37th Marathon des Sables
Let’s start with some statistics…
7 days self-sufficiency
6 days of running
Total miles 152.24
Official Total Time 47hrs 2 minutes and 6 seconds
Total steps 329469
Backpack weight at the start 8.15kg
We were hit with a sandstorm within 10 minutes of arriving at the Bivouacs. Poor Maria was welted by a metal tent peg that was pulled out the ground in the high winds. Lucky to escape a potential eye fracture and even worse if the tent peg had struck her eye or mouth she was clearly shaken as any of us would have been. It lasted on and off for a couple of hours and I was so worried about losing kit in the winds. It was a case of bagging everything up, pulling my snood up over my ears and sunglasses on. Some people were prepared with goggles. Already sand was everywhere.
Surviving the first night brought us to Saturday morning and the day before the first day of racing. Today was the day for the race registration and handing our main baggage over, as well as kit checks for the items that we were taking with us for the duration of the week. Therefore, it was our last chance to pack our backpacks and decide on the items that we may not need – things like sleeping bag liners, jackets and the luxury items that we might not have room for.
Di and I – Packing our race bags and everything we need for the week
Because of the medications that I had to take it meant that I couldn’t take a small stove, I couldn’t take campsite soft ‘slippers’ and I had to do away with some excess calories. Weighing in at 8.15kg I was pretty happy, which included a kg worth of medications.
All set. One last meal all together fed by the caterers before we were under race regulations.
Nice to Meet the Camels before the Start that would Serve as the Broom Wagon
Day 1 – 22.43 miles, 5hrs 24 minutes and 30 seconds, 2515 calories, ascent 516m, calories 2515, estimated sweat loss 4724ml, steps 52,039.
This is it. Nerves were high. Emotions were all over the place. One minute I was excited, the next minute I was scared. We were all in tears at some point. As we gathered at the start line all together the enormity of what we were about to take on hit us. But the atmosphere was electric as Patrick Bauer counted us down to the start as AC/DC and Highway to Hell blared out of the speakers.
Tent 99 Before the Start
From left to right, Harry Botha (oldest competitor), Mark Clayton, Craig Horton, Coach Rory Colemen, me, Di Farrell-Thomas, Maria Roberts
We were all expecting Day 1 to be a nice steady introduction to running in the desert. Instead, temperatures surpassed 40 degrees and the 22.43 miles felt long. Being new to running in the desert I thought I was going very slowly. Turns out five and a half hours over this distance in the sand and this heat was quite quick by my standards.
My notes for day one were..
“Hot, hard and long! All types of sand – hard and flat, loose and duney and a couple of small jebels. The backpack felt heavy although comfortable and the left hip played up a little bit (this was my fear as it set me on the side lines over Christmas) but it did settle a bit. The diabetes was ok but hard to see the blood glucose levels on my watch because of the glaring sun.
A lot of people struggled in the heat. People were collapsing and carrying far too much weight on their back with overloaded backpacks.
Back in camp we were witness to a very scary episode in the tent opposite. Because of overheating, a gentleman had a seizure which cut off his air supply. Maria, from our tent who is a nurse, rushed over. He became unresponsive at which point she administered CPR. Someone ran for the medics. The gentleman turned blue as we all sat there in shock. Maria managed to bring him around as the medics arrived. As she stepped away, he became unresponsive again and the medics then attempted to resuscitate him using the defibrillator. The outcome was positive, and I’m pleased to report that he is fine although his race obviously was over at this point.
At this point I was in shock at what I was seeing. There were people literally on the brink of death – did I want to be in this situation? Did I want to be this close to the line? Maria was amazing and she just kicked into gear and looked totally unaffected by the events that unfurled.
Tent 99 all made it back to Bivouac 1 at the end of stage 1. Harry, being the oldest competitor in the race at the age of 81 years old, just made the cut off. Tent sister Di and I were there to welcome him over the line and we helped him over to the medics for a check up as he was clearly dehydrated.
Mark’s backpack broke around checkpoint 1. It was a serious break with the whole shoulder strap tearing. He managed to patch it up to get back to Bivouac 1 and then made a more permanent repair with some bivouac cord. It quickly was becoming evident that Mark is a man of many talents – a doer, a fixer, a problem solver. A great person to have as a tent brother.
We received our first camp post and the messages that people had sent in. This quickly became a highlight of the day as for me the only connection with the outside world.
Another sandstorm throughout the night which was becoming a theme. I think it may have to do with the high temperatures throughout the day. Just a case of making sure that all items are secured, won’t blow away and the bivouac is secure.”
184th overall. 25th female home. 6th in my age category.