My feet were in bits. It took me well over an hour to tend to them and strap them in the morning, and at the start line I was in a lot of pain. All around me people were really excited and pumped up but I was in a bit of a dark place. I knew I couldn’t cover the distance quickly so my day stretched out long and painfully over the 26.2miles – a full marathon.
|Isn't this how everyone starts a marathon?|
The weather was good and the location for our bivouac had been stunning, but I wasn’t really able to appreciate it. As Highway to Hell erupted from the speakers signalling the start of the stage, my feet screamed at me with every step. It was a fast start, faster than any other day of the week. I was determined to maintain a half decent pace of 6km/h if only to ensure I wasn’t out on the trail for too long. Even at that pace it would be a 7 hour day.
A stunning location for the bivouac.
Caught up in the crowds I found myself jogging along, wincing at every step. Walking wasn’t much better in terms of pain so I figured the extra speed would at least shorten the day. Early on there was a river crossing and with heavily taped feet and open blisters underneath I really didn’t want to get my feet wet and festering so using my poles I vaulted the river and landed hard on my right heel – I literally screamed out with the pain of it, the people around me seemed genuinely shocked given that in reality I’d made a 5 foot leap onto soft sand. Once I’d scrambled up the river bank on the other side and got away from what was becoming an increasingly chaotic scene, I managed to break into a run again. The terrain was pretty easy going and I ran to CP1 at 10.5km in around 1 hour 35 mins. Apart from my feet, another problem was water consumption. It was cooler today than it had been for much of the week but even so when running I drank all my 1.5 litres well before the check point, leaving me very thirsty. I went through the check point very quickly, not wanting to stop as getting going again just made my feet hurt more. By now I’d got my check point routine pretty much sorted and it helped a lot. Out of the check point and I continued running, by now just wanting the day to end.
|Frustrating not to able to keep up with Paul and his ironing board.|
I managed to carry on for another 6 or 7 km, but my pace was slowing, I was drinking too much water and my legs were screaming. It seemed like I’d altered my gait to compensate for the pain in my feet and first my right calf and shin muscles became really tight and full of lactic acid, and then my hips felt really painful, as if they were twisting from their sockets. I slowed and walked, trying to maintain my target 6km/h pace, but with a lot of pain. I reached CP2 at 22.5km in 3hours 25mins and picked up 2 bottles of water as the next 11km was pretty much all dunes and it was now close to midday. On the plus side many of the people around me were also slowed to a walk as the soft sand became impossible to run on. I was in a little world of pain all of my own. Gone were the pleasantries exchanged with fellow competitors from earlier in the week, today was about getting my head down, gritting my teeth and finishing. I got really angry for no apparent reason and this helped me to focus on speed and the finish line and try to shut out my screaming feet. It was a very low period, and at one stage I was in tears with the pain, knowing I still had several hours to go today, and the following day.
|It was a lonely day on the trail.|
On arriving at CP3, at 33.7km, I got the bit between my teeth and, knowing there was only 8.5km to go I really started to motor, marching as quickly as I could, willing myself on. After some hills and sandy terrain the track emerged onto another fairly flat open and rocky plain. We passed through a village in which it was hard to believe people actually lived given the desolation, isolation and environment. Then the trail started to descend slightly and the now familiar long march in to the distant bivouac began. I started welling up with the emotion of it all, but didn’t want to switch off completely until I got over the finish line. I got there in under 7 hours, which was my aim for the day, but I’ve never had to put myself through so much pain or been to such a low emotional place as I went to on this stage, it was, for me, hell. My tent mates, all of whom were comfortably in by now, cheered me in the last few metres, but selfishly I didn’t acknowledge them for fear of letting my pain show. Once over the line an innocent race marshall asked me to hand over the emergency flare we’d been issued at the start of the week. No-one had told us that we’d need to hand it over so mine was in the bottom of my pack, where I put it as far away from temptation as possible. Unfortunately the race marshall bore the brunt of my painful day and I could have quite easily beaten him over the head with the flare when I eventually got it out of my pack. Keen not to react the same way to my tent mates, when I got back to the tent I asked as politely as I could muster that no-one speak to me for 15 minutes whilst I gathered myself. I lay down, pulled my Buff over my face and let the anger out, along with several more tears. It had been a horrible day for me, and it took me a while to come round and talk civilly to the others. They were very understanding, and most had had a great day of running – I was last in by about 45 minutes.
|I didn't really enjoy the sunset at the time.|
When I’d calmed down sufficiently I headed off to get some more tape for my feet. Doc Trotters had nearly run out and so I decided against stripping my feet back to clean and tend to them, and just left them as they were. It’s unlikely that much more could have been done for them in any case. As it turns out, as I discovered back in Ouazarzate, they had become infected which was the cause of the pain, rather than the blisters themselves getting any worse. I emailed home, one that wasn’t for public viewing as it was just an outpouring of my emotions and I was yet again welling up as I typed the message.
|This was an attempt to ease us back into civilised society.|
After the usual food and tent admin, the race organisers had arranged for a 15 piece orchestra and singer to fly out from Paris to play for us. It was very out of place, and as it happens it was quite uncomfortable as my feet were swelling up inside my trainers (I’d given up on the flip flops for this evening) but nice to focus on something other than the race for a few minutes. A brief showing of some of the TV coverage the race had received around the world followed the concert, but by now it was getting cold and the wind was getting up so we headed back to bed.