Insane in the Membrane - The Marathon Des Sables

Of the crazy people in this world, one of them happens to be my physiotherapist, Jane MacKinnon. Jane is more of a Shaman Healer than a regular physio. If my Achilles tendon hurts, she starts on my stomach. Tight quads? She'll rub just above the rib cage. I don't know how she does it, but she makes the pain go away, which is just what you want in your physio.

Jane told me she wanted to celebrate her 50th birthday doing something different. So she decided to enter (one of) the hardest marathon race in the world, The Marathon Des Sables. Here is her story.......
Well, a brief summary only – there’s actually so much to write about!

250km, 6 stages, 7 days, self sufficiency race
Event website (photographs and portraits recommended):

Funds raised for The Sole of Africa: to supply prosthetic limbs to landmine victims.

Some stats:
Average height above sea level: 680m
Water provided: in 1.5l bottles, approx 1 bottle every 12km, then 3 bottles at end of each days running
Liquid consumed/day: 6 to 8 litres, 13 on longest day (82.2km)
Electrolyte tablets: ave 3/day
Calories consumed/day: 2000, incl carb drinks/gels/jelly beans etc
Backpack dry weight: 8.5kg, including compulsory emergency equipment
Weight of 7 days food: 4.2kg
Contestants: 1023 starters, 43 nations, 2 South Africans
My position: Overall 510th, 46th of 93 women, total time 49hr 04min.
My best position – 416th on day 4, 38th woman.
First day at bivouac (camp): Registration; safety and medical briefings and equipment checks. We slept in Berber tents, grouped by nationality – I shared with some of the Irish contingent, a fine bunch of boys!

Day 1, 29km Slightly cloudy, not hot – low 30’s. A flat start on a stony plain but after a river crossing we got our first taste of a dune field, oft repeated during the week! Then a very steep climb followed by a vast field of dunes. I stuck to my plan to go slowly in the early stages and ran according to my heart rate rather than pace or position. Finish time 5hr24. Stage Winner was Moroccan Mohamed Ahansel in2hr11 and leading lady Spaniard Monica Aguilera in 3hr01.

Day 2, 35,5km A hotter start and a stage full of mountain crossings with a stretch of big dunes before the finish line. The most difficult climb was a 25% gradient in searing heat followed by a steep descent down a wadi (dried up river bed) Finished in 7hr44 in 700th position.

Day 3, 40km during which 30 competitors pulled out, the hottest day of the week, unofficially 48degC at one of the check points. The worst heat was while crossing a dry lake for 7km – like running in an oven. Finished in a slow 7hr32 but up to position 581.

Day 4, 82,2km The longest stage, can be run over 2 days – some competitors sleep for a few hrs in the night, I opted to run straight through, finishing at 3am on day 5 (and then rested for the remainder of the day) in a time of 18hr08. A day of sharp stony plains, steep mountain passes and plenty of dunes – 19km in a stretch at one part! The night running was cool but tense – always aware of the increased chances of tripping or falling, and visibility limited to the range of my head torch beam.
Day 6, stage 5 42,2km Just a marathon! But a day’s rest does help. Down to 926 competitors. Not many dunes but plenty of undulating stony plateaus and wadis to get through. Finish in 7hr15

Day 7, stage 6 21,1km A cooler day, and much rejoicing - the competitor who got lost the previous day was found at dawn. A hard start with 3km of dunes but then a pleasant enough section through a gorge and up over a stony pass. After a check point at 14km the 7,5km crossing of Erg Merzouga began – Morocco’s highest dunes. The sand was very soft and hot but the end was close! Finish 2hr59 in 507th position. Phew, a medal, a drink, some food, then onto the coach for a 5½ journey back to town. The final winners were the same as after stage 1 – Ahansal and Aguilera, full results on the website.

It was a fantastically well organized event, with huge attention to detail, and like a global melting pot with everyone getting on well together, with a common purpose. There are wonderful ‘portraits’ on individual runners that can be seen on the web also – a photo and then a little interview, runners picked at random – great reading.

If you are still not certain about the craziness of the MDS participants, read on about Shigemi Hazama (Race number 631).

He’s a superstar in Japan. Not only for his TV comedy shows but also for his singing talent, winning him many many fans, including amongst our competitors who simply love his mimics. When we went to talk to him about life on the bivouac, he decided to centre the interview on the delicate problem of natural needs in the wild. The kind of topic we seldom raise on that website, but central to runners’ preoccupations. Here are his full comments (unfortunately without the accompanying facial expressions): « the big surprise here, it’s the toilets, I’d never seen such huge toilets… [he points to the desert]…but I must also tell you I am shocked by the quantities I produce… can you imagine, a man as little as I am… laying a cobra, a real cobra…” Someone had to go there. A Japanese star did.

5 sleeps to Comrades,

1 comment:

  1. like I've said before...mental....and suicidal. The Japanese dude should of stuck a flag in his cobra and gave it a salute!