The answer lies in the journey – Marathon Des Sables 2016

The mystical shifting sands of the Sahara beckoned and lured me back for a 2nd time to compete in ‘The Toughest Footrace on Earth’ Marathon Des Sables (MdS).  A 257km, the longest MdS distance in the 31 year history of the race, gruelling multi-stage, self sufficient race in one of the most inhospitable climates on earth – the Sahara desert.  Crossing salt flats, climbing jebels, and running through the never ending sand dunes of Erg Chebbi in baking temperatures of up to 50 degrees under the scorching Moroccan sun and contending with billowing sand storms as if it wasn’t hard enough.  But why come back for a 2nd time you ask?  I had some ghosts to put to bed as I explain in more detail in my previous post.

After a typical Scottish winter it felt good to be back in Morocco; under a canopy of startling blue skies and wispy clouds the stark surroundings have started to feel strangely like home after quite a number of visits to this beautiful country for various types of holidays and adventures.  I for one couldn’t wait to join the other 1,250 runners from all different walks of life for one single purpose, to finish this challenge.

Ouarzazate sunset

Ouarzazate sunset

Leaving civilisation behind in Ouarzazate, the 6 hour bus ride out to the first bivouac (camp) site feels long even though en route I met my running idol, Fernanda Maciel.

Selfie with Fernanda!

Selfie with Fernanda!

Once we get there and settle into our tent that will house 7 of us (3 previous finishers among us), tent number 156, we know we still have a full day of administrative checks the following day to endure before we get anywhere near racing.  The 2 nights spent in the camp before the actual race start is a gentle tease as you slowly get further away from creature comforts, for the first night you still have all your belongings including phones and toiletries (important in exactly that order) and delicious meals are provided by the race organisation.  But then it starts to strip away, the day before the race you hand your luggage in and the race registration takes place of checking your kit and ECG/medical before handing you your race numbers and bag of salt tablets before it all suddenly starts to feel very real.

Dinner MdS style

Dinner MdS style

Every day the bivouac comes alive well before the sunrises with competitors unable to sleep they start stirring and faffing about in their bags, with many wasting precious energy being up so early and being ready well before time.  I remained cocooned in my sleeping bag until at least 7am before peering out and starting the morning rituals of changing into my progressively filthy kit and preparing my body to face the day ahead.  Being the only girl in the tent I was nicknamed ‘Queen of the Desert’.

Queen of the Desert & tent 156

Queen of the Desert & tent 156

You can’t help but be swept up in the grand scale of this race, the ultimate show.  Patrick Bauer (race director) addresses the runners at the start before blasting out AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ and we are off with a helicopter swooping low over us all to film us all smiling and waving our way along our own personal highways to hell.  That song will always give me goose bumps whenever I hear it and with it comes memories flooding back of MdS.  It is without doubt the blue riband event of multi stages, nothing else compares.

MdS should not be under estimated, it is a humbling experience where the race kicks the stuffing out of you and redefines you whatever your experience and expectations.  I had previously placed 377th overall (27th female) in 2014 and initially had my goal set at a top 200 finish and aiming for a top 10 female finish; that was until I saw the strongest ever female field registered for 2016.  Never has there been so many females finishing in the top 200 of MdS, with 2 females in the top 20 alone, and a whopping 21 females in the top 200 (13 in top 200 in 2015 & 2014).  Wow!  Proud to be part of the ever strengthening women’s field, go girls!  I was delighted to finish in 147th overall as 13th female with the finishing times so close together it was a massive improvement on my first performance.

Stage 1 official video:

I loved the sand dunes this year!  They were as huge and as beautiful as I remember and there was still no end in sight but I ran them, in 2014 they near killed me and here in 2016 I ran them and came in 93rd place for day 1!  As my husband Dion (http://www.findinggobi.com) so eloquently put it in an email to me ‘Day 1 result, 93rd, Did I read that right…Holy Fuckballs!’  That result added pressure and I felt that the next few days where I slowly slipped back some positions but I will hold that result close to my heart forever, so proud!

13km of sand dunes on day 1 to start the day

13km of sand dunes on day 1 to start the day

MdS threw everything at us; dune after dune, endless salt flats and jebels (mountains) to climb that needed ropes to pull you up the last section mixed with heat that cooked you from the inside and sand storms that exfoliated your skin to inch of its life!  My body started to revolt from day 2 with nausea and legs like lead and I joined forces with gal pal Marina Ranger to find strength in companionship and we pushed each other through the good times and the dark times, finishing the rest of the race side by side.  I faced my own demons on the long stage with bouts of diarrhoea leading to heat exhaustion by the halfway point on this day but we soldiered on together with a lengthy conversation for the last 30km about why and what makes us do these things to our bodies.  We couldn’t answer that question at the time, maybe it was the fact that we were almost delirious from tiredness and the heat or that the answer lies in the journey.  We are all changed from the experience in some way or another and we dare dream even more to find that next escape and the freedom that comes from the adventure and challenge of pushing your body and mind to its limit.

X-Bionic twins soldiering through the desert

X-Bionic twins soldiering through the desert

Preparing for this race takes months of meticulous planning and training.  It is not enough to just be able to run this race takes more, much more!  You need strength, fitness, mental tenacity and the ability to deal with a week in the most primitive of conditions where cleanliness and hygiene are non-apparent and you become the filthiest you have ever been in your life.  It’s harder than you can imagine lying there in an open tent being blasted by sandstorms filling every orifice of your body trying to recover from being out in brutally tough conditions for anything from 5-15 hours, needing to eat and sleep to be ready for the next day.  This is what starts to break people down bit by bit and what makes this race so totally unique and iconic.

With 3 MdS finisher medals to our household that previous experience helped me build a plan specific for MdS.  I ensured that I trained the hardest and the smartest I ever had, incorporating hills, speed, long runs, strength & conditioning and flexibility combined with fuelling my body with the best food to build it even stronger and healthier than ever before finishing off with some heat chamber sessions of up to 44 degrees to prepare my body for the sizzling temperatures it would face.  I kept focussed and trained my mind to keep that competitive & stubborn mindset (my husband is legendary at this!) to be able to push through the guaranteed pain & discomfort that would be faced throughout the race and I spent hours poring over my kit & food spreadsheet ensuring I had the best kit available and the best fuel for my body, at the lightest weights possible but without scrimping.

As a proud X-Bionic athlete I wouldn’t dream of wearing anything else into the desert, it has seen me through every desert multi stage I have done with no issues of chafing, riding up and even in those extreme temperatures the kit doesn’t smell, it’s amazing stuff and I couldn’t recommend their kit highly enough for anyone coming to MdS or any other desert race, trust me it works!  I wore a Runderwear crop top which aside from being very comfortable meant that I didn’t have to tape up to avoid chafing as there was no chafe! At all!  Aside from your clothing shoes are imperative to this race with so many people suffering from horrible blister issues this is something you need to avoid, I came away with all 10 toenails intact, still perfectly pedicured, having experienced only one small blister on the side of my foot over the whole week.  How?  I wear New Balance Leadville shoes, initially they were half a size up to what I would normally wear but I now wear this as my normal size (don’t go too big a size up or your foot will slide around & cause friction), coupled with Injinji toe socks (I only had 1 pair for the whole week, who needs fresh socks?) and then a set of AR gaiters over the top.  You can’t do this race without gaiters and keeping the sand out is so important so I get my Velcro stitched on by a professional, Dave at Sandbaggers offer a gaiter fitting service, they are stitched onto your shoe in such a way that it doesn’t affect the shape of the shoe & they will not come loose, I saw a lot of people with issues caused by unprofessional gaiter fitting processes.

X-Bionic is the right kit in MdS

X-Bionic is the right kit in MdS

Sleep is such an important element of this race that this time around I sacrificed 200g to have both a pillow and a sleeping mat (trimmed down) to give myself the best chance of sleep.  I used the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 which felt very comfortable all week and managed to have my starting bag weight at 6.8kg (dry).

Food choices are individual but one thing that is the same for everyone is that whatever you take, you will get sick of eating it at some point so variety is the key.  I find that I prefer savoury items for both breakfast and for my snacks and dinner once I am in from the day, and grazing throughout the afternoon is better for me than a bigger meal, but I stick to gels and energy style drinks such as Torq energy and Hammer Perpetuem to supplement those when I can’t stomach the gels anymore.  I wouldn’t be without my For Goodness Shakes recovery powder either at the end of each day.  In the heat of the Sahara it is difficult to eat anything and I can’t get any sort of whole food such as bars down whilst I am out on the course.  My favourite tips from this year’s MdS would be to take some Oxo stock cubes to add to your water in the afternoon for a tasty salty treat (heats up nicely in the sun) and tea bags for ‘iced’ tea (not quite iced but tasted surprisingly good in tepid water) as you get so sick of drinking tepid water all day, so anything that will help you hydrate is good.

Marina & I on the finishing line webcam:

I promised myself out in the Sahara that this is the last time and have told both Dion and Marina that they must not allow me to sign up again, and I won’t……I don’t think.  It’s funny but you very quickly forget how much it hurts, how much it takes to do the MdS as soon as you step away and the afterglow of the event takes hold.

I love this quote from Jason Schlarb, it really sums up MdS!

 “This has been a miserable challenge, a misery train, but a life experience.” Jason Schlarb – 11th Man MdS 2016

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Pondering about Pilgrims

Need a great way to flush out the excesses of the festive season?  Then look no further than Extreme Energy’s Pilgrims Challenge.  66 miles over 2 days on the North Downs Way with 2,364 metres ascent is enough to scare off the most stubborn mince pie!  The format is to run 33 miles from Farnham over the NDW to Merstham, stay the night in a school hall, then run the 33 miles back the next day.  In the evening there is plenty of food & hot drinks, massages on offer, kit to check out and a series of guest speakers including myself this year.  You can opt to run one day rather than the two, but it really is a fun evening and a great chance to catch up with a lot of other runners you might have met at other races or through the wonderful social media world of twitter.  The crew take your bag for you, so you only need to carry what you need on you for the actual race.

This was my 2nd time at Pilgrims, and I had almost forgotten how brutal it is!  Always held in the last weekend of January the weather always plays a part and whilst last year we were redirected around flooded rivers, this year it was just mud, snow, mud and more snowy mud!  I knew I was much fitter than last year, but having competed in Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon in November and enjoying possibly too much rest, impacted by a rather naughty period over Christmas, I wasn’t in top form to be racing.  I knew I would do better than the previous year but wasn’t sure how I would shape up to the other runners as this race certainly brings in a very strong field of very competitive runners.

Marina & I ready to start day 1

Marina & I ready to start day 1

I was at the start early to see off Marina Ranger, my co-patriot from Kalahari, whom I have been coaching now since September last year who was off in the 9am wave of runners (walkers had headed off at 8am already).  There was snow on the ground and more sleet and snow falling, so it was truly freezing, here I was thinking I had come south for some warmer weather!  Who was I kidding?  XNRG are always superbly organised events, within 2 minutes of arriving at registration I had my bib number, chip a handful of chocolates and had caught up with Neil, Anna and Brian the wonderful organisers of this event among others.  I hung around and caught up with some of the other runners before my start time of 10am, which by then my feet were frozen solid, I just couldn’t get warm.  I didn’t feel warm during any of day 1 with the continuous wet weather ensuring I remained wet & cold.  Actually the only part of me that wasn’t cold was my hands since I have switched my preferred glove to Gore Windstopper Gloves, a recent acquisition from Run & Become, considering I suffer from Raynaud’s I was very impressed as this was my first ultra distance in them and they certainly lasted the distance.  Read my review here.

Looking rather chilly on the start line of Day 1

Looking rather chilly on the start line of Day 1

The 10am group headed off with a blast and race leader & winner Danny Kendall took off with a bang knocking out the first 10k in 37mins and coming in for the day in 3h 48!  It was fast paced for the entire 33 miles with everyone pushing hard.  It wasn’t long before we were passing the walkers that had started earlier and then started rounding up some of the 9am starters.  It’s always nice passing others, especially familiar faces to give each other a quick pat on the back to push through to the end.  It was muddy throughout, particularly in the 2nd half of the run on the steeper hills, leaving me to wonder how I was going to get up or down some of these hills tomorrow, truly treacherous (as you may know I am not a huge fan of mud!), I managed a respectable 5h 41 putting me in 10th female for Day 1, which was a whole hour quicker than last year but disappointingly a long way off the winning female Elisabet Barnes who did it in 4h 49.

Pilgrims finish line with Neil photo bombing!

Pilgrims finish line with Neil photo bombing!

I got in and got myself sorted with a nice hot shower and got a For Goodness Shakes recovery drink in straight away and some pot noodles.  I booked myself in for a massage and then made sure I checked my presentation worked on the equipment before tonight’s talks.  I expended a lot of energy going around talking to people, which was great in terms of being social, but not what I needed for recovery, and in hindsight I certainly expended a lot more energy being nervous about giving my talk which I hadn’t thought would happen.  So much so I totally forgot to put on my compression before bed as well – a fail in my recovery process that I have tried and tested!  The evening was a great chance to talk to lots of runners, so of whom I know, and some new friends.  I gave my talk on multi day desert running, which was well received with about 100 of the 200 runners all there as training runs for this year’s Marathon Des Sables.

Never do you get a good night’s sleep in a school hall filled with a group of runners, but it is what it is!  With everyone waking up with stiff legs the initial miles are always slow to start as runners get warmed up tackling the hilly first half of the route back.  More snow had fallen but it was a beautiful sunny winters day, very cold but gorgeous.  My legs were stiff to get going and my feet were in tatters so I struggled on some of the muddier hills, downhill is definitely my weakness at the best of times but heading down when you can’t get grip is my worst nightmare, so this definitely slowed me down a lot.  I settled into my pace and from the last checkpoint decided to run with Toby who had been playing tag with me for the day.  Toby is running MdS later this year so I prattled my way to the finish about my experiences as he had missed the talks the night before and pushing him through to keep going.  I finished the day in 6h 44, again another hour quicker than last year, but too slow, finishing as 11th female over the 2 days.  I had taken my mind off the job at hand on day 2 and just didn’t back it up, but it was a good solid training run preparing me well for my challenges ahead in 2015.

I leave this year’s Pilgrims Challenge with a strange mix of emotions, whilst I had a great time running & catching up with everyone and I massively improved on last year’s times, I feel strangely disappointed in my performance.  I put this down to Pilgrims not being my A race as the conditions don’t suit me at all as I much prefer the hot climate races, hence my upcoming race calendar.  It is a great fun event and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to try out the multi day events in a safe, caring and fun environment without having to travel abroad.

Endurance Life – Coastal Trail Series – Northumberland Ultra 35.7 miles

My first DNF

After training hard the week before with 123 miles ran I was feeling pretty invincible to say the least. Well I was in my head in any case but my legs seem to tell a different story which was to play out later in the week.  I had felt OK but knowing I needed a rest I took Monday off as  a full rest day, headed out for an easy 5 miles on Tuesday, easy 10 on Wednesday, and an even easier 2.5 (yes you heard right, 2.5!  It was my first workplace jog club so I took it easy on them!) on Thursday.  Friday was also a rest day, though I did go to Bikram yoga on Friday night to try and ease out any aches and pains.

Saturday was race day of 35.7 miles-We had to travel from Edinburgh about 2 hours to Bamburgh Castle for the Endurance Life, Coastal Trail Series Ultra, so the alarm was set for 4:40am, out the door for 5am.  Coffee in hand, tasty pastries for a pre-breakfast treat, then at 6am we fuelled up with a ProBar for proper race fuel. Registration and parking were easy as is usual with Endurance Life events, it is all pretty low key to get started.  This start was a bit different and we all got bussed out to the start at 7:20 to make it for an 8:30am ultra marathon start.  It was cold, frost on the ground, but dry & still, so ideal running conditions.

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Bamburgh Castle at first light

After the usual pre race briefing and a relatively quite joint countdown start, all 74 of us set off on our way.  I wanted to try and lead out the ladies from the start and in hindsight I may have gone out too quick. After the first 3 miles I was the first female, running at about 8:15min/miles; silly girl, much too quick for me in an ultra.  As 2 ladies passed me I settled into a more steady 9min/mile routine.  I was soon joined by another lady, of whom I ran with for about the first 15 miles, swapping places along the way through checkpoints and toilet stops en route.

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Dion and I at the frosty start

I had mistakenly thought the race would be easy.  When is 35 miles every easy one would ask?  The race map showed it would be fairly flat the entire way with some downhill, perfect.  Not so.  It certainly didn’t feel flat, and with quite a lot of sand running on the beach it was pretty draining on some pretty tired legs. This was however great prep for MDS in April.

I also wanted to  eat better than on previous runs and I managed to by munching on nuts (100g mixed macadamia, almonds and brazil nuts) regularly and take on small snacks every 5 miles.  I had a Clif energy gel at mile 5 (I don’t normally have gels but thought I would try and eat some different snacks to what I am taking to MdS), pepperami stick at mile 10, tried to eat a mule bar at mile 15 (these just don’t agree with me, note to oneself-no more mule bars), and started on some thai sweet chilli sensations nut at mile 20. Unfortunately from then it was just munching on nuts as I had lost the will to eat which is continuing to be a problem I’m looking to solve.  

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Views along the way

 

Got a great lift from the half marathoners who were milling about somewhere around mile 13/14 into the race awaiting their own race start which was great, but by mile 21 I was fading fast.  It wasn’t long after then, that the first of the half marathoners started to pass me on their fresh legs, but it wasn’t enough to motivate me to a faster run, my legs were just empty.  It was here that I saw the 10k racers getting ready as well to start their race and another couple of miles in some of these started to pass me as well. 

By mile 25 the dreaded little voice inside my head wanted me to pull out so for the next 2 slow mile I was seriously contemplating  pulling out at mile 27, where the race actually takes you past the finish line to go on to do another 9 miles.  It is quite cruel and easy to quit knowing your car/warm clothes are close by, and all the Endurance Life events have the same race route, where the Ultra runners have to go past the finish to do the extra loop to bring them to the Ultra total mileage.  This I guess is the mental challenge part of running an ultra.  I just didn’t have it in me to keep going for some reason and I took the ‘easy’ option of finishing at 27 miles.  In the back of my mind I had thought that hubby may have pulled out here as well also due to the big mileage he did the week before. It probably would have taken me another 2-2.5hrs to finish the last 9 miles, so I didn’t want to leave him sitting them endlessly waiting (another excuse).  He hadn’t pulled out however as I found out after I climbed the gruelling hill to the top of Bamburgh Castle.  I was absolutely shattered when I finished and pretty disappointed with myself for not following through and finishing, but too late now, I had made my decision.  I told one of the marshals I had pulled out, as I could only manage the 27 miles that day not the 35, she was quite incredulous to say ‘only 27 miles’ as well as the runner behind me who was dead on his feet after doing the half marathon distance!  It’s all relative I guess.

I tried to keep myself warm as I waited for hubby to cross the line, and about 45 minutes later he appeared.  In a complete state, he was completely spent, so much so he completely collapsed in a heap when he crossed the line with nothing more to give.  Food smeared all over his face from trying to eat along the way, he was close to tears and huddled in a ball for about 15 minutes until he was functional enough to walk back to the car.  For once it was me waiting for him (albeit I had run 9 miles less!) so it was my opportunity to look after him for a change and get him warmed up in the car and begin rehydrating with our first choice for recovery, For Goodness Shakes,  and some food sorted out.  I was super proud of him for finishing in 9th place especially since he had actually ran 140 miles the week before himself.  My very own Superman!

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Dion making it in to the finish! 

A rest day ensued on Sunday and Monday to get some time off the feet.  It is now only 3 weeks, 6 days and 22 hours until the start line of the Marathon Des Sables.  All the hard work is done, the time left is to keep things in check, diet & exercise, and get my head totally right and focussed for the week.  My aim is to make it into the top 100, which is a massive goal, a scary goal, but imagine how great I will feel if I can accomplish that!  My secondary goal is to be in the top 25 of all the females, and would also like to be the first Australian female home as I am competing as an Australian as this meant I could go this year and not join the UK waitlist!

 

 

Pilgrims Ultra – 2 day event, 66 miles

Driving down to The North Downs way from Edinburgh for the Pilgrims Ultra looked ominous for the pending race. As soon as we crossed the border into England the rain started, and didn’t stop! Torrential rain & hazardous driving conditions made the drive extra long, and looking out to fields of water we could only imagine what the conditions underfoot were going to be like.

We caught up with Race Director, Neil Thubron, one of our fellow competitors from the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon on the Friday night, meeting his lovely wife Anna, his dad & a couple of friends as well. It was great to catch up over some pasta & hear about his route reccie earlier that day. Basically the forecast for the weather was looking good but nothing could be done about the tonnes of mud & water out there.

The race had 3 start times, 8am for the walkers, 9am for the runners & 10am for the elites (or those planning a sub 6hr finish), Neil suggested we start at 10am. No pressure then! It was nice to have a later start though, we made it to race registration just before 9am and managed to catch up with some other fellow competitors from Kalahari; Marina Ranger & Howard Bailey; also running, and Edward Chapman, volunteer who was going to be on one of the checkpoints. Great to see the gang again.

The sun was out, it was chilly, but dry. A few pre race instructions, and we were off! The likes of Robbie Britton and Danny Kendall were out of sight before you could say ‘ultra running’! Not to be seen again until I crossed the line myself some 6h30 min later. Not quite the sub 6 hour I had hoped for, but pleased with my time considering the conditions. You had to keep an eye on the markers, which proved challenging for some, as Dion and a few other runners came past me not once but twice after getting lost!

Ready to Rock n Roll

Ready to Rock n Roll

The route was certainly challenging to say the least. A mix of road (not much), trail, mud, water hazards, fallen trees to climb, sand and plenty of steep hills.  I don’t think I can say enough about the mud; I have never experienced anything like it, it certainly made Tough Mudder seem like a beginners 5km run! Not only was it muddy on some of the flats, but also on hills, making climbing or descending treacherous, and thick ankle deep, squishy mud with nowhere to go but straight through it. It’s not that I mind mud (not once I’m in it, otherwise yes I’m a bit of a Princess) but it is so draining on the legs with all the slipping and sliding, but the time I got to 17 miles my legs were absolutely screaming and were really tired.

We were supposed to go through this....snorkel & fins anyone?

We were supposed to go through this….snorkel & fins anyone?

Normally I can knock out 20 miles without even worrying. I had been trying to keep refuelled, eating my snacks and drinking my Nuun water in my camelbak, but I wasn’t taking enough on board that’s for sure. I say it every time, but I have to get better at this eating & drinking business. I just don’t enjoy the eating on route which is so strange considering I certainly enjoy eating normally!

Nice knee deep cold water to get through

Nice knee deep cold water to get through

It was great to see Ed and Phil at the 2nd checkpoint, where I got a hug, some food and loads of encouragement to keep me going. The last half a marathon from the 20 mile mark were evil. After going up Boxhill, which is a severe incline which would test the very fittest, there was hill after bleeding hill! The weather had stayed good, a bit of rain on Boxhill but not enough to wet you through, and it started again in the last mile, but I couldn’t care about that at that point. What a relief to see the finish line! Made it in before dark which was the goal, and day 1 finished! Dion was there to greet me, having got my bag and set up our sleeping area for the night, what a sweetheart.  It was hard to get the trainers off, there was so much mud caked on them!

Boxhill which just keeps going & going

Boxhill which just keeps going & going

Thank God for showers!  After a shower, a For Goodness Shakes recovery drink, cup of sweet tea, cup of yummy soup and a slice of cake, I started to feel human again. Too sore to stretch (silly mistake must do this in future), I caught up with a few running pals and had a bit of a tweet meet, meeting some fellow tweeps face to face for the first time.

I took advantage of the £10 massages on offer, so 15 mins of the most brutal massage ever from Alex, and my legs were ready to walk across the path to dinner. XNRG put on dinner, which was pasta, garlic bread & crumble with custard. Perfect post race food, and also pre race as there was still a day to go. The perfect opportunity to get chatting to fellow competitors, meet some other runners that are also heading for Marathon Des Sables in April, and catch up with yet another fellow Kalahari runner, Steve Partridge, who had popped in to say hi to us all.  It was great to hear from the guest speaker Danny Kendall about his running, and interesting to hear that he too didn’t just appear naturally fast, he had to work at it, and still does, and gets his training in around a full time job, and a full time family!  A great guy and gave a really good insight into his training.  Looking forward to seeing him again at Marathon Des Sables this year.

Kalahari Reunion

Kalahari Reunion

Sleep was certainly not happening for most people that night, really only the snorers get a good night’s sleep!

The sleep zone

The sleep zone

Awoke to another dry day (in the skies at least, we were to find out another river had broke its banks so another detour!).  XNRG put on breakfast so there was plenty of porridge, toast and cereal to fill up on.  The walkers had headed out at 7am, and I was due to head out at 8am as I had not got under 6hrs the day before, so no longer in the elite group.  Dion decided to join me although he should have been in the 9am start as he was in under the 6hr cut off but was concerned about how the day would go and didn’t want to be caught out in the dark either.  Legs were pretty stiff, but what to do, there was another 33 miles to run.

New and old friends on Day 2

New and old friends on Day 2

Off we went, we were all in the same boat, except for a few fresh runners that were just doing the Sunday, but I was pleased to say I kept my speed up ahead of them so that was a good sign.  We all started off pretty slow and steady and quickly the group broke into smaller groups.  Within the first mile, I was following the lead pack, Dion leading, and they took the wrong way……only a few hundred yards to make up, but not what you need!  After Dion getting lost twice the day before it was weighing heavily on his mind, and that along with me in the pain zone, he graciously sacrificed his own race to stick it out with me.

Super husband waiting for me yet again

The first 13 miles were pretty tough going, loads of mud, I know I keep mentioning it, but there really was a lot, and this section was a lot of steep uphill.  Not to say that the back half was flat as it certainly wasn’t, but the first 13 were really tough.

Taking the detour around the burst river on Day 2

Taking the detour around the burst river on Day 2

Luckily the sun stayed out which was fantastic, especially at a slower pace, it was nice to enjoy the views and feel slightly warm as well.  Dion and I enjoyed chatting along the way, and he pushed me on when I was struggling to make sure it didn’t all end in a slow walk and take longer than it did.

Dion & Andy heading up St Martha's Hill

Dion & Andy heading up St Martha’s Hill

The checkpoint crew were fabulous as always, and I took good advantage of the food and the hugs on offer at the checkpoints to boost morale and energy!

We got lost again about 3 miles from the finish, stupidly following another couple, when we should have looked at the sign ourselves, so that cost us about 20 minutes and also some energy & patience!  The mud was really wearing me down, the legs were zapped, but there is only one way to get out of this pain, and that is to finish, so finish I did. 7h 40min for 34.5 miles.  Not ridiculous, but hardly breaking any records either.

The finish!

The finish!

All the pain disappears as soon as that medal is around your neck, okay it doesn’t really disappear as it’s on Wednesday I was still hurting, but you know what I mean.

Would I do it again?  Hell yeah!  A really well organised event, and a very challenging course, whatever the conditions.  I have learnt a lot from the race, I realise I am fit, but I need to be fitter.  A big wakeup call for MdS (Marathon Des Sables) coming up, and of course that small matter of my first 100 miler, the Mohican 100 in June.  So it is time to up the intensity, get some more hills and terrain in and it will all come together.  The plan was to get to more hills after this race as we had been training in fairly flattish conditions, more concerned with the mileage so this just drove it home that this is exactly what needs to happen.