Camp routine was based around the timing of the sun setting and rising – following on from our early night, the whole camp arose at about 5.30am as it got light. It was a chilly and relaxed start to the day. The day would see us queuing for vast swathes of it, and bidding farewell to our surplus kit.
|Early to bed, early to rise.....|
First off we had to queue in the centre of the camp for our day’s water ration – something which sounds straightforward, but which descended into farce pretty quickly as the many many volunteers struggled to develop a seamless and efficient process for handing out a fixed number of bottles of water to every person in front of them. We were glad to still have our extra kit with us at this point as it remained chilly in camp until late morning.
After queuing for breakfast, we then queued for the MdS shop where we all wanted a fancy MdS Buff, then for the proper queue of the day – the control checks. Here we got to stand in the sunshine (mercifully much warmer now, and indeed many folk were looking like they were burning) and await our turn to hand over our bags that weren’t coming with us on the race, then to pick up our water cards and race numbers, explain how heavy our race packs were and talk to the medical team who also gave us our medical cards and salt tablets for the week. In fact it was a pretty slick operation, and once inside the admin tent I was processed through with the minimum of fuss and churned out the other end stood blinking in the bright sunshine having one of those “oh no, what have I done?” moments – this was now very real. Everything I needed to survive the next week was in my bag on my back, and I had no way of changing things now. I’d managed to help out a couple of other competitors with excess kit prior to the control checks where they’d either lost items, or felt cold the night before – a silk sleeping bag liner and rucksack pouch were donated to the benefit of my fellow runners.
|Queuing for the final checks.|
In fact once we all got back to the tent there was much more of a calm atmosphere. It was almost as if the excess kit we’d all been fussing over and worrying about had been an unnecessary distraction and with it out of the way and our choices made, we could all relax a little. I was pleased that my kit choices made back in the UK were still broadly what I had with me – after all I’d trained with all my kit, had tried the food and knew what I would want with me on the race. The only additional items I had with me were a couple of spare Buffs which I forgot to take out of my pack and a little treat for Easter Sunday.
|Everything I could possibly need for a week in the desert.|
Today it got really hot between noon and 3pm – a taster of what expect during the week. Luckily today however the afternoon was spent drinking tea and eating biscuits in the shade of the tent (the tea and biscuits were kept back to be consumed before the race commenced).
The last bit of admin involved less queuing but was equally as vital – one of the race volunteers came round to each tent to issue our shit sacks for the week. I should explain, hopefully without breaching too many taboos, the toilets were set up as follows – for a wee, it was expected that you wandered what you deemed to be a civilised distance from the camp and sought to re-hydrate the parched landscape whilst enjoying the view. Clearly what some people felt was a civilised distance was not what others would consider appropriate. Mark in our tent was our top culprit, barely walking 10 paces from the back of the tent, but then he does live in Kilburn. For a more substantial requirement, some cubicles were set up around the camp comprising a tarpaulin wrapped around a metal frame. Inside each cubicle was a plastic stool (forgive the pun) with a hole in the seat. The idea was that you took your shit sack and hung it over the stool then did your business, cleaned up and took the bag out again (having first sealed it with a good knot) and placed it in the bin found outside. It sounds primitive, but it worked remarkably well – I didn’t hear of anyone getting a dodgy stomach throughout the week, which in previous years had been a major concern.
|That's Mark on the left - the furthest he went for a wee all week.|
Further good news for me was that my back, which had been really stiff and aching after our long journey from the UK to the desert was not causing me any great discomfort, and my calf muscle was feeling better all the time. With everything more or less in order our tent then settled down for the rest of the afternoon watching the pack sizes of other competitors and wondering how they could fit a weeks’ worth of kit into such a small bag. The only exceptions to this were other Brits who generally had packs of a similar size to mine, and the Japanese who as a rule had packs that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Duke of Edinburgh bronze award expedition.
Later in the afternoon there was a pre-race briefing at which we heard about an 80 year old man taking part, and someone doing their 25th MdS. There was also a group of firefighters from France who would be pushing/carrying a chariot with disabled kids in it for the whole race. And an English guy doing it with an iron and ironing board, just for fun. Nuts, all of them.
|Race briefing in the hot afternoon sun.|
A more sombre dinner at the race organisers catering facility followed shortly after the briefing, and then off to bed early again, by now I for one was incredibly nervous about the following day. I didn’t sleep well.