Mezouga Dunes in Marathon Des Sables

Day 6 – 26.20miles, 7hrs 30 minutes 2 seconds, 2589 calories, ascent 590m, est sweat loss 5491ml. Marathon Day.

So here I am, stood on the front of the start line of the final day of racing.  26.2 miles between me and the medal.  Where had the week gone? It was all flying past.

My god the heat already. I tried to stand in the shade as Patrick made his speech and as AC DC Highway to Hell played again, I started my Sahara shuffle again, but this time towards the finish line and that medal.

I hadn’t underestimated it.  It was hard.  It was extremely hot – the hottest day yet. It was flat but we were in a dry riverbed that sucked all energy and radiated all the heat back into our bodies as we slowly made our way across it.

A section of sand dunes added to the task in hand and my feet felt like they were on fire.  I was miserable.  I wanted the end to arrive. Looking down at my watch the miles ticked so slowly and every time you get over another dune you are willing the finish line to be in sight, even though you know there are many miles still go to.

Marathon Des Sables - Charlotte Hurst in running gear

This was by far the toughest day of the week.  Maybe it was because we were so close to the end, yet still a long way to go.  The end was in sight, but it was far off in the distance.  I could almost feel the medal around my neck, yet there seemed an impossible distance still to cover.

Slowly and surely, I made my way through each of the checkpoints and just kept moving.  I managed my body heat as I had throughout all the week but where it wasn’t a problem before I could see that it was starting to become a problem now.  Using my heart rate as an indication I noticed that it went from 120 up to 160 in a very small amount of time – an indication that my body temperature was rising.  You would think you would notice it in your breathing, but you just don’t.  Everything is hard work so keeping an eye on the parameters, such as heart rate, was so important.

I walked for a bit until my heart rate came down; then picked the shuffle up again for a little bit. I had to alternate like this a few times just to manage my core temperature, which seemed to only prolong the agony and draw this stage out even further.

Finally, the end came into sight, and I dared to think that I was going to do this. I allowed all the tears to come out.  I was going to make it. 

All those months of preparation, training, missing out on things, attending running events, physio appointments, coaching sessions, days off work, clinics for injections etc etc…. all came down to this. 

This is what I had dreamed about for nearly 20 years.  I was realising nearly a lifelong dream.  The ultimate.  The toughest. The one that everyone wants. The Marathon des Sables.

Marathon Des Sables - Charlotte Hurst with hiking sticks

Crossing the line I fell into the arms of Patrick Bauer, who handed me my medal. Cyril came and hugged me. 

Medics who had helped me at checkpoint 2 on the second day also came and hugged me.  It was special.  It was emotional. I had done it. I couldn’t believe it.

But my feet were in a bad way.

 

Marathon Des Sables - Charlotte Hurst with Patrick Bauer and Cyril

But we were still under race regulations until tomorrow.

But I just wanted to talk to my family.

But I just wanted a pint and a burger!

In a way it was slightly underwhelming.  I hobbled back to tent 99, with another bottle of coke in my hand, where Mark was, and we hugged and cried – a very special moment and one that will stay with me forever; we waited for Craig and Rory to get in.

Craig eventually stumbled in.  He looked totally spent.  It was clear he had given everything.  Rory made it in after – he had really struggled in the heat. We had done it. We were all ok…just.

A final visit to get my feet looked at by Doc Trotters resulted in me being put on a course of antibiotics.  We just had to negotiate our way through a 9km walk out of the desert the next morning through the Merzouga Dunes and we were home and dry.

Emotions were running freely.  We had done it. 

286th overall. 39th female. 13th in my category.

Withdrawals 7

 

Day 7 – 6 miles, 2hrs 44 minutes 25 seconds, 617 calories, ascent 141m, est sweat loss 1128ml. The Charity Walk and exit out of the desert

With a slightly later start we were all at a bit of a loose end.  Most people’s feet were incredibly sore and like yesterday, it dawned on us that even a 9km walk through the sand dunes was going to be a hard and long slog.  I was not looking forward to it.

I was struggling to even squat to have a wee and had to use a car or some other permanent object to lean against rather than stretch the soles of my feet.

I was looking forward to getting out the desert.  But this almost seemed like an impossible task.

Marathon Des Sables - Charlotte Hurst with 4 of Tent 99

The 4 of Tent 99 on the Start of the Last Walk

But the four of us did it together.  We stuck together and spent the 2hrs and 30 minutes talking about all sorts.  I was using my poles as crutches at this point.  It was really tough.  My feet were on fire. But we used the couple of hours to cry and laugh and talk about our own and joint experiences of the last few days, as well as helping Mark find some fossils to take home.

Sweating profusely in our charity cotton t-shirts the walk went on and on. Steadily and slowly, we made our way to Merzouga. I collected some sand from the Merzouga dunes – proper red sand. They were quite beautiful. 

Marathon Des Sables - The Mezouga Dunes

The Mezouga Dunes

In time we spotted the finish line, and arm in arm, the four of us crossed the finish line where we found Maria who had come all the way from Ouazarzate in a taxi to pick us up (a 4hr trip one way!). What an amazing treat and so so lovely to see her again.  I missed both her and Di so much, as well as Harry.  It felt like we had come home.

We made our way to the taxi and hit the road.  A couple of stops for cold drinks and ice creams, as well as the supplies that Maria had brought with her; it was like we had won the lottery.

Just to be in an airconditioned car felt like a real treat.

4 hours later we eventually made it to the Berbere Palace in Ouazarzate.  Wow.  Di was there to give us a massive hug and she had already sorted the room and got my bag in there.  So amazing and a real treat.  It meant so much.

I was so looking forward to my first shower and this was supposed to be the most amazing shower of my life.  I built it up to be a really big deal and I was so excited to wash the sand that was filling every orifice! However, it was probably the worst shower of my life.  My feet screamed as the water hit them and it was impossible to stay standing.  In fact, I sat down as I let the water pour over me and wash the last 7 days’ worth of sand off me in floods of tears.  Just emotional tears.

However, I did feel like a new person, emerging eventually from the shower and although my feet were in a real mess, everything else felt pretty good.

A quick call to home was very emotional.  I spoke to Mum, Emma and Dad.   It was so lovely touching base with them, and it slowly began to dawn on me how much people had followed my progress, been in touch, talked about the race and had been in contact with my family.

And that’s when the ecstasy of everything, started to hit me.

Marathon Des Sables - Tent 99 Reunited

Tent 99 Reunited

We headed to the dining area where tent 99 were all reunited for dinner.

I slept well – so nice to be out of the Sahara.  Nice to be in a bed with white crisp sheets.