Marathon des Sables: The Greatest Journey

RW staffer James lays bare his Marathon des Sables experience - and his battered feet

by James Fricker

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Stage 1 - 21.5 miles

The first day threw everything at us - dunes, jebels (mountains), salt flats and rocky terrain. It quickly dawned on me that it was going to be a tough week. The flat sections were rocky and the heat really made the going tough. After starting fully hydrated, it wasn’t long before I was longing for the first checkpoint and my gift of 1.5 litres of water. I struggled through day one and was elated to see the finish line. As I crossed it I threw my leg out to hear that joyous beep checking my time in, but heard nothing - I’d lost the chip on the course. I was gutted. It had been a long day in the sand and morale hit a low. Mentally I was prepared to take it one day at a time, but finishing stage one all I could think about was how I was going to make it through the week.

Stage 2 – 23.5 miles

After struggling through Stage 1 decided to be sensible and walked the first half. I stopped thinking ‘one day at a time’ and went for ‘one checkpoint at a time’ instead. The first half was really tough - I hadn’t trained to walk, I was tired and my bag was heavy. Upon reaching halfway I decided enough was enough - I needed to start running to get the pain out of the way quicker, so run I did. I glided past the majority of the slower runners and coming into the last checkpoint the pain in my legs from the first half had reduced enormously - but it had transferred to my blistered feet. I reluctantly made the decision to visit Doc Trotters on course at the third checkpoint. After half an hour and a fair bit of tape around my toes I was off again feeling strong. I counted runners as I passed them and finished strongly, but for the pain in my feet.

Stage 3 – 21 miles

Things really heated up today and I decided it was my day to push on. We were told at the start we would receive an extra bottle of water as the temperatures would reach 50c (eventually 52c) which is normally unheard of – not my brightest idea to stretch the legs but I felt good and wanted to make amends for previous days’ poor performance. With the sun beating down on me I plodded along as hard as I could, ignoring my painful feet and felt like I flew round while taking in the beautiful surroundings. I kept saying to myself, only 13K to the next checkpoint, only 10K to the next checkpoint, only 9K to the finish. I had my chip back on and was keen to show a good performance, partly to make up lost time from the first two stages and partly to steady my mum’s nerves as she eagerly awaited my spilt times. I obviously over-achieved that day as my brother had to call my mum to let her know I’d finished the stage - she was expecting me an hour later! It felt good to be running but the day’s elation was quickly replaced with ‘long stage dread’.

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Discuss this article

James, thanks for sharing your story I got a real sense of you in it. Well done for completing it does not come close to how proud I hope you feel for what you have done
Posted: 26/04/2012 at 20:54

That sounds like one hell of a journey you have been on and conquered - respect and well done.  Take a bow.

Posted: 26/04/2012 at 21:02

Well done! It sounds like such an utterly memorable experience. You should be VERY proud of yourself for what you've managed to acheive.
Posted: 27/04/2012 at 08:38

What an amazing journey. I can't fathom the strength of will you must have to keep running on numb feet and mutinous legs, anyone who does MdS and has such a brilliant finish has my utter respect and admiration! Well done to you!
Posted: 27/04/2012 at 10:54

Incredible performance, James. Absolute respect.
Posted: 27/04/2012 at 11:52

Thanks for sharing - a truly brilliant experience!!!!
Posted: 27/04/2012 at 13:35

Some classic lines in there: "Crucially, she didn’t say I couldn’t do it, so I had the all-clear" and "After cleaning myself up, I pushed hard again."

Great writing - even better running! 

Posted: 27/04/2012 at 16:04

Thanks for all your kind words - 4 toe nails now lost in total, but back to feeling normal and more importantly, running again. Hoorah!
Posted: 30/04/2012 at 09:45

Amazing achivement. Just proves to me that when i say I don't want to do this race I am right....

Well done you. 

Posted: 10/05/2012 at 12:16

Did you win????
Posted: 30/06/2012 at 23:03

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