I’m still in shock, both from the race and the result. I hadn’t featured in the race preview ‘top 10 women predictions’, and I hadn’t considered it myself either. But I was there to race, not just finish, thanks to advice from Black Line London’s Al Maher.
I will write a race report about how the racing itself unfolded for me, but for now, an overall view of the MdS experience….
The race was incredibly hard, and I pushed myself to serious new limits, thanks to wonderful friends, both old and new, made in the bivouac, while racing through the desert, or while having feet ‘cared for’ in Doc Trotters.
I found the pre departure race admin stressful and the level of organisation required wearing and unpleasant. I’m a ‘near enough, then just crack on’ sort of person. However for this race, preparation is unavoidable, and it pays dividends. In contrast, each day, when I ran, it was like reaching a higher level of consciousness, free from any worry, stress and doubt. In the desert, you just exist, running side by side, and sometimes literally hand in hand with fellow runners. It is wonderful. You think no further than the sand dunes on the horizon, and I mean that literally. It is very peaceful. Just relentless forward progression.
Nights were hard, in a different way. I would usually run out of water, being in camp early and only allocated 4.5 litres for all washing, drinking and cooking. I was at times so hungry I would wake up and nibble a few grains of tomorrows breakfast flapjack and lick empty wrappers I had left. My tent mates and bivouac friends were a fantastic bunch, who supported each other and inspired me throughout . I did well, and that is in significant part due to them.
I feel very lucky to have run through such a pristine part of the Sahara, it was often like scenes from films. I especially delighted in running along the high ridges, taking precarious lines (with varying levels of success) in order to overtake people, and enjoying descending steep sandy Jebels (the large dunes). I loved the technical sections best, but I had worked hard on my top end speed, knowing this was more a ‘runners’ race than the Himalayas, and I loved being fast on the flats for once, using peleton tactics to make strong progress during the sometimes windy, open flat sections.
I was very surprised to find myself in the top ten after day 1, and even more surprised to stay there, especially with the depth of field in the womens race this year. But I worked hard, and raced bravely, potentially suicidally, for it. It was really very, very hard. And unlike in my Ironman tactics, you have to push your body to suffering, not just go really hard. Its a different ball game. There’s no jelly babies or sports drink at the aid stations to look forward to, just someone to clip your card, and give you a limited amount of water. And when each day ends, you just needle your blisters, rehydrate some food (without a stove for hot water) and get ready to do it again.
I had no idea how to run a 55 mile stage, and as I went to bed the previous night, I decided my race strategy was to be ‘cautiously bold’, whereas normally I race fairly conservatively. I had met a good race pal/mentor from Barcelona, who raced mentally and physically very similarly to me, and he encouraged me to push harder on the long stage, than I felt comfortable with. However he had drawn me back on previous stages when I got a bit trigger happy over taking pro women, so I put my faith in his evaluation of my ability. I doubt I will ever race that strongly again to be honest! Huge thanks also to the fierce New Yorker, who ran with me all that stage, she was inspirational and we ran and existed as one that night.
Will I do this sort of thing again? Probably yes. Well, almost certainly actually. I didn’t enjoy knowing I was actually hurting myself with the level of pain between the race stages, that’s not why I love running. For me running is about freedom and being in nature, but admittedly, I am hugely competitive and motivated further by doing well. (I don’t actually really hurt during a race, I just think about racing during the running bits), but that is what it takes. However, I feel great already and am researching races for the future, so watch this space. Any sponsorship suggestions welcome! Or just winning lottery numbers. I’m thinking Costa Rica next Feb, or Richterveld Trans Frontier (South Africa to Namibia) June 2018. Coming 7th female overall, including the pros and top British woman definitely wets ones appetite…
If you, or any of your friends are thinking of doing Marathon des Sable, please let me know, I am more than happy to share my experiences. This race really teaches that we are stronger together, and I would love to help anyone who has an MdS itch to scratch. Just do it! whether you are a competer or a completer. You will be a changed and empowered person.
For now I am looking forward to a steady few weeks, climbing, surfing, SUPing, cycling, and of course a little glass of bubbly or three, so please tap me up if you’re not already bored of MdS stories!
Images from www.iancorless.org