The greatest journey I have ever been on is over, and it feels hard to get on with a life without the Sahara. It’s a journey I’ve been on since October last year when my place in the 27th Marathon Des Sables was confirmed. It’s the toughest footrace on earth - why wouldn’t I want to give it a go?
My first challenge was breaking the news to my girlfriend, who while incredibly supportive was less than impressed by the documentary I showed her of James Cracknell’s adventures in the 2010 MdS.
“So let’s get this straight,” she said, “it’s 151 miles across the Sahara in temperatures up to 52C and people have died doing it? You’re going to do what you want anyway but just so you know - I don’t want you to do it”
Crucially, she didn’t say I couldn’t do it so I had the all-clear.
All that remained for me to do was train, get kit together, perfect my nutrition strategy, find footwear and gaiters that worked, fill out all the relevant paperwork, book my annual leave, enjoy Christmas and ask people to sponsor me. It was a busy seven months.
'Insert Training Montage Here'
I started off slowly, averaging around 20 miles a week and ramped it up to 70 miles a week. With two months to go I introduced the backpack and a bit of weight and even tried an ultra-distance race in Devon. I felt like I was slowly becoming a running machine...
By race week I was as ready as I thought I could be - I’d just comfortably paced sub-1:30 at the Hastings Half-Marathon, completed a marathon in Devon and done seven runs of 20-22 miles. I was injury-free and I felt ready.
On My Way
After a lovely send-off (including the helpful comment “it feels like I’m waving you off to war”) I found myself in Gatwick, milling around with other ultra runners all desperate to get on the charted plane to Morocco.
What instantly struck me was the average age of my fellow runners. Compared to my 25 all the other runners seemed to be in the mid-30s – I took this as a sign that I could only get better with age, something to look forward to!
In Morocco we found our tent buddies – I teamed up with two marines, two guys from the navy, Rob the South African, Luke the Aussie who was aiming for a top 50 finish and a BP worker called Adrian who I wrongly accused of overinflating petrol prices. The eight of us were going to share some interesting times together in the desert.