, Fan y Bigg and Cribyn.  For those of you know the Brecons well, we hit the long slow 2 mile climb to the left of the Storey Arms. For those who don’t know the Brecons quite so well, the Storey Arms isn’t a pub. I was very disappointed the first time I discovered that!

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Having covered part of this route during the 10 Peak we were keen to make sure we got around it more quickly than we did on that epic 36 mile adventure. We made good progress but the serious headwind and my 9kg pack slowed the pace – mike was setting a great pace. I think we managed the first 2 or 3 peaks quicker than we did during the race, but the “flat section” after Cribyn around the crescents to the top of the reservoir felt slow. The mornings sand dune reps were starting to take their toll and I was reduced to a plod. Great training!

As we descended down to the reservoir we got some protection from the icy wind that had been whipping over the lip of the peaks; there was still some snow lying on the high grounds. The descent was over all to quickly and the quads had taken a beating. We skirted around the reservoir, past an old pump house (I think that’s what it is) before starting the tough, slippery climb back to the ridge. This was familiar ground- we did the climb during the early hours of the 10 Peaks ultra; it was better in the dark…. I couldn’t see the climb that I had ahead! After a few “oh shit” moments where earth/stone slipped from beneath me, we were back on the ridge traversing back towards Pen Y Fan. With all of the earlier peaks in view we took a sharp left to take the speedy descent back to the road. Although the picture doesn’t show it, Mike was taking it easy at this point after rolling his ankle on the descent to the reservoir

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And that was it. A little jolly along some tarmac and we were back at the car. 12.9 miles – a perfectly planned route by Mike!

Actually, on the subject of Mike. I owe him a big thank you. He has been a great training partner during the MdS prep- we’ve completed 2 ultras together, 4 or 5 adventure races and a good handful of long Sunday runs. Mike isn’t running the MdS, so I hugely appreciate the effort he’s made. It must be frustrating for him at times; running a at a slower pace because I’m hauling 9kg, or because I’m tired from the weekly mileage. When I’m back from the MdS  I’m looking forward to dropping the pack and getting some speed back so we can attack the L50 again! We’ll home before midnight this time Mike!!!

The Evelina Childrens Hospital

With 25 days until I head to Morocco, I figured I should direct some focus to fund raising. We’ve made great progress so far and we hit £3,000 at the weekend, but would love to get to my £5,000 target. It will make a huge difference at the Evelina! if you want to help me on the way, you can do so here: http://www.justgiving.com/running-for-evelina

It would take hours to explain how good the Evelina Childrens Hospital is. In fact, I cant do it justice in a blog, so figure I’d just share a few videos and let you judge.