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

05/09/2016

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.
Michelle


Kit lists and getting prepared

19/08/2016

 

Fueling on the Go – South Downs Way 100 – 2016 © Stuart March Photography

At first glance, mental health counselling and running ultramarathons don’t too have much in common. The first is a service that clients can seek out because they are in pain, have wounds they want to heal or need support amongst other reasons. The second is a painfest (especially on the feet) that is willingly signed up to, is usually over within a matter of days (depending on distance, speed and location) and is (mostly) actively looked forward to. You’d expect them to be at opposite ends of most spectrums.

However… there are many similarities too. Goal setting is one… support is another… and then there is the preparation.

People often think of reaching a destination as a huge jump… sometimes akin to a leap of faith. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone who’s ever achieved this in one step in either their counselling journey or an ultramarathon. Both require many steps, which eventually add up to the “finish line”… however such finish line may look to each individual. If you think you can shortcut by taking a jump off a cliff and expect to land on the other side which is a long way away, it stands to reason you’re most likely going to fall. And then you have to trudge through many steps on the bottom before hauling yourself up a hill. Instead, be S.M.A.R.T. about getting to the other side (a.k.a Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic and Timed).

When you look at what you want to achieve, you look to see what you already have that will suit the task in hand, what you will need that you don’t have… and then look to find out how to get the bits you need. Basically you’re putting together your “kit”.

Within counselling and coaching, this is as varied as each individual… and the goal that they have in mind. It’s also very important to remember that there’s no “one size fits all” approach. Some questions I often use with clients to help them focus are:

What do you believe you currently have to help you?
What do you believe you need to achieve your goal?
Have you tried this before?
What would you like to try differently next time?
What result would you like to see?
Where do you believe you can obtain the [missing item] from?
Who will support you on / with this?
How do you think you can support yourself?
What do you enjoy doing?
When looking at your “list”, which do you smile at?
How do you feel when thinking of this “item”?

If the goal is quite a “blanket” one, such as… say… “I want to be happy”… this can be much harder to quantify. In such cases, I usually break down this down into much smaller “bites” by looking at how a person would expect to feel or look, dress or eat… when they felt “….goal choice…” and then what change this could potentially result in.

For those that are reading this from a counselling and/or coaching perspective, I hope the above is of use as a starting point… or at least a little bit thought-provoking, and with this in mind, shortly to follow are some posts about kit that I have tested and used on my own running challenges. Hopefully they may prove to be of some help or food for thought for anyone looking for equipment information to use on specific races 

Wishing you a wonderful weekend ahead.
Michelle


You

26/08/2015

29685136_s

You

You are…

who
what
how you choose

to be
to see
to feel
to believe.

What others think
or want to see
or you to be
is irrelevant.

They don’t wipe your kids tears from their eyes
they don’t look after your parents when they’re sick
they don’t cuddle your pets

they’re not the ones who…
live in your body
feel your emotions
think your thoughts.

It’s not their face looking back in the mirror
it’s not their life you are living
so why should you adopt
their hopes
their dreams
their wishes
their demands
their fears
their beliefs?

You are
wholly
totally
unique
in this world.

How wonderful that is!

Your Heart
Your Hopes
Your Dreams
Your Abilities
Your Possibilities

Your Amazing Potential.

You are your own home.

Make your home loveable
liveable
comfortable
warm
accepting.

After all
it’s where you will be
for life.

Words: © August 2015 Michelle Payne
Photo: 123rf.com


The Marathon des Sables, 30th Edition – How hard can it be? – Part 3

10/05/2015

Fear

Resilience

Longing

STAGE 3 – BAKED ALIVE & SCARY TIMES

By the time Stage 3 dawned we were into a pattern… almost like being institutionalised really… you adapt quickly, but then you have to. This is your life for the week… you expect it to be a bit rough and basic. If you don’t, you’re in for a bit of a shock 😉

We went through the usual start… waiting, Patrick speaking… waiting, speaking, waiting, speaking… the music, the countdown… the start line tape fluttering to the ground as runners spilling out… hundreds swarming around, in front and behind… the helicopters flying sideways… the feeling of wondering just what lies ahead…

Small parts of the days fade from memory as time passes once you are back home… I forget just where I bumped into my tentmate Matt, but we were together at Checkpoint 1… he was having a tougher day on Stage 3… so we shuffled along together along the flats… he’s strong, he’d done countless Ironman events all across the world… and he’s faster than me. I had a lot of time / places to make up so wanted to try and push through the day and therefore decided to try and keep up with him.

You’re in the Sahara, surrounded by sand… it’s hot. You’d think that would be a given but one year there were flashfloods, so it ain’t necessarily so. However we had heat and lots of it. I’ve heard some video clips that say it was in the 40s, and I’m sure it was at points… but Stage 3 was what I called Salt Flats day and this day felt Hot! Hot! Hot! We had a lot of flat runnable terrain including dried up lakes but due to the heat there was total haze in the distance behind us as I looked back at Checkpoint 1… total haze in the distance in front of us… and around us… pretty hard to get a photo while actually running!

Running

There was hardly any breeze to help… and it was this day which coined my phrase of “being baked from the feet up and the head down”. It felt unrelenting and I’ve since heard we hit temps of 50+! One foot in front of the other, keep going, keep pushing… but when you looked up… when you saw where you were… what a feeling… people seem to think and talk about how tough the race is all the time, but there are also lots of great times… of laughter, fun, joy… what’s not to love about exercising, being in nature, being with friends? I obviously hated it…

237

And just because you’re in the middle of a desert, it doesn’t mean that there is only sand… ok it may not be the prettiest scenery to some… but there’s a saying by Henri Matisse: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them“…

flowers

and the smell… I think it may be camomile but at points you get a waft of the most delicious fragrance…

and the birds… listen for the birds… out on this stage I kept hearing birds… apparently they nest on the ground in bushes or plants… I couldn’t see them but could hear them…

I’m glad I did, because those moments kept me going through what came next… I’ll give you one guess… yep, more dunes. Rolling sand dunes… one after the other, after the other, after the other… and boy did you get baked! They weren’t too high but as Matt pointed out later that day… the inclines were deceptive. We were getting in some elevation and it was sapping the energy from our legs. You’d hit the up and feel a breeze… get to the bottom and feel like you were just burning… and up to the top… search for the breeze, suck it in… hit the down, burn… and on and on and on… until it was time for another jebel! Two main ones on this day… I remember one part being particularly narrow… pushing on through… seeing Ian Corless waiting to take photos, telling him Matt was just behind… I kept pushing… until I saw camp in the distance… shuffling through more and more soft sand… amazingly coming in 6 minutes ahead of Matt and feeling rather pleased with myself.

Then we waited for Mike… Mike who had waited with me the day before to help Gwynn… 30 minutes… which became an hour… then an hour and a half… I must have stepped away for a few minutes, I can’t remember where to, but when I returned Mike was back.

But… things weren’t looking good. Mike was laid down, not talking properly… my other tentmates trying to get him to drink water and have something to eat. He needed hydration badly… one of the guys from #116 next door came in and checked him over… someone from the med tent came down to us… they checked him over as well… the verdict? He had to get to the med tent where they could keep an eye on him 😦 They got him up… arm under his shoulders… walked him over there…

Some time later 3 of us wandered over to go see how he was doing, have a chat, try to lift his spirits… that was the intention. It didn’t quite work out like that. The med tent was very busy, there was a queue… we looked in and saw Mike on a camp bed sitting upright and next to him appeared to be an opening… we went round that way instead so we could stand by him… he’d “gone”. Even now… typing this… it’s upsetting. Where are those tissues?

It was scary, it was worrying… and I never want to see him, or anyone else, in that position ever again. He was sitting up yes, but hunched, his hands gripping the sides of the camp bed, rocking slightly back and forth… he didn’t hear us, he didn’t acknowledge us… he didn’t speak… his eyes were totally gone, he was in a faraway land and I was scared… he had his water bottle with him, no drip… how the hell could he drink his water and get hydrated in that state? We stayed for a few moments, tried to hug him, let him know we were there. Nothing. No real response. We collared one of the med guys… they’d been checking him every so often, along with others… we insisted he had a drip. Now!  He needed help, Now! They promised us they’d do so, but insisted we left. They needed the space, had more people coming in. It was awful, just awful leaving him behind… not able to stay, not able to help. We went back some time later… but the docs were busy then helping him too…

Our tent waited. We waited to hear news, waited to see if he’d return… wondered if he would return that night and if so, as time ticked on, how on earth he’d be able to tackle the next day because the next day was the Long Day, the one day everyone fears and worries about out of all the others. It’s the one you hold back at the beginning for, the one you want to reach because it’s the one most likely to break you. The guys got his bed ready, figuring that if he did return tonight, he wouldn’t want to be faffing about sorting his bag and stuff out… he’d need to get into bed and get to sleep.

JOY!

He turned up!!!! It was late, very late by camp standards… around 2200 hours, but he turned up. What a happy happy moment…

He shuffled into his sleeping bag… we tried to sleep….

STAGE 4 – THE LONG DAY aka THE DAY YOU NEVER WANT TO REPEAT!

After what felt like only an hour’s sleep, it was time to get up. I’d probably managed about 2-3 hours proper sleep at the most, not ideal for what lay ahead… just under 92km of terrain to be covered in one hit before reaching the next camp. We checked to see how Mike felt… he was determined to toe that start line. If he ended up not finishing MdS it wouldn’t be through choice… just like Gwynn the day before (who, by the way, came in on Day 3 in position 135 I believe… amazing!)… what determination, to absorb what happens, suck it up… push through… learn from it, use it as a stepping stone… what Resilience…

It was “windy” or breezy as we called it! Every evening in camp we had had sandstorms hit… if you were out of the tent, you’d have to turn your back so as to breathe… pull your buff up around your face, keep your sunglasses on… that way you didn’t get blasted too badly as they swept through… although of course you were still breathing sand, eating sand… absorbing sand… but the morning of Stage 4 it kicked up a notch… the start line inflatables bouncing away… hair whipping the face… I actually naively believed this was a good thing… at least it would keep the temperature down!

The atmosphere too was heightened… front row start today… the faster runners were held back… no Elisabet to give me a reassuring smile 😦 … waiting, waiting, waiting… the nerves building… how tough would it be, how long would we be out for… how the hell are we going to see through the swirling dust and sand… how much slower should I go… have I got enough nutrition snacks to see me through… how will the feet hold out… should I stop and sleep and should I push through… when will the elites pass me… I hurt… my back aches so badly… my shoulders are so sore… my eyes, feet and face feel puffy… will I get more blisters… how tough will be it be… how long can I go for… when will this bloody sand stop swirling… Patrick please stop speaking… oh thank god the music is playing and countdown has started… Oh god it’s starting… can I walk yet?…

All these thoughts flash through in moments… we were released…

And we were going the way we had come in… uphill, on very soft sand that over a thousand competitors had churned up the day and evening before… pointless to waste energy at this point… I walked.

We reached the base of the last jebel from Stage 3, huge boulders of rock… only instead of jumping, climbing and running down them, now it was time to go up. Steep sheer rock on either side… creating a tunnel of heat… I took my time, conscious oh how far there I still had ahead of me… people passed… until eventually I reached the top and paused to absorb the view… only… what if I had to go down the other side the way I had come up 😦 … that had not been a good moment… we didn’t… but…

there was a rope…

it was a long way down…

and it looked steeper looking down than it did once I’d reached the bottom, looking back up…

I took a last glug of water, stashed the bottle onto the top of my front pack… grabbed the rope and turned my back. No way was I going down face first. Inch by inch, step by step… I was conscious others wanted to get past… I stopped so a couple of guys could do so… I reached the last bit of rope and had to turn round… time to dig the heels in. Others were racing down, I tried… but due to how steep it was, picked up too much speed too quickly… I didn’t want to fall and there were lots of rocky bits in the sand and if you didn’t hold back enough you’d take out people below… I later heard someone had come down so fast they had such a choice… potentially take out others or veer towards rocks… he apparently veered towards and somersaulted onto the rocks and was very lucky not to get severely injured, only smashing his mouth in. Shudder.

I reached the bottom and looked back up… my God, I’d actually come down THAT! I took a picture… and as I squinted at it in the sunshine, it didn’t seem to do much justice to just how steep it was…

Stage 4 Jebel descentPhoto copyright: Michelle Payne

I zoomed in and took another… Wow… look at them go… little ants speeding through the sand…

Zoomed in stage 4 jebel descentPhoto copyright: Michelle Payne

I felt rather proud of myself for completing that bit! However, much more distance to get done… time to get going. I’d already been overtaken by a few of the front runners, including a couple of women… but it was at this point Elisabet passed… she’d been First Lady for the first three days but wasn’t going to go all out on Stage 4, rather maintain as consistent a pace as she could on the terrain… as she said, the day was a long race and it wouldn’t do to be “blowing up”.  She waved, paused very briefly and checked how I was doing… another Brit just ahead asked her to have a photo taken with him… she paused with him too, had her photo taken… chatted as she passed people… looked to be enjoying her day… making it look easy! I put my head down and continued… memory fails and most of the day has kind of blurred into wondering which bits happened where… but eventually I reached Checkpoint 4, which was roughly the halfway point so I thought, the light would be dimming and time to get the headtorch out. Now… do I wait and see if there’s anyone I can buddy up with as I’ve done on previous races or go it alone? On the last two races there were a lot less competitors and you were likely to end up with no-one around you, sometimes for quite a time… in another country this could be quite dangerous… but here? As I was debating, I saw Nichola from next door #116… she was part of the Walking with the Wounded team and we’d first met briefly at the Country to Capital race back in January. She was taking a few minutes to get her pack sorted and would then continue… we decided to pair up and I must admit I felt very reassured as I’d been feeling a bit yucky and thought I was getting a stomach bug… as it turns out, I think it’s more a reaction to the heat and stresses of the event, as I’ve had this on every stage race at this point! I dug out some anti nausea tabs… Nichola sorted out a milkshake and we cracked on…

No laser beam to guide us in as darkness fell on the 30th edition… I was rather disappointed about that as I’d been looking forward to experiencing it… instead we were given glow sticks… these were “switched” on (cracked) and pretty soon we were onto sand… and there was the theme that was to accompany us for the rest of the stage. Dunes, dunes, more dunes… dear god how many were there until the next checkpoint? You could have been forgiven for thinking you were hallucinating… by the time we got to checkpoint 5, it seemed there was a party going on… music blaring out, deckchairs, and a bar… a bar that was serving hot sweet tea…

We collected our water and since we had planned on having a little rest to check feet, blisters, snacks… snagged two deckchairs that were miraculously empty… it was also cold and once you stopped you could feel the wet of your clothes where you’d been sweating… no daytime heat to dry you out… I pulled out a top which I’d deliberately put inside the top of my pack to keep warm. Nic got her sleeping bag out… just a little snooze…

Nic - Stage 4 CP5Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

I didn’t dare… I knew if I got mine out and snuggled into it, it would be even harder to get back out there! I got another cup of tea. Patrick was there, dancing with a racer… there was much laughter… people hobbling in and out of the deckchairs… it sucked you in… you could forget where you where… you could have a little sleep… how easy just to drift off, take your time… you’d still have all day tomorrow, would that be so bad? 5 minutes more…

Our planned 30 minutes were up… 13k of sand dunes apparently behind us, surely there wouldn’t be that much more ahead! Another quick cup of warm sweet tea downed… the top put into the pack, shivering… it had gotten much colder… time to move, get the legs going… we left…

Sand, sand, sand, we noticed a couple of guys out to our far right getting quite a pace on… Nic figured that they must know where they’re going, there must be a reason for it. We decided to copy them and were happy to find the ground was a little firmer, probably helped because it hadn’t had hundreds and hundreds of competitors churn it up. Time passed… we made good progress all things considered… my stomach was not good… I dug out some different tablets… my watch had failed… probably because it had taken on quite a bit of water when I was pouring it all over myself during the day… Nic kept reminding me when it was time to take my salt tablets… we reached checkpoint 6 and although we’d planned on a good 20 minute break, pushed through after only 10. Between checkpoints 5 and 7 we hit a bad sandstorm… there was no let up in it. No goggles to protect my eyes… nothing to stop the sand blasting my face… hard to breathe… I changed my buff to cover my head, neck, mouth and nose as best I could… it was a bit harder to breathe but at least I wasn’t sucking as much sand into my lungs… I pulled it as close to my eyes on the side as I could… I turned my head sideways so I could still keep going… but the sand blasted my eyes a lot. I squinted. This was one of the more hellish times of that stage and the night… the terrain was tough to push through… I felt miserable, cold, nauseous and my stomach was cramping… my top was wet with sweat and water from where I’d poured it earlier in the day… I didn’t dare stop and take my pack off to get my top back out… my achilles was screaming at me… I worried what damage I was doing to it on a more permanent basis… the negative thoughts started crowding my mind…

Nic kept talking to me… pulling me away from the place where I wanted to just stop, curl up and sleep on the side of the dune (some people actually did do this I believe)… we made a good team. When I was down, she was up… when she went down, I was up… we balanced each other well and kept each other going! We eventually hit checkpoint 7… the last one before home… what a relief that was. As we came through I remember the person who clipped our water cards ask if I wanted a fresh bottle of water. I had no energy left for conversation and managed to snap out “No”. Are you ok? A short and sharp No in reply. Do  you want to see a doctor? No. Are you pushing straight on? Yes. I wasn’t meaning to be rude, but I had nothing left to give. The world was not a sunny nice happy place, but the dark twisted sandy hell that Patrick had created, which although we had willingly undertook to go through and paid for the privilege of doing so… at this point in time, had led to the question of why the hell were we here? We’d “pondered” this extensively during the course of the night… and by pondered I mean cursed the place, the course, the race, and the director himself… with every descriptive swear word I think either of us have ever heard or used and maybe created a few new ones… well you do have hours of sandy hell to fill as you trudge through… I think we’d have made a navvy blush… but hey, when you are going through that many hours on course, regardless of how fast you are going, when you feel like you are going to throw up for hours on end, endure stomach cramps, dehydration, can’t bear to get any food into you to keep you going and when you are literally falling asleep as you walk… I think you earn the right to swear as much or as badly as you want!

The sun started to rise… we kept seeing lights and hoping it was camp… but no… vehicles on course checking racers were ok or tending to some by the side of the dunes… we kept going, our feet tenderised by the constant pounding like pieces of steak… we caught site of the camp from a long distance and picked up a bit of speed, the ground a little rockier… another crest, and more distance… it felt like a mirage you could never quite reach! See… twisted! Until eventually the finish line… and just in front… oh yes, another little sandy hill… we saw one person go round by the side… others go over it… we looked at each other.. after everything we’d been through, how could we NOT go over it! It had to be done… we were not going to wuss out at this point. Hell no! We pushed over it and then trotted over the finish line.. the relief immense as we hugged each other. Long Stage done in one go!

I’ve done a few races which are longer than this stage… I’ve been out on course for longer.. but never have I felt so absolutely destroyed during a race as I felt during that one stage… 21 hours 42 minutes and 49 seconds…

I reached the tent… my tentmates awake… all back except Mike… I dumped my stuff, had a protein drink, inflated my thermarest, got out of my wet cold clothes, laid down… I must have instantly fallen asleep… for all of an hour. I got up, pottered around… a couple of hours later and Mike returned! We had a full tent! Now this may not sound such a big thing, but it is… and given everything Mike had gone through on Stage 3… to then hit the start line after being so ill, to push through such an awful evil hell of a Long Stage and without stopping for sleep!… stubborn, resilient, crazy, admirable and strong. Someone I am very proud to call friend!

I managed another hour’s sleep. Everyone pottered during the day, I tried to wash some of my running gear… we all pinned our clothes up and our tent looked like a laundry… at least I didn’t wander into someone else’s tent during this day, something I’d do unwitting every single day as they all look the same! Eventually the last racers came in… everyone congregated around the finish line and clapped them in. The hours seemed to pass slowly but before you knew it, another stunning sunset, time to eat and get to sleep for the next stage ahead. Just where does the time go in Patrick land?

Holiday 2015 - Morocco - Marathon des Sables 30th Edition 087Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

STAGE 5 – TAKING IT EASY

Marathon day dawned and I wondered if I’d ever be able to see again properly… due to all that lovely sand blasting, I could barely open one of my eyes. They were both swollen badly, but one side was much worse. I knew it was bad but it wasn’t until I got home and saw some photos that I realied quite how bad I looked… as if I’d been in a boxing ring, had gone 10 rounds and lost badly! Thank God my glasses covered everything up!

Anyway… the last day for competitive purposes… the faster runners being held back once more. We were on the front row… myself, Matt, Gwynn and James… Mike behind us… the other 3 in the fast group… it still took a while before we were released as usual… but once that tape was lowered, James sprinted off… leading the MdS… how could I not do the same?

jamesleadingPhoto copyright: James Penson

The last day… I may never be here again, may never race across the Sahara or hear the Highway to Hell again in such a venue… never experience the whirr of the helicopter blades as it passes sideways as runners stream across the sand… that little sprint didn’t last long for me… I slowed… and continued slowing until I walked. I felt surprisingly ok. The legs were like lead but to be expected… the achilles hurting… to be expected… I walked, or rather fast marched pretty much the rest of that day. Not because I couldn’t run… not because I didn’t want to place higher or make any places back up… I chose to walk because I wanted the day to last longer. It sounds crazy after the Long Stage, after calling Patrick Bauer every name under the sun (and then some 🙂 ), but our tent had agreed to walk the Charity Stage together so this would be my last day, just for me. I wanted to remember it as much as possible, to choose to enjoy it… to look back on what the journey to MdS had encompassed… what I had experienced in this wild and wonderful place. Don’t you find that too often when we look back, we remember the stuff we feel we “should” have done rather than acknowledge what we have achieved and experienced? What if we lived our lives going forwards with such acknowledgement, such gratitude at the experiences we have been lucky to have… to let them change us, let them help us to grow and become… “more”?

There was heat, there was sand… there were smiles and brief chats with other competitors… there was a herd of camels… I never knew they made the sound they did en masse… amazing! One checkpoint, then two… then the final hill and a little shuffle… I passed someone who looked like Patrick but felt confused… wasn’t he at the finish line to give me my medal, a hug and kiss on each cheek? The finish line appeared… I hung back… I didn’t want it to be over! There was then a gap before me and the finish line… I ran it… how could you not? Done. Finished. No Patrick Bauer… it had been him on the hill… instead 3 assistants handing out the medals… to be honest I felt a little disappointed after watching all the youtube videos and marketing about that… I gather it’s so there isn’t a queue building up… understandable, but still disappointing.

I checked my time, just over 7 hours… and I think ranking of 701 of the day… amazingly, even though I’d dropped so much on Stage 2, I had managed to gain back most of those places – overall position 744, not that it really mattered. Unless you’re in the elite category, who really cares what position you get… most of the time people just want to know if you managed to finish it!

The rest of the evening passed in a blur as we still had to go through the usual daily rituals, although I did get to see Elisabet crowned Ladies winner that night… she’d won every day, total grand slam! Nice trophy too 🙂

STAGE 6 – CHARITY STAGE

Everyone in blue… tents walking together… the “race” aspect finished and this was much more about unity and highlighting the charity Unicef… although our tent had started together, Elisabet and I ended up walking a little faster, chatting about everything we’d been through over the week, what we had planned for when we got home… the messages we’d received from friends and loved ones at home… support from our local running club (we both run under affiliated club Leigh on Sea Striders)… and then there it was… the last finish line… we paused before it and took some photos, saying hi and chatting to others… and then it was straight onto the coaches… another 6 hours back to town, to the hotel… to clean running water… to a proper bed!

POST RACE

You certainly appreciate the little things when you’ve been through such an extreme experience… food that is not rehydrated or in a bar! Drinks, fresh fruit… to sleep in a bed… toilets, a shower… shampoo… to be able to brush your hair! Proper sleep…

The last day was spent… queuing. Well in part… you had to go and pick up your finishers t-shirt, which was way too small and fits a teddy bear… I jest not… no gym bragging rights for most competitors this year 😦 check out any goodies/memorabilia you wanted to buy from the “store” they had going on in the same room… Elisabet was also already in demand for an interview so I collected her stuff and her trophy! A few people wanted to hold it and touch it… I was petrified I’d drop it, damage it or break it…

More food, celebratory drinks… the UK gathering/party… we found an appropriate spot afterwards for Elisabet…

Queen of the DesertPhoto copyright: Matthew Cranham

and then time for the journey home. Away from the heat, the sand… backpack training… rehydrated food… but also away from your tent, your friends… from an experience that changes you… that leaves you with a longing… for the new family you have created and spent time with… for the heat (especially when you return to the cold UK)… for being able to leave the everyday worries and routine behind for something much simpler… for the opportunity to meet like-minded people, for the running, the scenery, the challenges, the happy, the sad, the exciting, the scary…

and a feeling of gratitude for being able to have the experience of all those things… so to end this post, I will simply say thank you to all those who have supported me along the way to this event and during it… and especially to:

my friend and coach Rich Condon for the past 2 years, for keeping me going, getting me there, for believing in me…

my friend and sports therapist Sandy Pass for keeping my legs and heart in one piece, for having my back…

and to Tent #117… simply… the best x

Tent 117Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

Now… as for my next little challenge… just how hard could it be?

© May 2015 Michelle Payne

 


What is Hell

25/03/2015

19698485_s

What is Hell?

The word
it conjures
red flames and heat
where fears abounds
and Pain is all.

There a devil sits
upon his throne
wielding a mighty club
denouncing sinners
as they run amok
and have a ball.

But this is just imagery
unknown
no science
almost a cartoon
a visual…
held in minds
pinned by Fear
a place to visit
or be cast
for when we think
our last breath will have eventually passed.

But what if it is real?
What if it isn’t a dim and distant land?
Swathed in mist
obscure and hidden
a place, if we’re honest
most don’t think we will ever see or visit
let alone dwell in its’ darkened depths!

What would it look like
… if it were real?
What would it contain?
Would it have colour
or be black, white, even grey?
Be a cacophony of noise
movement and pain
drudgery with no play?

What if it were pure emptiness
silence
a hole in time
suspended
amid absolute nothingness
a total absence?

No feeling
no breathing
no warmth
no hope
no life giving spark.
Just…
a total and utter void?

What if those we know
our friends
our loved ones
in their minds
were in this place?
Stuck
alone
no light
no happiness
no inner glow.

Would you then think
maybe even consider…
what strength
what courage
what amazing skill
it takes to live?
To breathe
to choose to enter each day
each affray?
Pushing through
existing
trying
looking for a ladder to climb…

Out from a pit
a hole
a cavern
a place so deep
just imagining it
could make you want to weep?

Would you listen?
Would you hold?
Would you dare to be bold?
Would you open your heart
open your mind
offer your soul?
Give those who suffer
a brief respite
by acting as a buffer?

What if Hell indeed is a place on Earth?

Words © March 2015 Michelle Payne
Picture: 123rf.com


First session

10/09/2014

314300_217129898360571_1007245436_n

First session

The door swings open
a face then appears
an arm ushers you in…
you want to turn back
as your head starts to spin.

You enter a room and notice
a sofa, a chair, a table
you choose, you sit
your stomach starts to churn…
more than a little bit.

They smile and sit down
bring out some papers
their expression holding a slight frown.

Form filling
factual questions
the word “confidential”…
it’s not what you expected!
Where’s the warmth?
The confessional time?
Why are they not giving you
advice straight down the line?

And then it begins…
an invitation
please tell me
what brings you here?
What would you like to offload?
To share?
What burden do you bear?

Their tone isn’t cold
nor their stare bold
instead, a slight leaning forward
soft words
a smile..
and then you know
you realise
you may be here a while.

You glance around the room
evaluate and wonder…
what if you make a blunder?
Who can hear?
Does everyone feel this fear?

How much should I share?
Why would they even care?
Where should I start?
My god…
calm down…
my racing heart!

A breath, a pause
another thought.
Will I be judged or mocked?
Will they be blase or just plain shocked?

The tears begin to well
the hands go all sticky
by now the stomach feels just plain icky!

Then you decide
even thought it’s unknown
and feels hit or miss
you take a deep breath
and jump into the abyss.

I’m here because…

Your face floods red
your stomach pounds with dread.
You battle the feeling of creeping shame
where you have long held a belief of blame.
You lower your gaze to the floor
and out of your mouth
the words start to pour…

Words © August 2014 Michelle Payne
Picture found circulating freely online


Standing Strong

03/09/2014

standing-strong

Standing Strong

Tell me my friend
how do you stand so strong
when the world is in chaos
when things go wrong?
Where do you find your strength
the courage to hold on?

At what point do you say
that’s enough?
At what point
does life get too rough?

You emblazon the sign of hope
but when is the end reached
on your emotional rope?

At what point do you crack?
When does it become too much?
Why do you not lash back?
Or let go of the hope that you clutch?

I watch
I wonder
I try to exemplify
just what I hear
I see
the example you give
the standards you set store by.

Then one day I see you cry
and instead of asking why
you let your emotions flow
reliving moments
where you felt an emotional blow.

It took quite a while to see
that letting such emotions flow
was a form of maturity.
That not fighting
not blaming
not shaming
can indeed set you free.

For strength and power
is not always aggressive
to be silent and not shout
doesn’t mean you’re submissive.

And eventually, one day
when years may have passed
don’t be surprised
if someone comes up to you and asks…

How do you stand so strong
when your world is in chaos
when things go wrong?
Where do you get your strength?
How do you hold on?

And when this happens
when their world is so dark
when they are losing heart
what wisdom would you then hope
or wish to impart?

Words © August 2014 Michelle Payne
Picture found circulating freely online


%d bloggers like this: