Friday, August 31, 2012

Chris Eide Cascade Crest First 100 Report

I’ll Hold The Pain
(The Cascade Crest Classic 100)

Email to Stan Jensen (100 miler expert and driver of
“Quick question - I'm considering the Cascade Crest 100 for my first 100 miler - do you have any thoughts on whether this is a good first 100 miler?”

Stan’s experienced response:
“NO! The Cascade Crest is a fairly difficult 100, with lots of elevation change and a very difficult second half.” [This was followed by adding Don Lundell (of Zombie Runners) to the conversation, suggesting a number of “easy” 100 milers I should consider, and reference to the race time comparator for solid evidence of where the Cascade Crest ranks in relative difficulty; it ranks high, higher than Western States and Leadville...]

My immediate thought after reading “NO!”:
“I must do this!”

[Editor's note:  Gentle readers, please do not ignore Stan's advice!!  This can be risky and perilous!  He's saved my bacon at more than a couple races... He knows what he's talking about!!  All Day! ~Ken]

10 months later, and almost 3 years after running my first 5 miler, I was standing in Easton, Washington, awaiting the start of the Cascade Crest Classic (CCC) 100 miler. A lot was racing through my head - 100 miles and 20,470 feet of climbing to be exact. Was I ready? Was I sane? Should I have waited another year to build a longer base? Should I have lost another 5 pounds? Was my heel going to bother me? Was I going to crap in the woods (or worse, crap myself)? Was my life insurance and will in order? Would I see tomorrow’s sunrise? I would know in about 24 hours (give or take a few hours).
Strolling around pre-race in my Inside Trail Racing shirt; smelling good.
The run has a 10am start, which I really dug. I got to sleep in a bit, have a somewhat leisurely breakfast with my wife (aka my crew), and generally relax before the race in the morning sun. CCC is also a dog friendly course so there were at least 20 dogs hanging out before the start and one or two that were going to run sections. This reminded me of the recent study showing that dogs get a runner’s high similar to people.
Chilling for the final race briefing.
At 9am the race director (Charlie) gave us last minute instructions, including a reminder that no one really cares if we finish this race or not, so if it’s not your day, go ahead and pack it in. That is, don’t kill yourself out there, no one will think you are less or more crazy for a DNF. He also mentioned that some of the race fees were going to help fire victims from the nearby forest fire, gave thanks to the Easton fire department, and thanked us for all our volunteer trail work (part of the entry is to do 8 hours of trail work - I did mine in Purisima Creek above Half Moon Bay).
As the runners were corralled up for the start I gave my wife a kiss and said what I say to her before every race I run, “see you on the other side.” Of course this race was different, she was crewing me, and she knew it was not going to be sunshine and lollipops. Her face showed a mix of pride, anxiety, and concern. She doesn't really quite understand any of this, other than she knows I love it, knows that I am getting something special out of it - but I know she must be there, this was not something I was doing alone. I have no idea what my face showed, but I hope it was joy.
At 10am sharp we were off, trotting at a comically slow pace for those unaccustomed to ultras, and much slower than my adrenaline would have preferred. I was terrified, yet confident, wondering how hard the lows were going to be, how wonderful the highs, and singing in my head Pearl Jam’s song "Release," and the lyrics "I’ll ride the wave where it takes me, I’ll hold the pain." That was the plan - embrace the inevitable pain and ride it back to Easton.
In the first couple miles we headed down a dirt road and past a couple farm houses. It was an easy warm-up. I was chatting with another first time 100 miler who was from Utah about pace and preparation. I had to interrupt him to point out that a llama was running with us just inside one of the farm fences. I don’t think I had ever seen a llama run until that moment. They are not graceful runners.
Once we hit the hills my mind and body quickly found their rhythm. Things felt good as we headed up to goat’s peak. Goat’s peak was a pretty hefty climb (~3,000 feet), but worth the price. The views of Rainier, and countless other peaks and lakes, were amazing. I ran for a few miles with a CCC veteran, Arthur Martineau, who was running his 7th CCC and another guy, Chase, both from the Seattle area. I peppered Arthur with too many questions before we eventually separated going through an aid station (I was to see him again around 1am and get some more guidance from him on the Trail from Hell).
Eventually we hit the famous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and would run it for about 30 miles. This was great forest trail running on soft pine covered trails. The forest cover came at the perfect time in the early afternoon to get us out of the sun for some cool quick running. I also popped out at the first aid station where I got to see my wife, Tacoma Pass (mile 23). I quickly stopped, changed bottles, got a kiss, and was on my way again. Things were going well.
Evergreens; author not pictured.
Around mile 28 or 29, just before the Stampede Pass aid station where I would see my wife for the second time, I caught my toe on a rock or root, and stumbled. Instead of rolling to the ground I braced myself hard with my foot to avoid a fall and caused a horrible cramp in my quad muscle. It locked up like never before and doubled me over for a while as I worked on it with both hands. Several runners passed me as I was doubled over and asked if I needed ginger, which puzzled me not realizing that I looked like I was getting ready to puke. The quad caused me problems on and off for the next 30 miles, primarily on uphills, when it would periodically cramp up again. When it happened, I basically stopped and had to slowly walk and massage it until it subsided - obviously this slowed me down quite a bit and hurt like hell. When I came through the Stampede Pass aid station (mile 33), the second place I was seeing my wife, I didn’t mention my quad to her, probably just not to worry her. All I said was “I’m going to fast, so I’m going to slow down a little.” She later told me she knew something was off, that I was a different runner than she saw at the last aid station, but thankfully she didn’t say a word at the time. Little did she know what she’d find at the next aid station.
After leaving Stampede Pass (33) I was plunging deeper into my rough patch, dealing with my quad about every 15 minutes or so and generally slowing down in an attempt to catch up on fueling and hopefully solve the quad problem. Nothing was working and I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my slowing pace and leg issue, knowing I still had a long night ahead of me.
I was able to pick my head-up a bit more during this patch and enjoy the scenery and the sunset. I ran by a camping area and a small lake, Mirror Lake. As soon as it came into view I vividly remembered camping there some 15 years earlier with my wife, sister-in-law, and friends. Along the lake I passed a couple with their kids walking in the opposite direction and heard one of the kids say “are they really racing? They are going so slow.”
Crew view shuttling from aid station to aid station.
I fueled up at the Olallie Meadows aid station (mile 47), put my head-lamp on as it was starting to get dark, and mentally came to grips with the high likelihood of dropping at Hyak (mile 53). I just couldn’t imagine running another 50 miles in this condition. I was, however, looking forward to the famous tunnel just before Hyak and thought at least I would get to run through that before dropping. With all the distractions, I had forgot about the steep decline rope section coming up next, just before the tunnel. This was awesome, adrenaline pumping, bad-ass stuff, and I decided to just blast down the hill. The hill was too steep to safely go down (or even stand) without aid so there were climbing ropes connected to trees leading the way down. (My Garmin would later tell me it was a 40-50% grade.) I flew down the hill, with one hand on the rope like a wild man, rocks and dirt flying everywhere (I ended the race with more blisters on my hands than my feet). I wish someone could have filmed me coming down this section so it could be played at my funeral (assuming I looked as bad-ass as I picture it in my mind, but I fear it may have looked more like those guys that chase the cheese wheel down a hill).
After the exciting rope section I entered the tunnel. It’s about a 2.2 mile abandoned train tunnel, with no lights other than our headlights. It was wider and taller than I imagined from pictures I had seen, maybe as wide as two cars and 30 feet tall. The tunnel was interesting and strange (although a shorter tunnel would have been fine). For a long time, I could look ahead and back and not be able to make out anything but the tunnel extending off into infinity. I can see how this might freak some people out.
Hyak aid station (mile 53) - this is where all the action/drama took place, where everything could have turned out differently. The Hyak aid station has a Christmas theme, so I was greeted by a two-story inflatable snowman, Christmas music, and a woman dressed as Santa Claus greeting me with a “Merry Christmas!” All the lights and music were a little strange after 10+ hours in the mountains.
An odd site for late August.

My legs were feeling somewhat recovered from the adrenaline of the rope section and coming out of the tunnel, but not 100 percent. The flat terrain and walking breaks seemed to hold off the cramps, and I was feeling marginally better. I knew there would be pain, this was okay, and I thought I could continue after all. This all changed when I sat down to change socks and shoes. My quad, and now my hamstring, started cramping very painfully. I was drinking (Pedialyte) and eating (grilled cheese) in hopes of recovering, but sitting there for almost 30 minutes I started to shiver (temperature had fallen into low 50s). I was ready to quit, call it a day, never run again. My wife looked at me like she might look at my daughter after losing her favorite stuffed animal. She did and said what she needed to, what I had coached her to do. She told me to eat and keep going, I had plenty of time, and could even walk the rest of the way. She got me changed into a jacket, gloves, hat, dry shoes, and socks. She got food and liquid in me and kicked me back out on the road. I told her later that had she just said “let’s go home and get you into a warm bed,” it would have been lights out. I would have sprinted to the car.
Would you let this guy continue?  (This is what you get for ignoring Stan Jensen's advice!!)

 Back on my feet trying to warm-up before heading to the car, I mean trail.

From there I headed up a long slow climb, about 3,000 feet over 5 miles or so. I hiked, ate, and drank for about an hour and was starting to feel really good. The farther and higher I hiked, the better I felt. I clicked my headlight off numerous times to more fully enjoy the setting moon and stars. Just walking alone in the mountains.
I started hiking faster, and even running some of the flatter portions of the climb. I even caught and passed a couple runners. I was a new man at the top, where I quickly refueled at the aid station (mile 60) and then started a glorious downhill run. It was glorious because the cramping was completely gone, I was running at a decent pace (decent pace 60+ miles in), and also because I couldn't wait to see my wife at the next aid station (67) to tell her I had recovered and was feeling great. The second she saw me coming into the aid station she knew I was back on track. I had my hop back and was smiling. I was in no real hurry, not worrying about my time anymore, so sat down for a minute or so to eat some food and chat with her. She then hiked with my a quarter mile or so up to the start of the “Trail from Hell,” and I was off, not to see her again until mile 96.
The Trail from Hell was certainly fun to run, but it was not fast, and for many sections, there really was no trail. The course was marked very well with reflective tape that lit up nicely from our headlamps, but there was not a well-defined trail or rut in the ground. At one point the reflectors seemed to stop along a path that paralleled a river, and there appeared to be a trail on the other side, but it was not clear if we were to keep going parallel to the river or cross at this point. Arthur, the guy going for his 7th CCC finish, was just behind me so I waited for him to show me the way (which was to cross the river). I ran with him and his pacer for a few miles with the comfort of not getting lost on this crazy section.
After the Trail from Hell, we started a 9 mile climb of about 3,000 feet. During this climb the sky went from a beautiful starlit night to a beautiful sunrise over distant mountain peaks. It was amazing. During this climb I did a lot of thinking. I thought about the amazing starlight views I had, the amazing views I had all day, and wished I could share them with loved ones. They were too awesome for just me.
I started thinking how I am routinely asked why I took up running, such long distances in particular, the questioner indirectly (or maybe directly) probing for the defect that causes the madness. The follow-up question is often, what do you think about, don’t you get bored? I don’t really have a satisfactory answer for the first question - I honestly just love getting out on trails and running. To the second question, I thought about many different things in the wee hours in the Cascades, great things in my life, great losses, everything. I remembered sitting on my back deck last month with my kids to experience their first shooting star - a moment none of us will forget. I remembered viewing stars with my Dad in Oregon when I was a kid.
I mused that my Dad was never a runner, his release was biking, riding centuries and even the Seattle-to-Portland 200 mile ride, but I think he would get my running, more so than anyone else. Although never spoken, I believe he found calm and joy in testing himself physically and mentally on those long bike rides - I imagine him riding with his thoughts just as I was now running with mine. At that moment, somewhere in the Cascades, I felt connected with my Dad in some small way. My Dad told me many times, do your best and keep your head up. I was doing that and I only had 15 miles to go!
The next 15 miles were no cake walk. I was aware of the “cardiac needles,” a series of 4 short hills poking up between 85-90 miles, but I did not give them enough respect. On the elevation chart they look like harmless pimples near the top of a 3,000 foot climb, but they were incredibly steep climbs. Several times I wanted to stop and pause on them, but decided to merely slow my hike, worrying that if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to get started again. The reward was fantastic views from the peak of each climb, the most amazing from Thorpe mountain.
After the cardiac needles there was a long steep downhill before dumping into the last aid station at Silver Creek with only 3.6 miles to go. Best of all, I got to see my wife again, waiting with a smile and a kiss. The aid station captain offered me a beer, and pointed out a buckle that was hanging from a tree to mark the trail back to Easton. I grabbed a few snacks, inspected the buckle and was off. I took off quickly out of the aid station and then slowed down to enjoy it a bit. Some part of me just wanted to enjoy this run to the end and not kill myself for a few minutes, and some smaller part wished there was more than 3.6 miles to go. I wasn’t quite ready to be done with the experience.
Returning to the finish line, where we started nearly 24 hours earlier, was surreal. Nothing had changed in Easton or the Cascades, but everything looked different. I saved a final burst of sprinting (probably a 12 min/mile for 200 yards) to cross the finish line as Charlie announced that it was my first CCC and first 100 mile finish! I got a hug and kiss from my wife and then sat in the sun, with my feet in a bucket of ice water and a smile on my face.
Thanks to all who helped me on this journey - I’ll do my best to thank you all in person.
Post race bliss!

Time to rest, eat, and be with my family.
Oh dear dad
Can you see me now
I am myself
Like you somehow
I'll ride the wave
Where it takes me
I'll hold the pain
Release me
- Release, Pearl Jam

Edie Harbaugh's Top 8 Reasons to go to Geoff Roes Alaska Running Camp

Top 8 Reasons to go to Geoff Roes Alaska Running Camp by Edie Harbaugh

1. Alaska is unbelievably gorgeous.  If you've seen photos, they don't even capture 15% of the natural beauty.

2. Geoff knows Juneau trails inside and out.  I saw trails I wouldn't have gone on by myself.  Including a whale surfacing within sight of our coastal trail. 

3.  Worried you can't keep up with a Western States champion?  Local Juneau runners come to the runs.  Geoff seemed to know every runner in town, and they were all gracious hosts to us - even when I was slow. 

4.  Hate early mornings?  Worried it'll be like junior high but worse?  Runs only take up 2-5 hours a day. The days are long, and we never started before 11 AM.  Plenty of time for whale-watching, charades playing, magazine reading, and…

5.  FREE Beer samples at Alaskan Brewery!  I don't even drink beer! But it was fun to hang out at the brewery.  There's a strict limit of 6 samples per patron :)

6. Geoff & his girlfriend Corle met when he was a cook and she was a baker.  All of the food was delicious!

7.  SWAG!  Everyone got a goody bag with a Montrail hydration pack, multiple pairs of DryMax socks, a big bottle of Udo's Oil, and a coupon for a free pair of Montrail shoes online!  Not to mention the huge basket full of Clif products to try every day. 

8.  Did I mention Alaska is gorgeous?

Edie running up above Juneau!

Honestly, I had multiple doubts before (and after) I signed up.  Would it be grizzled no-fun athletes, waking up at 6 AM and eating chia seeds?  NO!  Geoff & Corle & the Juneau folks are incredible hosts.  Alaska is beautiful.  With 5 days to focus on running, I could experiment with new food, like carrying an avocado/turkey wrap.  The runs are as fast or slow as you want to go.  And there's plenty of time to just enjoy Alaska.

Des Inglis Marathon des Sable Report


Robby, Noel and myself (Team Smash 146) drove down to Gatwick on Thursday 5th April full of beans for what we were about to undertake. Exited by the prospect, we managed to check in with Monarch Airlines for the flight to Ouarzazate in Morocco.
The flight was a charter flight specifically for the MdS, so it wasn’t hard to spot everyone else at the airport with either OMM or Raidlight day sacks.
We went to get a full breakfast in one of the cafe’s and met up with Tom who we had contact with from our home town and who we invited to meet up with us and be a tent member. Tom had just completed a 100mile Ultra the month before so was probably a bit tired going into the MdS.
The flight was pretty uneventful apart from the fact that we were sat near the back by the toilets and a bit cramped and also a bit of turbulence over the Atlas mountain’s which offered fantastic views of snow covered peaks. Quite an amazing site for an African country, which is primarily made up of sand, rocks and dunes.

We landed, got off the plane and were immediately subjected to the first of much queuing! This initial queue was to get through passport control. The immigration officers were in no rush to get us through and as we were near the back of the queue, we had to wait for about an hour and a half before we got through passport control. Fortunately our baggage had made it through which we picked up, got on the coach and was then driven to the Berbere Palace Hotel. The Hotel was supposed to be 5 stars but I don’t think it was quite that standard, but it was comfortable enough. The next queue was checking into the hotel. We had a three man room which was comfortable. In fact the beds were extremely comfortable and we all slept like babies. That evening we had dinner in the restaurant and managed to meet the rest of the lads who would be joining us in the tent. They were Jamie, John and Andy. We had seven in total and started getting to know each other over dinner and a couple of beers.
The following day we queued once more to check out of our rooms and to get into one of many coaches that were to take us out into the desert. We were given a brief by one of the French Controleur’s called Mary and there was also a French Doctor on board in case there were any medical issues. The journey was about 6 to 7 hours with various stops along the way to relieve ourselves and also to stop to eat a pack lunch. We arrived at a village on the outskirts of the desert to be met by Moroccan Military trucks that ferried us to the MdS Bivouac a few kilometres away as the coaches could not negotiate the journey. The ride was a bit bumpy and dusty but having ridden in these before we made sure they left the cover on the back and got ourselves towards the cab end so that we wouldn’t be covered in dust before we even started.

We then had to find our tent, which as it happens was, No 93 and the furthest away. It looked like the retreat from Moscow struggling with our suitcases over rocks and sand to get to our new homes.
Once at our tent we quickly settled down inside. The tent consisted of a black, hessian type material supported by wooden poles and tied down with ropes and pegs with a patterned red carpet laid out on the ground inside for us to sleep on. We were entitled to an evening meal in camp that night which was nice and included either a small bottle of wine or a can of beer or coke. We all had a comfortable night and were glad to finally get rid of our suitcases and surplus kit the following day before our registration and kit checks.

That morning we were once again fed by the organisers and later in the morning had to queue up again for the kit checks. This involved being issued your race number, a timing chip for your ankle, picking up your Esbit fuel tablets, handing in your medical certificate and ECG and signing various forms etc. Confirming you had the minimum of 2000 calories per day and various other bits and pieces including compulsory emergency items. I was surprised they never went through our kit to check if we had all the compulsory items but I suppose when there are roughly 850 runners to get through then time is of the essence.
It was good to get rid of any excess kit and just being able to concentrate on what you were going to carry on your back for the next 7 days, whereby we could pack our kit at last to our satisfaction.
The three of us then had a bit of a walk around in the local area and around some dunes to see the sort of terrain that we would be going over the following day.
There was a race briefing later on in the day by the Race Director Patrick Bauer and then we were entitled to one more meal in the evening before we were to become fully self sufficient.
Another comfortable night was had albeit a bit cold in the early hours of the morning.
The following morning we were issued with our first water ration and had our water cards clipped to account that we had received it. The organisers also write your race number on the bottle and cap so that if they find any discarded en route then they can impose time penalties for littering. Out of the whole race I saw one discarded bottle and they had managed to rub off their number!!
Stage 1 – 33.8km (21 miles)
There was a fairly lengthy brief by the Race Director Patrick Bauer in French followed by a shorter translation to English by an interpreter. There were 857 on the start line which included 48 different nationalities. The main group this year were from the UK with the French being a close second. We had to go inside a taped area in the shape of a 27 for the photo from above which was for the 27th annual Marathon des Sables. The atmosphere was very party like with lots of hollering and shouting and waving of flags. A really good atmosphere and we were all glad to finally be at the start line after 3 long years of training specifically for this event.
The traditional music was played in the form of Highway to Hell by AC/DC which is my favourite all time group and had me really fired up. However I wasn’t going to let that dictate a fast start. The countdown from ten was counted by the RD and then we were off on the highway to hell for the next 153 miles!!
I started off jogging straight away but checked my pace so that I felt really comfortable and in control. The going was quite good at first with plenty of small rocks and stones laid out before us. We then hit a bit of a flat sandy area for a couple of km through palm trees and an old fort. At this stage there were plenty of locals giving us high fives and the helicopters with the cameras kept buzzing up and down the now stretched out runners. The rest of the first leg was in and out of a Wadi system with different terrain underfoot including soft sand and rocks. We then popped out of a small sandy dune area to the first checkpoint at 14km. I quickly downed all my remaining water and went through the checkpoint and was issued more water. I quickly replenished my bottles and carried on without slowing down. I had this routine well drilled over the 3 years of training. My hydration and nutrition strategy was a tried and tested one which worked extremely well throughout. In essence I would eat and drink every 10 minutes. Firstly I would for example take a savoury snack of either, Marmite cashews, pork scratching or beef jerky and then drink 3 or 4 sips of water with electrolytes and then 3 or 4 sips of pure water. 10 mins later I would eat something sweet, such as power shots, fruit pastels or Jelly beans and then drink electrolytes and pure water. Throughout the race I was disciplined to do this all the way through and not once did I feel, tired, thirsty or hungry.
I left the first checkpoint and not long after we were making our way up a small Jebel of 200m with a 15% gradient. Not too big a hill and it was fine, as once you crossed the initial sandy slope then there were plenty of rocks to stand on. We then descended into a rocky valley for a couple of km along some mixed terrain and then up onto another Jebel and along a rocky path to a fairly steep descent and then across some mixed terrain to CP2. On the ascent to the Jebel a Frenchman took exception to me overtaking him and was right on my tail with his noisy poling technique until the descent whereby I said au revoir and smoked him!! I couldn’t handle him being right up my backside anymore.
Same routine at CP2 – finish off water and fill up bottles and crack on. This was at 25km. We then started across a fairly rocky valley eastwards and I was starting to overtake a lot of people without really trying. I then made my way up Jebel Tibert which was a sandy track about 2km long and quite steep. A lot of people were really slow here and many were sitting on the rocks on the slope feeling a bit tired. I got to the top and a doctor and medic ran past me as someone had obviously taken a funny turn somewhere down the slope. We then descended a rocky track to the bottom of the Jebel and could see the next bivouac which was about 3 kilometres across a wide Wadi. I arrived at the finish of the first day in 5 hours and 15 minutes feeling good and finished in 300th position. I then had a customary cup of Moroccan Sultan tea and collected my 3 bottles of water and made my way to tent 93. This was the hottest start to any MdS to date with the temperature topping out at 46 degrees!!
Stage 2 – 38.5km (24 miles)
Again this morning there was a lengthy race brief by Patrick Bauer which included a route description, numbers of those who had dropped out and mentions of those who had birthdays. Again AC/DC and highway to hell blasted out and off we went. Once more I settled into a steady pace, firstly across small stony area then across a soft sandy Wadi. At this stage once I was starting to sweat I had difficulty with the mixed up sweat and P20 sun cream going into my eyes. It was extremely annoying not being able to see properly, so all I did was to fixate onto another runner’s heels and just keep with them along a stony track. This is where the photo of me was taken that was shown on the MdS darbaroud website. At about 7km we entered a Wadi that had small dunes for a few km before petering out onto small rocks again. At this stage I was seriously thinking about seeing the medics at the next checkpoint as my visibility was so limited. I arrived at the checkpoint at 12.3km’s, filled my bottles and quickly washed my eyes out with my spare water. This did the trick and was a lesson learned for the rest of the race, by avoiding putting sun cream, anywhere near my eyes! Leaving the first checkpoint we headed in an easterly direction for nearly 4km along stony ground towards sand dunes that were just over 3km in length. I had no problems with the dunes as at this stage I had my poles out and quickly got into a good rhythm over the deep sand. CP2 at 19.3 km was upon us as soon as we came out of the dunes whereby we were given 3 litres of water and cracked on. The next stage was brutal and boring as it was across a flat salt pan named Ma’der El Kebir which in Arabic is big. This is where the temperature rocketed to 51 degrees and the white of the salt pan made it difficult not to wear shades. This leg was 10 km long and was marked every 250m approx by an orange sign. Mostly I ran 500m and then walked 250 most of the way apart from the last couple of km whereby I could feel my feet heating up and literally start to melt! Blisters underneath on my soles where definitely starting to form, so upon reaching CP3 at 29 km I decided to stop and tape up my right foot with zinc oxide tape. This took about 15 minutes and was frustrating as I was taken by a considerable number of people but was necessary as I didn’t want to be crippled. This is effectively where my blister problems stemmed from. On the first day, a few of my toes were battered by the rocky terrain. That first day I wore a pair of Injinji socks with another over the top giving me two layers. The second day I couldn’t fit the thin pair of Injinji’s on so I went with the larger thicker pair of Injinji’s, however I couldn’t fit a second pair of socks over them with my trainers which were already one size bigger than normal. Rookie mistake but I have definitely learnt from that.
Our Hero: Des Inglis

I then headed out of checkpoint 3 and made my way across an area populated by camels and a mixture of hard packed track through vegetation for about 3 km before hitting sand dunes for 5km. Again I had a good rhythm and got speaking to an American competitor who gave me a few top tips for using the poles. Towards the end of the dunes you could see Bivouac 3 and at this stage I felt the blister on the sole of my right foot pop and burst. This changed my gait slightly and slowed me up quite a bit but luckily I only had about 2km to the end. I arrived at Bivouac 3 in 327th position in a time of 6 hours 14 mins. I was quite pleased with that although disappointed at having lost a few places due to sorting my blisters out.
Stage 3 – 35km (21.7 miles)
This morning we started off in an easterly direction across mixed sandy terrain with vegetation and stony ground. The team started together but it wasn’t long before it was only Robby and me together. This section was fairly flat until the last 4km, whereby there was a sandy slope before getting into CP1 at 12km.
We waited a couple of minutes at CP1 for Noel but we couldn’t see him so decided to head off North up an increasing sandy incline towards Jebel Zireg. We reached the top of the pass on the Jebel which was quite windy and stopped for a couple of photos.
Hamming it up on stage 3!

Fantastic views to the North of the area we had to go and cross. We then descended a small rocky path for 200m before hitting a stable sandy slope. Some Japanese guy hurled himself down the slope like a Kamikaze pilot. Bit daft in my opinion as he could easily have twisted an ankle! Another Japanese runner did the whole event in Vibram five fingers. I take my hat off to him for that. There were then a series of dips and rises which were quite large for about 5km. I remember it being quite hot and hard going at this stage. We then followed a mixed rocky and sandy section which led us to a gentle descent down a track where the poles came into their own for keeping stability and speed. They were an absolute god send as they gave support over rocks when you thought your ankle was going to turn. We overtook a lot of people without poles who were making their way gingerly over this rough track.
Next was a flat rocky and sandy valley about 3km long before we climbed up a sandy pass between Mziouda and Ras Khemouna Jebels. We were expecting the checkpoint beyond this sandy ascent but found that there was another quite steep sandy ascent to go. Poles were very useful in the steep sand and the trick was to place them lightly for support and get a good rhythm going. There was another good panoramic view on top of this sandy summit and you could see the flat salt pan that we were soon to cross. We then had a small sharp sandy descent to a dry river bed which we followed down to the base beginning of the salt pan where CP2 was situated at the 25.4km point. We started crossing the salt pan which was 3.5km across. There was a dust storm blowing at this stage and we set off at a good paced run all the way across. We managed to overtake a fair few runners over this stage.
We then entered a steep sided pass called el Maharch with a rocky track going through this. We overtook Jamie through the pass and he looked really tired. He wasn’t moving very fast and looked like he was on his last legs. To date he was a strong runner but his feet and the effort of it all was starting to get to him. We got out of the pass and followed a rocky track past a village and then made our way across mixed sand and rock to Bivouac 4. I finished 327th in a time of 5 hours 47 mins. We had a quick brew of spiced Moroccan tea and then collected our water and made our way to the tent.
Stage 4 – 81.5km (50.6 miles)
There was a good atmosphere this morning as we set off on the long one. I think we started at about 0900 in the morning cheered on by the top 50 elite runners who would set off about midday thus giving us all the opportunity to see them in action and cheer them on.
The first 6.5km was across mixed stony and sandy terrain before a short section of sand dunes of approx 1.5km and then hitting a very rocky area. This led to a track up a fairly steep slope whereby it was nigh on impossible to pass slower runners. No worries though as there was still many miles to go! We made our way to the top of Jebel Otfal which had a helicopter perched at the top. The views were fantastic all the way round and we could see CP 1 at the bottom of the hill on the flat ground just over a kilometre away. But first we had to descend a really steep sandy slope which had a rope fixed to the first past to aid runners down. I remember seeing this part of the run on previous footage of the MdS and was thankful that we were fortunate to be going down instead of up it. The descent was fun and I took it steady past runners who were queuing up to use the rope. We overtook quite a few people who were waiting around. Robby flew down the hill whilst Noel and I took it steady. We then met up with Robby on the stony area at the bottom before making our way into CP1 which was situated in a wide sandy Wadi. 
Normal routine at the CP and then we headed straight out in an easterly direction through a small bushy wooded area and then some small dunes. At this stage I started to pull away from Robby and Noel. I was conscious that with the temperature starting to rise very quickly and having smaller water bottles then them that I would in all probability run out of water before the next checkpoint. Unbelievably there was a small Wadi that had to be crossed that had water running through. A fair few people stopped here to cool themselves off and splash water over themselves. I quickly took a quick photo and cracked on. I then crossed some small dunes and headed down a long valley with small trees to the right until CP2 which was at 23.7km. 
There were a lot of runners seeming to mill around here in the shade of palm trees and in the tents put up for the competitors to carry out any admin or to rest in. It was a nice spot which I didn’t dwell to long in. A couple of minutes later I was once again on my way along a sandy and rocky Wadi. My feet were starting to protest and it took a while for them to warm up again after only stopping for that short period of time. This was going to hurt and hurt for a long time to come yet. I then got into my stride and just started picking people off. This was through small dunes and camel grass. It was at this stage that some of the first top runners started to overtake me. I clapped the leaders through and was amazed at how fast they could actually run across the sand. It was twice the speed that I was going! I remember seeing lots of camels to my left and up ahead I could see a gentle rise that went through a pass with some ruins dotted around at the 30.6 km point. I then followed a rocky vehicle track along undulating ground where I passed a couple of Brazilian guys who said that we were halfway. I didn’t quite think we were halfway yet but we were now certainly well into the route by now.
The wind was starting to pick up by now and there were several more elite runners flashing by. This section seemed to go on for a while and then headed off the track across another section of mixed terrain before finally arriving at CP3 at 37km. Again there were a fair few competitors milling around. It almost seemed like they just wanted to rest up before heading out again.
I headed off again after topping up my water. We were given 3 litres as there was a long dune section of 9 km coming up which would slow us down a bit. Initially there was a vehicle track that we followed before veering off to head into the dunes. It was at this stage that the top female went past me. The dunes were the largest we came across so far and there were some steady ascents and descents through them. Jen Salter the top UK female runner passed me and shouted well done keep going. I felt fine and just kept going like she said. The poles were again proving useful through these dunes that seemed to go on forever! I could feel myself slowing now as my feet were now starting to hurt a bit.

We came across a small dwelling of Touareg tribesmen and their black tents whilst some just sipped tea looking at us and some kids trying to scrounge anything they could from the runners. They had a beautiful campsite and I could only just imagine stopping for a cup of tea and putting my feet up! That would have to wait a while longer yet! Eventually we came out of the dunes and entered mixed terrain and a bit of a climb up to Jebel Lahnoune. I could see vehicles at the top and assumed that the checkpoint would be just beyond the high ground. It was! Another 2km beyond and my feet were really starting to feel sore now as I descended a steep sandy slope and then across very rocky ground. There was still no sign of CP4. It was hidden around the corner and I decided here that I would get my feet seen to by Doc Trotters.
I arrived at the checkpoint and after filling up and being issued a light stick, I went to the medical tent. At this stage it was getting very windy as I waited for one of the medics to sort my right foot out. As I was waiting there was a bit of a medical emergency as one of the runners at the checkpoint went a bit wobbly whilst I was having my foot sorted out. He was ok after a bit of rest. I was starting to get frustrated at having to wait for so long and worried as I knew it would be painful on my feet to start moving again after such a long wait and to add insult to injury I watched scores of runners come into the CP and out whilst I was being attended to. After an hour, I was finally sorted and felt a bit cold due to the wind and having stopped sweating, so I put on my windproof and stowed away my desert cap and got out my head torch as the light was just starting to fade.
I then set off very gingerly, as my feet as expected had started to protest. It was just a case of one foot in front of the other until they warmed up some. At this stage we were all following a series of light sticks tied to long grass or sticks. It wasn’t yet dark but the light was starting to fade. I then heard my name called out and saw Robby just behind me. He had caught me whilst I was waiting in the medical tent. We both then just decided to finish off the rest of the day together. The dunes we were travelling across seemed to go on forever and they were quite undulating.
We could now see the green laser that we thought indicated the end, however when we got to it, it was just used as a marker on a Moroccan Army truck before we got to CP5. We caught up with Tom along the dune section who was making slow but steady progress. We continued to leapfrog him the rest of the night as he never stopped even at checkpoints. We finally arrived at CP5 which seemed to be the longest 11km ever. I suppose it was the fact that we couldn’t see far ahead in the dark.
We quickly sorted ourselves out with water and a bit of food and continued out of CP5 eager to get this thing done. This leg was approximately another 11km which was predominantly across rocky valleys and sandy areas. Nothing of note was seen due to the low light with just the odd word spoken with Robby as we just concentrated on maintaining the pace. Although my feet were hurting, once we left the checkpoint and after 5 minutes or so they quickly warmed up to where I felt more comfortable although I was concerned how they were going to lock when I finally attended to them! We arrived at CP6 which was in quite a windy position and we quickly started getting cold. I took one running shoe off to adjust my feet and get rid of a bit of sand and then left CP6.
We had about 10km to the finish. The first 4km out of CP6 were a nightmare as they were along a sandy Wadi which was really hard work and difficult to get any pace going. It seemed to take forever to get out of the soft sand. We then had to cross undulating stony ground interspersed with soft sands. I feet took terrible punishment during this as we couldn’t see some of the stones and kept stubbing our toes on them! Hence the loss of toenails! We then had about 2km across small dunes and bumps with tall camel grass everywhere. It was sometimes difficult to see the light sticks as the glare from some of the vehicles made it almost impossible to see. The glare turned out to be a 4x4 vehicle bogged down in the deep sand, with another vehicle trying to help it get out. Eventually we got out of the sand and got onto a small track which led directly to the finish point. We crossed the line in 16 hours and 52 minutes. A long day and we were glad to get in our sleeping bags around 2 in the morning.
Rest Day
The cut off for the long day was around 34 hours. Obviously before the next stage began everyone had to have finished the long day. Because of this, the quicker you finished the more rest you had before the following stage.
We made the most of this day. I had decided that I would go and get my feet tended to today as both my soles were by now very tender and it was extremely painful and slow to walk around. I went to the queue for treatment which turned out to be a bit of a triage station and because of the state of my feet I was told to go to the larger treatment tent and collect a number whereby they would call me forward to have my feet seen too. Firstly we had to clean our own feet and to make sure that there was no traces of tape or dirt and sand left on them. This was done sitting on chairs over plastic type grills where we were given a mild antiseptic solution in bottles of water to clean our feet. There were some really frightful feet on display and on the other side of the coin there were people with hardly anything to show! Once your feet were cleaned up you were given a pair of plastic covers for your feet and then told to wait until your number was called.
I must have waited about an hour and a half in a tent that had a dust storm blowing through it before I was at long last called forward. Once inside Doc Trotters tent I was shown to a camp cot and told to lie down. The medic that treated me was a French girl called Caroline and she said she had a lot of work to do with my feet! It was quite funny as there were a lot of people being treated in there, all in different stages of agony! Caroline cut all the skin away from my blisters on my soles and all the other ones dotted around my nails and toes. They were then cleansed with an antiseptic that didn’t sting too much.

She then drilled my nails that were black to relieve the pressure on them and then made a real neat and tidy job of dressing and taping them up. While this was happening a British guy next to me had the biggest looking blister on his sole. All the skin was cut away which left a red raw looking wound, and I had to laugh when the guy treating him who was holding this big swab soaked in iodine, that this was going to hurt! I laughed at the British guy and said ‘Stiff upper lip mate’. He howled and winced a bit, but was up and about and got to the end. Whilst this was happening there was a storm going on outside. It was raining heavily and there were also hail stones coming down. The wind was picking up and I was just glad that I was undercover in this huge tent. Mind you I must have had the driest part in that tent as buckets and pans were going everywhere and beds being moved to keep away from the drips. This went on for about half an hour and then subsided.
My feet were finished off and I was sent on my way pleased with the job that was done on them. Walking back slowly to my tent I must admit I was a bit worried how I was going to do the marathon the following day! I got back to the tent and found that the lads had a hell of a time getting soaked. The wind had blown most of the tents down, the carpet was soaked and lots of people had wet clothing and kit. Luckily I had stowed everything in my day sack prior to seeing the medics. Andy in our tent had his sleeping bag blown away and never saw it again so had a couple of cold nights to deal with!

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful spent drying everything out and just drinking and eating any spare rations we had to top up for tomorrow.

Stage 5 - 42.2km (26.2 miles)
Today I was worried and tried not to let the lads know that as I didn’t want to appear negative. I suspect they knew I was suffering as indeed they were. I could hardly walk first thing as my feet were in agony and all I could do was shuffle around. No choice but to go with it as I wasn’t not going to start the day.
You know it's rough when the marathon STARTS with a shuffle!

Off we set off once more and I had my poles out first thing. There was quite a party atmosphere today as we had completed the long stage and although today was not to be sniffed out we had certainly broken the back of the race.
The start was slow and painful and I could see Robby ahead. No sign of Noel, I wasn’t sure where he was. We got onto small dunes after a couple of hundred metres and I just gritted my teeth and cracked on. I came across a runner sitting on the sand looking sorry for himself. A number of runners went to him and the next thing was a flare going off. I could see the helicopter circling and setting down near him. He was obviously in trouble and it transpired that he had a cardiac arrest and was flown straight out of there. The speed of the medical evacuation was impressive. I am not sure if he recovered but I believe he was in a coma!
We came out of the dunes and then came across a rocky plateau. These rocks were the worst sort of terrain for my feet and the soft sand was the easiest for me to get across. We now came across another band of mixed terrain before we came across a small river!
Unbelievable in these conditions and heat. I certainly didn’t want my feet to get wet and get more blisters on my blisters, so I just queued up by an area that had some palm fronds thrown across a shallow part which you could step on. A lot of runners were messing around trying to get across and a lot got their feet wet. Luckily my poles allowed me to get across fairly quickly and more importantly drily. On the other side of the stream was a dry salt pan that was only 1.5km wide. Mind you it was quite hot going across that but at least there were no small rocks to stand on. We then entered a large Wadi, crossed a large track and then entered CP1 at 10.5km.
We then headed out North East along a gorge for 3km and then across a valley for another 1.5km before reaching a stony plateau. At this stage I am into the swing of things. I am not comfortable by any means but I have a good walking pace going and I am overtaking runners which spurs me on. I kept leapfrogging this Italian couple and the worst thing about it was that I had to keep getting off a smooth track and overtake them over painful pebbles, and then they immediately started running and overtook me. This went on for a while and was frustrating! There was a girl from Luxembourg who was singing out loud as she was going along which made me laugh. The rest of the leg was a bit of a blur but suffice to say I reached CP2 at 22.5km.
Out of CP2 across slightly stony terrain before entering some small sand dunes for 4km. Across some pebbly terrain for 2km before entering some larger dunes for 3km and then descending into a gorge with a prominent track along it. I could see a couple of vehicles on the horizon which I guessed would be close to the next checkpoint. CP3 was at 33.7km. I quickly sorted myself out before my feet seized up and headed out north across some undulating terrain.
We crossed the undulating terrain and then came across some very dark areas of sand before coming to a village that seemed half deserted. There were a few locals to cheer us on and I could see the next bivouac in the distance nestled at the foot of some monster dunes! No prizes for guessing that we would be crossing over them tomorrow! We came out of the village and descended onto a rocky plateau to finally arrive at the bivouac. I never thought I would run a marathon with feet in such a state. Mind you I didn’t run a step – I kept up a fast walking pace the whole distance in a time of 7 hours 38 minutes. That was a long time to be on your feet, in the state they were in.
I collected my water and made my way to the tent. Robby and Noel were there already by an hour and they had run a fair way of it. I sorted my feet out and was in excruciating agony. Noel washed my feet for me which was really appreciated. The camaraderie between us three was excellent and something that I will never forget.
Stage 6 – 15.5km (9.63 miles)
The last stage was upon us. They decided to make the last day a tough one by having what they describe as dune day on the last day. Last year it was the first day which made it quite hard and exhausting for the first day. Personally I didn’t mind as the state my feet were in I much preferred travelling across the sand then the small rocky pebbles.
You could tell it was the last day today. A big buzz around the bivouac this morning with everyone determined to finish even if they have to crawl around, which is what I felt I might have to do to the first checkpoint!
After a few years of training, the expedition is almost over!
The three of us had made a pact to run and finish this last day together. It was hard going for the first 6.5km which was over rocks and pebbles and was absolute agony. However we made it to the CP in good order and buzzing that we only had another 9km to go. There was no water dished out at the checkpoint as they had given us 3 litres at the start of the race to last us until the end.
We set off into the dunes. These were absolutely enormous dunes we had to cross and very impressive looking they were. Once in the dunes the heat seems to hang around and get hotter if that is at all possible. The three of us made really good going on the dunes. I was in front setting the pace with Robby behind and Noel at the back. We had such a good rhythm and pace going that not one person overtook us. It was quite amazing really considering the state of our feet. To be honest it was bliss on my soles compared to the torturous pebbles that had to be endured earlier.

It was obvious we were getting close to the finish as there were a few spectators who had come out into the dunes to cheer us all on. We finally reached the crest of a huge dune and could see the finish in sight. As we got closer we had to cross a few pebbly sections which were absolute agony but I wasn’t complaining at this stage and just gritted my teeth and hobbled across them. With the finish line about 200m away we took our hats off so that we would look good crossing the finish line and got in line abreast as we were being cheered by a lots of locals and relatives of other runners who had made the effort to come out. We crossed the line in a little under 3 hours in 2 hours and 57 minutes. Not bad going across the dunes at that pace.
There was a bit of a log jam as we had to wait for the Race Director Patrick Bauer to individually give everyone a hug and hang the medal around their necks. There were quite a few emotional people at the finish. We were happy to finish but we weren’t going to start crying or anything like that. Just a quick shake of hands and well done and that was it. The worst part of the day was still to come – that was the coach journey! We collected our packed lunches whilst being hounded by local kids and then had to wait a while before our specific coach was ready to leave. Getting to the coach was murder as our bodies had by now seized up and the journey back was about 6 hours cramped in a coach! Getting off the coach and to the hotel room at the end was probably the hardest march of the week!
On reflection, we had the most fantastic time. I came in 404th overall and were it not for my blisters on my soles I would have managed about 100 or so places better. Maybe next time! Would I do it again? Yes I would if someone paid for me to do it, but there are so many other challenges out there that I would love to do. Maybe when I have retired and I have the time and money then yes I would go out and do it again.

The sore feet were worth it in terms of the money we raised (£14.5k) for those injured soldiers and for what they have had and continue to go through for the rest of their lives. A few sore blisters and lost toenails were a small price to pay and they would always heal and grow back.

Always a little further”
Des Inglis