Frank is one of my coaching clients! Frank was sick for 3 days before the race even started and he stuck it out with great courage!
I just returned from what proved to be the most difficult Marathon des Sables in its 21 year history. Of the 731 starters, 146 dropped out due to the incredibly harsh weather, where temps over 110 degrees, high winds, brutal sand storms, and unusually high humidity levels, created conditions that were down right dangerous. Over 60 athletes required IV fluids. I witnessed runners not just quitting, but dropping unconscious right in there tracks, emergency flares that I never thought would be used were being shot up like the 4th of July, and people being rescued by helicopters and flown to hospitals....2 of which were in comas. The medical tents looked like a war zone...people sprawled out everywhere, on the ground, on cots, cured up in balls.... the authorities almost running out of IVs, with one of my tent mates getting 9 bags at once!!!....incredible!! It was no longer a race, but a quest to simply survive...EPIC!!!
The one thing about this experience that I still can't believe, and will never forget, is the comradory amongst the competitors. All the pain and struggle, and the doubt and despair, only seemed to strengthen our bonds. No matter how incredibly miserable we were, we always had each other and seemed to find a way to laugh at ourselves each night in our tents. Knowing we were all in this together, served to only make us grow closer. I feel like I made friends for a lifetime.
On the fourth and longest day, since it took me over 15 hours to complete, I was fortunate enough to witness one of those moments when I say "yes, this is why I do this!" As the sun began to set, the temperature lowered, and a cool breeze began to blow. I looked around and just couldn't believe that I was actually here...in the middle of the Sahara Desert, amongst these incredibly huge and beautiful sand dunes. The sun set, and I felt like I was living inside a movie I'd seen, or a book I'd read. All the things I'd imagined before coming here, all the plans I'd made, training hours logged, things I'd sacrificed, the things I'd hope to see.... it had all come true....and it was all worth it....all the pain and struggle....it was worth it....even for this one small moment of clarity. Here I was, so happy to have made it this far...and actually getting stronger now, and for the first time the miracle of my surroundings was allowing me to feel the first glimmers of hope and optimism. Even if I didn't make it, I was witnessing what so few people ever get to see. A few years ago, I probably never would have guessed I'd be in the middle of the desert in Africa, let alone in a 140 mile race in the middle of the desert!!! I'll never forget it...the things I felt, the things I witnessed, and the friends I'd made....so worth it!!!
Well I sure didn't set any records, and I have swollen and blistered feet to show for it, but a few days later, I sure as hell made it across the finish line, and completed the race!!!!!!! The last stage, I ran hard and finished strong, placing 199 out of 585 remaining runners. I finished just over 400 overall in a starting field of over 700, with many of the 146 dropped runners leaving the course on stretchers. Many of the runners in my group had incredible times a placed much better than I did, and I'm amazed at their heart and skill....my hat off to all of them!!!
I recommend that if anyone ever gets the chance to see this place, don't pass it up....but trust me, do it in a Land Rover, not on your feet....they get many more miles to the gallon, and no blisters!!!!
PS. Attached is a video clip of a sand storm the day before the race.
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