I am not a talented story writer so please bare with me. What I do promise is a from the heart, raw and true account of possibly the toughest 4 months of my
life. Please forgive my obvious lack of eloquence folks. Now grab yourself a large drink of your favoured preference and nestle yourselves into a comfy arm
Christ I feel like Bilbo Baggins!
A DOUBLE MARATHONS DES SABLES ADVENTURE:
November 15th: “This is a long lost dream of mine”.
So folks how did it all start.
Ring ring! ring ring! who’s this calling me? It turns out to be a charity that’s calling me to find out if I’d like to run the Marathon des Sables! This is a long lost dream of mine. Instantly I ask myself am I up for this!?
I don’t know how they’ve got my details but I’m over the moon to hear it’s now more possible to get onto this famous race. I decline their kind offer and explain my own charity goals and commitments. They give me their blessing and understanding. This is a race that’s known as the toughest race in the world. I instantly ring Mike Hammond the Chief Executive for the Queen Elizabeth charity. This is a gentleman and charity that I have supported from the beginning when I set up in 2014 ‘I can and I will’ An initiative to help those most in need by doing a series of Extreme Sporting challenges to raise funds and awareness for Wounded soldiers and Children with Cancer. A place is secured and reserved. I jump with joy!
I work at the Queen Elizabeth hospital as an anaesthetic practitioner
and as an ex soldier
working in operating theatres I have been inspired by how people deal with their suffering and how they show such tremendous attitude off ‘I can and I will’ and this sticks to your very core believe me.
Mike Hammond secures me a place and I’m over the moon. I am over the moon but realise there’s only 4 months to go before the start this famous race. and I picture my journey ahead with excited anticipation.
I decide to go to the London MDS Expo on the 28th of November which is only 14 days after my original phonecall.
Work and life takeover during this and time passes by quickly. During this time I manage to get what seems a suitable sponsor.The future looks promising.
On the journey down to London I am asked by my sponsor what is so unique about what I am going to do. This gets me thinking. Yes the Marathons des Sables is known as the toughest race in the world, is this enough I ask myself to inspire the general public to donate? I decide there and then to up the anti and run a Double Back to Back Marathon des Sables and a smile crosses over my face.
( If I knew then what lay ahead, the trials and tribulations, would I of made this decision!? I reflect and I am truly not sure ) The die was cast and I arrived at the Expo. A Mr Steve Diederich the boss of the UK MDS from Run Ultra was present and cordially met me. With a glint in the eye and little introduction I told Steve of my plan, it was instantly obvious that he thought I was quite mad. Possibly true!
This reinforced my commitment to my plan and I realised then that this was going to be a battle to get him and others on my side. I relish these challenges! The energy from all of the people at the Expo was electric. At this Expo I met many fantastic people. A lady by the name of Elizabet Barnes and a amiable chap by the name of Rory Coleman. I rub shoulders with the founder of the MDS a Mr Patrick Bauer and also James Cracknell.
I left the expo exhilarated and doubly determined to follow through with my dream. I recall feeling waves of pure fear, exhilaration and determination at this prospect hitting me all the way home. I babbled even more than the usual level of lunacy accustomed to said truly.My girlfriend dutifully nodded……
I realise I must get organised. Jeepers creepers..not an easy task for a scatter head such as I. There are only 4 months to go before departure.Now yours truly has a limited but specialised skill base and realises this. I am an ex soldier that now works in operating theatres. So in essence “I can either put you into the grave or help keep you out of it”. A slightly limiting skill base for what lays ahead. Yes there are going to be obvious advantages in my work history and experiences but I realise there are huge areas that I have to improve upon dramatically.
Areas such as: ” YAAAAAAWNNNN!”…..
P.R, Marketing, Social Media, Networking, Fundraising, Graphics, I.T, Web design and Development, Photography and Filming with Pre, Peri and PostProduction….. and so on…. Dear reader you get the picture!
Hells fire this is going to be a mammoth task and the game is on.
Folks it does not take much imagination to realise that we were going to need the very best medical support for this little desert adventure and I luckily secure this early in the game.
I ask my friend and work colleague Dr Nick Crombie and with a wry grin and a glint in his eye he readily accepts this non paid job offer… Nick for many reasons is the best man I know for this extreme task and waves of gratitude and relief flood within me. It would obviously be nice to have my friend and cameraman Michael for this endeavour but he has to bow out of this due to his mother being poorly and the pressure is on to find a replacement.
I decide to empty the spare room and turn it into a logistics and planning room.
I use some of my savings to buy various stationary stuff and a more exciting tool, a running machine, which I place within. I dismantle the machine from its confining hydraulics and safety features so that I can elevate it way past its normal use. I train on this when the weather is terrible. I need to be able to train when the weather is rubbish, which is every damn day during this time of the year. I hope this will also help me to keep healthy and injury free. I set up and develop a heat acclimatisation programme that will increase in intensity, duration and frequency over the remaining months and I dig out a hot air blower, thermometer and triathlon wetsuit for the Beasting sessions that lay ahead.I get quite excited at the prospect. (Little did I know how nasty these little sessions would be) I pray this tactic works to acclimatize myself. This room becomes a place of joy and pain and somewhat of a prison where I work and train solidly most evenings.
I am a great believer in keeping your training as varied as possible for many reasons and luckily over my life I have gained a lot of experience in all sortsof fitness areas. Sounds impressive but really ive just been a nut job in an even nuttier world having and doing what I think is fun. I apply this to my daily routine.A routine that often starts with the shrill alarm going BEEP! BEEP!! BEEP!! at 04.00. Its not by choice but necessity. Time is most precious and I must Train hard and often and therefore do so before I start work at 07.15. I work in the very high stress environment of the Cardio Thoracic Operating Theatres. My bemused colleagues often wonder and comment as to why I am devouring a gigantic meal prior to work. I am too tired to elaborate at this time and give a withering smile at best with often half a kipper hanging out of my mouth like Gollum. I often up the anti with my training and do two sessions in a day, I call this my ‘Double Header Day’ This I do two to three times a week. I train two weeks on with the third completely off. I decide to do this to mimic the duration of the upcoming task. I am a great believer in orientating your training to the demands that you will encounter on these little weeeee beasties that I like to do. The rest week is a enforced fattening up rest week. I have to fight my natural instincts to slip in a little session here and there. This tactic works well for me and believe it critical. Within the two week period the second week is the tougher and each time the two week period revolves, it gets about 10% tougher.
Within the two weeks:
Sometimes I run the 9 miles to work and back and carry a backpack. (it’s weighted by default to 5k.g apx, as I have to carry my coffin sized lunch box) Sometimes I cycle to work and often wear a 25kg vest and 5kg ankle weights. I love this workout. Sometimes I would do gym work and focus on core and leg strengthening exercises and enjoy using an empty gym.. Again folks you get the picture..
Some of the training that I do I suppose is quiet tough and I know I am on a knifes edge. Revamping of my already good diet is done with Hayley (Thank the gods I have her supporting me on this, her knowledge in Nutrition is second to none) I realise more and more that your performance is less of the training but more of what you eat and how you rest. My training improves steadily and I am pleased as punch. Sleep gets more and more haphazard. The endless tasks I am trying to plough through get interwoven into my tiny Homer Simpson like addled brain and these infuriatingly rear their ugly heads even when I am asleep. When this happens my mind starts to go off like a god damn firework display and all hope of sleepis snubbed out.
All to often I have to leave the room with a pillow and try not to disturb Hayley. Exhaustion breeds exhaustion and slowly but surely I feel like a leaf fluttering in the wind, slowly disintegrating. A gaunt haggard face stares back at me if I unfortunately catch a glimpse of myself.
I am comfortable working and creating a desert risk manifesto and the endless complex risk assessments associated with what is essentially a independent desert expedition.If I am in doubt, I research and get advice from all corners to make sure that my risk assessment and logistical plans are appropriate to safeguard myself and my team for this extreme event. It is a nerve wracking but exciting time and I just plough on and on and on.
My girlfriend drops food into me and we slowly drift apart. I am not oblivious to this dilemma and try to make amends but with time becoming increasingly moresensitive this becomes a second port of call. I hate this situation and this eats me up..I’m buried in this, giving my heart and soul. Sacrificing everything. .. (Whilst I write this I am most upset, embarrassed and ashamed… knowing how its affected my relationship, I cannot do this process again, to such extreme measures. If there is to be a next time I must get much more support) Christmas comes and goes and this is not even a consideration to stop this relentless workload. I work through the few days off from work over Christmas.. I write this and realise dear reader that this is a non stop bloody depressing read… forgive me.. this is raw, real and from the heart. Thank god your only reading it huh!! Now take a large glug of your tipple and read on…. (It does get better) (Promise) (Or does it!?)
January rapidly passes in much the same vain as already described to the dear reader….
Financial worries are somewhat elevated by having gained a sponsor. A referral by someone I trust. A number of meetings take place and I feel happy that I have support at this early stage. I bury my head deeper into work to justify my sponsorship worthiness. This kind of endeavour really requires a full well funded professional team at least a year to do. The pressure is really on for me to deliver in all areas.
The first weekend of January sees me competing in two races.The first one is an obstacle course race where I come first in my age group and sixth overall. A bunch of young pups woooop my ass… ohhhhhh to be 20 years younger and not like the old mountain goat I am!! I qualify for the UK and European Championships and I feel that’s an okay result. My fitness seems to be fairly good and on track.
I excitedly drive to Wales to compete the next day in the famous SAS Fan Dance race. There was a day, in my distant past that I swore I would never ever set foot in these pastures ever again. Here I was paying to do the very thing I swore never to do again. The irony didn’t escape me and I grinned at myself through my manic observation. This is a brutal race that has all the elements. “Bloody lovely I say!” An inspiring speech from a grizzled and gnarly SAS Staff member was given before we yomped into the dark over Pen y Fan.
The wild terrain awaiting , snowy blizzard conditions increasing in intensity. I was tired from the previous days race but push hard and 3 hours and 20 minutes later I come stumbling in looking like Stig of the Dump.
I come in second place. I pay the price though and during the race I fell three times which I rarely do and it was likely I left with a broken hand. I was too damn cold to tell. The weather hits me hard. The weekend’s activities make me feel quite poorly for the following 7 days and I decide to not participate in any other races to April. This is a hard decision for me as I love to compete in these kind of events but I realise it is all about getting to the start point injury free and I’m willing to make the sacrifice. There are too many people counting on me and ill be damned if I am going to let them or my charities down.The month carries on in its usual unrelenting fashion. I feel like I am juggling so many hot potatoes at once I mustn’t drop any of these and the stress carries on building.
My website takes shape and goes online… Thank you my good friend Conrad Jagger for helping me!!
Now folks I am lucky in such that I’m an ex soldier that has always done a lot of adventure traveling and expeditions and have a good skill base to work with when taking on such an extreme logistical challenge such as this desert expedition. If I don’t have the skills then often I adopt the ‘SWAG’ method. It is a tried and tested tact of mine. Its the ‘Scientific Wild Arse Guess’ Method. I relish the challenge and try to keep things ‘K.I.S.S’ Keep It Simple Stupid.
I quickly realise I am going to need specialised in country help. How on earth was I going to achieve this!? The only real and obvious answer is with the MDS. I keep in regular contact with Steve Diederich and slowly but surely feel I have been gaining his confidence and hope desperately during this period that he will be able to open up doors with the Marathon des Sables and the founder Patrick Bauer. I do not want to have to do this Challenge without their support and blessing and I pull out all of the stops to show them of my sincere intentions to do this challenge with the upmost integrity and I am determined to keep to the MDS Ethics rules and regulations throughout. I want them to be proud of my team and I. Even if we fail, and fail we might, I know this is far far from being in the bag and who knows what lays around the corner. ( If only I knew!! ) It does cross my mind that it probably doesn’t suit the MDS that a mad Englishman is coming along to try to attempt to do their race twice, back to back. I try to counter any of their worries by showing how diligent I am trying to be with my planning and what a loveable red haired freak of nature I surely am. I introduce my support crew and have faith in their credentials and hope they are suitably impressed. A number of emails and conversations pass and I with growing relief, sense that the doors are opening up that more wider and quicker each time. Time is so sensitive though and it passes all to quickly. February disappears like a scene from Batman and the Riddler.
Projects take shape and all of the hard work starts to reap rewards. The pressure is still on though as tasks often throw up unforeseen niggles.The very worst ‘niggle’ then happens out of the blue. Two thirds through February my sponsor that has laid dormant and wholly impotent pulls out. He sites that he feels it is inconceivable that I am somehow coping with the tasks in hand whilst also training and working! Further concerns based from his incorrect conceptions on my abilities are given. The said sponsor never envisaged it being such a complicated and potentially hazardous challenge and that my life might be at risk. Even to the uninitiated it was quite plain and obvious what this challenge was likely to entail. I realised there and then that it was most certainly for the best in the long run. I learn quickly from this and accept for once that my usually great instinctive judgement of character had failed.With less than six weeks to go this was a potential death blow. The time was so short now the chances of getting a Sponsor was virtually nil and to get asponsor is usually a long and hard task in itself.
My 43rd birthday passes without fanfare in these dark and troubled few days. I make the decision to push on and use my savings to fund the tasks at hand allof which had gone up from my original and accurate budget. A bitter and damaging pill to swallow.
Before we know it, Haley and I are excitedly departing to Lanzarote to participate in a weeks desert training with Ian Corless and Co. It is a simple quick journey that has us arriving into Club LA Santa fresh, ready and revved up for the week’s activities. Hayley had been very poorly the week before and was not on par and struggledthroughout the week. It was amazing how much she actually achieved considering how poorly she was. I was so very proud of her. The weeks running and lectures are amazing and we found them to be most informative. All the runners in the group were given a tailor-made approach where theywould be able to run at their own pace with specific instructors looking after them. It was amazing to run with all these special people. I found the energy from one and all was heart warming and friendships where forged. I loved running on the baking hot lunar like landscape, it often felt like a dream to me, especially after the previous few months. I felt my soul being rapidly being recharged. Running over the beautiful and technical rocky terrain was such a pleasure and it prepared well for our future dreams.
Now folks.. I like to push my limits and see where I can go with my mind and my body and as such I decided to ration my water more and more as the days wentby to see how I would cope with longer distances of running and a combination of getting more and more dehydrated. I thought that this would be a useful learning curve for me as I felt it was going to be very likely that I would be experiencing this during the double MDS.
The last day of training saw us run the furthest distance. I ended up running with Elizabeth and Ciara for the 38 kilometers or so on this day. I decided to run with minimal water and abstained from this as well as not to having any breakfast. I told all of this to Elizabeth so that she would be aware of the situation and she graciously accepted this situation. She monitored me carefully and I felt in safe hands with her. She understand what I was trying to do and why and felt comfortable enough to allow me this opportunity to experience pushing hard in this tact. ( Little did I know how useful this was going to be!!!)
As we ran the girls jokingly commented I was like some mad camel. I was amazed by the ease and grace of running that Elisabet displayed and I was equally impressed by Ciara’s running. This girl is a relentless force of nature that will not give up and will plough on where and when othe people long give up. True grit!!
All was well up to the 30 kilometre point where then I started to increasingly suffer with all of the classical signs of dehydration.
I found it quite interesting to see how rapidly my body started to take a nose dive in this situation. With only 8k.m to go my pace My performance quickly dropped off and kilometre to kilometre I slowed to a slow jogging pace. It was simply all I could manage. At this point a few kilometers away I accepted the kind offers of water from both Elizabeth and Ciara. It was during this time that Elizabeth decided to sow the seed in both mine and Ciara’s minds of the rewards awaiting us back in a Club LA Santa, these being the gigantic triple ice creams!! With this firmly set into our psyche our pace unsurprisingly picked up.
Push push push and slowly the MDS doors open. Then the light shines through and I get the help I need. All thanks to Steve Diederich. I get a name of a chap called Youssef Ouyahia that has a expedition company in Ouarzazate pronounced “Wazzerzat” Flights are booked. I must meet this chap and see if he has the right set up for this. The last major hurdle was in sight. I felt dizzy with anticipation and fear that this would not be okay. There was no time to play with if he and his operation was not up to the job in hand. My life would of been a thousand time harder and I knew this. This prospect was frightening.
March: PRE LOGISTICAL RECCE TO THE SAHARA
I shake hands with Youssef. He has turned up on time. He speaks great english and seems a very amiable chap. I sense he is weighing me up as much as I him. I instantly like him. A gloriously thorough meeting takes place and my worries fall away like old taunting whispers caught in the winds Angels. He proposes that we spend time together and explore. This obviously gives me opportunity to suss him out and his vehicle. We spend a fantastic time together for the two days and we whistle stop around the area visiting aincient ruins and valleys. I rapidly realise he is without doubt the man for the job. Amazing driving skills that often makes me chuckle… ( operates x2 mobiles whilst smoking and faultlessly driving up rutted 30degree slopes) He has a unsurpassed invaluable knowledge of the area and a dry keen sense of humour and generosity is given by him all of the time. I am also fairly impressed that he always wears a thick wool jumper under a thick black leather jacket whilst wearing jeans, there I am sweating wearing flimsy shorts and a tshirt. My impressions of the country and the people are overwhelming. It is a harsh but beautiful land. Almost where time has stopped. The people are kind and generous. I leave the country and Youssef and virtually fly home as though on a cloud myself
Training is going well and I’m getting stronger and stronger by the day. I tried to think laterally as possible with my training and include a regular session where I am run up the inner stairwell of the Queen Elizabeth hospital. Every other flight of stairs has a radiator that creates a sauna like environment and I wear a 15kg vest. Within ten minutes of training I am literally pouring with sweat. A river of sweat leaves a signature trail all the way up to the top floor. I hate this brutal workout!! Your body just wants to crumple to the floor. The blood pressure in your ears bangs relentlessly like a gladiators drums and your lungs convulse as you gasp for air. I often bump into the cleaner who is the only person I see at this time of the morning. He gives a excited holler each time I pass him. I have fun using my weighted vest during my shifts at work too. I figure if I wear it for the ten hour shifts-five days a week it will be a great way to acclimatise my body to the weight I know I will have to carry. So I walk around theatres wearing the vest that protrudes easily through the thin theatre scrubs that I wear…. I look like a Hunchback. Do I care? Do I HELL!
I stop all training now and rest the two weeks prior to departure. I gorge as much food healthy or not constantly and luxuriate in the rest. We start to get some traction with the Media and I get the BBC coming around to film at mine.There are various newspapers and so on that call.The British forces TV chaps are booked for day before departure is also booked. Its great to have some interest. It is incredibly tough to get any media involved especially with such limited resources and time. Hayley is the architect to much of this and her tireless efforts are unquantifiable.
The BBC’s very own Michele Paduano comes around. I hate being infront of a camera and giving speechs. I feel all the while like a ham tongued moron, babbling a few incoherant Bart Simpson lines. Hayley and Nick however are a naturals and decide there and then that whenever possible to shove them in front of the camera. From this meeting I ask the chaps if they can help with their connections as I still had not found a decent cameraman. Things move rapidly on this front and the gods shine down on me and deliver to me a chain of wonderful people. John Cherry from Acam video generously helps and this leads to me getting A# Great Cameraman “Jack” and B# Sponsored hire equipment via Rob at his great Midlands TV equipment Hire Company: MediaDog. I cannot thank all of you guys enough!!!!
Work remains relentless though and I get a bombshell. My job is cancelled and I have no savings at all and am using credit cards.I borrow money from my long suffering girlfriend and internally I panic more and more. Surely at this late stage finances cannot be the thing to actually deal a final death blow. Itsterrifying and my stress levels remain stratospheric and I barely sleep during these days. I decide to bite the bullet and ask for help publicly. For me this is most upsetting but I have no choice but to do so. I feel utterly ashamed and embarrassed. A crowdfunder is put out and a shout out to everyone is given. I rake my brains for prizes and list those as to the amazing donations that come in. There are many many people whom help by donating prizes and bidding. I am dumb struck at their generosities. To name but a few are Steve Diederich, Ian Corless, Denisa Lorkova, Barny oneil, Anthony Astbury the OCR and running families too many to mention and friends and strangers. Thank you all sooooo very much!!!!!! Work comes in after fighting for it and I am able just to makeends meet. There is a hidden debt level still but that will have to remain till I get back. Cest la vie.
TICK TOCK!!! TICK TOCK!! THE EXCITEMENT BUILDS. I wonder around like the mad hatter on acid half the time. Its a beautiful time!!!
Wednesday 30th: EXACTLY 24HRS PRIOR TO DEPARTURE: DISASTER! DISASTER!! DISASTER!!!
Whilst being filmed by British Forces TV at my place and at the last filming outdoor sequence (Of my choosing!!) I slip without warning off a tall and muddy step that leads off the canal opposite and hear it crack. I scream out in agony and hobble and collapse onto the floor. My entire world collapses and implodes. The poor camera crew are dumbfounded and watch me crying and swearing to the gods. You simply could not write this. “The game is over” ” ITS FXXKING OVER!!” I somehow hobble back into the house follwed by a very silent film crew. Hayley greets me with smiles. She was not privy to this drama outside. The colour in her face instantly drains. My foot swells as we watch to twice its size.As though by magic it rapidly blossoms into a angry red and black bloated form. Ice is applied and the pain grows cancerous like into the back of my throat. The camera crew leave. I cry. I swear. I cry more. I employ all measures to fight this situation. I call Nick but there is no answer. I go to bed and allow the darkness of the pain swallow me up. The 90mg of codeinne and 600 mg of Ibuprofen allows a brief window of opportunity to sleep.This lasts 2 hours. I wake up in exscruciating agony and decide to go to A and E. I susspect it will be a long night and take my laptop to work with. Hayley leaves to go to bed. God knows what she is thinking and never mind how she must be feeling. I have my laptop with me as I am so used to always working and being on it. I also realise that this could well be my portal to tell the world of this news. A prospect that fills me with dred. I actually run through ways and scenatrios on how to get far far badly injured than I was. Then I would be not in this situation where people might disbelieve it and me. As I said earlier, ” You could hardly write this!!” The entire night is spent in A and E and I get seen in the early hours. I am told it is not broken and given crutches and advised to completly rest it for 7days and non weight bare for 2-4 weeks. I arrive home at 0900. 3 hours before the taxi was due to pick us up. I hear from Nick at 10.00 and I mumble to him “there’s a bit of bad news old Bean!” and relay the details. I ask for industrial pain killers to be brought and pleanty there of. My optimism battling through. Jack arrives. His reaction says it all. A jittery silence falls. Tasks are undertaken. I fight the pain with all I have and try to walk as normal as possible. Nick arrives as does the taxi. An ice splint is applied. A “I CAN AND I WILL” mantra is hailed!” and off we go. The team look after me and I adopt the best brave face I can and walk as bit.
A True Desert Adventure begins!!
We arrive in the early hours with 48 hours to go before I set off on Day !
Could my dream of being the first person in the World to successfully complete a ‘Double back to back’ Marathons Des Sables actually happen.
This injury was going to have play ball. The two days went in a flash. The team and I managed to relax whilst also gearing up for the set off.
Gear was checked and meetings were had. I pushed my foot hard. I made up my mind to go for it and accepted that it could create long standing issues. I can and I will!!
Sunday April 3rd: Day 1. My life is saved!!! How??? Let me tell you!
I set off running, proudly brandishing my Charity flag and being filmed by Jack. No ceremony at all. Just how I like it. I swiftly disappear. I am feeling great and ignore not the pain and don’t notice the weight of my 8kg pack. I am running like a mad whooping and hollering fool, screaming out to the gods!!! “You see you bxxxards Im here and I made it!!” ( Oooohhh dear!!!!) I should of heard the door to Zeuse’s office open then!!
To supplement salt loss we decided to use Himalayan salt.. the dose rate was dramatically incorrect. Two thirds through day one I was literally frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog.. but felt strong!!.. I shot off to finish the final leg.. unbeknown to us.. the MDS route bearing that was provided was completely incorrect.. this led me to going way off course running out of water and getting into a spiralling ‘Up Creek without a paddle situation’. A SOS call out via my Satellite Phone succeeded in alerting him and the Team. The G.P.R.S coordinates did not match the teams device and led them to thinking I was in Algeria 16 miles away. The satellite Phone then stopped working! The situation then got much worse as I lay on black volcanic rock literally cooking to death. Eternity went by, only an hour but long enough to deteriorate very quickly.. Panic rapidly seeping in to the depths of my soul. By pure luck on the furthest horizon I glimpsed the vehicle flying along.. but totally in the wrong direction!! “STOP! STOP!! STOP!!!” I screamed desperately into the walkie talkie.. every fibre in my soul praying and screaming to them… I knew if they didn’t stop then they would be out of line of sight and uncontactable within seconds.. the vehicle stopped!!! I cried out in utter relief…The tears instantly evaporating on my cheek. “TURN RIGHT TURN RIGHT!!” I pleaded.. An answer came to me!..as though from the Gods themselves. It’s was Nick..” Ok Gav we hear you!” I excitedly talked and guided him to me. A fast return to Basecamp was needed.
Once there Nick took bloods and processed this whilst I rested. (I silently apologized to the Gods and thanked them!!) The blood results were dramatic. My sodium ( SALT ) was off the charts and my Haemoglobbin from 14.3 that morning had gone to 4.0. My body was in full shut down and collapse and I was lucky to be alive. To put this into perspective when a patient has lost a lot of blood at a level of 7.00 you give x2 plus units of blood. This was day 1. Little could I know of the trials and tribulations that lay ahead.
Monday 2nd: Day 2: ‘Grinning like a cheshire cat’
The day greets us with a spectacular sunrise.
I set off marvelling at its beauty and grinning like a cheshire cat. Thankfully there are not too many hitches today. There is a navigation error that leads me off course but that is adjusted and only adds a few kilometers to the day. I get into a routine and focus. It is hard to see the team drive away after every check point and each time this gets harder. I dont tell them this. The silence is only broken by my breathing and occasional ramblings to any beast or unusual object. My focus has to be on the ground two foot in front of me. It is a treacherous environment and I reminisce about my sure footed abilities not so long ago in Lanzarote. This ankle protests with each impact. I must not stumble on it. My focus remains strong and sadly it is rare that I look up to enjoy the scenery. When I do it is to assess my navigation and plough on. The silence bit by bit starts to bare down on me and with the heat, it feels like im in some Stanley Kubrick movie. My ramblings increase. This solitude wears on my mental abilities. I focus on objects in the distance and try to run to them and when met I allow myself a pat on the back and a strict amount of walking steps to rest. Whilst I walk I navigate, drink and nibble at my daily ration of delicious billtong and jelly babies.This tactic works and the day and distance passes well. Camp routine is simple and pure. The team have their own tent and supplies and so do I. I sleep and eat seperate from the team. It is hard to see them in their routines. When they eat I try to avoid looking at what delights they have. They seem to be feasting like kings. I feel more and more withdrawn and out of the group. I am jealous of their bonding. I am soo focused on my mission to battle through this and survive that I am sure that I am self perpetuating my isolation and feelings. I know I will get more and more tired, dehydrated and hungry as the week goes by and weigh up the likely effects on my physical and mental well being. I am sure this race is designed by a mad man!
Tuesday 5th: Day 3: “We can and we will bloody do this!!” and stomped away.
This is simply an aweful day. I stumble hard 2km in and my ankle is in agony. I do not take pain killers in fear of the potential stomach upsetting and other side effects. I need to be able to think as clearly as possible as the consequences in making further errors are serious. I am caught in a catch 22. I opt not to tell the team i have rehurt my ankle. The pain effects me and I make errors in navigation that lead me to running abut 4 km more and an extra Jebel. This increases my torment and also that of my team whom try to help and intervene. It is a stressful time for all. I feel more and more isolated as the day goes on. My time is terrible and I throw away my usual positive tactics and relent to the pain and walk. This failure drives me into a spirraling depression and my paces falters further. Eventually I finish. A defeated man. How on earth will my ankle survive the long haul tomorrow. I get very upset and wander away and cry. Later that night Nick calls me in for a “Chat” Being a friend but also the Medic I know is tough. I sat and listened to Nick trying to say that he was on the verge of a preemptively pulling me out of the race tomorrow due to the poor performance of that day. He knew the potential scenes of drama that would play out if this occured and so did I. It was an aweful discussion for both of us to have. (I am glad he had the balls to be a great medic and an even better friend, even though at the time it didnt feel like it.) I reassured him that I was okay and that I was up to the job. I ended the conversation with a ” We can and we will bloody do this!” and stomped away.
Wednesday 6th: Day 4: ‘Adam and Eve’s Serpent’
Due to the logistical fact that Youseff did not know the remaining quarter of the long days route a 100% we decided to set off at 04.00 to aim for me to finish the race in the light and then have a more acceptable safety margin if anything went wrong. I did not sleep at all that night due to pain and more so due to the rage burning within to prove to myself, Nick, my team and the gods that I would succeed in this, the hardest task of the week. For this part I had the vehicle along with me in parts as the priority was to be safe in some areas. I banished all running goals as previously adopted and said to myself I was simply going to run to each check point and not stop. I was determined to break the back of the race within a good time. I allowed my rage to fuel my focus and I burried all pain and non essential thoughts and ploughed on. I allowed my breathing to comatose my thoughts into a warm shield and drifted into other lands and distant memories. I got to the Fifth CP’s quickly and with ease. I allowed myself to come back to some reality. I ravenously devoured a meal and all of my sticky billtong and jelly babies. The air with everyone was perceptively lighter. I left quickly and said little to them or the Gods. Nothing was in the bag and that short break allowed the pain and fatigue to come licking at me like the expectant tongue of ‘Adam and Eve’s Serpent’ The remaining distance went by without hitch and I arrived into camp at 17.00. With this it felt like a blanket had been lifted off of the whole team The team and the mood was exuberant.
The team are however visably shattered and the week has taken a large toll on them. I get asked if we have to do the charity stage. I answer that I believed we had to. There faces fall. A call on my sat phone with Steve Diederich confirms this. Fridays very very early morning race and then transfer to drop me off to the incoming contingents weighs heavy.
Thursday 7th: Day 5:
Now dear reader, the 5th day is usually a full rest day but as I wished to do a true ‘Back to Back’ MDS I would have to have my race rest day on the Saturday admin day prior to the Sunday kick off for this years race. There is a lighter and happier air this morning. Hayley pulls me to the side and tells me that Nick has offered to put us all up in a hotel that night, even if its a case of us arriving in the very early hours. This shows the extent of the hardships that the team have been through. The implication though is that I would have to complete the Marathon stage and then do the 17km stage straight after this in a good time too to then allow us to get back before the witching hours. A giant ask from me to gain a couple of hours of luxury for one and all. I told them it was very unlikely that I was going to be able to do this. A kind masked, accepting and positive reaction was universally given to me.
(In my head I was weighing it up and drew from within a fire I have in place for challenges such as this and secretly determined to go for this)
I set off on the Marathon stage. I felt my jaw was aching and cramping an hour into the run and I realise I had been crushing my teeth together. I guess i was zoning out. The Marathon stage was a bit of a swine really but I arrive in a ok state. The team is silent. I grab a drink,throw off my bag and rest. I can feel and hear their wills for me to get up. I wink at Youseff who sidles up to me and asks how I feel!? We both know why he is asking. I do not blame him. He has been away from his family for a week and misses them I know. I slowly stand and readjust my cracking and grumbling spinal column. I shovel the remaining congealing Billtong into my mouth (I briefly wonder on how the next weeks rations are fairing in the boot of the 4×4!!..’ ooohhhh dear reader!) I let off an almighty fart and announce “Lets fxxing do this!” and set off. I am accompanied by Hayley and we stride off. Its a surreal time that passes by quicklhy and we finish in on the main highstreet in Tazzerine. There is little fan fare but all that I wish for from my wonderful girlfriend and amazing friends. We depart quickly and head for Ouarzazate with Youssef driving at break neck speed. In a matter of hours we were back and in bed. A few hours thereafter I was up and caght up in the MDS whirlwind.I have a whistle stop interview with the lovely lady and partner to Ian Corless and then dash to the airport. I wear brand new clothes and my MDS bag is damp from the showering I gave it. I meet Steve and we give each other a huuuuuge hug. He feels like the older brother I never had.I get onto the coach and slump down next to someone. Conversation flows and he asks if I have done this before? I say I have. Its his first time. I wink and say to him “It’s fun!!, you’ll enjoy it!” I meet up with some familiar faces on the journey (often by the wee stops) and spot and ask Ciara to reserve me a place in her tent. I was homeless at this stage and could not wish for better company. We arrive and settle into routine. Over the saturday I meet soo many amazing people and make friends it energized my whole being. The energy in the camp flowed through it like an unseen ethereal beauty, pure and tangible. The anticipation buzzed and danced from face to face. These times were being captured by the ever present Ian Corless. Moments of time in this week could not be better captured in their raw and true format than by anyone else. I met Steve whom then introduced me to the man himself Patrick Bauer. I was bowled over by this warm, kind and energetic Gentleman who was graciously talking to me. I only saw Steve a few times during the week. He was flying around the place with obvious boundless energy and enthusiasm saving the day here and there. I sensed he was likely to be keeping an eye on me from afar though and this felt great. The Lanzarote mob were intersparsed around the camp and I took pleasure in the occasional camp stroll to say hello and so on. It was during this that I met a chap called Duncan slater. A veteran competing with the ‘Walking with the Wounded’ He became a legend to me and I was blown away by his true grit.The list of inspiring people that were present goes long and far and I felt priviledged to be amongst them.
The Marathon des Sables Stats:
One giant Glastonbury sized Camp.
A stupid amount of miles to run (155 apx)
over a week…
A lot of runners (1000+)
all carrying a damn pack..
eating very little.
The MDS entourage is like a fun filled but crazed Freddy Kruger carnival. Impossible to describe. It’s a French kaleidoscope of logistical beauty that caters to a vast crowd of wilder beast. It creates on a daily basis a fresh safe oasis for the gnarly masses that are regressing to their former prehistoric past. I like this connection and grow happily to this.
I am not bothered about the ablutions situation and freely take care of my calls of nature in front of the masses, I refer to number ones and not twos!! I use the well thought out and obviously well funded and elaborately constructed structures that are provided for number twos. I employ James Bond, Free dive – breath holding and Sumo squatting style tactics to ensure that the ‘poo to bag’ system is swiftly used to full and safe effect. There is probably a penalty to be had if these tactics are not employed to full force. There is a day where I fly out of my tent in a wish too slap a ‘penalty’ on the person who has just literally pissed inches away from my head on the other side of the tent. W.T.F I scream and rush out.. A woman seemingly innocent stumbles away…I holler at her incredulously.. ” ohhhhh you, YES YOU!!” she marches on and only falters as a witness to the deed points at her and singles her out.. once proven guilty she throws her arms in the air and shrugs.. what can you say to this!? As our tent is on the outer ring of the complex we often see the masses shuffle pass to off load their bodily wastes and we soon become immune to the sights and smells. I take pity for the girls who have to shuffle the extra meters to achieve their modesty boundaries. No one looks, no one cares, bits and bobs dangling and blowing in the wind. As the week progresses the sites of people showering and washing and inspecting their ‘bits’ grows a common and nauseating site that too also diminishes in its impact
Sunday 10th: ‘The hunter of Achilles’
On my usual morning stretching routine (yes I had to, i’m getting to be an old rickity fart) my gaze falls upon a gentlemen, dare I say he looks somewhat of a fruit cake as he is wanders around the camp like the hunter of Achilles. He is brandishing a 6 foot bow and arrow.. I like this guy, certifiable I think I recall running around the centre of London for two days wearing a Zulu suit and a lycra muscle suit with ziggy stardust wig less than two years before….
Arhhhhhhh he seems fine to me and I chuckle at this oddity, familiar and accepted in this camp of merry and wonderful souls. I wonder if the Medical Questionaire should have a Psychiatric tick list. I chuckle harder within! Patrick Bauer would soon be out of a race.
Later on I stand directly next to him at the start line and watch as he, with grand pomposity and ceremony flourishes his bow.. the crowd silences somewhat in anticipation as he draws the arrow to its most taught and promising position.. the countdown finishes and the arrow is let go!!! My eye is fixed afar in what I believe should be the landing area for this Zeus born arrow. Could he even take out the flying metal beast that zips around the skys. Now then he would be a hero!! The sky is not pierced by the arrow and sadly it flys no further and with the same sense of urgency and grace that an average chap can urinate. Mad Max eat your heart out darling, the stampede begins and the many crazied fly off under the wings of the Metal beast that flys above. By the gods its a great feeling and I, as I am sure many others do, fly off like warriors of the sand, running it seems as fast as the Moroccan Team. “Baaaaaahhh see they’re not that good!!” Ten minutes later the pace diminishes and the rapidly disappearing specs on the horizon let you know that actually they are the sand warriors and that we are the slow Scarab like beetles scratching our arses and kicking the odd lump of turd around, that stretch out as the far as the eye can see behind them. At the end of day one I am the first back to the tent. It lays there fluttering like a dying crow whilst the sandstorm batters it. For an hour I make, I feel, valiant efforts that quickly grow feeble. I fail to resurrect this abode. I swear with a glossary known only to the medieval prostitutes of old at my predicament and then accept defeat and I lay swallowed up within the tent. I simply let it beat me. There is more sand than rug and I lay upon this and accept the fact I am slowly dry baking. I lay there thinking about bugga all other than, can I survive another day in this little part of heaven and hell!? I enjoy this day and I feel strong. My ankle feels better(ish) and I get caught up in the buzz. I push hard over the giant sand dunes and eventually finish somewhere in the top 100. My tent mates filter thankfully in and we are all complete at the end of the first day.
Monday 11th: ‘Hot and fierce like a Dragon that has had a double vindaloo’
The second Morning comes ooooohhh too swiftly and we are awakened by the friendly Berbers who go about their business pulling and folding the tents down around you. By the time you’ve adjusted your eyes and scratched at your groin, a mere flash, the camp has disappeared. We are all left like ants without a home, idly and bemusedly standing around. God I love this land, this race runs over giant sand dunes to lunar and barren landscapes that you can imagine only the craziest of the Flintstones clan should exist in. The wind…. ooooohhh the wind!! It acts as a double agent. One moment it comes as though by divine intervention, it kisses and caresses you with its cooling touch just when you are needing it the most and almost praying for it. Then the next, it is though it is born from the effects of a nuclear bomb blast. It blows strong, hot and fierce like a Dragon that has had a double vindaloo and cuts through you just as quick and mercilessly. You combine the wind and the swamp like black sticky sand and you have a recipe for a death march. Each step is fought and paid for. Lofty ambitions are mollified. This land can constrict the performance dreams of even the seasoned athlete like a straight jacket.
Tuesday 12th: “I am much more comfortable in water you know!”
It takes getting to the third day I think before the fine intentions of etiquette go to pot. We few rapidly resemble a bunch of broken geriatrics that stagger around zombie like in our worsening mobilities, I have seen more agile and dignified tramps. I suggest to Stuart, I think on the third day, that possibly carrying a victory bottle of beer and associated implements is a luxury that adds a bit too much weightage to his already burgeoning pack. He seems undeterred. I like his style and fxxk it mentality. He says he is only walking with the camels at the back and feels this will give him the margin to succeed. He proudly shows me his associated ‘Camel Club’ tie and badge and I feel he has shown his credentials to their full capacity. I am suitably impressed. I do wonder as to the whereabouts and story of the rest of his secret Camel club. I saw a chap a ted Jackson manically parading himself around the mass of competitors on day one who was rodeoing a costume Camel. I make an instant connection. I recalled at the time of seeing this nut job that he was never ever going to last for long with the costume. I too had experience of running with a similar sized freaky looking Emu in and around Birmingham on my first I.C.A.I.W 1200 mile charity run and died a death!! (I was only running in the cool U.K weather whilst on tarmac..) There are things that I love about all of my tent mates.. I am such a lucky chap to be sharing with them.
I love the unfailing positivity that all of them give out. They’re stoic resolve rarely falters and their kind warm generous souls always shine through the darkest of moments. They are the finest people a guy like me could wish to know. (Whilst I write this, I miss them and wish we were under the stars once again!)
I like to hear zany comments like, “I am much more comfortable in water you know!” sorry Kate.. yaaaaa mad as a hatter gal. Mind you she has swum the channel!! These three days are tough on everyone and the course is shaping up to be one hell of a tough race to do. I battle other niggles and really struggle with nasty cyclical situation that torments me. It is a joy to be with people and be able to chew the fat with someone and I settle into a comfortable trot most days.
I have a bit of a low time today and I hope that I receive some emails of support from the shout out I put out to friends at home the day before. You can only send out one email a day and my hopes aren’t high. A delivery comes to the tents every night.
Wednesday 13th: “How yaa doing gav!?” I give a thumbs up and collapse again.
The ‘long day’ arrives and I pray my injuries don’t worsen. After 20 k.m and just before the 2nd C.P I decide to take Ibuprofen and Codeine to try to get me through the pain. I am at a walk at this point and I am in fear of not completing this day. Between CP2 and CP3 I land up in HELL! I spiral out of control/ I vomit several times and I try to climb the Jebals that lay ahead. Each step grows harder and I am gasping. I recall my training running up and down the stairs at work and this eclipses that agony several times over. I falter and falter. I stop!! Again and again!! I mumble a mantra!!! MOVE GAV! MOVE GAV! MOVE GAV! I somehow stumble into CP3 and promptly collapse into a tent. I avoid the Medical tent in fear of a ‘Penalty’ I rest and self administrate. I scour the area for any discarded spare water and retrieve the precious remaining water and drink drink drink. Half an hour later I feel 100% better but still like death warmed up. At this point I see Elizabet arrive and she hollers to me, ” How yaa doing gav!?” I give a thumbs up and collapse again.. a few moments later she has glided off into the distance. This interlude and decrepitude angers me and I quickly saddle up and set off. The anger of my predicament fuels my inner rage and spurs me on. The rest of the race is a rollercoaster of intense highs and lows. I do not take any more pain killers and feel better, but in more pain. In the end I do okay and finish in 15 hours or so. On the way I meet various wonderful people and am grateful beyond measure for this especially when it gets dark. The silum sticks show the path and it is a pleasure to have this safety net. The first week was incredibly tough in not having these simple opportunities.
Thursday 14th: Rest day: ‘Eating the inside of a dead rotting dogs arse’
It’s so rewarding to wash out of my clothes so they’ll be fresh from the’Long haul’ I achieve this with ‘borrowed’ iodine water.. an hour later a mischievous sandstorm gayley whistles in and within minutes sandblasts and ingrains sand throughout the clean’ish’ clothes! Need I say more. A luxury of rest is had and I do just that. My remaining food is limited and I have to eat the remaining congealed mess of biltong and jelly babies that has been fermenting for two weeks, I have no choice as little else remains. Biltong an all time favourite food of mine becomes like eating the inside of a dead rotting dogs arse. I am glad I was in the the Army. Not that I ate dogs arses in the Army.
I receive a sheath of pages of support and my spirits raise to the skys. I don’t read them all at that time as I feared I would cry in front of my friends. Thank you all of those amazing people who made the efforts to email me. Bless you all.
Friday 15th: ‘I am crying like a baby’
My god I actually seem to be on the way to doing this!! It is just a marathon to do. My starting position is 201 and as such I set off with the early crowd. I decide that it would be good to be in the top 200 and set off hard. I have never consulted the route book and set off thinking the race had x4 C.POINTS. I push hard and am determined not to loose positions. I watch the Elite Moroccan Men glide by me half way round. Pure effortless grace. It is as though they are on a gentle jog, chatting away and care free. Within 2 minutes they have vanished into the distance. They are running at my sprinting speed. These guys are phenomenal. I run over a crest and see a bunch of spectators on a hill cheering at runners passing by. To the left of this hill that they are on there in the distance is a vision. It cannot be real as I have at least another 12 k.m to go!! As I pass the crowd they are all cheering and saying ” Go for it, its nearly over, its just there!!!”.. the realisation hits me with the most stupendous wave of joy. I simply cannot explain to you!! ‘Its over!!! Its over!!!! Ive done it!!!!!’ I push hard as possible. The end seems eternally and cruelly far, far, far away. MOVE GAV! MOOOOVE!!!!!
The pain in my body swallows me and I feel excruciating pain pulsing in my chest. The thought of me having a cardiac arrest before the finishing line slows me down to a walk. Be a bit of a shame. I count 20 steps to walk and run 20 steps. I hit the finish line. Upon the finish line, or what I perceive being the finish line, a shadow laying across the border. I recall hitting this shadow and stop. Instantly The world feels like its on my shoulders and I crumple there and then. I feel the world spin out of control and I start to black out. Breath.. breath.. breath.. I stand up and weave drunkenly to the beckoning people. I fall into a tent whilst the medics flock to my aid… I am crying like a baby and cannot stop. More aid comes to me. I refuse help in fear of a penalty. Patrick Bauer comes and gives me a hug and actually sheds a tear. Cameras are shoved in my face but I cannot focus and cry again and again. Eventually I get the strength back and I try to welcome back the incoming competitors. This period is electric. A once in a life time moment. I share hugs and kisses from soo many friends and well wishers. I am utterly spent and struggle to grasp onto anything remotely normal. I am kindly given some sweets by Elisabet. This is such a kind jesture at this point. I steadily revive. I leave and stumble to my tent. There are rumours of getting a can of coke. I dont belive it but the mob is enticed to go to the awards ceremony that night by this offer. I am tired and decide to sit on the floor at the front and I watch the best in the world get their deserved awards. I realise to my horror that Patrick is talking about me and I assure you dear reader that this was totally unexpected. “Fxxk fxxk sticks” I have to go up. I am at best bimbling idiot in front of a few people and there were athousand or more now slapping me on. Silence falls. I would do another weeks run so as to not have to stand there and be hashing a speech. I mention and ask after my friend Duncan and then simply kiss the award and gratefully shuffle off. I find Duncans friends and give the award to them and ask for it to be given to him. I thought he might off flown home. It felt right in doing this and I quickly left the crowd. I grabbed a coke and went straight to bed.I sipped the coke like it was the whiskey that me and my team had two weeks prior. I silently toasted them and said ” Well we only went and bloody did!”
Tears rolled down again. ( I know dear deader, more tears!!!)
Saturday 16th: ‘Fluffy clouds’
We all set off on the charity stage. A long blue luminescent line spreads across the horizon and the pace is leisurely. I speed walk with Elisabet and we finish in good time to get the earlier busses.
These duly depart and surrealy the desert slowly -vanishes and is replaced more and more by civilisation. The end of this grand adventure starts to unravel. We arrive in a stampede to the hotel reception. The rooms promise long lost and forgotten luxuries. Heavens waters washes away the dirt. The bar is alive with people. Beer and food is consumed as though it was the last great Roman Orgy. I dive straight into the pool with beer in hand and drink it whilst happily sunken below. After 4 giant meals and too many beers I take early departure from the festivities and go to sleep where I dream that I am sleeping on fluffy clouds.
Sunday 17th: ‘Gorging like a hog in a Hannibal Movie’
The day passes by in relaxation. I am eating anything that lays around and am gorging like a hog in a Hannibal Movie. I am delighted to see Duncan is still around and we catch up. I enjoy chatting with everyone and time flys by. I am inducted into the camel club and get to know these amiable bunch of nutters. That evening a bidding war is successful in getting £5k to Duncan and the ‘Walking with the Wounded’ and I am proud to of been involved. This is a highlight for me of many highlights.
Monday 18th to today 1st May:
Two weeks pass by. I struggle at work and feel like I am in a constant panic attack. It takes a week for this to go. It feels also like my very being is in flux and is trying to reconnect with the energy that was present in that aincient land. To connect with the energies of the all of the amazing people that were there. I miss my tent mates.
I get a fire cracker up my arse from a very good friend Ciara a few days ago. Thanks gal!! I cancel two competitions as my ankle is still very bad and I simply cannot run on it very well. I pray this improves.
The Future: “I can and I will”
I look forward to the future and who knows where it will take me.
I decide that I will if possible go back to the Sahara and race the MDS again and resolve to do something a bit fun with it again.
My plan is to swim the channel then Cycle over the French Alps to Spain. Down through Spain to N. Africa. Head to the Far side of the Atlas mountains and then run over those to the start of the MDS Race and then compete in that. A lofty dream that requires a sponsor with balls to join me.
Can I do it!?? Will you do it!??
“I can and I will”
I hope you have enjoyed this blog. Sorry for the ‘Long haul!’ I hope that what I have done inspires you. Dreams are possible and often you have to fight with every possible resolve you have to make them happen. I meet many patients whose dreams are like this and their battles are seemingly unsurmountable and tragically sometimes those battles defeat them. It is the ‘I can and I will’ spirit that I see soo often with these patients that inspires me to do the things I do to try to help them in their battles. Please if you have time, have a look at my website further and please register today.
For further details refer to www.IcanandIwill.co.uk
Say and do ‘I can and I will’ and register today. Be in place to save someone’s life.