The 34th Marathon des Sables is mid-way – with the ‘etape 4′ 76km leg potentially seeing runners take 31-hours to complete – the Enjoy-It team have an entry interest – currently standing at 9th in the female pack… (she finished in the top 10). This race covers 250km of Sahara desert in stifling temperatures of over 30-degrees souring to 50-degrees. The past weeks’ preparation training has been running in all conditions with 6kg backpacks, 30-40km a hit, weighing and vacuum packing dehydrated food and hours in a heat chamber at the University of Roehampton. The runners – originally 880 diminishing by the hour – are self-sufficient, carrying all their own food, supplies, medical kit and are only provided with water and a canvass to sleep under each night – we will watch Catrin and Jane (bib 447) with eagle eyes and show coverage of the finish live on Facebook – African 4G service allowing!
So to the finish – LHR to Marrakesh, four hours by car Marrakesh to Ouarzarate, brief overnight and 0500 drive to the finish line with 35km off road to the desert, punctuated with stops at choice shimmering Oasis’, being offered Berbere Whisky by the locals – adoring wild camels and wondering at the pure majesty of the desert itself. Hues of pink to yellow to beige – the only company interested blue shining beetles and a distant 4×4 also in search of the best kept secret of the desert – this finish of the 34th Legendary MdS!
Five hours later over a dune and there it is, the city in the sand… Over 850 bravehearts, in a wreath of tents in the bivouac of organisers, feet doctors (Doc Trotters), photographers, security and helicopters… the feel of a war zone, and by day six the proof in the walking (just) wounded.
The final marathon was staged into a reverse start with the elite 200 – including our very own Enjoy entry – being held back from the 0700 start for the rest of the human pack and one dog, until 1000 to complete the last official stage of the MdS.
Finishers started to come in from 1200 and Patrick the MdS King, founder and Race Director greeting every single finisher in person (interview to follow). This is a hot and humbling place to be and a life privilege. There were few spectators (two) – a betrault for Catrin in the female pack… Impressive doesn’t even cut it.
A trip into the bivouac and a walk through the relative peace of the apre-race relief, a mood that verged on wonder, pride and sadness that this experience was all but over, friends had been forged for life, emotions had been experienced that came from a deep, dark and painful place that no-one apart from the hero that competed will ever understand.
After a night in a local riad with tagines, incense and new friends we are at the line once again, chatting to Cactus (Didgory) the marathon dog, and the charity leg gets underway… a chatty walk is a stark contrast to the adrenaline fuelled previous six days, a river of blue flowing through the barren desert – a sight never to be forgotten…
Another finish line, searing heat and this year’s race is over, it is more than a race, it is life achievement – and one that proves – if you want something, need something and really put your mind to it – anything is possible – something that I will leave these Bravehearts to reflect upon for many moons to come – MdS – it has been emotional and that was only from the finish line…