|Early morning view of the dunes in today's stage.|
A glorious start to the day from a weather perspective, quite cool and beautifully clear, with a great view of the dunes we had to cross in the last stage of our adventure. Things were not so good from a foot perspective. Having not uncovered my feet from the marathon stage, I was in some discomfort from swelling, and the pain level generally was already very high.
|I was in a lot of pain before the start.|
Rich and I had determined to complete this stage together and so cross the line together – sounds cheesy, but we’d entered it as a joint undertaking and it seemed a fitting end. From a more selfish perspective, I would welcome any help I could get to ensure I made it to the finish line, even if it was less than 10 miles away. As it turned out we travelled the whole way with our tent mate James as well.
The atmosphere on the start line was like a carnival, and it was easy to get wrapped up in it, after all this was less than 10 miles, and having covered over 140 miles already, it should be a breeze.
|A party atmosphere at the start line.|
As AC/DC growled us on our way for the final time it did indeed appear relatively straightforward. We started trotting along, the paracetamol starting to have an effect on my pain receptors and the going was good. It was pretty flat, not too sandy or hilly and the temperature was manageable too. Then my hips started to give out like yesterday and my right calf took up its now familiar, if unwelcome scream. I had to stop running – I could tell this was frustrating for Rich and I felt guilty, he was in fine form and keen to be motoring along. I put in my best shuffling march to the check point at only 6.5km in around 50 minutes. There was no water allocation here, we’d be relying on what we carried from the start today, so we simply stepped on the timing mat, turned almost back the way we’d come and headed off into the biggest dunes we’d yet encountered.
Despite the pain, my mood was lifted knowing that this was the last day I had to subject myself to it, and even with a slower than hoped for pace, it wasn’t going to take too long. I had been confident of finishing the event ever since probably the third day. By that stage my feet were beaten up but I’d proved to myself that I could manage that and get through. At no stage in the event had my legs felt excessively tired, the kind of tired I’d had during training after long sessions, which suggested to me that my training had been good enough. Even on the lowest point of the marathon day, there was never a moment when I thought about quitting. I thought about why I was subjecting myself to so much discomfort and what I was trying to prove, but I came up with no sensible answers, apart from echoes of Mallory in stating that I was doing it, “because I could”. It seemed a more realistic answer at the time than “because it’s fun”.
|James leading a procession through the dunes.|
Today’s challenge continued however, over each dune in turn knowing that with every step it was one more step I wouldn’t have to repeat. The dunes kept on coming, and all around us was the steady progress of people edging their way onwards despite the heat, despite their own levels of pain and despite the fact that every time you stepped forward, you slipped back in the sand almost the same distance. There was more chatting today – for quite a while we walked alongside a nice woman from Canada who now lives in Hong Kong as well as others with whom I exchanged pleasantries and thoughts on the race, without delving deeper into their lives. One of those around us resorted to crawling on hands and feet to summit one particular dune, everyone was finding it hard, and it was certainly harder than 9km of dunes had looked on paper.
At last we were able to catch glimpses of the oversized inflatables of the finish area. There were more and more spectators around suggesting we weren’t far from the town at the finish. And then, all of a sudden it was upon us. The sand dunes ended, and the finish was there, just a couple of hundred metres away. The three of us from our tent re-grouped and started to run in through the finishing funnel to cross the line together.
|James, me and Rich at the finish line. Happy.|
I’d expected a massive outpouring of emotion at the end, and was quite prepared to blub a bit in front of my friends, but as it turned out there was none of that. There was a queue just over the line as everyone waited for the traditional medal giving by the race director Patrick Bauer to each competitor. Whilst we queued Darryl, who had clearly finished well ahead of us (as his 35th position overall will attest to), shouted over some congratulations, and then lobbed us a couple of cans of cold Coke – what a gent.
|Race Director Patrick Bauer personally hands out medals to all the finishers.|
We got our medals, took some photos, then picked up a lunch bag full of non-dehydrated food items which made my mouth water, some more mint tea (which had been liberally offered at the end of each stage of the race by the race sponsors Sultan) and our bus tickets back to Ouazarzate. We stumbled off towards the tents set up to allow the competitors some shade and protection from the dozens of local kids who were very keen to relieve us of any spare, or loosely attached kit.
|5/8ths of Tent 64 at the finish. The others were already on their way back to the hotel.|
We found Paula and Andy in the tent too and shared stories with them for a while. They got their bus back, and Rich volunteered to go and find us a couple of cold beers (with my money!). They weren’t cheap, but they did taste good.
|I think I deserved that.|
A very long bus ride back home followed, with everyone being pretty subdued for the whole 6 hours. It wasn’t hugely comfortable, and I daren’t take my feet out of my trainers until we got to the hotel but we’d done it. At long last we arrived back at the Hotel Berber Palace, found our room and started the process of recovery which was basically, untaping my feet, having a shave, a shower, a monster buffet dinner and several beers. With the best will in the world, I was too tired to stay out drinking until the wee small hours and I was in bed, not on a mat on the ground, by midnight. I struggled to get comfortable as my feet dangled off the end of the bed, being kept well clear of the duvet which, just by its own weight, would cause unspeakable agony if it came into contact with them. Once again, I didn’t sleep well.
Overall result 45hrs 02mins 45secs / 415th / ave pace 5.51km/h – a top half finish, which is what I was hoping to achieve before the race. I was very pleased.