Tag Archives: Sand

Day 7/8 – Stage 4 – Double Marathon

The day started badly.

There were sandstorms overnight and we had fun with the bivuoac. The wind was coming from all directions so first one flap was closed then later the other. At about 2am the wind changed again, picked up the tent, releasing the poles and the whole thing collapsed on top of all of us. Unfortunately, due to a combination of earplugs and iPod headphones, and everyone being completely shattered, no-one did anything about it assuming everyone else had decided to leave it. So what with sand everywhere, catnapping on and off all night and being claustrophobic both because I’d all but closed the sleeping bag over my head and the tent was on my face, I was not in the best of moods for the start of the most difficult day.

The start was more or less the usual, except that the top 50 runners were set off after the rest in a staggered start, 9:00am / 12:00am respectively.
1000m climb at start of stage 4
The only other difference was that significantly more people were walking from the start with the prospect of 74km ahead.

The first run to a climb seemed to take a long time – this was a portent for things to come.

Up side of pass across rocks and dunes then 1000m up over dune on side of mountain – rope on wall here to stop you falling down dune while traversing close to top. On the way up people were split into a group going up the mountain side and up the dune nearby. I went up the middle at edge of the dune and cliff side as queue for the more stable rockface was ridiculous.

Down other side rocky mountain boulders – took steadily. Then across some small dunes into CP1.

The terrain from CP1-2 was obviously an ancient seabed with the occasional shells evident.

Front runners passed us here after they had been running for about 1:40 across Wadi(dry river bed) into CP2 in a village. My blisters were bad by this stage despite taking my shoes off here – which was a bad move. Everytime I stopped from now on the pain would be phenomenal until I got well into a rythmn. The wadi after CP2 was so large it took forever to traverse it, but it was relatively flat solid ground of cracked mud. Up and over another 2 hills and reached CP3 at sunset.
View across wadi back towards CP2
CP4 cut-off was 1am. Just managed to get up hill by end of dusk but lights (head-torches) required for the rest of this stage. Hard going down soft sand after traversing hill top.

Saw ‘laser’ pointing at us / into sky, which we only found out later was from from CP5.

Went with Tim & John most of way.
Hard work along wadi in dark and taking 2.5hrs /12km between checkpoints.

Caught up with Tom on last stage.

Arrived just ahead of others in 19:38 as I just could not face the thought of stopping for any length of time, due to the agony.

Got back to tent and only Greg back although some others (Irish guys from tent 96) also Kipping as they didn’t have enough tents with the few they were using at CP4, 5 & 6 to go round! Settling in to tent the others arrived and Greg awoke and kindly prepared our food as the sun came up.

Time to get brief kip although didn’t sleep well, if at all so I busied myself for the rest of day by
sending email and visiting Doc Trotters.

I had to wash my feet in some sort of antiseptic and then wait outside – big queue 12 people sheltering in shade of bivuoac, but eventually after we’d figured out the queuing system consisted of knowing who arrived after you, I was invited in.

My nurse invited me in her best English to lay down on the raffia carpet in a similar manner to everyone else in the tent, with the soles of my feet facing her. She then proceeded to clean, cut off skin and after applying iodine, dressed the many blisters around my feet. The whole thing was a very military operation and after my visit and a hobble back to our bivouac I had a good rest.

The whole camp looked like a MASH hospital.

Latest blister count is
Left foot
Big toe – 3
Little toe – 1 but covering side, base and half way round toenail
Sole – 1 big at forefoot just behind toes
Heel – 3 small on right side, 1 on left side

Right foot
Big toe – 2 on side
Little toe – again 1 all over
Sole – 1 big one at forefoot
Heel – 2 on right, 1 on left

As I write this (3pm) the last competitor has just come in after 36hrs.

Day 4 – Stage 1 (32km – Dunes)

The tent survived the night – just! A complete reversal of the wind direction stressed it in completely the opposite way at about 2am which woke all of us up, although we did not realise it at the time.

Breakfast and packing-up
Breakfast and packing-up

I started making my breakfast (hot cereal with mango) as soon as the sun came up which was unfortunately the exact time the berbers came to take the tents down – very unceremoniously.  The central poles and guy ropes were literally released allowing the cover to fall to the floor – on top of anything (or anyone) inside.  All this happened with a background of high winds blowing sand from the NE.

After breakfast a final packing was carried out – again!  It seems there was always something else to find a place for, such as the flare (which subsequently nearly fell out) and the first load of water – 2 x 500ml in carried bottles with a 1.5L bottle across my front pouch.

So finally we were ready for the Photo call and 7 cameras later we were off.

The start was a little delayed as expected, but then suddenly we were running.  I waved my St. George’s flag proudly and emotionally as we ran along the first 1.5km to the dunes, the usual and expected array of helicopters followed us furiously with camels and ‘blue men’ accompanying us

Erg Chebbi

Dunes -14km

Suddenly this was real and noone except the front runners attempted to run in the dunes – apparently the second highest in Africa (the highest being in Namibia).  However, what soon became apparent was that it was significantly easier to run on virgin sand than it was to run on that which had been broken by the many feet of those ahead. This therefore became our strategy and I consequently gained a good amount of time as well as shielded myself where possible from the energy sapping effects of the dunes. They are amazing though and the amazing view on reaching the several summits was not wasted on any of us.

It was about this stage that I lost Tim and Tom as we took different routes through the dunes and despite waiting at the top of a large hill I did not see them again until the end.

The way ahead after CP1
The way ahead after CP1

The first CP was a welcome break after the dunes but it was short lived. I stopped only to take my pack off and fill my bottles, but later thought I should have taken my shoes off to rest my feet. With hindsight that may have delayed the onset of the blisters.

The next section was a relatively flat but 10km long and a totally exposed plateau which was our first introduction to the isolation of this run.  I got out my iPod for the first time and played the Rachmaninov Piano concertos – appropriate for such a dramatic landscape.  I also unbelievably had mobile network coverage at one point and was able to send a quick text to my family.

By CP 2 the blisters on the outside of my big toes on both feet were manageable on the flat, but there was precious little of that to come with the last stage consisting of 8km, of which the last 2.5km was a final set of ‘small’ dunes which retrospectively everyone agreed was extremely draining.

32km in just under 6:30

Nevertheless, the finish did materialise and the relief at crossing the line was tangible – although why the organisers insist on clumsily forcing 4.5l of water into your hands when all you want to do is lie down is a bit of an enigma, but then again maybe I’ve answered my own question.

The evening entailed a number of debates over the best way to treat blisters – I eventually had mine lanced, drained and treated with Eosine, apparently a combination of iodine and alcohol which stings like nothing on earth but dries the affected area nicely.  I was to dress them in the morning so we shall see how effectively it works out.

Food was freeze dried chilli con carne which turned out to be really hot!

Day 3 – Technical Checks

Waking up – not slept well due a combination of snoring, wind and no pillow! Big softy, eh?  Still, I’m sure a couple of days of running will sort that out to the extent I’ll be able to sleep on a knife edge.

7:00am queuing for water which took 20 mins but spirits are still high.

Breakfast (the first and last provided) involved a lot of queuing again, but ham, eggs and corn flakes and a selection of yoghurt seemed to hit the spot.

Now…. What happens when 7 guys have to decide between them the best hydration strategy, how much duct tape, isostar tablets, how many cereal bars, peperami and ‘noon’ electrolyte tablets to take and where to put walking poles?

Unbelievable, that after all this time, nearly 3 years of anticipation and planning, we still haven’t decided the best way to do things – or is it just nerves?

The technical checks ended up being a bit of a non event after all the preparation and after the hand-out of numbers, checkpoint chips and salt tablets, a cursory glance at the ECG was all that really occurred – not even a glance through the food which was annoying given the effort that had gone into picking and packing it.

After lunch, Will and I took a stroll up to the first set of dunes to test the gaiters. Although not up to our knees in sand, both his custom and my parachute silk gaiters seemed to perform well – good news for tomorrow.

Back at the tent we had numbers to attach and emergency flares to stow somewhere which took some more shifting around of kit.

The final event for the day was a welcome from the race director, Patrick Bauer. His address was due at 5:00pm and he was fashionably late – which is apparently his way!

After a welcome and series of medical and safety announcements (including setting off two flares in demonstration) only the birthday announcements remained – I’m not looking forward to Monday morning now!

Interestingly, some of the statistics quoted make GB the 2nd biggest contingent after the French, of the 802 starting the event. The UK is however by far the biggest charity runner contingent.

Dinner was spagetti bolognase with a (small) beer and then back to the tent.

Given the pounding it had the previous night and the rips it has already incurred, I only hope it survives the night.

Day 2 – Travelling day

Early start with breakfast at 7:00am – all imported from France apparently to stop the onset of local cuisine intolerance syndrome!

Last Shower for next few days was quick and a brief whiz round the room to pack final items of chargers, etc and a long trek back to reception to check out. All on the convoy of 6 buses by 9:00am and ready to go.

There are some nervous faces around and the anxiety with some people is palpable – we leave at 9:45am

Broken Bus
Broken Bus

The journey continues.

I see a hawk flying briefly alongside our bus and thinking it might be an omen, I pray that I might have some of the grace of movement and stamina of such an animal over the next few days.

We see a boy with his goats only a few miles outside of Ouarzazate and I am reminded how different our cultures really are.

Then the bus broke down, only 5 miles outside of town much to the frustration and embarrassment of the French officials. 45 mins later another coach turns up an we are duly on our way.

We’ve been given our road books as well. The official route for 2008.

Day 1 starts with 14km of dunes. Gulp! A lot more greenry than I expect. Road changes to single track Tarmac after about 1hr 30mins but still have mobile coverage.

Mountains on both sides like in Cape Town topography. It is surprising that anything can live out in this desolate environment but nevertheless life is tenacious and the people that inhabit this area seem doubly so.

Through the Atlas mountains
Through the Atlas mountains

Sporadically we come across a patch of green followed by a house or dwelling of some sort and surprisingly this invariably expands into a small settlement with very tidy and well kept restaurants, petrol stations and shops selling everything from mobile phones to goat food, iPods to the ubiquitous coca-cola. I am ashamed to say I know very little of these people and their culture.

2hrs 30min in and a 5min stop for over-hydrating passengers with lunch 20mins away.

Lunch stop arrived and packs were duly distributed – bread, orange and a nice selection of dried fruits, babybel, mini salamis, nut snacks, cereal bar and compote.

Back on road by 2:10pm and for the first hour after lunch the terrain becomes increasingly less diverse, the frequency of the small settlements finally starts to decline and the gaps between islands of mobile network coverage increases significantly.

Finally arrived. Bivuoac 94 – close to the central hub, so should be easy to get to after 40km and…. There is mobile service – unbelieveably.

Evening Meal
Evening Meal

The bivuoacs are very rudimentary consisting of two simple sheets of canvas tacked loosely together and propped up with sticks and two carpets for flooring. The team did a first (re)pack of the backpacks and the light then failed us so we then waited for dinner.

Queuing for dinner was rather longer than absolutely necessary as we wanted to get to the front of the queue and food! (after a long hard day sitting on a bus). The food when we get there was again very good – soup, beef, tagliatelli, bread, cheese, apple tart – all went down a treat.

And so to bed – just after 9:00pm – unheard of.

I go to sleep looking out of the bivuoac, with the cloud dispersing, looking up at the skies and the constellation Orion with Orion’s belt and the nebula clearly visible.

The evenings at least are going to be good.

THE Latest Fashion Accessory

Well, I received MY gaiters today, and if you’re still in the dark as to what gaiters are and the role they are to perform, have a look in the photo below – they are an absolute necessity to stop everything getting into your shoes as it disappears into 2 foot of sand while ploughing up a 200ft ‘erg’!

However, I have no doubt that Team Rosbif will be a lot more fashion conscious than these chaps in their Desert Gaiters – let’s just say they (the Gaiters that is) are slightly more functional and efficient in their design than their outward appearance might lead you to believe!

To quote Will Forbes upon receiving his Gaiters – “Got my parachute gaiters today. They are so attractive, I’m thinking of wearing them to all the bars tonight – see if I can pick up and MdS groupies!”