Charlotte stuck on a drip on Day 2 of Marathon Des Sables

Day 2 – 20.18 miles, 8hrs 52 minutes 53 seconds, 3192 calories, ascent 791m, estimated sweat loss 3540ml, steps 43,506. The Jebel Day

Tent 99 were still intact with all members present at the start line. Today we were a bit more relaxed, and although another sandstorm roared through the bivouacs through the night, we were getting used to desert life.

With Highway to Hell blaring again we set off on day 2. Here are my notes from day 2…

“Today was awful.  I was ok for 10 miles which included the first 2 jebels.  The first one, Jebel Hered Asfer, was short and sharp with a rocky ridge at the summit that continued for a couple of kilometres with sheer drops either side.  Some unbelievable scenery as we picked our way over the rocks and stones. We descended down to checkpoint 1 where I was struggling with thirst a little bit and tried to take on a lot of water.

Jebel 2 was far sharper than the first one.  I relied on my poles to help me as we slowly made our way up Jebel Joha, down the other side and into the flat basin before arriving at checkpoint 2.

As I approached checkpoint 2 I quickly felt things were not right. Stumbling over the checkpoint line I was sick and promptly threw up all the water I had taken on at checkpoint 1.

At the same time my Dexcom glucose sensor on my arm failed and just read ‘high’.  The medics at checkpoint 2 saw me being unwell and called me into their bivouac.  They tried giving me an anti-sickness tablet with some water which was back up within 5 minutes.  At that point they decided to put me on a drip as I was obviously dehydrated. Checking in on my diabetes the French team was convinced I was in diabetic ketoacidosis, which I knew I wasn’t.  I pulled out my back up blood glucose monitor which clearly showed my blood in an acceptable range. 

The chief medical officer, Fred, came over and said that my race was over.  DKA was happening and they weren’t going to let me up the mighty Jebel El Otfal, the largest and most technical of all the climbs.

Being just 7km from the end of the second day I thought my race was over.  Tears streaming down my face as I tried to explain to Fred that I wasn’t in DKA, it was just my Dexcom sensor had failed. The medics were lovely and told me to relax as they fed me 2 further drips.  I simply sat there watching people come through the checkpoint and head towards the end of the second stage.

With a stroke of luck, the 2 directors of the whole race walked past the tent and I managed to get their attention.  I explained to Cyril, who luckily understood me, that I wasn’t in DKA, but that my sensor had failed, and that Fred was going to retire me from the race for no reason.  He promised he would try and explain or ask Fred to listen to me.  I understand that they have an obligation to make sure everyone is ok, but this just felt so unjust.

The Chief Medical Officer and Corse Directors Deciding my Fate on day 2 of Marathon des Sables

The Chief Medical Officer and Corse Directors Deciding my Fate

Sat there watching 3 men decide my fate was incredibly tough.  There was a lot of gesticulating, and I couldn’t work out if it was good news or bad news.  In the end, Fred came to me and said if, after the final drip, my blood glucose was acceptable and under 15mmol/l then they would let me continue. It was and the tears of misery a few moments before turned to tears of joy.  I could carry on.

Charlotte stuck on a drip on Day 2 of Marathon Des Sables

….whilst I was stuck on a drip

Now I had just 3 hours to get to the finish line of the stage.  7km in 3 hours – no problem – however, the climb was huge, the descent was incredibly technical, and I had no idea how quickly I could do it.

I took off, feeling amazing after 3 drips and literally felt like I flew up the side of Jebel el Otfal. Getting to the top as quickly as I could, which involved a lot of queuing as there was room for one person only and using a rope to pull yourself through thigh deep sand up to the summit, I started the descent far too quickly. 

My head went forward, I overshot my centre of gravity, and my backpack weight took me over.  I lost my footing and came crashing down on the rocks.  Peeling myself off the sharp rocks I got to my feet as quickly as I could. I had got away with it I think, except I had a lot of blood pouring down my left leg from a couple of nasty cuts on my knee.

It was ok.  No time to think about it or stop now.  I got down the other side of the jebel as quickly and safely as possible only to be faced with 4km of sand dunes.  Crossing these takes time.  It is impossible to go fast.  But I just kept moving.  I was ok on time but just didn’t want anything else to happen.

This is taken from halfway up Jebel el Otfal. Fixed ropes were needed and used at the top section to help with the steep incline

This is taken from halfway up Jebel el Otfal. Fixed ropes were needed and used at the top section to help with the steep incline

I passed people who had over heated, who were sat in the shade trying to cool down, some that were delirious and couldn’t continue.  I made sure people weren’t on their own as I passed them on my way to the finish line.

I made the cut off with an hour to spare in the end. Relief, tears and an overwhelming sense of gratitude and luck as I crossed the line came over me.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t good news for both Harry and Maria.

Harry was timed out 6km before checkpoint 2.  Quite incredible that he had made it that far.  I am simply in awe of Harry, and he is already talking about coming back for another attempt. He was clearly upset but by his own admission he struggled on the rocky parts and had to go very slowly over this technical terrain.

Maria had a nasty scare.  She suffered with hyperthermia at the top of the final jebel and in fact had to be airlifted off the top.  She was so upset but it was becoming clear to see that this overheating was almost non-discriminative and affecting people randomly.

A still, that sister Emma took from the finishing camera after the 2nd day

A still, that sister Emma took from the finishing camera after the 2nd day – I was ecstatic to have made it to the finishing line after such a nightmare day

I was very lucky in this sense as my body temperature seemed under control (it was one of the things they checked straight away at checkpoint 2 and I was holding at a steady 36.5 degrees – critical is 39.5 and above).  I think Maria topped at 40.5 although I can’t be 100% on this.  Either way she surpassed the critical level.

So, so upsetting to lose a tent sister and a tent brother.  They were both upset, and once they had had their food removed from their backpacks, they were able to join us for one last night in the bivouac.

Di made it back after me but was held up when progress was stopped for the air ambulance to get Maria to safety.  So, the organisers extended the cut off to allow for this pause.

I got my knee patched up by the medics on arrival at Bivouac 2 and again, thanked my lucky stars to be still in the race.

I needed to make some changes.  I needed to get a handle on this.  I needed a fresh approach if I was going to make the finish line.

I came up with a new plan…

  • Double my salt intake – I had a preconceived plan organised with the experts from Precision Hydration. The trouble was that all my sweat loss and sodium loss numbers were gauged for 40-degree heat, not 50 which was what we were experiencing. So, I simply doubled the plan using the salt tablets that we were issued by the organisers that most people just threw away because they had their own plan.  Luckily, I hadn’t (although they weren’t hard to get hold of)
  • Save every last drop of water. I took a further time penalty and got an extra 1.5 litres of water after arriving in the camp. Every time I woke up in the night, I made sure I took a salt tablet and drank at least 750ml of water.
  • Eat more, little and often. I had hardly eaten a thing.  I was not going to get to the end if I wasn’t getting some nourishment.
  • Change my blood glucose sensor (I had a backup) and move the position from my arm to my stomach where I had more cover over the top of it and out of direct sunlight, even though the one on m arm was covered with tensoplast.
  • Go slow tomorrow and rebuild my confidence. Learn from Rory by hanging out with him.  I had to understand how I could do better to make it through to the end.

So new plan in gear, and a sensible running/walking plan for tomorrow’s stage I bunked down, took some melatonin (I was going to need some rest also) and slept through yet another sandstorm.”


Time penalties given:

Vital Medical Assistance 2 hours

Exceptional water assistance 30 minutes

724th overall. 136th female. 36th in my category.

78 withdrawals