Marathon des Sables, Stages & Race Reports
April 6 – Race Day 4 – 82km
Oued Rheris Est to Rich Merzoug
..........The Long Day
During the previous evening, sitting around, eating, stretching and others popping their blisters… Justin and I had hatched a plan to run together for much of the 82km stage.
It was a different start; the top 50 on overall time would start a couple of hours behind the rest of the field. Dan from our tent was one of those.
:::Dawn on the long day ::::the tent fairies were swift that morning!:
We took off from the starting line and immediately Justin and I were in the top 20 or so. We began to encounter small shrubs, turning into low trees, this meant that it was time to take the compass out and find our way as best we could as we didn’t have the pro runners leading the way.
We emerged from the tree line and scarpered across a dry river bed, we were now in the top 5.
Mo was at the front setting a great pace, we settled in, some distance back from him and opted to be a little more moderate.
A Korean runner had caught up to us, but didn’t pass, we ran together for a while.
With CP1 in sight, we sprinted across a small plateau and then a long thorn pierced my shoe, through the tread, through the sole plate and into my foot! I went down like a sack of spuds!
Like pulling Excalibur from the stone I pulled the thorn from my foot, none of us believing how long it was! Not much else to do but press on.
At CP1 (12.2km) we got some good camera [race org camera/media crew] time as we were some of the first runners through CP1. Some of that footage made it to the youtube daily highlights. It gave us a little buzz and off we trotted – still running together, still in high spirits
The terrain opened up a little and I took a photo of a lonely little tree, strangly beautiful, amongst the sand and rock.
The Korean had gone on ahead.
It was amazing, looking around at the rock formations, clearly born from violent uplift.
We encountered a steep rocky assent, we felt that we weren’t quite on the right track with some of the race org vehicles in odd spots, turns out they were making sure no one short cut this beast of a rock!
As we travelled over the plateau on top of this rock, I looked down into the valley at my left, a white land rover was almost straight down and about the size of a tic tac!
::: a lonely tree :::going down off the rocky feature
As we descended through some tricky sandy bits, we approached CP2 (25km) the time seemed to be flying by!
The next CP was the cut off – if you hadn’t made it there within a certain time you were disqualified!
We had several hours up our sleeve, so that didn’t worry us…..it just kept getting hotter.
At CP3 [38km) I was feeling pretty good, Justin was starting to slow a little. Remember, 38km was as long as each of stage 2 and stage 3; we weren’t even half way on this stage yet!
Mo ran in to CP3 with us. Shouldn’t he have blitzed through here ages ago? Turns out he’d been held up by the officials, they claimed he’d gotten a lift in a car! I knew this couldn’t be true, we had him in sight for much of the run, all be a long way ahead of us!
We took some happy snaps as we pushed over the ridge toward CP4, and still getting hotter!
It was one of those odd things, our route markers were normally, a little pile of flat stones, stacked to make a 30cm high tower, spray painted pink.
On this occasion, the route marker was painted on a large rock. You had no choice here as it was a choke point, the only path through the rocks; the person had painted the route marker as a big, pink smiley face.
We laughed and pushed on.
Crossing the big flats on the way to the next CP, I opened a pack of crisps….they taste so good out there, the salt, the crunch! You could easily mug someone for their crisps!
Now, CP4 was only 11 km on, but the ground was so flat, so hot!
We were later told it reached 57 degrees out there that day!
Things were getting tough, we eased off the pace for a while, alternating ‘walk to that bush, and then run to that bush” type of thing.
Another amusing route marker…a dead camels bleached bones, it’s hips in fact, got the pink spray treatment.
As we continued, we’d see the odd local person travelling across these vast salt flats, the question of “where the heck are they going (as we couldn’t see any signs of civilisation in any direction) was shortly followed by “where the heck did they come from!”
CP4 was in sight, just….but it appeared to be moving away from us at the same speed that we moved toward it!
Out here, you could see the curve of the earth…amazing!
At one point, Justin was quieter than usual. I wanted to get his mind off things and remarked that we had in fact, in the middle of nowhere, passed the spout of a china tea pot!
We picked up our Korean friend again, we encouraged him to stick with us and he seemed happy to do this.
We finally caught up to CP4 (49km)!
I couldn’t let Justin sit down or settle too much, I knew he was in the mind set of curling up for a break…..if you stop too long, it is mentally tough to keep going again. Best to just get out of the CP as quickly as possible!
I grabbed Justin and we refilled with our fresh water and moved more food to within easy reach. The land rover bonnet was as good a table as any!
A quick check to make sure we didn’t need to get any medical/blister assistance...then onwards!
The Korean (we didn’t speak and Korean and he didn’t speak any English) seemed to have twigged what I was doing and helped encourage Justin to get a wiggle on!
Justin wasn’t in a happy place….He later [close to CP5] understood and thanked us for keeping him moving.
Our plan for that stage was a) clear the last set of dunes before dark and b) finish!
As we approached the start of the last dune section, we were passed by the lead runners who had set off 2 hours after us! 1st place ran beautifully, I think he was so light on his feet, he barley left a footprint! 2nd and 3rd place were about 15min behind him
Into the dunes once more…..
I pulled out the compass, we could benefit by taking the smartest route through here. I lead our little trio and this kept the others motivated enough to not get lost!
We hit each marker spot on, navigating in the dues you don’t often have land marks to work with, so you need to balance each deviation with an opposite one to stay on an efficient course.
We came across some locals with their mopeds, though we felt safe, we wouldn’t like to be finding our way through here in the dark!
In fact we later found out that some of the kids had moved a lot of the route markers with glow sticks attached (after dark) and this had led many competitors off course. One competitor equipped with a GPS tracker [for people to follow that athlete online – not a GPS to find your way) had done a huge circle before picking up the trail again.
We joyfully exited the dunes and swiftly made our way to CP5; it was now getting cooler, the sun dropping behind the distant hills.
Justin had come good, blood sugar levels back to normal and cooler temps helping. We filled our bottles and rearranged ourselves to be more comfortable as the run home (well, only a half marathon to finish this stage) was going to be cooler in the dark.
I was great to see Justin smiling, he realised what I’d been doing and now that he was good to go again it lifted our spirits further.
The three of us, our Korean friend still staying with us set off after helping each other attach our issued glow sticks, to our back packs. I guess if we were lucky enough to fall face first into the sand/gravel/rock/dirt from tiredness or just a general, overwhelming desire to no longer carry on, some one would be able to spot us!
About 20min in to the trek to CP6, Justin was starting to hobble a bit. He insisted that he could keep going, but, in the fading light, I thought it best to sort it out now.
He removed his shoes and socks, his feat looked a little like Moroccan road kill. Blisters every where, fresh ones all shiny and old, treated ones with cotton threads hanging out of them!
We encouraged our Korean friend to keep going, but it became clear that he was staying to help if he could, even if to provide company.
This is one of the occasions where it is apparent that people’s minds are off with the pixies…through heat or dehydration or poor food management or a combination of the above!
We were stopped in the middle of the track (when I say track, it was where one of the race org 4WDs had travelled, thus leaving a track) it was firm flat ground all around us, the nearest tree or rock bigger than a marble some hundred metres in any direction. There is about a metre between me and Justin, I’m holding my headlamp on his feet so he can see clearly dress them and carry on.
A French guy (flag on his back pack gave him away) chose to run right between Justin and myself!
It was as though he couldn’t turn, he HAD to run through the smallest gap between people for miles around!
My desire to then separate the French intruders Head from his body was overridden by the fact that a) it would use up energy I needed to get back to the Biv, b) it would waste time, and c) Justin might sew his foot to his other leg without the light!
So we let Frenchy go…this time!
Running (and I use the term loosely) at night can be fun at the best of times, things hiding in shadows, spacial awareness out the window…that sort of thing.
But put it in the desert, over uneven terrain, with no street lighting and it’s even more ‘fun’.
Using the head torch, you don’t get the shadows you’d normally expect because the light source is close to your eyes, causing the shadows to be thrown straight behind the object you are looking at, and if you have questionable depth perception like myself to start with, you’ll find yourself tripping over ground that looked deceptively flat!
On one such unscheduled change in direction, it felt like I had pulled the muscles in the back of my thigh clean off my pelvis! Though it felt like that, the fact I could still stand suggested I was just being a big girls blouse and to pay more attention as we went.
So I ran with my headlamp in my hand, it allowed the beam to throw more shadows which were of use to me.
It felt like a long night already….
More of the top 50 runners passed us on our way to CP6 – including two of our tent mates. I was all I could do to not ask if they had space in their backpack for me!
As it turns out, I had planned some of the day’s aspects well, I’d kept Justin going through the day as I thought, with my eyes in the dark, I was going to need him….true.
What I had failed to do in the last couple of hours, was manage my food and salt intake, fluid I as good with.
Apparently (I don’t recall too much of this section, so it must be true) I was getting a bit wayward in my direction (the massive Laser they had pointed into the sky to guide us in was pointed in an unknown direction – were we supposed to run toward it, to the right of it or to the left of it, who knew?) and I was getting a bit colourful when asked if I’d been taking my salt each time etc, etc…
I stayed variouly beside the other two or ahead of them, as their light beams were confusing me.
We passed another competitor who, whilst still advancing toward the Biv, was in a bad way, as when you see the athletes coming in to finish an ironman looking like they’re about to pass out) At least, we thought, we’re in better shape than that!
We passed the base of the Laser, and saw the finish line in the distance. Justin grabbed the hand of the Korean guy and my hand as we crossed the line that night – It had been a group effort, no doubt about that!
Once more we had our sweet tea and stumbled toward the tent….I couldn’t tell you where our Korean friend got to, I was focused on getting off my feet.
We hit the tent, dumped our bags, then tried to get whatever food we could into us to help our bodies repair and build for the final two stages still to come.
Justin was sorting his feet out; I just pulled out my sleeping bag and mat.
I took of my shoes, still no blisters (Yay!), and my socks, fresh 12 hours ago…not so much now. Couldn’t get my sand gaiters off, ankles were too swollen, so went to bed in them!
Couldn’t lay on my back, as my pelvis felt like it was trying to peel apart, couldn’t lay on my side because my quads were hammered….so, knowing I had to sleep, I self medicated and drifted off….UNTIL……
……..Helen gets back and it way-early-o’clock in the morning, still pitch black, she’s disturbed all off us in our tent, and probably in tents for a good 50m radius….she’s last in, claiming that no space has been left for her…all the while looking at people with her headlamp, pointing it directly in their eyes (very poor form)!
Space had been left and let’s face it; Helen was a slim thing that could fit anywhere!
Luckily for me, I was hard up against the tent, taking up as little room as possible.
I woke at my usual time…still some stars up and just before the sun squeaked over the horizon…always stunning!
::::nice and tidy in the tent ::::usual state of the tent
The photo I took the next morning is different to all the other mornings…How? Well normally, you get back from your run and your pack (and, seemingly, everybody else’s, no one is immune) seems to depressurise like an aircraft at altitude – stuff being sucked out the window and scattered for a good distance in every direction!
But this morning….packs were still loaded, left where they fell once the sleeping bag was removed. So 7 bodies, 7 packs, no mess….was nice!
That day became a rest day for all the competitors who’d travelled pretty much non-stop( we did it in a shade under 13 hours- the leaders in a touch over 7!). It became a task of how to keep amused. I’d get up; wander around, knowing I should be off my feet but getting cabin fever in the tent.
I’d take some photos and welcome people as they came over the line.
Glenn from across the way was smiling as he came in; he’d had a kip at one of the CPs and enjoyed his mornings stroll in.
The organisers also used it as a time to issue clean numbers for the Marathon stage and final stage. I assume to ensure the sponsors were visible and not covered in dirt/sand/sweat/food and or drink….and what ever else!
:::the race number exchange...and soft drinks, YAY!!!
They lured us to the centre of the bivouac circle on the pretence of a “surprise”…we’d all heard the rumours…and, they were true! A room temperature 200ml soft drink (I chose Coke, of course!) warm as it was it was sweet and had some caffeine…I was happy
With the time cut off looming that afternoon, we all (everyone!!!) gathered at the finish line to encourage the last few people home. We could see the camels in the distance…they pass you and they pull you out of the race.
Everyone in the race was in the spirit of wanting everyone to be able to continue with the race and so the noise at the finish line rivalled a street party, clapping cheering music….It was a fantastic atmosphere
Patrick, the Race Director, welcomed in the last competitor, with open arms. An older Japanese man. He had failed to make the time cut off……
Patrick asked all of us there; “in the spirit of the event, will the rest of you, allow this man to continue tomorrow?” …the response was deafening, and unamimous! YES!
I guess, out in the heat of the day, we’d all hope the others would do the same for us should we be in that same situation…..none of us wanted a DNF hanging over us, to HAVE to come back to erase it…
That night was quite surreal….It was a clear and star filled night, and music drifted across the bivouac….the Paris Opera had been flown in to perform for us…dressed in their usual garb of tuxedos and gowns….was quite special.
Getting off to sleep that night was easier….there was less distance to run over the next two days than what we had completed in the last stage….the madness was coming to an end......
From The competitor's roadbook: roadbook:
06-07/04/2011 - STAGE N°4 :
OUED RHERIS EST / RICH MERZOUG – 82 Km
Km 0 : Go S/W (course 225°) on slightly stony terrain.
Km 1,3 : Cross Rheris oued on course 225°. Rugged terrain, fech fech and tamarix.
Km 4,1 : End of oued. Sandy uphill rise between Ras Kemouna hills.
Km 5,4 : Turn left.
Km 5,8 : Turn right. Go West (course 261°). Variable stony, sandy terrain between low hills.
Km 9 : Sandy passage through small djebel. Go S/W (course 238°) until Km 11.
Km 11 : Rocky peak to the left. Go West (course 264°) until CP1.
Km 12,2 : CP1 close to lone tree. Go West (general course 269°) in middle of sandy valley becoming more stony after Km 16.
Km 17,8 : Small mounds to the right.
Km 19,6 : Sandy rise towards Zireg Djebel.
Km 20 : Rocky rise.
Km 20,1 : Follow crest line.
Km 21,9 : Sandy descent to the left.
Km 22,1 : Turn right at the bottom of descent. Go West (course 265°). Sandy slope.
Km 23 : High point of the sandy pass Djebel Zireg. Go W/SW (course 256°) until CP2.
Km 25 : CP2 in the valley. Go West (course 260°) until CP3.Successive oued beds with vegetation and slightly stony terrain.
Km 30,1 : Lone tree. Well. Hills to the left.
Km 31,4 : Military post to the right. Less sandy, then small pebbles.
Km 35,1 : Taourirt Mouchanne Djebel to the right. Stony terrain.
Km 38 : CP3 South of Mouchanne. Sandy rise and passage. Go North (course 352°).
Km 39 : Bottom of North slope of Mouchanne. Go North (course 352°) until CP4. Stony.
Km 39,6 : Cross a track. Flat terrain. Few stones.
Km 40,1 : Mounds of sand and camel grass.
Km 42,8 : Scattered small dunes and earth.
Km 44,5 : Earth with vegetation and calotropis.CAUTION! Follow markings carefully to avoid crevasses in the oued.
Km 47,9 : Cross a track.
Km 49 : CP4 on the dried-up lake of Ma'der el Kebir. Go North (course 355°) until CP5.
Km 56,1 : Lake ends. Dunes begin.
Km 60,2 : End of dunes. Earth.
Km 61 : CP5. Go West (course 263°) to cross a line of closely planted trees.
Km 61,6 : Go through trees. Continue West (course 267°).Cross oued then plateau of small stones by the ruins.
Km 66,5 : Stony terrain.
Km 68,8 : Sandy pass of Joufert djebel.
Km 70 : Exit pass. Go S/W (course 234°) until CP6.
Km 72 : CP6 in the valley. Go S/W (course 219°) until bivouac.
Km 74 : Sandy crossing Aatchana oued for 800 metres, variably stony up to finish line.
Km 82 : B5 finish line.
Tim's time: 12:54:43
Leader's time: 7:09:44
Overall Tim's time: 28:33:55
Overall Leader's time: 16:12:31
Tim's position: 125th/815 finishers (34 DNFs)
3rd Australian out of 17 (3 DNFs)
:::Dan, starting in the top 50, chill'en for a few hours before his start
::: Finish Line approach ::: Still could't get them off ::: View from my tent
:::party at the finish line! ;;;Parick B and the last runner over the line ::: don't let this camel catch you. or you're out of the race!