Chris Smith is a life member of the Orangutan Foundation and he always pushes himself to the extreme to raise money for us, one year he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. But this year’s challenge, the Marathon des Sable (MdS), a seven day/151 mile endurance race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco, must have been the hardest yet. The event took place in March but between Chris and ourselves it’s taken a while to get this post together! Thank you so much Chris for putting your poor body through such an endurance to raise almost £4,000 for us! We thoroughly appreciate your efforts and hope your feet are now better!
MdS blow by blow – by Chris Smith
‘Arrived on Thursday 26th March and went to our hotel in Ouarzazate. Next day travelled through the Atlas Mountains and into the desert (about six hours driving). Within an hour of leaving it started raining heavily and never stopped for the whole journey. Needles to say this took us all by surprise and caused a few issues for the journey. The coach stopped at the end of the road and we transferred to army trucks for the final 15km drive to the desert camp. Everyone was nervous of their kit getting wet as nothing was designed for rain!
Day 1 -The Dunes
We arrived at the camp which was a disaster with most of it heavily flooded. I was in flip flops in mud above my ankles. We found one of the few dry tents and got settled in. After going for dinner we were told to eat up quickly as we were all being evacuated to a local town and hotel. We made another body crunching journey in the back of the army trucks to the town and checked into some random hotel who had gone from having six tourists to 206 guests in an hour!
Saturday we were told by the organizers that they were unsure if the event would go ahead as the camp and equipment was badly damaged and the rain was still pouring down. We all sat miserably around the hotel with nothing to do. Sunday arrived, the day we expected to start the race and the rain stopped. We were told that we were all being transferred to another hotel for the administration formalities (medical and kit checks) and the event was starting on at a changed starting location. We went and did all the formalities, thankfully they were happy with my medical, ECG and equipment and I was through the process quickly. We then had another day of sitting around waiting to hear what was happening. Later that afternoon the race director informed us the event was going ahead but it would have to change each day as many areas of the course were impassible due to flash rivers having formed. The event would be reduced from seven to five days with four stages. There was uproar that the distance was being cut. They told us it would be difficult to maintain the 150 mile distance but they would see what could be done. I think they were also worried about the event loosing its reputation if it was cut too much.
On the Monday we were driving out into the desert and the starting line placed about 2km before a huge range of dunes, Africa’s second largest after Namibia we were told. Off we went running all the way to the dunes and then very quickly the reality kicked in just how hard the event would be. The weight of the pack, the soft sand and size of the dunes made it impossible to keep a quick pace and zapped your energy. The first day ended up being 20 miles with 10 miles of this being dunes. The temperature was a pleasant 28 degrees. I finished about mid pack and felt OK. My shoulders were badly swollen due to the pack and my feet were a little sore but otherwise I felt happy with the situation. I found my tent which we had organized before the start and was pleased to find I was third home of our tent of seven. I settled in the the rest of the day making some food and lazing about. I didn’t sleep well at all, the night was really cold and the wind went straight through the tent which was open at both ends. I wished I had a better sleeping bag and more clothing.
Day two was to be a circular route back to the same camp. We were woken at 6 am and told the event would start at 9 am and would be 23 miles with about 6 miles of dunes. The organizers informed us that due to the backlash to the race distance being shortened they were seeking to make the terrain tougher than normal, one part of this was the inclusion of dunes in each day. We started lively enough until we hit some rocky assent which spread the field and took the sting out of my lively legs and rested feet! My aim was to just keep moving as quickly as I could and just minimize the wasted time involved in following people of the assent parts and at checkpoints. We entered a field of dunes just as the the heat of the day kicked in, it was about 34 degrees today. There was a large stretch from CP1 to CP2 of flat rocky terrain and sand before we had more assent. The final leg back to camp involved flat ground with boulders which played havoc with your feet and ankles so I was actually quite relieved to get into the dunes which finished the day. I crossed the line much more tired today and was pleased the day was over. I headed to the tent and assessed the damage to the feet and shoulders. Things were not too bad but my body was starting to hurt and it was time for pain killers in a decent quantity. I cooked my dinner and settled and rested up having a laugh with the guys in the tent. Soon after settling down to sleep I felt sick and headed out of the tent to spend what was to be a long night being sick until the early hours of the morning watching the sun come up sat against the tent pole as the camp slept.
A mixture of painkillers and the dehydrated food packs had ruined my stomach. At 6 am the Moroccan camp helpers arrived to take the tents down and our group sat preparing breakfast and for the day’s stage. I felt terrible and I could see them all looking at me thinking I was done for!!
To top things off the organizers came round the camp informing us that today’s leg was to be 57 miles (91km). I quickly realized this was to me the worst day of my life so far. I got my kit together, missing breakfast and just made sure I had plenty of water and salt. We started at 9:30am and had a nice flat section to the first check point. I got some anti-sickness tablets from the doctors and carried on. I was miserable and dreadful company for my mate who was starting to suffer badly with his feet. We pushed the pace on as best we could to CP2 going through a sandstorm on an open part of this stage. We went straight through CP 2 and CP3 trying as best we could to keep moving and avoid the temptation to rest or sort our feet out that were really starting to suffer. At CP4 my mate (Dan) was in a bad way and we sat for a while to rest. I was talking to him and he was making no sense. I called a doctor over, who suggested he was dehydrated. Dan decided to rest for longer so I continued on my own. Now the stage changed for the worse. I still had 27 miles to do and ahead of me lay miles of dunes and a mountain to ascend and descend. These were the biggest dunes yet and seemed almost vertical in some parts. I felt knackered and tried to switch off and keep plodding on. I was dark now and trying to find a good route was impossible I took a bearing and plodded on alone listening to my mp3 I had taken for any low points. A couple of flares went off in the dune section from people who had got lost or given up.
I walked though CP 5 and CP6 just taking my water and keeping moving. I had eaten nothing all day and felt exhausted and like I could sleep standing up. I just kept taking my water, salt and lots of caffeine which made me piss like a camel! I made it back to the camp at 5:30am the next morning and stumbled to my tent. I was third back to our tent and really pleased with how well I had done in light of my condition. All the guys made it back to the tent including Dan. I was fed up as my body hurt so much that I could not sleep and I was too frightened to take any more pain killers. You have what is left of this day to rest so I just lazed about and had a few bits to eat. I binned the rest of my dehydrated food packs which made me feel sick just thinking about eating. My feet were in a mess and I patched them up as best I could.
We labeled the camp ‘The Death Camp’ as it looked like a POW camp with people being sick and suffering diarrhea, hobbling and groaning.
Final day, we were woken by the Moroccan guys again and we pulled ourselves together for the day ahead. One last pack of the rucksack and breakfast. I managed to beg some snacks to replace my dehydrated packs and thankfully managed to eat it and keep it down. Today was a marathon leg with some rocky assent, dunes and river crossing. My feet were in agony at the start and it took a good hour before I got used to the pain. Dan and I kept together and we pushed on a best we could trying to keep moving until the energy ran out. I managed until CP3 before the fatigue kicked in and I felt exhausted, I have never felt as tired in my life and it took everything I had to keep going. There was a long climb after the last CP and I kept hoping that the end would be over the next hill. After about the forth hill it was and there it was in the distance. It was amazing how seeing the finish line brought me round and Dan and I lit up our fat Cuban cigars in the last stretch to smoke across the line. We cross it together and got our hug and medal from Patrick, the race director. After a few pictures I headed straight to the doctors tent to get my feet sorted.
Chris (left) and Dan at the finishing Line
We went to our tents for a final night in camp before leaving the next day back to civilization. I finished 500th of 870 starters. Everyone in our tent finished as well. I think about 70 dropped out this year which was mainly due to illness with the odd few getting lost on the long day.’
Chris’ feet after medical attention!