Equipment Kit List – 515km through the Grand Canyon and Africa


Grand to Grand Ultra 2014, USA – 273km and RTP Roving Race 2014 (Madagascar)

An absolute newbie to the world of adventure stage racing and with only 18 months running experience in total, I was googling all over the place to get information to hand as to what I would need. The amount of blogs and comments on the internet were enough to scare me into wondering (yet again) just what I was letting myself in for, especially when I was having to get kit sorted for not one, but TWO stage races at the same time. Crazy idea… why on earth did I decide to do this? A frequent question as I’m sure many others (would) have thought in the same position.

As I mentioned in the previous post, gathering information and then looking at what you already have, or where you can get help, can be vital in being as prepared as possible for challenges that lie ahead.  In this case, I had my coach who was helping me with the physical fitness aspect, a friend from the Sierra Leone marathon who had signed up with me so I wasn’t going to be totally on my own… and also some luck… this being in the form of Colin and Elisabet Barnes who are members of Leigh on Sea Striders, the club I race under, and who just happen to be ultra-marathoners with experience of ultramarathons and specifically desert stage racing. They also happen to own Myracekit and if you’re really lucky, when you visit their shop, you may get a cuddle off the adorable Stig!

Colin with Stig
(Photo copyright: Michelle Payne)

Anyway, onto kit:

Backpack: WAA Ultrabag 20L
(Available from: Grand to Grand, Myracekit)
Weight: 590g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

I had been planning on using the Aarn Marathon Magic 22L, but as I increased the pack weight, found it compressed my breathing a bit too much. The pack was fab overall, and I’ve kept it. I think it’s just a matter of learning how to adjust the (many) straps. At this time the WAA pack was hard to get hold of in the UK, but a fellow competitor going to Grand to Grand had a spare one and offered to let me buy it off him, and he posted it from France (thank you Say!!). For someone who likes to pack everything but the kitchen sink (OK maybe including that too) with a better to be safe than sorry mentality, this pack made me strip back a lot of kit (you can only imagine how much I would have taken!!). Comfortable, no bouncing around and no gaps. Easy enough to chuck it in the washing machine too when it gets encrusted and turns white from the salt your body sweats out in the heat. Mine has a detachable mesh bag inside, which was a godsend although I’m not sure if the latest versions have this still. As I packed a decent amount of food (I don’t like to be hungry), I found a way of clipping this on the outside of the pack which meant I could carry about 3 days worth of food in it, although such fastening did mean it was less stable for those few days. Did I mention I don’t like to be hungry?

Use again: Absolutely

Hydration: 2 x 750ml Raidlight bottles, 1 Litre Platypus soft bottle
Weight: Raidlight bottle 95g, Platyus 38g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

2.5 Litres was the required capacity for fluid in Madagascar. I’ve had a few problems with using bladders at the start of my running journey so I tend to avoid them, plus I really didn’t want to have to keep taking off a heavy pack just to fill the water, let alone what if it leaked inside? The potential horror of that was enough to make sure I looked at other options! That really only left bottles. The WAA pack comes with its own bottles, however these were atrocious and leaked everywhere. I swapped them out for the Raidlight 750ml bottles with the bite valve and tube. In training with them, one did start leaking from the screw top (there are two tiny plastic bits on it) but Myracekit replaced it and the new one was fine. I then paired them with a 1-litre platypus soft bottle. There is a 500ml size available for this if you only need 2 litres, and which I took to G2G.

Use again: Yes for the Raidlight. Having the bottles to hand made it much easier to refill at checkpoints. However it’s worth noting that if you go down the route of rocket fuel (water/cola combo) then the initial fizz can also cause some leaking. In this case, make sure you only fill to about 650ml and point the bite valve away from you!

Sleeping bag: Yeti Passion 3
Weight: 465-530g (M-L)
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

I don’t like to be cold. At all. Yeti sleeping bags are some of the lightest on the market, although they are not cheap. As I was trying to cut costs and get kit that would work for more than one stage race, I had to take different temperatures into account.  Had I only been doing Madagascar, I would have chosen the Yeti One.  I found the Three to be very warm in Madagascar, so could have gone for something a bit lighter however combined with the silk liner noted below, it was perfect for g2g and even on the coldest nights there, I felt warm and cosy. For those doing Grand to Grand, note that as the days continue, the weather is likely to get much colder as the altitude you sleep at increases.

Use again: Yes but if you are only doing one hot stage race, consider the Yeti Passion One to save weight.

Silk Liner: Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner
Weight: 135g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

At the suggestion of Elisabet, I decided to opt for a silk liner so that I only had to purchase one sleeping bag and could still meet the minimum requirements for both races.  It was a godsend as it not only kept me warm at g2g, it also kept the inside of the sleeping bag clean. Whilst there may be only a few km’s of dunes in g2g, the trails are hot, dusty and very very sandy. You will be surprised at just how much.

Use again: Absolutely.  If you are doing a hot race, you could just sleep in this, and use your sleeping bag as an extra “layer” on top of whichever pad or roll mat you choose.

Pillow: Thermarest NeoAir + repair kit
Weight: 55g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

I purchased from Myracekit but it’s no longer available there. Google shows available online. This weighs virtually zero, folds up flat and I stored it in the bottom of my WAA pack where the zip is located underneath. I think that’s where the pack’s water-resistant cover is usually stored but I didn’t take that. Sealing everything instead in clear plastic bags (ziplocks) seemed a much better idea and meant I could take this instead. Much more comfortable than using my pack, which I was then able to use to elevate my feet instead. It makes for a more comfortable sleep, and getting some sleep is vital in races like these.

Use again: Yes.

Sleeping pad: Thermarest Z-Lite Sol
Weight: 410g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Sleep is vital on stage races and will make a huge difference to your daily performance. I had read and heard about quite a few different types of “mattress” however since I wasn’t going to be aiming for a top (ha!) racing position, weight was not the most important factor in my choice here. What was, was it not getting a hole and deflating so that I would have no cushioning between me and the ground. I therefore went with the reliable Z-Lite which is a foamy type of cushion in sections that folds up like an accordion.  It’s rather long, so I cut down off about 4 sections (obviously individual height will make a difference here) and was then able to have it stashed on the top of my pack during the race. This worked well in Madagascar and very well in Grand2Grand, where you can encounter a particular type of lurking evil… goatheads! I’m not sure what their technical name is but they are little prickles of pain that if they embed themselves (in your feet, your clothes, your sleeping bag etc) then they sting! Round, tiny and sharp. They had the potential to pierce and given the sheer amount of them in G2G, I was very glad to have my Z-lite, especially when I turned it over one morning to find many stuck into the underside.

Use again: It’s heavy so I’m not sure. Invaluable against the goatheads, but can’t fit into the WAA even once you’ve eaten most of the contents. Race-dependent.

Poles: Leki Micro Stick Carbon Trekking Z-Pole
Race: G2G and RTP Madagascar

There is a lot of debate about whether or not to use poles, however as a newbie I was going to minimise any potential obstacle I could to a potential DNF and if that meant extra weight carrying a pair of poles, so be it. I had heard they were invaluable at helping you up hills or even reducing wear and tear/pressure on joints so given the cumulative distance I was looking at completing, figured this was a sensible idea. After checking out several different types, I opted for Leki as they were a bit sturdier than some but still light enough that I felt I could run holding them.  They could also be folded up if not in use.  I found these quite invaluable: not just for walking, or during the long stage where it helps to keep to a certain pace, but also on levering myself up some rocky bits, across some rice fields and certainly on giving confidence when climbing over trees, logs and the such like.  A valued “not to be under-estimated” bit of kit. The only downside to these was that I’d left them outside at night during Grand to Grand, and of course there was a huge storm. They must have had quite a bit of water get inside and then rusted so I was unable to take them apart again.

Use again: Yes, although would make sure not to leave extended outdoors in a full-on rain/thunderstorm.

Lighting: Petzl Tikka, Black Diamond, Duracell AAA batteries, Petzl E+Lite Zip, Silva Tyto Sport
Weight: Petzl Tikka 85g, Petzl E+Lite 27g
Races: G2G, RTP Madagascar (all)

With two headtorches required, I took along the Petzl Tikka and Black Diamond to G2G, together with 3 extra batteries to be on the safe side.  They both take AAA size.  Madagascar also required a red flashing light so I chose the Silva Tyto Sport Safety Light, which comes with the battery included. The Silva light can clip on, however it has a handy velcro strap which I used to secure it on the back of the WAA pack. The Petzl Tikka is lightweight and handy although I do have to adjust the headstrap a few times during a long race. Opening and changing the batteries is easy. Not the brightest out there but definitely value for money.  Black Diamond I keep as a back-up only. I think I have the “Storm” version and I wouldn’t buy again as I struggle to get the damn thing open every single time and often have to prise it open with a knife (although this could just be the one I have). I intend to have a look at the new Ion to see how they compare. I took Petzl E+Lite with the Tikka to Madagascar and found the little E+Lite to be very handy, especially in the tent at night. It also has a red flashing option so could have doubled for the emergency light if I’d lost the Tyto.

Use again: Petzl Tikka, absolutely.  Tyto – yes. Black Diamond – no. E+Lite – absolutely.

Whistle: Raidlight
Weight: 8g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Sometimes the whistles that are part of a backpack aren’t going to meet racing requirements. For both races I took along the Raidlight whistle. Thankfully I didn’t need to use it. Very light, and can be shoved into any tiny space you have left.

Use again: Yes

Survival Bivvy bag: SOL Emergency Bivvy
Weight: 108g
Race: RTP Madagascar

Thankfully didn’t need this either, but required item.

Use again: Yes, if required kit.

Emergency survival blanket: Myracekit
Weight: 48g
Race: G2G

Thankfully didn’t need this either, but required item.

Use again: Yes, if required kit.

Mirror: Raidlight Signalling Mirror
Weight: 17g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Lightest mirror I could find at the time, although for ladies that may take make-up with them into a stage race, it’s not going to be suitable. Lightweight and fitted easily into my med pack.

Use again: Yes

Knife/multi tool – Gerber Ultralight LST
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar
Weight: 17.1g

You never know when you might need a knife! I’m thinking more cutting bandages and gaffer tape than cut your arm off à la 127 hours *shudder*. Anyway, this is very small and lightweight and fit the necessary requirements. I’m a bit squeamish around knifes and the possibility of inadvertently slicing into myself, so found this a bit stiff to open, hence some nervousness.

Use again: if I found one that opened smoothly.

Compass: Silva Field Compass 1-2-3
Weight: 28g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Nice and lightweight, although it is a little awkward in terms of its’ shape that I imagine some wouldn’t get on with. I like it, find it sturdy which gives some reassurance and take to all my long races where I need a compass.

Use again: Yes.

Sunscreen: Tingerlaat SPF 50+, 60ml, Dermatone SPF23 
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Tingerlaat are partners with the Marathon des Sables, so you’d expect them to know a thing or two about not burning in the desert! Recommended by Colin and Elisabet at Myracekit, it certainly did what it was supposed to and I was very surprised at how little was needed. Applied first thing in the morning and that was it really. No burning whatsoever. I have very sensitive skin which flares up extremely easily and it didn’t seem to make it any worse or aggravate it. Goes on easily, spreads well, I use this on all races now, regardless of duration. Absolutely love this stuff. Dermatone is a lip balm with SPF and was also fine. If you don’t flare up easily and want to save on weight, then G2G provides (or did for the 2014 race) sunscreen.

Use again: Yes to both, and can’t rave enough about Tingerlaat!

Blister and medical kit: Miscellaneous
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Luckily for me, Myracekit had a little pack already good to go (I came away with a rather large shopping bag on the day I visited, as I’m sure is obvious by now :D). They also added other items such as blistershield powder and gurney goo sachets and they have since updated their customised pack which can be found here. I am not a fan of 2nd skin or compeed products ever since my first ultra (Race to the Stones 100km) where, in my inexperience, I ended up gaining some huge heel blisters which were then sliced open, not just once, but three times in total. This was after compeed had been used and then when I tried to pull them off, they ripped part of a big blister off. Painful is not really an adequate description of how I felt at the time! They were included due to kit requirements but I have never used them since and avoid like the plague!

My medical, blister & hygiene kit:

10 alcohol wipes – required (available from boots) (I took about 25)
2 hypodermic needles (or safety pins) – required
1 roll micropore – required (available from boots) (I took 4)
1 roll elastic tape – required (used tensoplast) (I took 2 to G2G)
5 x 2nd skin (or compeed) – required (shudder) (7 were required for G2G)
minimum 12 paracetamol – required (I took 16 x 500mg)
malaria tablets – optional (took them, wasn’t taking any chances)
Sudocreme (5mg)
Biofreeze gel (one sachet)
Lubricant – Gurney Goo (7 sachets)
Sterilising tablets – Milton x 3
Gauze – 3 pads
Ciproflaxin (G2G only)
Refresh towels (airline) – a touch of “luxury”

Foot powder – Blistershield (7 sachets)
Compression bandage (7.5cm x 4.5m) – required – (Smith & Nephew)
minimum 10 safety pins – required (I took about 21 and used instead of re-using the hypodermic needles from a hygiene perspective)

60ml alcohol gel – required (took 100ml) – some is provided on G2G
60ml mosquito repellent – required (Repel 80ml)
7 day supply toilet tissue/wet wipes – required (took 2 toilet rolls to Madagascar, 1 to G2G as they provided some)
Moisturiser (Tingerlaat Face & Body Repair Balm 60ml) – added another for G2G which wasn’t necessary
Earplugs (2 pairs)
Foot cream (Body Shop Hemp Handcream)
Diarrhea tablets (Boots own) (I took 9)
Rehydration sachets (Boots own – 4 sachets for Madagascar, 6 for G2G)
Mosquito net – already owned
Mini scissors – already owned
Comb – not much use against sand!

Toothbrush – full size
Toothpaste – small size
Towel – PackTowel Ultralight M, Myracekit
Soap – Lifeventure soap leaves, Amazon
Washer ball

Facecloths – Wemmi wipes (I took 14)

Use again: The mosquito net obviously only where required. I take a minimum medical kit now which includes most of these things but only 1-2 of each. No compeed. Absolutely no compeed! The earplugs didn’t work at all in Madagascar but that was probably due to some rather loud snoring in the tent (I’m not naming names :D). I’ve yet to find any that does, but for those that sleep a bit more soundly, one pair should be enough. I don’t take any extra foot cream these days so would ditch that. I do take moisturiser and the Tingerlaat is great, although I decant into a tiny pot and take about 5ml or 5mg. I haven’t found them online yet, but for future stage races would look for the compressed toilet roll that I have seen other competitors take. Takes up minimal space without sacrificing need. It’s one thing I wouldn’t leave home without and bio-degradable compared to chemically-laden wet wipes which can affect sensitive skin. I took a pack of those to G2G and it was wasted weight and space. I wouldn’t take gauze again.  If any medical emergencies require this, then see the Camp Doc!

One item I can’t rave enough about and that’s the wemmi wipes. Brilliant things, absolutely tiny and expand with just a few drops of water. Absolute must-have product! The pack towel was fab, very light and can clip onto the back of your pack to dry during the day. Ultra absorbent. I took a full size toothbrush, couldn’t be doing with faffing about cutting bits off to save a gram in weight and pleased I didn’t bother. Better than messing around trying to brush my teeth outside when it’s dark! Soap leaves, always take some of these now.

I had also felt rather sick after the long stage in Madagascar so took along a few sterilising tablets to G2G to wash my bottles out with mid-race. Luckily we had more than enough water between us after the long stage, so I was able to do this.  I would take these again, and 2-3 only take up a small space.

Lastly, I also took one of those washer dryer balls, which sounds crazy but… I had extremely tight calves and Achilles tendonitis so this was a very very lightweight option to use as a “roller” for the calves. If I was running a stage race in future and had an injury that needed rolling, I would take this again.

Eating Utensil: MSR Folding Spork, Lifeventure Long Handle Titanium Spoon
Weight: MSR – 9.5g , Lifeventure – 20g
Race: Grand to Grand (Titanium Spoon only), RTP Madagascar (both)

I took along both of these to Madagascar but didn’t use the spork.  It does what it’s meant to, folds away well but the titanium spoon is obviously much more robust and I have used that much much more. The spork will also fit into much smaller spaces whereas you can’t bend the titanium one. If you are only taking one eating utensil and you are racing for top of the field where every gram counts, then I expect the spork would be ample. For myself, I found the long handled spoon much easier to use, more hygienic as I wasn’t reaching into the rehydrated food with my hand on the spoon and getting it everywhere and it seemed to clean up much easier with some boiling water (no ridges for caught food). I stored it along the length of my WAA pack, once everything else was inside so it didn’t jar into me.

Use again: Spork – no, Titanium spoon – yes.

Eating tin/cup: Sea to Summit X-Bowl, MSR Titan Cup 400ml
Weight: Titan Cup 54g
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Used both of these, and the X-bowl packs down well although I found it quite large so would go for a smaller option in future. The titan cup is sturdy and although it can clatter on the outside of the pack, I carried it inside and stuffed it with clothing so I didn’t lose any space.

Use again: X-bowl if I had the weight/space to spare, Cup – absolutely.

Other bits:
Race: G2G, RTP Madagascar

Cable ties – I took about 10 of these and while I thankfully never had to use them, in Madagascar I witnessed my tentmate Howard fixing a trainer back to its’ sole with some of these!

Music – I bought a small ipod shuffle and loaded it up with some music. Glad I did so.

Headphones – JVC Sports adjustable – I couldn’t get on with the ones that are supposed to stay in your ears so I tried these.  They do the job and are very lightweight. Use them for pretty much all my runs now.

Duct Tape – invaluable as I didn’t lift my feet enough and ripped the front of my gaiters to shreds, so this meant I could tape them up (nightly) to get me through to the next day!

Camera – own, however lots of sand got in and ruined it, so I would only take a cheap one that could be binned afterwards.

Compression/zip lock bags – took a variety of these in small, medium and large and they were handy to have. I would take maybe 2 of each in future, rather than the amount I used at these two races.

Seal Line Cirrus Dry Sack 20L – I bought this and meant to use it but given how heavy my pack was becoming, decided to leave it behind. Luckily no major rain and I ziplocked everything instead.

Race Passport / Book – provided by organisers

So that’s how I started learning about what kit suits me. We all have to start at the beginning when we venture into something new, whether that be a race, a job, a new home or a new relationship; and as we learn more, we adapt to the new experiences and information we accumulate. Hopefully this post will offer a different perspective or aspects to consider for anyone venturing into stage racing. Please note that any links included are not affiliate-linked, I am not paid for my opinions or for any links I include here.  This post is purely my personal opinion and intended for information only.

Clothing List up next…

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.


The Marathon des Sables, 30th Edition – How hard can it be? – Part 1





We all see, hear and experience things differently, so naturally we all interpret things differently… surely then, it’s logical to realise that we all understand things differently. Yet often people are surprised by what they encounter because they base their expectations on others’ experiences and beliefs.

It is with this as a guideline that I often end up saying “How hard can it be?” because what I may find hard, someone else may breeze through, or what I find easy, someone else may never even contemplate trying.

If you don’t try, you won’t ever know.

At the end of the Long Stage at the Grand to Grand, after over 27 hours on course with no sleep, as I reached the finish line and Tess (co-owner & director) hugged me, I told her how much I hated dunes and sand and that I never ever wanted to experience anything like it again. I was done and cancelling my entry into the Marathon des Sables. She, with years of stage racing experience, told me I would feel differently once I’d had some sleep and that if I wanted to continue with stage racing, I’d have to get used to dunes because a lot of races have them! She was right, although thankfully they don’t all have the amount of sand and dunes that Marathon des Sables has!


I obviously didn’t cancel my entry and did make my way to Morocco because as a lot of runners will know, once home and post-event, your brain forgets the hard bits, you become like Dory from Finding Nemo and eagerly sign up for something new!

So… here’s what happened for me…


For the UK, entry is via a company called Run Ultra and I have to say what a smooth process they make it. They had 3 flights departing on the same day, someone to meet you at the London airport, dedicated check in desks for departure and then, on arrival in Morocco, Steve was waiting alongside other representatives to guide you to the correct coaches for the journey out to bivouac. Do make sure you have your data roaming switched off (especially if you are Vodafone customers) because uploading just 6 photos to Facebook will incur 3 text messages telling you that in the space of 10 minutes you have used enough data to have already incurred a fee of GBP 45.00. If you are a very lucky Vodafone customer, expect these messages to come in late, in reverse order so you won’t actually know about this, or be able to do anything about it, until it’s too late!

What a view coming in to Ouarzazate…

mds1Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

There was a lot of waiting around for all planes to arrive and buses to load up, and the coach journey is long… up to 6 hours… so be prepared and do take the water offered en route. Then you will encounter lesson number 1… the toilet pit stop! Here’s how it goes…

Men out to one side…

Women to the other…

Women find something to hide/squat down behind… and pray no-one is taking your photograph… yes, I saw several people with cameras out… but be reassured, eventually during the week, some of you (make that most of you)… will stop caring about being seen…

You will also stop for a packed lunch. If you find you need a toilet break here, get your packed lunch first in case they run out. If you avoided the toilet pit stop before, this is the time to take full advantage over any worry about being seen, because nearly everyone else is fully engaged with their food on the other side of the coach, sitting outside on rocks or on the ground eating. Do however be aware that although you may think you aren’t able to be seen… as you stroll back to the bus feeling much more comfortable, especially if you didn’t take advantage of pit stop 1, you will most likely sight locals in the distance… who will be watching your direction! If so, squash those thoughts down and concentrate on your food… you really won’t care on the return journey home!

A helpful tip: ensure you have antibacterial hand gel in your hand luggage and make sure you carry it on the bus (backpacks which you will use as hand luggage and have squished as much of your kit into as you are able within the 7kg allowance, will be put into the storage compartment under the bus)…

Watch out for camels… we were lucky enough to see some and the coach stopped so we could get some photos…

mds2Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

We arrived in darkness. Given that tents are allocated on arrival, our tent (organised beforehand) had a plan… one of us… aka who we thought was the fastest runner…  would grab the nearest tent and text the others… this worked well and we ended up with a tent nearer to one end than in the middle… I obviously didn’t work this out until I’d trudged round the whole arc of tents… Tent #117 was going to be home for the week 🙂 … it was a little roomier than I expected (thankfully) but way more open with virtually no privacy at all… if you feel you need some, get one of the ends… it’s not much but psychologically it can help! And yes, they are held up by sticks… which can collapse in sandstorms…

mds3Photo copyright: Matthew Cranham

Ground cover is provided by a rug, but the rocks will not have been swept out before the rug is laid.  If you have an inflatable mattress, you might just want to try and get rid of as many sharp rocks and pebbles as possible… if you want a good nights’ sleep… ok virtually no-one gets that, but if you want a reasonable amount of sleep, you should also try and make the ground as smooth as possible. Note, this does not apply to any sleep for the night/day after you finish the Long Stage…

Dinner, which is catered, was still available when we arrived and tasted great, much better than I had expected… and it’s a great opportunity to chat to your tentmates and get to know each other a bit better, and you will also get a glimpse of how your personalities will mesh together over the coming week.

mds5Photo copyright: Michelle Payne
with Matt Cranham and Gwynn Stokes 🙂

Then it’s back to the tent, sort out who is sleeping where… work out how to use the toilet system (more on that in the next section), brush your teeth and wipe your face over before snuggling into your sleeping bag and going to sleep looking out at the stars as a gentle breeze flows through the tent… it was a rather lovely start to the Adventure!


We’re British, shouldn’t we be used to queuing?

Helpful tip… take a full 1.5 litre bottle of water with you when queuing.  It’s hot, it’s going to take more than a little while.

You will be given a time slot to go through kit check corresponding to runner number. You will hand over your big bag before going through kit check so make sure you use the first night to finalise anything you want to carry during the course of the week, rather than waiting to see how much your pack weighs (such as sleeping bag liners). So queue number 1… hand over bag, watch it thrown onto a lorry which seems to be stacked impossibly high… do not contemplate whether there will be anything going over the top of those bags to hold them in… walk away and don’t look back. Trust me on this…

Queue number 2… you will queue until you reach the desk, you will then queue behind the desk to the next point and so on… this is where they will check against the questionnaire you have completed (given on the coach along with the roadbook etc.) as to what kit you will be carrying… you will get your water card, your SOS attachment and the “bracelet” that allows you to be tracked on course… and yes, it looks like you’ve got an ASBO ankle tag on…

Helpful tip… do secure this with a safety pin! A bit tiresome but mine came off without it…

Your pack will be weighed… this weight may be wrong… don’t stress about it if so! Mine weighed 9.3kg in the tent (amazing considering how much previous packs have weighed) yet 8.7kg officially with nothing removed. If at this point your water tag and tracker are missing, try not to stress too much… you will eventually be given one. Inside the tent(s), the temperature will be hot, there will be no air… and you will be itching to get out… but still you queue…

You get to the medical bit… if you are really really really super unlucky (thankfully this was not me…) somehow, somewhere from the start of the queue to this point, you will have lost your ECG and your medical certificate. I kid you not. This will result in being told you have a time penalty of an hour (or was it two)… plus a fine of a lot of money! If you’re even more unlucky, you may have misplaced your euros too… pray your tentmates have extra on them to cover your ass! My tentmate was lucky… others in the tent had brought extra… and so was coined a phrase for Tent #117… “What will go right for Mike?”… this still makes me smile 🙂 …seriously though, he is an absolute superstar and fab tentmate!

You will then queue a bit more… before eventually the end is in sight, you drop your kit to one side and pose with your runner number against a cardboard MdS background… before being blinded by the daylight as you are released to freedom.

The rest of the day and evening is your own with all meals catered… enjoy these moments, where nothing aches, where there are no blisters… where you don’t have to struggle against the “breeze” to light a piece of fuel that burns your fingers and then goes out… each and every time!

Now, as previously mentioned… the toilet situation… there will be three “compartments/doors” with open flaps to the front (you can hold this closed with one hand)… there will be a stool shape inside. You take your biodegradable plastic bag and secure over the stool and once used, tie it up and place it in the bin just outside. These bins are emptied pretty regularly and much more hygienic than events of old.

A helpful tip… find a small pebble or rock and put it in said bag… it will stop the wind blowing it back upwards… you really really really don’t want that to happen.. thankfully I knew of this tip beforehand…

There is also a “changing room” provided for women. This is NOT A TOILET. Can I just repeat that? THIS IS NOT A TOILET!!! You will be informed about this on the coach journey to bivouac. It is noted in the roadbook. It has a sign on it… a circle with a toilet inside it and a cross going through it. It has written on it that it is NOT a toilet.

I understand that, just before it’s about to be removed, on the morning of a race/stage, when we are leaving that bivouac never to return, that it is not going to be used again and if there is a queue for the actual “toilet facilities” then it’s easier to use this, but not after the race, not during the night… not when other people are going to use it! It is the same as the toilets in that it has an open flap at the front but it has a crate inside only… this is for standing on so you can get changed without getting sand on everything! Not for pissing on!!!

By the fifth day, ours had been removed, probably because it was being used as a toilet. For those who said I had carried too many inessentials… you would have begged to borrow some of my sterilising tablets!

But to leave that day on a positive… everywhere I go, I seem to find natural hearts… this right outside our tent and in front of where my sleeping bag was… I was where I was meant to be…

MDS4Photo copyright: Michelle Payne 


And so it starts… waking up, no more lazing around, no more time… it was here, it was real.

We would wake around 05.30 every day as the French tents opposite us woke at this time… I figured getting up at 6 would be sufficient time but it’s amazing how quickly the time goes… getting your breakfast ready, getting dressed, packing… going to the toilet for what seems like a million times before making your way over to the start line.  Stage 1 however was different … the taped off area on the first day which marks out the number for the edition of the race was ready for us, this year the 30th… the sound of the helicopter above, drones flying high… everyone waving their hands in the air… I saw a couple of people I recognised and said hello… and quite unwittingly ended up in the fourth row from the front! I looked to the left and saw my tentmate Elisabet who smiled reassuringly at me as she knew how nervous I was… she wasn’t looking to place this year… it was a training race for her…

Patrick started speaking… there was dust and sand and the sun starting to climb higher… Patrick carried on speaking… I figured this was taking quite some time due to it being the first day… surely not every day would take so long… let’s start already! The nerves were kicking in and the longer it took, the more I’d need another toilet break… men definitely have this aspect much easier at races!

Are we starting yet?

Eventually… the infamous track “Highway to Hell” began…

the countdown in French…

until we were released… adrenaline coursing, hearts pounding, dust and sand flying up as the runners swarmed through… so many smiles, arms waving, eyes cast upwards… the helicopter flying sideways down the long line that stretched out… I ran… or rather shuffled, as many a stage racer will call it 😉 and was overtaken by so many…

Don’t push, don’t try to match, don’t try to keep up… run your own race… the thoughts echoed through my head. It’s a long race and it’s not about one day! My coach’s words also echoed… you may not be the fastest but you are one of the toughest! Don’t go out too fast… oops. I scaled back… the soft sand making the legs work hard… how do they run so fast on this surface? My legs felt like lumps of lead whilst the leaders just glided…

Can I walk yet? No…..

2 minutes later… Can I walk yet…. no…

1 minute later… Can I walk yet? It’s an incline so Thank God YES!

This was to become a recurring theme in my head throughout the day and week as the race progressed… and a tactic of walk the ups, run the downs… however I hadn’t expected so many rocks. Elisabet’s husband Colin had warned me it was rocky (he’s finished this race twice) but I figured those were on the hills and would be smallish on sand… not so, lots and lots and lots of rocks… big enough to bash your feet time and time again. I prayed I wouldn’t get blisters…

I also hadn’t realised what a jebel was. I thought it was a term for a sand dune and had never even googled it. Note that a jebel is not a sand dune, although there will be a lot of sand… it’s a hill, or rather mountain. Most likely with steep sides. That goes up very high. That you could fall down and hurt yourself badly on. With big rocks. Fear of heights folks, fear of heights… need I say more? And very quickly on Stage 1 it was up, up and up… thankfully there were downs too, and flat bits. Not necessarily flat bits you could run fast on, especially when it was soft sand that had been churned up by a few hundred competitors already ahead, but flat was preferable to a mountain you could fall down. What I would come to appreciate during the Long Stage was how much flat I had on this first stage.

mdsstage1Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

We also were lucky in crossing a bridge where there was water… now I don’t know how clear or clean that water was but my cap was dragged along in it and dumped very unceremoniously on my head… the relief from the heat instanteous. Only two checkpoints during the day… any spare water I couldn’t carry on my front pack was poured over my head, neck, down the back and over the arms. You dry out quickly…

The heat was pretty unrelenting but not too bad (thank God for those heat chamber sessions)… but we also had a breeze. I thought this was a good thing to start with and it wouldn’t be until much later that I realised the downside.

I shuffled on…

Until eventually I crossed the finish line. Knackered, dusty, dirty… sand embedded everywhere, but what a sense of satisfaction in getting the first day done… emotional… enjoying the cup of sweet tea that awaits every runner when they finish.

No time to loiter… get your next ration of water, get back to the tent, change out of your running gear and pin it up… blow up your mattress and then put the pack on it so it doesn’t fly away… check the feet for damage, realise you already have blister… go and queue up for your first visit to the infamous Doc Trotters… get said blister sliced, hobble back… realise the queue for sending emails is massive and decide to wait until tomorrow… you need food… you have your protein drink… you then do battle with your stove… you are rescued by your tent’s very own version of Bear Grylls who lets you use his (James, you total hero)!

Email time… a main highlight of the day…

Runners keep coming in and eventually it’s time to go check positioning…

Top half… only just, but still… top half…

And we had a full tent.

I go to sleep that night exhausted but very happy.

Little did I know how differently the next day was going to be…

© April 2015 Michelle Payne


Grand2Grand Ultra – Rest, Regret and the last half of the race


The best bit after the Long Stage? You’d think it would be sleep… after all, if you’ve been going over 24 hours without any, most people think sleep would be easy. Not so… not when it’s daylight, the camp is awake and runners are still coming in, especially when it’s your tent mates… and it’s the only day you’re actually back in time to hit the comms tent!

There were also treats… I thought it a rumour but no… lo and behold a treasure… not something I usually drink but after days in the middle of nowhere, it’s like nectar…

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and we were even treated to some live music… right there in the middle of nowhere… there were a lot of happy campers as you can imagine!

There had been more drop outs by this time and unfortunately this included one of our tent 😦 … Steve had got soaked in the torrential rain and hail storm on Day 1… including his trainers which, I believe, did not dry out properly before the start of the next day… what I hadn’t realised was just how much pain he had been in on the Long Stage… his feet were totally and utterly shredded.  How he managed to push through is unbelievable… because of this…

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Blistered, macerated, bleeding, infected… by now he could barely hobble… so after returning from a trip to the medics, he gave out his food to be divided amongst those of us who wanted it and made the choice to go back to Kanab, when he would eventually meet up with us in Vegas at the after party. A sombre mood descended.

Feet. They make or break your race…

Stage 4

And so the next day dawned, not much sleep gained… you think you’d be so tired that not even the devil would be able to rouse you.  This just doesn’t happen… not for me anyway. A couple of hours, a bit of catnapping… and before you knew it, the music started up… and the question… what time is it? a tent would yell… 3 songs past 6, another would reply!


Yuri dashed by… stuck his head in the tent and reminded me to pop by the medic tent again to check my hip… angel in disguise! My leg felt somewhat better, I wasn’t limping as much and the piriformis hadn’t cramped… that little bit of rest had helped tremendously, aided hugely by Yuri’s help and I actually felt ok… I knew I was deterioriating… you don’t do this kind of event without getting drained… lack of energy, speed, hydration, calories… you’re pushing through a deficit each and every day… but today there were more downhills… much better for me… I could run… well, there was still huffing and puffing up the hills, but more downs = more running or shuffling 😉 … and I took advantage of that… no matter how tired or aching I was… I took the choice to tell myself I would run the downs…

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The scenery was amazing… huge cliffs, trees so high they looked tiny… huge boulders to navigate down, rocks carved out by the weather over many years, by rains and floods… and in some parts it looks like we were running on a moonscape… it was also baking hot. So much so that as I ran I kept a very watchful eye out for any water, desperate to try and lower my temperature… the riverbeds crossed were dry… a few muddy puddles, a couple that had a little bit of water in… but how to get at it? Balance very carefully, put your cap on the end of your trekking pole and dangle it just enough to wet it slightly. It was that hot I certainly wasn’t worried about whether the water was clean, it was wet and that was enough. And then there appeared a mirage… a properly flowing river… stream may be a better description but at that point it felt like a full blown river!

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And this is my only other real regret from the whole race…

As I was shuffling along the road I noticed some other runners ahead rejoining the road… I’d seen the river but figured it was too far off course… as I reached the point I had seen them at… I decided to take a few minutes and see how near I could get. It was so hot and my head felt like it was on fire… heaven… you could go right up to it. So that’s what I did.  Took off my arm sleeves and hat and soaked them in the water… I turned around and noticed another runner go past so hurried up to get back on track.  Only a few minutes ahead was the next checkpoint. I could have left my pack there and gone in the water. I wish I had. Later that night, when everyone had returned, some of my tent mates told us what they’d done… they’d stopped, taken their packs and shoes off, and had actually laid down in it… how I wish I had done that. Laughter, fun, friends… surely that’s worth losing a bit of time for in a race instead of pushing through?

Anyway, that was not the choice I had made at the time… instead I pushed on through the rest of the course encountering some pretty evil inclines: looking back at some of the photos, it looks like we were crawling up.  I hit a few low points especially when hitting some long stretches until I caught up to Danny and we leapfrogged each other until we got to camp. I probably wouldn’t have run as much of the last leg if it hadn’t been for him. We hadn’t had much chance to chat up to that point as he was always well ahead of me but while we had this opportunity to talk, he shared how he found the race, the highs and lows to date and that he had been aching a lot and, like a lot of us, had found it hard to get out of a warm sleeping bag that morning, was tired and missing home but since he knew I had just completed a similar type of event in Madagascar, he thought if I could get up each day and do this, then so could he. A truly humbling moment and I don’t think he is aware of how much that meant to me. It kept my spirits up, helped me keep running and we eventually reached camp at the same time. I felt very happy with how I’d done overall that day; top half, position 37  or thereabouts… just a shame about the river…

Stage 4 survived: 7 hours, 21 minutes, 16 seconds

Stage 5

As so the last full day dawned… today was slot canyon day. I think everyone was looking forward to this… we’d seen all the photos from previous years and I naively assumed it would mean a lot of flat.


There was, but to get to it you had to go down… and part of that meant, for me, holding onto tree branches as I slithered down scarily high inclines… yelps included! I also knew there would be climbing down over rocks a bit in those canyons but what I hadn’t expected was a very high ladder… the choice, just go for it and pray I wouldn’t fall or use a harness that had been provided. Sod the time, go for the harness… it just looked too damn high. Afterwards I heard a snake had been relocated not long beforehand so I definitely made the right choice… what if I’d got there and seen a snake… you’d have heard the screams for miles!

And of course, given we are generally getting higher each day, for all those wonderful downs, there is going to be a lot of ups. Again. Crazy painful ups… I doubt I will ever view local hills in the same way!

Eventually we reached flatter ground, although that did still have an incline to it… it just wasn’t as obvious. There were also rain clouds gathering and I have to say, at that point because it was so hot and the air so still, as I saw some dark clouds approaching, I prayed it would cover me with rain. It didn’t… it stayed tantalisingly just out of reach… and I couldn’t catch it! I passed a field of cows… my poles tip tapping the ground as I walked this part… and then I realised I was being watched! There were a lot of cows. There were bulls too. It was a bull that watched me. I averted my gaze and then snuck a sideways glance… it was still watching me… I held my poles off the ground and still it watched me, it’s tail flicking from side to side and then it moved… a few steps toward the road, no fence in sight… I tried to walk with a lighter footstep, holding my breath… and eventually, thankfully, I was sufficiently past that it turned back to its herd, and I could breathe again!

What I wasn’t aware of was that this was the area that my tent mate Lee had had a close encounter on. Not with a bull but a moose. Apparently a moose had mown him down into a hedge. I kid you not… read his write-up in GQ Magazine!  Killer moose, watchful bulls, sneaky snakes… what is this? Next there would be zombies… oh and don’t forget the tarantulas and scorpion holes…

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I continued up the winding road… on and on, just where was the camp? It seemed to take forever and much longer than the previous day until eventually it came into sight… with pools on the other side of the fence… pools of water which looked so inviting… however given the previous cow incident, yours truly was not taking any chances… I didn’t want to be potentially ambushed and trampled so near to the finish of the race! Wise choice indeed as I found out that those were probably pasture water for the horses and cows… and given experiences to date, it would be just my luck that the horses were not that friendly despite outward appearances!


Another stage finished and surprisingly only 4 and a half minutes slower than the previous day, around position 33 or something, so top half again and a very happy bunny 🙂

Stage 5 survived: 7 hours, 25 minutes, 56 seconds

Stage 6

The weather had been getting cooler, natural I thought given the ascension of course profile. However that night another storm hit, bad enough to keep us awake all night long with only little catnaps until one of the poles collapsed due to the strength of the wind and we thought the whole tent was going to come down. Those amazing sturdy volunteers came once again to the rescue  and were out in that weather checking everyone was ok and hammering down tent pegs, poles and anything else that could potentially go flying off into the night! I’m not a fan of being cold and the thought at that time of even getting out of my sleeping bag, let alone run in winds which sounded like something from the Wizard of Oz… well…

And at 5am Race Director Colin made his rounds – they were checking in to see how much worse it would get, how safe it would be up to get up to the Grand Staircase. Around 6ish, he made another round… they’d been informed it was just too dangerous and they couldn’t risk flooding especially due to parts being single track (if I’m remembering correctly). Safety is paramount and in those conditions there was a real possibility of people being swept away or falling… so while there was obvious disappointment in not reaching the full 273km, there was also a lot of very happy people staying in their sleeping bags just that little bit longer.  To ensure we had a Stage 6 and to fit in with the expected torrents, the organisers arranged for an “out and back” couple of miles, and everyone would get the same time recorded. A very fitting end for the team spirit and camaraderie that had built up over the past week. Our surviving tent:


I’d made it and got my buckle!


It was then time to grab some pizza… do you think they had ordered enough? There was another full table out of view of this 🙂

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The race organisers had timed it perfectly.  Just as the buses arrived and we headed off, the heavens opened. By the time we got to Kanab for a lunch they had also organised for us… just stepping off the bus and walking 5 steps to cover had us drenched. The highway to Vegas had been closed due to landslides and the torrential rain, but thankfully had opened up by the time we left.

And then it was Vegas bound… to meet loved ones, to celebrate, to sleep in a proper bed and eat non-rehydrated food.

And of course to Party! I’m not sure how many people stayed up all night but some did…

What an experience, what memories… what friendships made… it was tough without a doubt. My legs were completely shredded, more than I realised at the time, my achilles was bad and a huge swollen lump had grown by this time, walking was painful (and that wasn’t just because I’d insisted on wearing heels at the after party 😉 )


Was it possible
to go from zero to a double-stage runner in only 18 months?

* Yes it was *

Go sign up… you know you want to 😉

Now what shall I do next…

© April 2015 Michelle Payne


Grand2Grand Ultra – Stages 2 & 3


Stage 2

And so the second day dawned… music blaring in the darkness and the camp stirring to life.  I huddled down into my sleeping bag a little deeper and wondered if I would ever be able to move without pain again… but I’d finished Stage 1 so I wasn’t going to miss being on the start line for Stage 2.  I figured if I wasn’t going to finish then it wouldn’t be of my choosing, I’d have to be pulled out by the medical team!

The tactic: start walking.  Try and shuffle if possible.  Walk it all if need be. As the saying goes, you don’t eat an elephant in one go. Where did that saying come from? Who would want to eat an elephant 😦 … magnificent creatures… anyway, make it into bitesize chunks aka checkpoint to checkpoint survival.  Head down and churn those steps out… I had wanted a challenge and I’d certainly got one!


And so the day passed and, as for the first day, the racers eventually drifted apart the longer we were out there. Eventually I happened across an American racer called Arthur and we stuck together from Checkpoint 4, keeping each other entertained with stories about what was going on in our lives… he was pretty excited due to planning his proposal to his girlfriend and every time he spoke about the ideas he had, his face lit up and a huge smile beamed across his face, his energy infectious and the chatting meant the time passed a lot easier than had I been on my own, added to which we had expected the temperature to turn the notch down a tad… even going from full on “oven baked” to a little “fan assisted” might have helped but no… no respite until we hit the finish line where waiting for us was a momentary piece of heaven… Lisa, one of the volunteers, was ready with a bottle of cold water to spray over us! Absolute bliss. A moment to savour… you certainly appreciate the small things on adventures like this!

Stage 2 survived: 10 hours, 8 minutes, 34 seconds

Stage 3

The Long Stage… dum dum dum!

It started well… what a sunrise to wake up to…

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Now you can dress things up however you like in your mind… you can practice positive mindfulness until the cows come home, you can meditate all night long… there are many many things you can do to bring the happy stuff into your life, change your perspectives and become a happier and more contented person. But I doubt you will ever eradicate fear in all its totality from your brain nor the accompanying negative thoughts that pop up from time to time. We are human beings and fear is actually a great tool at our disposal which alerts us to keep ourselves safe and to survive as a species. You know, back in the old days of sabre tooth tigers wanting to eat us. Or bears. Someone kept joking about bears. There were lots of trees on this race… what if a bear was hiding behind one. I kid you not… someone actually joked about this as they hotfooted it up a very steep incline while I shuffled behind them… a long way behind them… was that a tactic, was I being left as bear food while they dashed to safety? The trees rustled as I pondered this… I tried to shuffle a little quicker…

Anyway, the long stage… the hip was still hurting although Yuri had been an absolute hero the previous evening and helped release more of the pain that had accumulated throughout the second day, so how to tackle this? Go it alone and try to push myself, risking further injury or worse, not finishing… or stay with friends who were planning on sticking together as a group due to the length and technical difficulty of the day and walk it all? I wanted to push, I was frustrated at having mainly walked the previous day, but at the same time how great would it be for the Group to stick together and cheer each other on.

So that’s what I chose.

Plus I was slower than everyone else hobbling away at the back.


We started off in almost a party mood, and as we ventured along the way, locals came out and cheered us on: such support from the local community was heart-warming and at that time it felt as if we were just going out for a day’s adventure! Until we reached the end of the flat track and it was time to cross a main road and head towards the elevation.  It was at the end of the road in the picture above that we came across Mo Foustok.  Mo had withdrawn from the race but had come out to encourage everyone else along. Another wonderful example of the camaraderie and kindness I have witnessed within the ultrarunning and racing community.

And then it was up, up, up… with minimal downs to compensate. The pace: slow, very slow. Did I mention I don’t like hills. I like heights even less. I really don’t like sides of mountains where I could slither down, fall off and die. Now I know the organisers are very careful and you’re not going to be somewhere that you have to get crampons and picks out to haul yourself up, but this felt like that to me.  This wasn’t FEAR (false evidence appearing real) but aarrrgghhh FEAR (dear God it’s real and that’s bloody high).

Sometimes naivete is a good thing… it certainly was for me in this event.  I knew there was a little climb.  I’d seen the pictures of a rope and people hauling themselves up it.  I had been reassured on reading the road book we’d been given that it wasn’t as long as I’d thought.  What hadn’t been mentioned was what I actually encountered. I scaled the first bit thanks to one of my amazing tent mates, Lee, helping me up and the amazing Yvonne keeping me going with encouragement behind me.


I heaved a huge sigh of relief only to realise after going round a corner and along a little flat that there was another one! One felt so bad that after slithering my way up (thank god for my poles is all I can say) with shale and rocks sliding away under my feet, I was so relieved and happy it was over, that three of us jumped for joy. Literally. Until I saw the next one.

130131But what a view… no matter that it’s a race, that you are being timed… at points you just have to stop and take some photos, of the views and of the people who are there supporting you each step of the way…

Can we say tough?  I can honestly say that reaching Checkpoint 2 on that day was a highlight of sheer relief. Oh yes, that was all before CP2, many more to go.

And so the day continued… our main group breaking off into twos and threes, chatting away at times, being silent at others… pushing through the terrain, the elevation… minutes and then hours passing and catching up at the checkpoints: where we took the time to fill up on water, salt tablets and see to the feet… and have a laugh… (fab photobomb!)


…before the night started to draw down just as we were heading towards the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary… bit eerie going through with animals howling… and seeing some fantastic colours in the sky as the sun set:

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Darkness arrived and we hadn’t even reached the checkpoint before the dunes.  Debate ensued – do we push on through the night, do we stop and sleep… we were all getting exhausted and still had so far to go. Would we have enough energy to tackle the dunes without rest? We’ve all heard the saying: when the going gets tough, the tough get going… well this was a pure example of that.  On the road to the checkpoint which never seemed to appear, nerve endings in the feet being bashed with every step, tiredness, general aches and pains, sandy tracks, darkness and plenty of “are we there yet”… we were accompanied by none other than the now infamous Mr Jerky: a tough, funny, very kind copper (policeman) and race director who hails from New York.  He was injured and in a lot of pain, yet on he pushed, worrying about everyone else instead of himself, whether he was holding anyone back (he wasn’t), staying cheerful and helping to keep everyone’s spirits up. Amazing guy… and if you want to check out some great trail races he organises, go visit his facebook page here!

We eventually reached CP6 which I have to say was one of the hardest parts to a checkpoint I have ever done. We stopped, got hot water and refueled, huddled around a fire that the volunteers had going and tried to warm up.  The temperature had dropped considerably.  Unfortunately Matt (Mr Jerky) decided against pushing through the dunes as his leg was so bad.  Once we had all got ourselves sorted out and had had about an hour’s rest, we decided to push on.

Dune time.

Looking back it’s hard to recall every moment… it was certainly memorable… having never encountered dunes before there was a certain amount of trepidation.  Thankfully due to the sheer amount of elevation and climbing during the day, my piriformis had been well and truly stretched out so I wasn’t in too much pain or getting much cramping… but still, dunes! Added to which we had heard that the race director(s) had set out to make this section as hard as possible. It proved to be true.

As we traipsed down the road towards the entrance, one of the gang suggested we all turn out lights off… standing in darkness by the side of a now silent highway… looking up at the stars… hearts pounding, silence surrounded… a memory to treasure… headlights back on and quietly we walked in…

Oh My **** God! I stood at the bottom and stared upwards at what appeared to be a pure vertical line… little lights blinking somewhere god knows where in the heavens… were they stars or were they the reflective bits on the pink flags… how high was it… would I fall… how the hell was I going to get up THERE! No other option for it but to run up at it… or rather try… get the poles, stick them in the sand and shuffle through as it flowed downwards with every step… using other’s imprints as a guide. Heart in mouth, breath out of control… just get up there.

Do not try to stand up mid way through!

You will feel as if you are about to fall backwards. The pack lending itself to that too…

Reach the crest and roll yourself over… pant for breath, look up at the stars and thank god you made it…

stand up… everyone gathers… trot off trying to spot little flags in the darkness…

get to the bottom of another… try not to cry as it looks even steeper (how is this possible?)…

ignore your tent mate when he tells you that these are nothing height wise compared to another race…

try not to quake in fear when you realise he’s talking about a race you may just have signed up for already…

ignore another tent mate when he agrees with first tent mate, because they’ve both done that race…

thank your trekking poles for not breaking…

get to the next…

and the next…

and the next…

I believe it was 5.5km… it felt like more than a marathon in distance…

…and I couldn’t wait to get it done. Tired, aching, swearing… I swore I would never do anything with sand ever ever again.

Yet even then there was beauty… we came to the end and took a breather just as the sun rose…

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Time to push on, get the head down… the sun rose quickly, which meant the heat did too, on dusty trails, through shrubby areas… and most of this part is a blur… I would probably have fared much better had I taken some time to sleep, but I hadn’t… over 24 hours by this point… just wanting to get to the finish line. Which appeared in the distance… up another bloody hill. Feet, legs, hands… all swollen… hip aching, brain fuzzy… step by step to where other tent mates were waiting along with Tess and Colin…


I told Tess when she hugged me I was never doing another race like it, I was cancelling everything else I had planned… no more.  She hugged me tighter, told me that most of these events have dunes and I would feel better after some sleep… still, it was done. I’d reached another finish line… I was still there…

Stage 3 survived: 27 hours, 38 minutes, 18 seconds

© March 2015 Michelle Payne


Grand2Grand Ultra – Stage 1


And so it began…

The Grand2Grand… I was actually at the banner, the start line… the very place I had seen on the trailer a year ago. Thinking back now it still seems very surreal… did that really happen, was I there… remembering the nervousness as everyone gathered, as the British crowd decided to get a group photo and how it seemed totally right to go and get our flag from that start line 🙂


Memories are made of this.

We gathered, the wind rustled, music played… there was dancing amid a sense of heightened anticipation… and then suddenly the countdown finished and everyone surged across… I tried to keep up, heart hammering, head down, pushing too quickly and feeling it because my pack was heavier than in Madagascar. How hard to try and hold back when you get that adrenaline surge and just want to go, to fly across the ground…


…eventually the crowd thins out and, given the number of competitors, the distances you are covering, differences in runners’ speeds and race strategies, eventually you can find yourself on your own… and given the landscape we were running across, this could be for hours at a time!


I adopted a walk/run strategy which worked well for what I reckon was the first half of the course that very first day… until disaster struck…

I should have expected it really but a combination of naivete, lack of running experience, living in denial and sheer stubborness to achieve what I had challenged myself to do would have a price: that being my piriformis cramping and spasming acutely. The pain was unbelievable. Every single step hurt and it was all I could do not to cry while I limped on. I knew I was well within the time cut offs even if I walked the rest of the way due to the time that had elapsed to that point, but I didn’t know if I could actually  walk that far…

Luckily I then met up with a cheeky funny Irish chap who was incredibly kind: on seeing at how much pain I was in, he decided to stay with me the rest of the way. We talked about our running experiences (mine: very little; his: 3:05 marathons and finished 100 milers) and why we had chosen to do the event. I then learnt about Team SuperGavin – several of the g2g racers had joined together with him to fundraise and help his friend’s little boy who was having treatment for Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma. For those that do not know what Rhabdomyosarcoma is, very simplistically, it’s a rare cancer that affects mostly children under 10 years of age, mainly boys, and affects the supporting tissues of the body. Gavin was a baby when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of this cancer.  Phelim was fundraising to help with his treatment – even now, reading what Gavin went through brings me to tears. I cannot begin to imagine what his family and nearest and dearest went through, and hopefully I never will.

To read more about this type of cancer, please visit the Macmillan page by clicking here.

To visit the blog of Team Gavin Glynn, please click here (and have tissues handy!).


How can you not push on when you hear about something like that? How could you whimper out because of a bit of hip pain? Here was a real story of pain, determination, hope and courage. Of bravery. A child who demonstrated all these qualities and more.  A story of pure and utter LOVE.

So… the trekking pole got jammed into the muscle (thank god there were no photos of this – ok yes I’m phrasing this politely, I jammed it against my backside !!) and it was a limp shuffle onwards, interrupted slightly when the storm clouds whipped up so fiercely that the plastic ponchos we had been given had to be dug out and fought. I say fought because the wind was so fierce I managed to get my head into what appeared to be an arm sleeve and in the process nearly ended up nearly suffocating myself. Phelim helped me out of that one too! Luckily the black clouds veered to our right so we only caught a brief few minutes… others behind us were not so lucky… and later that evening there were tales of huge hailstones pelting runners!

Eventually we came into sight of what appeared to be a little hill looming ahead. Our final destination was to the right but that would have been too easy… the pink flags fluttered showing the way ahead… to where little dots moved like ants. Only 5-10 minutes, or so we thought… much later (probably around 30 minutes) we reached the base of that “little” hill… an incline so steep that especially with my hip still having a pole stuck into it, meant I had to take only a few steps then stop and breathe… and repeat: steps, stop and breathe. I’m not a fan of hills – they hurt 🙂 let alone when you chuck altitude and injury into the mix.


See the little dot just before the hill starts – that’s a person.  Hard to gain perspective from pictures like this.  There were also numerous people going up that hill, not that you can see them on this as it needs to be magnified, a lot!

Later… much much later… and after quite a few choice words were uttered into the wind, we got to turn right… no easy trail here, avoid the sneaky cactus, don’t stumble over the uneven ground, ignore the pain from your sensitised feet and do not cry! Until up ahead fluttered the signs of camp…

The feeling of relief stepping over that finish line was amazing. One of my tentmates was waiting and helped take my pack and I hobbled over to the med tent. And there was another godsend. A runner called Yuri who was volunteering at the event, who not only works as a sport therapist but also teaches sport massage and although he hadn’t been planning to do any physical therapy at g2g, due to the amount of pain I was in, offered to help. I gladly accepted. Thanks to Yuri, the immediate pain subsided quite a bit and I was able to hobble to my tent and crack on with getting kit, food and drink sorted while the rest of my tent mates gathered.

Stage 1 done… 9 hours, 7 minutes, 20 seconds… much longer than I had expected to take… but…

I would now be on the start line in the morning no matter the pain… I just didn’t know if I’d make the end of Stage 2…

© March 2015 Michelle Payne


Challenge 3 of 3 – Grand2Grand Ultra – Arrival


Life has been so hectic that I’ve not really had enough spare time to just sit down and post about the last part of my Triple Continent Challenge.

Last, but by no means least!


Mostly this was due to the fact that after Madagascar, I had such little time between the two events… 15 days from finish line in Madagascar to start line at the edge of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and that was to include work, flying time as well as a couple of days acclimatisation in Kanab, Utah. So, how to sum up such an Adventure?

Some words and phrases I associate with Grand2Grand or g2g as it’s more commonly known:

bloody hard
a once in a lifetime experience
more sand
how far to the next checkpoint
are we there yet
more sand

The premise, 273km from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon up to the Grand Staircase, carrying everything you need for the week in a pack on your back. When I signed up I didn’t have much knowledge as to what ultrarunners did… I thought they all did these stage races, so why not do two. How hard could it be? I really must learn not to ask that question in future! The answer is usually: A LOT!

A group of us who had met up previously, gathered at the Airport and celebrated the start of this journey with a few glasses of champagne: not your usual liquid of choice for hydration but it worked just fine at that point 🙂


Of course, runners adapt when a sudden dash onto the plane is needed and the bottle isn’t empty… (disclaimer: not naming and shaming, but this isn’t my bottle!)…


On arrival in Kanab, the residents were fantastic: we were not only warmly welcomed but very kindly looked after during the few days we spent there pre-race: a flight over the town (thanks Dave), sports massage (thanks Marilyn) and a visit to a local animal sanctuary – the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Now I missed the animal sanctuary visit and really wish I had been able to get there, probably one of only two regrets I have from the trip but I will definitely be visiting the next time I’m in Kanab because the work they do is absolutely amazing. Check out: – they are a leader in the no-kill movement and their sanctuary is one of the USA’s largest animal rescue organisations!!


Kit and paperwork checks were completed in Kanab with a fab final meal catered and then the next day it was out to the first camp at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Words do not do the land justice. Pictures do not do it justice. The photos I have from that day show me stood at the edge but they just cannot convey the sheer scale, size and feeling of actually being there. The only way to feel it is to go there!


The feeling of excitement was palpable throughout the camp, from the moment we all arrived in jeeps, to getting our kit organised and space chosen in our tents on that first night, to having a catered last supper right there in the middle of nowhere… absolutely superb!



What a view!

And then storm clouds appeared… cue a sudden dash for tents!  Luckily it passed as quickly as it arrived but I did wonder if that was a portent of things to come.  Event, course, safety and medical talks were given and then as it darkened it was time to get some sleep.  Until I realised a group of people had converged amid some squeaks… now I had heard there were creepy crawlies… what I hadn’t expected was a huge furry tarantula!  Actually I felt sorry for the poor thing… there it sat on the sandy ground encircled by huge humans shining their headtorches onto it… until it moved and then I scampered back to my tent promptly… double-checking the base of the tent was secured against entry should it, or its’ friends, decide to invade!


Finally Stateside… and the adventure was about to begin…

Check back to hear how it went!

© March 2015 Michelle Payne


The Triple Continent Challenge


So what is the next challenge?

Well after I couldn’t sign up for the Marathon des Sables, I did a little Google surfing… and it was amazing to find just how many runs, races, countries and continents these are run on… I think every country and definitely every continent. Yes you read right, every continent including Antarctica! And no, I’m not going there… I’m not a fan of feeling even a little bit cold… I blame being a summer baby for that!

But I happened to find myself at a website with THE most stunning trailer… in a different country on a different continent and while listening to the soundtrack and watching the most amazing scenery… I got the goosebumps. You know the ones, not just any old I’m feeling cold or something a little freaky has happened and raises the hairs on your arms… this was OMG I have to do this, I have to be there… it doesn’t matter how hard it is (I may regret ever thinking this shortly!)… how expensive… this is a once in a lifetime experience…

I’d found myself watching this:


(click on the title to be taken to their website)

170 miles / 273 kilometres from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon up to the Grand Staircase

over 7 days

You get a tent for the night… and water to drink…

self-supported – you have to carry everything else you need in a backpack while you run/hike/climb

a marathon or more every day
(one day is a double marathon)
and longer than the Marathon des Sables.

But a triple continent challenge needs 3 continents… so add the continent of Europe… specifically the London Marathon… 26.2 miles, completed earlier this year, although I haven’t had time to blog about it until now… more on this in the next post!

And for the third continent… it’s back to Africa… for the 3rd time in 18 months… oh yes, I paid a little visit to another African country at the beginning of this year which I figured might help as challenging “training” albeit of a different nature… which I will write about if I ever get the time!… So yes, Africa again … specifically Madagascar… no, not like the film… though if I end up hallucinating I may very well see talking lions and giraffes… hopefully not the zebra though!

And this is part of the 4deserts series via Racing the Planet. Each year they put on a stage race, like the Marathon des Sables and Grand2Grand (or g2g as it’s more commonly known) in the 4 driest deserts: the Atacama Crossing (Chile), the Gobi March (Mongolia/China), the Sahara Race (Jordan/Egypt) and the Last Desert aka Antarctica! They also put on one extra and this is known as a roving race, held in a different country each year with 2014 being held in Madagascar… quite a good job as 2013 was in Iceland and it looked cold.

RTP Madagascar

(click on the title to be taken to their website)

Again, you get a tent for the night… and water to drink…

and you have to carry everything you need in a backpack while you run/wade (there are river crossings above knee height *eek*) and no doubt walk (lots of walking, I plan on lots of walking).

And just to make it harder… because surely that doesn’t sound hard enough?

The two stage runs (as these type of multi-day events/races are known as) are only a few weeks apart!

Actually they are 15 days apart, from the finish line in Africa to the start line in America… and in that time I have to fly home from Africa, get back to work, college and daily life, recover (heaven help me)… and then fly out to America to get on that starting line.

15 days between the two events… running a total of 324 miles.

Yes, you read that right too… 324 miles, across remote and difficult terrain, carrying everything I need and giving an overall total of, I believe just over 350 miles for the 3 events.

I am of course fundraising for such a challenge… and it’s for a fantastic charity that deals with challenges, survival, motivation, courage, fears (amongst other aspects)… details will be given with the London Marathon post 🙂 so please do take time to visit their website and share information once that post has been blogged.

From new runner in February 2013
to double stage runner in September 2014

18 months!

Is it do-able?

 I’m about to find out.

“You only get one life: aim high and be all that you can be”
~ Michelle Payne ~

© August 2014 Michelle Payne


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