Monday, 10 July 2006

Marathon des Sables - Stage 3 38km - Fly or Die

11th April 2006

“It won't be long, till you see me on the news!
Gasping for air makes the righteous path, harder to choose.
Well its either fly or die, sink or swim, which one shall I choose?”

The lyrics to the N.E.R.D. song “Fly or Die” rang through my ears about 100 times throughout the 2006 Marathon des Sables. During stage three it almost became a reality and seemed like an appropriate title to the stage report.

The night had been like the last two, warm and uncomfortale. That meant that it would be another hot day. I hadn’t peed in days and I wasn’t drinking as much as I should. The drinking water temperature was 50 degrees and made me feel sick each time I took a swig from my bottle. From the start I knew that it was going to be a long and uncomfortable day. Here's o pic of day three in camp without the tents.

Pic of camp

Running was not an option today; there was no way I could sustain much more than a walk because it was so hot, I loosened up my pack to let the air circulate better and walked slowly. After 3.3km we crossed over some small dunes, I didn’t seem to mind the dunes because they felt cooler than the hard, rocky and flat dried out lake beds which seemed to cover 75% of the surrounding terrain.

Pic of day three waste land

At the 9km mark we were walking on cracked ground, sorry to keep mentioning it but the heat was so oppressive and I really wasn’t enjoying myself.

Aid station one was positioned at 11km it was adjacent to the small villiage called Tafraout, a place that probably never gets western tourists passing through. I decided to take my bottle and continue on through without a break because there were little groups of kids hovering around and grabbing anything that wasn’t tightly secured.

Pic of aid stn 1

My head was achy but I assumed that every one was hurting so I just went on. Thinking back I should have taken 5 minutes and had a sit down. I probably could have scavenged some water out of discarded bottles to douse myself, which would have provided some temporary relief.

Soon after the aid station my nose started to bleed, the blood was going everywhere and many of the other runners were asking me if I was ok and did I want to set off my flare to get the chopper to evacuate me. I can imagine that I looked pretty crook. I pulled my Buff (lycra hoop that goes around your neck) up over my mouth and nose and let it flow until it clotted and then of course I had dried blood all over my face, not a good look but who cares, I’m still moving.

According to the map CP2 was supposed to be located at the 20km mark. There was no way it only 9km to the CP2. It was situated at the top of a Mesa and had been put there by the chopper, we could see it from many miles away.

I was travelling slowly and remember staring at the ground in front of me and seeing blurry, spinning rocks in front of me. I was getting heatstroke. My water had run out and I was still at least 40min from the aid station.

I really didn’t have the energy to continue. I let the small miserable group that I was travelling with go on ahead. I was now dry retching and couldn’t focus at all. If it wasn’t 50 degrees it would have pretty bloody close.

One of my tent mates, Fraser caught me up and realised that I was in trouble. He managed to find me some water donated by an English guy from tent 69 and someone else donated some powder. Fraser sat me down for a while and waited while I composed myself. Then after about 15min We slowly continued.

I was now 250 metres from the checkpoint and I had stopped again. CP2 required a steep, sandy ascent up a cliff to get to the plateau of the Mesa, I guess it was about six storeys high. There was no way I could figure out how to scale that hill.. Fraser and I decided that it would be best if he left me on the track and go up to the CP and tell the medics that I was on my way up and that I was in bad shape and they should put an IV in me. Fraser waited up while I made the slow trek up the side of the Mesa.

With the help of a fellow from Italy I eventually got to the top and checked in. Fraser helped me over to the medical tent where the doctors had been expecting me. They gave me a tablet to put under my tongue, which would stop the nausea and retching. I lay down under the Hessian as they prepared the IV drip.

At some point over the next few minutes the medical team bought in another runner and lay him down beside me. This poor fellow was an Irishman called John and he was in a very bad way. John descended into a coma and I advised my doctor to forget me and to look after John. John got my IV I think.

I was lucky enough to negotiate another 1.5L bottle for which I took a one hour penalty for but I really needed to get fluids into me or I was going to end up like John.

The utter stupidity of the race rules is worth noting. I was in trouble and I was being prepared for an IV. I can take an IV without penalty (and as many bags as I need) but only once. If I take a second IV I’m out of the race. When I gave up my IV and I decided to see if I could ingest water orally, and hopefully not vomit it up, I triggered an one hour penalty for needing more water. I can’t see the point of penalising a competitor for needing water, especially if it’s as hot as it was. Apparently the organisers don’t want the competitors washing in the water but surely extra water can be handed out at a doctor’s discretion? At this point I had burnt 150 minutes at CP2 plus the extra time that I took to get up that hill.

So, on stage three at CP2 in the 2006 MdS my race for a good place ended. All I could hope for would be a finish, not even a strong finish just a survive strategy from here on in. For Irish John it was a matter of Fly or Die. The Chopper eventually arrived and evacuated John he was still in a coma.

For me I needed to get my shit together and rebuild myself so that I could get to the next checkpoint. Apparently it was 11.5km away and it was now the middle of the day and searing.

I looked at my maps and realised that I’d be doing the whole of the next section on “stony ground”, “sandy valley” and “small jebels” (small hills). Fun and games. I walked and stopped and walked and stopped…….

pic of terrain fron St 3

There this weird etiquette in the MdS between the weak, ill and injured runners. It was an accepted practice to yield for the tired. Contrary to the postcards there are a small number of trees, usually hardy vegetation that is covered in spikes but, still, just enough of a tree to plop down next to and lie in the dirt propped up by your back pack. You’d see a tree every 800m or 1km. Anyway, on my approach the resident would start to shift and repack the things that had been used during their short intermission under the tree. As I’d approach I’d offer a hand and lift them up onto his feet and they would continue on, I’d wait until the next needy would turn up. They’d offer me a hand up and so the chain of rest would continue. All of this would usually happen without a word being spoken, just an arrival, a hand, a nod and a departure, this cycle would occur every few minutes.

Ran out of water again at least an hour away from CP3, not just me, everyone ran out, they weren’t giving us enough water, no one had enough and the fucking bastards were hurting us more than we’d signed up for.

It was dusk when I approached CP3. We could see it from 3km away. There was a steady stream of 4wd commissar vehicles passing me, these cars were ferrying the dead (metaphorically) DNFed runners forward to CP3. All the faces looked familiar, I recognised a few that were in the medical tent back at CP2 and a few that I had seen on course.

Patrick from tent 64 (the veteran of ten Hardrock 100 mile races and a Badwater I think) caught me and growled that we’d need to get a move on otherwise we’d miss the 7pm cut. So I picked up my walking pace, which had crawled to a dawdle by that stage.

pic of patrick

One thing going well was foot management, still not one blister. There were heaps of people sitting down in the middle of nowhere with their shoes off and in severe pain from foot disintegration. People losing full sheets of skin off the soles of their feet, then trying to continue with all those nerves exposed, ouch! Note to all podiatrists, if you want a career’s worth of foot trauma experience, go and volunteer at MdS.

Arrived at CP3 (31.5km) with 12min to spare before the cut and stopped for a while. It was like a MASH unit. Lots of collapsed runners, many not continuing, very sad and morgue like. I decided to get out of there to escape the negativity, I grabbed my bottle drank half of it and decided to move out right on cut-off (7pm).

As I was getting up to go French woman flagged me and said she’d seen me at CP2 and that I looked like I was moving better and was going to finish the stage and good luck. She was out of the race; “it is for the best, I am too weak” She pointed to a full bottle of water and some small bag of sweets at her feet. I made sure that the Race Gestapo weren’t looking and switched my half full bottle for her full one, grabbed the bag of peppermints and moved out with a wink and a “merci”. All the DNFed (15 or so) waved as I departed. Even jogged a bit to humour them. Vive le Saharan Resistance!

That small bag of sweets was all I ate all day apart from the powder that I was given before CP2. Long day so far..

Leaving CP3 took us through the El Maharch gorge, extremely beautiful, things were looking up, I knew that being able to appreciate the surroundings was a good thing because I mustn’t be suffering as much.

There was an oasis and hotel at the end of the gorge with new 4wd vehicles out front. That meant tourists and tourists meant Coca Cola, a bunch of the competitors said it was possible to go in and buy things. I didn’t even consider going in because there were race vehicles out front of the hotel. I did dunk my head in the camel/donkey water trough, which was just brilliant. One of the Portuguese guys jumped in, yuk! Needless the say the donkeys were not impressed. The runners were carrying on like kids on a hot day with a garden hose, I left them to it.

4.5km to go.

The song “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind came onto my mp3 player and sparked me up, I put it onto repeat and blocked out the world. It was cooler and I knew I’d get to the end of the stage even though I was very weak.

Saharan sunsets are the most beautiful I have ever witnessed and I managed a slightly faster pace. Lots of race officials cars screaming past me which meant high drama.

Finished the stage and arrived at Bivouac 4 at about 8pm. My tent mates were very relieved to see me. I was last in my tent, we’d lost one tent mate during the day. Al from New York who had needed to be airlifted just before CP2, where my trouble hit its crescendo. WOW he got to go in the chopper.

I crashed on the ground outside the tent, the ever faithful Fraser picked me up and took me over the medical tent. I was given another anti nausea tab and lay down on a stretcher. The only Finnish competitor was in there too and hooked up to all the medical monitoring equipment. I stayed there for a while before I returned to my tent.

I had two mouthfuls of food a slug of water and crashed, totally spent.

During the night there had been lots of shenanigans. Apparently 83 competitors had DNFed during the 38km third stage. That made a total of 150 by stage three compared with 15 or so for the full race last year.

Four competitors were in real trouble; of those four three were in a coma. John the Irishman was still out cold and had been expatriated back to the Ouarzazate then airlifted from Morocco to Bordeaux in an air ambulance.

The head doctor threatened to shut the race down unless the race organisation 1) increased the water allowance and 2) shortened the next (4th) stage from 72km to 55km.

The next morning my headache was back..


At 10 November 2006 at 10:13 pm, Blogger 2P said...

LOL - Brendan - for some reason you came into my mind tonight (maybe GNW fever) and your resolution back in January to be able to touch your toes....

Can you do it?

At 24 November 2006 at 2:04 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Brendan! This is an amazing account of you MdS. Really enjoying reading it. Keep up the great work!

At 16 December 2006 at 10:00 pm, Blogger Aki said...

:0 :) :)


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