The Marathon des Sables, 30th Edition – How hard can it be? – Part 2 (Stage Two)

Character

Determination

Courage

STAGE TWO – WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

And so the second stage dawned… our tent had gelled well… banter, giggles and laughter pretty much from the moment we woke up, each and every day! However you have to get sorted relatively quickly… if you are not ready when the tents are taken down, they won’t wait and eventually what had been an amazing layered horseshoe of tents looks like a refugee camp in an astonishing short space of time!

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We actually had enough time after our tent had been taken down that my own personal hairdresser was available to plait my hair! Ladies, helpful tip… if you have long hair you might want to consider something other than just leaving it in a ponytail… it will get matted with sand and you won’t be able to get a brush through, IF you took one considering how much they weigh. If however you took a comb… forget about using it! James aka Bear Grylls (is there anything the man can’t do?) said he could plait bread (he cooks too)… so… bit bulky given the sand that would never leave me for a week, but hey… you take what you can get in situations like this… even if it means your hat won’t sit properly… it definitely helped and I didn’t particularly fancy having to get a ball of matted mess cut off at the end of the week!

It was then time to make our way over to the start line… (fourth from front again)… the nerves kicking in… Patrick starting speaking… surely this wouldn’t take as long as yesterday? It did… Patrick carried on speaking… as with the day before I looked over to Elisabet… she’d done so well on Stage 1, we nicknamed her the “First Lady”… but she’d kept a steady pace and wondered if the other top ladies were holding back and whether she’d gone out too fast… we smiled at each other… she went into her “zone” as you do… Patrick carried on speaking… I checked where Gwynn, my other tentmate was… right behind me…

Gwynn had gone out really hard on Stage 1. He’s a fast runner, is used to fell racing, has raced up to 83 milers (his first 100 is in July woop woop) and had come in that day with a time of 4:45! As a result however, we think he either had some heat exhaustion or dehydration… he’d been ill throughout the night dashing to the toilet, and then spent the morning throwing up. This of course meant his electrolytes were seriously out of balance and he knew that he would not be able to push through Stage 2 in the same way. I’m a (much) slower runner so he prudently thought we’d stick together for the first bit and see how he felt. If he felt ok, he’d push on and if not, we’d stay together. That way he could also pull me along speed wise as my competitive side had kicked in and I wanted to try and stay (just) in the top half.

We had a sandy track for the first few clicks/km… I struggled to keep up. We then hit some small sand dunes and it became a walk/jog/shuffle.. more stony ground… on inclines… and then the climb up Hered Asfer Jebel. Dear God. It felt steep, it felt hard… I puffed and panted my way up… Gwynn ahead of me… but the views once there… amazing… we had some photos taken… I made sure he was on the side nearest the edge… self-preservation and all that 😉 …

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… we then trotted along the crest before hitting the down… note when they say technical, your feet are going to get bashed! “Rocky bits” seems somewhat of an understatement. We then had to cross a valley before hitting Checkpoint 1. Gwynn decided to stick with me and we pushed on…

Now I class myself as slow and I will walk because a challenge like this is about the overall distance and getting it done… besides I have a somewhat fast walk (I blame the Army and all that marching 😉 ), but I started to get concerned when Gwynn dropped back… I kept turning around and making sure he was there… I needed a toilet break so he continued and I shuffled to catch him back up… we slowed even more… he was struggling to speak full sentences although he was able to nod and let me know he understood what I was saying… we were out in the full daytime sun and being baked alive… he wasn’t eating, was struggling to get fluids down… in the end I noticed a bush with a little bit of shadow around it… I put his arm over my shoulders and helped him to it… he sat down. I wet his buff, poured water down his back, wet his hat, held the wet buff against his wrists… he wasn’t speaking… when I looked into his eyes, he didn’t seem to be “there”… although I didn’t say anything to him, I was worried… I’d seen someone go down with heatstroke in Sierra Leone and he had had to be helicoptered out… what to do, what to do… hit his SOS button and potentially end his race, make him push on with the possibility he’d get worse…

What would you do?

Racers streamed by…

Gwynn said he wanted to continue… I couldn’t end his race… I know if that had been me, I’d try and push through until I physically couldn’t go any further… and although I hadn’t know him that long, I did know he had a similar mentality… I knew he would regret not giving everything he had to go on… I helped him to stand. We agreed we’d push on until we found help…

Eventually the next jebel loomed high in front of us… and thankfully there was a 4×4 with med staff in it… I helped him take his pack off, the crew there were amazing… they helped him into the car, checked him over… he was severely dehydrated… our tentmate Mike then reached us… the med staff asked Gwynn what he wanted to do… how did he feel… was he capable of pushing on ahead? Would he choose an IV?  We looked up… we were at the base of Joua Baba Ali Jebel… it was a steep climb… if he collapsed on that, it would be hard to get help to him… it would take time to get him off and he’d pretty much have to wave bye bye to the rest of his race… he asked about time penalties… he made the (very wise) decision to take the drip and told us both to go on ahead with him.

What would you do?

Would you stay?

Would you leave him behind?

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He’s a tentmate, a friend… out here in the desert this becomes your family… I knew I’d lost my top half place… and although a part of me was wanting to go and race… a bigger part knew what I would hope for in this situation… and that would be for someone to stay with me. I could do no less for someone else. I told Mike I’d stay and he could push on if he wanted to. He also made the decision to stay… we would wait for Gwynn and stick together… we would finish the day together! And we would have a full tent finish for the whole Marathon des Sables!

When you experience something like this, it’s part of the challenge in my opinion… it shows you what kind of character you have, what qualities you demonstrate… the “walking your talk”… it tests not just your physical capabilities but how well you manage so many different aspects… and then there’s the mental challenge… Gwynn has since said he was almost ready to hit that SOS button… I watched him battle what he had believed “failure” to mean when he accepted the IV drip… how he pushed through when he felt he hit rock bottom there… and that, to me, is courage… it’s strength… it’s determination… it’s endurance… your mind is what will ultimately carry you through the dark times… when the body wants to give up, when your emotions are all over the place… it’s the mind that will say “you can do this”… although it may kinda help just a little when you also have two stubborn tentmates refusing to move without you 😉 …

And for those who have asked how do you hook up an IV in the middle of the Sahara desert and keep it from boiling up when the temps are hitting the 50s…

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Trekking poles have a variety of uses…

We waited around an hour and half in total… Gwynn had two packs of fluid pushed through… the equivalent of 44 salt tablets… for those who that means nothing to… I was taking two to three salt tablets every hour!

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Time to push on and get up that jebel… just go up a bit and then turn right… which was steeper and higher… until eventually…

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Gwynn had recuperated enough that he had a new lease of life… it was like he’d been given a cocktail of energy! He waited for us to keep up! As we eventually espied Checkpoint 2 of the day… I wondered where we were to go… we were surrounded by a mountain pass… there appeared to be no way around (I didn’t check my roadbook)… there was no way round… Mike pointed out racers going up… but there appeared to be such a steep sandy hill without a mark on it… then an ant-like figure would pop up on the crest… how did they get up there?

My fear of heights would soon be engaged once more… we took a 10 minute breather at CP2 and pushed on… Jebel El Otfal… what was called in the roadbook a “difficult climb”… up and up… up and up… on soft sand… we went up the side bit… sand and rockface… two steps up, one sliding down… we clambered… this was climbing up rocks!!! Mike offered to carry my poles but they gave much needed confidence at levering myself up… keep looking up, keep looking to the right (to the rock and not where I could slide back down)… it felt like it went on forever… and there were many racers behind… I couldn’t stop… because if I did, I might not move again!

And from there, once you hit the down, it was supposedly only 5km to base camp… it felt much longer and of course… what was becoming the norm… more sand dunes to get over… eventually we hit the finish line… and went through the usual ritual… tea, water bottles… back to the tent…

We’d been out on course for just over 8 and a half hours… Gwynn had incurred another 2 hours with his time penalty… my first day position had been around 655, the second day was, I believe, around 1203… giving me an overall place of, I think… 1003.

It was a lot to drop 😦

BUT…

we all finished the day…

and on arrival home at #117… we had a full tent once more 🙂

And a beautiful setting sun to watch as we ate…

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Was the horror of the day over? Not quite… I’d picked up another 4 blisters so once I’d emailed a friend to let them know what had happened, I hobbled over to Doc Trotters in the dark… oh how naive I’d been… that one little blister that had been sliced the day before… today a different person to help me… 3 that were opened up… 3 that were INJECTED… (I hate needles)… let me just repeat that because I had never heard of this happening before it happened to me… INJECTED with iodine.

Note this hurts.

A hellavu lot!

I swore, very loudly… and the lady who held that needle seemed to look rather surprised at that… hell, they were sticking needles in my toes and heels… it stung and hurt… I’m hardly likely to smile sweetly… although I did thank her afterwards.

So for those who can, practice blister care beforehand… and for those who have to endure this in the future… it does actually work and will dry those blisters out… except for one which reformed the next day… but that was probably just me!

Surely we weren’t likely to encounter any more trouble… two days in: kit going missing, dehydration, illness, IVs out on course… blisters and needles… surely the worst was now over?

© May 2015 Michelle Payne

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4 Responses to The Marathon des Sables, 30th Edition – How hard can it be? – Part 2 (Stage Two)

  1. archistewart says:

    Michelle, thank-you, for sharing your experience, it’s a fantastic blog which describes so well both the event level ‘esprit de corps’ and the tent ‘squad’ level camaraderie of the event.

    Like

  2. Mark Gorrie says:

    Michelle, i was tent 121, looking at your pic, i remember you….it’s a great write up :). It is all about your tent buddies and the bond that is created, it’s what made it for me really. Funny the way you describe the approach to Jebel El Otfal and the surrounding mountains…..i remember thinking the very same thing until i noticed little “ants” going up that big tongue of sand leading up the Jebel (remember thinking,.. can’t be going up that!)…..it was called a “difficult climb” in the road book but i seem to remember calling it something else when i struggled up it!……great blob Michelle 🙂

    Like

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