good morning lovely bigmoose blog readers, sorry about radio silence, i've been up to my gregory in it for the last couple of weeks, and my blog has suffered.
marathon des sables, done.
but not forgotten, as i am still limping from battered feet, and not in the cod way!
my dream of running the toughest footrace in the world started with chocolate, and as i boarded the train from newport to paddington laden with gifts of which i knew had high calorific content, and significant amounts of cocoa, such is the love my family and friends have for me, and the extremely well wrapped and large gift from mr pritchard contained something as well as chocolate, which as well as intriguing me, also surprised me as to the attention to detail being shown by a geezer, most blokes are haphazard in their attention to presents, especially to other geezers, but mathew's kindness was appreciated, and also somewhat surprising.
i landed at the gatwick holiday inn, and met my running coach rory and two other mds tent mates phil and selina, who both seemed like great runners, and i announced early in our conversation over dinner that i was looking to complete not compete, a saying that i had heard, and decided to coin whenever possible, and they didn't appear to judge me, which bode well for the trip, and we all retired early to get some shuteye as we had to leave the hotel at 4am.
i entered room 408 and unwrapped mathew's present, a jeff size bar of cadbury's and a keyring of an elephant, the significance of which made me smile.
whilst on mathew's 30 day challenge i had explained the analogy of how to eat an elephant to him, one bite at a time, and how it would get eaten in the right amount of time, and how the magnitude of the size of the challenge could be handled if taken slowly but methodically.
we had used the example along the challenge as we hit key points, halfway etc, and discussing the gender of the elephant caused much boyish humour to ensue.
the fact that mathew had gone to the trouble of thinking, buying, and wrapping said elephant was pleasing, and i attached it to my mds rucksack as per the instruction on his good luck card, he really is a good egg.
as we arrived at the airport i saw lots of shiny new mds rucksacks, and it felt very much like a big boys and girls schooltrip, and we met the rest of our tent mates, who though all confident adults in the real world, all showed signs of nervousness for the journey ahead, which was very interesting, and i love watching humans in this kind of situation, to see how they react, and how this nervousness manifests itself, and i needn't have worried about my sleeping partners for the next week, as rory had handpicked us all, and upon reflection now, his choice was faultless, a better crew of folk i could not have wished for.
as we sat in costa bill, a 71 year old who had a dream of beating ranulph fiennes record of being the oldest brit to complete mds, shuffled up and introduced himself with a strong yorkshire accent, which sounded identical to the impression that rory had done of him whilst on training runs at merthyr mawr sand dunes, i looked at bill and wondered if his slight frame would be strong enough to get the mds title he longed for, and i wondered why he hadn't made the cut as one of our tent mates.
the flight to morocco was uneventful, but contained lots of energy as it was a chartered flight, and full of similar mentalists on their way to run silly amounts of marathons in and over sand dunes in ridiculous temperatures, and as such nervous energy abounded, i listened to conversations with my eyes shut in a very anti social way, preferring to let others discuss where they anticipated finishing, and horror stories of past mds races, and how many marathons they had done previously, my running credentials were definitely lacking, and as such i decided to avoid such discussions.
as we exited the airport in morocco patrick bauer the race founder and director greeted us all individually with hugs and kisses, and his entourage all cheered, and i felt very welcome to this mds family, which i imagine was the theory behind the action, simple but effective.
the brand new 52 seaters filled with runners, and we headed off for what i knew was going to be a five or six hour journey to the desert, game on!
i sat next to tent mate nick, who i immediately liked, and we chatted about our worlds to each other, and nick expressed an interest in bigmoose, and what we're up to, and our friendship started there.
as we pulled off the highway into the actual desert it was beautiful, and my heart raced, this was it, all the planning, all the training, it was finally kicking off, and as i saw rory in the crowd he beckoned me and nick forward, 'follow me, don't listen to anyone else, just follow me' the desert messiah instructed.
we duly obliged, and headed to tent 105, beautifully positioned in the tent network, setup to be close to the medical tents, water distribution points, and simple to find among the uniformity of the black cloth shelters as we had bunting!
on the front union jack bunting, and on the back rory and had fashioned his and my adopted country welsh bunting.
simple idea, but when you are cream crackered after running for twenty two hours, and every step hurts, finding your tent quickly is a godsend, nice work coach :)
we introduced ourselves, and assumed our positions in the tent, which being humans we stuck to every time we arrived back from our day's running, creatures of habit for sure.
one girl, selina, and seven geezers, nick 26 year old banker, but not the traditional kind, rory, me, chris the young whippersnapper of the group, rich, a long haired entrepreneur who had a p.a. michelle that normally sorted his mundane stuff out, and was to become a reference point for us all when certain help was needed, 'i wish michelle was here to organise that' was the kind of comment that was used with comedy value always attached, we loved michelle from afar.
phil was a seasoned runner, with fast times, and finally kev who had prostate cancer and has a very short time to live.
we all loved kev pretty much immediately, and the decision was made to name ourselves 'team kev' and on the awards night after the race when they gave kev an award there were seven adults crying their eyes out on our table, and even typing this i am getting emosh, kev is a lovely guy with an amazing outlook on the hand he has been dealt, and bigmoose are gonna be doing some stuff with him in the future, so hopefully we can make a new friendship something special.
day one was looking like it was going to be a tough one, and rory warned of the route being quite gnarly, and as we set off, all 1200+ runners funnelling through the inflatable start arch, with patrick standing on top of a desert jeep, waving and cheering us on as 'highway to hell' the mds theme tune bellowed out of the sound system, 'here we go, let's ave it', i thought, as i trundled off towards the dunes.
the first 5k was flat and quite easy on the feet, but cometh the dunes, cometh the man!
15 kilometres of undulating hilly, sandy, windy, dunes.
as we progressed, slowly, a sandstorm started, and visibility grew less, and i thought of how it resembled a snowstorm on the mountains, and i dug deep thinking i could totally cope with this, this was my kind of thing, the wind blew, and the sand peppered my legs in a kind of prickly fashion, as i literally got sand blasted by mother nature, i was loving it, the toughness was why i was there.
as i finished the first day's 34k i was given three 1.5 litre bottles of water, and i juggled them as i headed to tent 105.
my tent mates cheered, and it appeared that i was the last one back, a theme that was to be recurring, but stuck to my plan of completing perfectly.
i parked myself between rich and nick, and flopped out cream crackered.
we discussed the ferocity of the sandstorm, and rory confirmed it was the toughest day he had done in his twelve years of doing mds, which was music to my ears, if today was super tough, i was cool with what the desert could throw at me, and i smiled as i lay back on my pack.
i had packed super light, and with food, sleeping bag, and all the other gubbins i was running with 7.2k on my back plus water, which was pretty light, as per instruction from coach rory, and i had approximately 2000 calories of grub per day, which with the speed i was dawdling along at, would probably put me in calorific deficit daily, thus weight loss would happen, but this was all expected, so no big stress.
mmmmmmm granola and nuts, yum yum, day one, and this wasn't setting my taste buds alight, no worries, it's fuel, eat and drink and sleep, wake up repeat, which is pretty much what happened, apart from that night i woke to experience my first sandstorm in the tent, now when i say tent, i use this description very loosely, this tent was a piece of cloth with a few poles to support it, with two open ends, and we were a line of sardine like runners in our sleeping bags as the wind picked up.
i awoke to the noise, lifted my head, and literally got a mouthful of sand as mds decide to torture me just a little more, our entire tent was left with a covering of sand, and the morning revealed sand inside our sleeping bags, and in some very potentially dangerous places.
we woke early, and read the road book we had been given which described the day's 41k of route, which contained descriptive prose such as small dunes, mounds of sand with camel grass, sandy valleys, more dunes, now i don't know what i expected, but i chose not to read anymore, as i felt there were only so many ways to describe sand, and basically i was gonna have to climb/run across it all, so i left the discussion of the route to my mates, and zoned out.
the bedoins that dismantled the camp, and then rebuilt it 41k away at the end of the day started early, and our canvas cover was lowered to reveal the early morning sun, which bode badly for what lay ahead.
as we headed to the start line patrick told us that the previous day had been very tough, and as such a large number of our throng had retired from the race, wow i thought, it didn't seem that bad, but i was pleased that all of my tent crew were still in the game.
day two was slow, and very very hot, i can't impress you with some very high number, but take my word for it, it was hot, and as i walked across the most amazing desert views, i loved every minute of it, and as i arrived at a checkpoint i saw a familiar face, 'hi jeff, how's it going?'
just before i left blighty i had received a message on facebook from rob hill, who i used to coach when he played ice hockey a thousand years ago in cardiff.
now living in australia, and working as a prominent cinematographer rob informed me he was filming a documentary at mds about two aussies, so would see me in the sand, which i didn't realise how cool that would be, as rob and his team would pop up all over the place filming their subjects, but would provide a friendly face and chat along the course, which helped me when i was feeling beaten up, very useful indeed on reflection.
'how are you rob, great to see you mate?' and my spirits lifted, 'flipping hot aint it?'
'sure is mate' he said with a new aussie twang he had inherited, 'you're doing great' and we agreed to catchup at the end of the day, a great refreshment, and mental stimulation, as i had been running/walking for the best part of six hours.
the cutoff point was eleven hours, and if you were later than that you were disqualified, and as i got about 5k from the finish i met a girl who seemed pretty beaten up, so i stopped to see if she was ok, she replied she was, but she was scared about the cutoff point, which i hadn't been thinking about, but once i was sure she was ok i headed off with thoughts of disqualification haunting me.
now on reflection i was totally on schedule to finish hours before cutoff, but the mix of hunger, dehydration and not changing my watch meant that i ran the last few kilometres to cross the finish line with what i thought were minutes to spare, which actually was hours, such is the deserts trickery!!!
as i walked to 105 i got clapped by other tents, which i initially thought was a sympathy clap, but it appears that we all clap finishers as they go past the tent, in a really cool supportive way, which was indicative of the whole race, which was pretty awesome.
'evening gang' i said as it became apparent that my estimation of cutoff time was way off track, what an idiot i thought as i tucked into my nuts and beef jerky which tasted like skanky old shoe leather with ridiculous artificial flavouring, gross.
i tossed and turned, and didn't seem to sleep at all well, but learnt years ago on kili that eight hours of rest, even if not sleeping was the equivalent of six hours sleep, now i don't know if this is mumbo jumbo, but i adhere to the belief, and never get stressed if i haven't slept, so the theory works for me even if it's a placebo.
'highway to hell', effervescent patrick, sand, day three.
anybody ever heard of a jebel?
no, nor me.
a jebel is a mountain in the desert, and the one we had to scale on day three was a biggy.
rory had warned us there would be queues to climb it, just after checkpoint 1, so we should try to get there as early as poss, so i ran all the way to cp1 only to see rory just leaving, which made me happy to think i had kept pace with him.
that was where the happiness ended for the day.
i climbed the jebel, very slowly behind the slow winding snake that reached to the top, but obviously wasn't there early enough to miss the queue, bugger.
the rest of the day was equally as pants, and i got battered by the heat, didn't eat or drink properly, i have no idea why, but scraped in just before the cutoff point at ten hours, only to see my tent mates at the finish, concerned that i hadn't made it, i felt like rubbish.
the boys carried my pack, and fresh water, and i zombied out as we reached the tent, and spent ages trying to make myself eat and drink, the desert was starting to win.
i forced mouthfuls of grub down, knowing i had to, but hating every mouthful, and as i lay to rest the nightmares started.
i had amazingly vivid dreams, that contained monsters, and fears that i was left in the tent as my mates ran off leaving me to limp back to the hotel, forlorn and beaten, they were so real.
remarkably as i awoke, i felt great, and the long day ahead, which consisted of a double marathon 84k did not scare me at all.
the cutoff time was 35 hours, and barring major upsets could be walked if necessary, and include sleep stops if required.
i had no strategy, but decided to just see how i felt, and react accordingly.
reflecting now i cannot remember how my brain worked on this mad day, and what i thought about, but i pushed through every checkpoint never thinking for a second that i wouldn't finish, i was actually enjoying this stage the most.
as the day finished, and the sun set, the temperature dropped, which was a relief, and as darkness arrived so did checkpoint four, and the headtorches of my fellow runners sparked up as we all sat down to refuel, rest, and decide whether to carry on or sleep in one of the tents setup for this purpose.
i chose to continue, i figured get the job done and then rest up as much as possible tomorrow, and as i followed a french girl up the long hill from cp4 i slotted into a really good rythym, and we walked together for miles, she seemed to be hitting a good pace, and unbelievably i was enjoying the race as we overtook people.
i pushed on though the night and at checkpoint 5 felt a little tired, and toyed with having a kip, but forced myself up, and for the first time felt my feet were a little sore.
i pushed on and as the the sun started to rise i had just hit cp7, and was told that the camp/finish was only 9k away, and i could see it in the distance, such is the vastness of the desert that you can see 9k away quite clearly, and it energised me to see my temporary home was so close.
the sun rose over my right shoulder and the mountains to my left and right seemed miles away, this place was absolutely beautiful, and i filmed my shadow as i ran, feeling very arty and pleased with myself, i was totally going to do this as i headed towards the bivouac.
but it didn't get closer, and it took a full two hours to see the beckoning finish inflatable feel close.
i had slowed to a walk again, but as i got close to finishing i reenergised, and decided to run, which got me over the line at just twenty two hours, and upon arriving at 105 the gang were assembled again, and we recounted our individual stories of the last day, i absolutely loved it.
as i peeled my shoes off it became apparent that my plates had rubbed quite a bit, and i decided to head to the medical tent, where a supremely efficient, professional setup of medics were patching up the entrants feet ready for them to race again.
as i lay on the ground and plonked my feet on the stool in front of my medic she looked at them and cowered.
that's never good.
she then beckoned her medic pal over to look at them, and he grimaced.
they can't be that bad, surely.
second medic called third medic, who followed the same routine as one and two, only this fella wanted to take pictures, and asked me in french, i assumed, and i nodded, i'm not gonna lie with an equal amount amount of pride at impressing these seasoned vets, as fear of whether my race was over.
my medic opened a sterile scalpel, and proceeded to cut and drain the blisters which equalled the number of toes i owned, my daps had run riot!
blisters cut, iodine was fed to them.
yes it hurt.
my heels also had wounds, and by the time i had returned to my tent my feet resembled a mummy's, and i questioned whether i could run a full marathon over the dunes the next day as i could hardly walk.
i took a cocktail of pain relievers, and if i'm honest i knew i had taken too many, and as i tucked up into my sleeping bag, i felt pain free, and as high as a kite.
by the a.m. the pain relief had subsided, and my twenty metre walk to pee was astoundingly painful, how the heck was i gonna run 26.2 miles.
luckily in my training prep i had done what rory called a mini mds, which consisted of five marathons on the bounce during which i had got a few blisters, causing me to get up and hobble to the kitchen at home, with the same question on my mind, but i managed to grind it out, and this held me in good stead.
rory suggested taking my insoles out, which revealed a big part of the reason my feeet were mashed, i had sand that got in my shoes, and formed a 3mm layer across the balls of my feet, which acted as a sandpaper like abrasive every time i took a step, geez louise, no wonder the balls of my feet had been the attraction of the med tent, time to man up smith.
i somehow managed to squeeze my repaired feet into my shoes, but the pain was awful, and i gingerly approached the start line, and fricking 'highway to hell' was starting to grate, and patrick's enthusiastic smile as our eyes met made me want to give him a dig if i'm honest.
one step after another, that's all you've gotta do, i gritted my teeth, and did just that, surely it will get easier.
every checkpoint seemed to help, and i broke the day into bites of the elephant, 'i can do this' i told myself, 'i can do anything if i stay strong mentally and as i crossed the finish line i punched the air in celebration, yes you bastard i win!!!
i headed to the webcam at the end of the race, which i didn't realise didn't have sound, as i told it that i loved tania, tiffany and chloe, and then proceeded to eat my elephant key ring, i had completed mds, the first person ever to do it with two false hips, and i was pretty proud.
euphoria washed over me and team kev, and we read our e-mails that had arrived from home, and i had a bit of a boo, such was the moment.
my feet were now throbbing, and the pain was starting to become a reality, so i headed back over to the med tent, and the process was pretty similar to the previous foray, though i didn't really care, as i high fived other competitors as we all knew we had done what we set out to do, and pain was just a bi product, bring on the iodine :)
the tent was a very happy place, as along the way phil had needed an intravenous drip, rory had needed oxygen, nick had broken his ankle and was now on crutches, and we had all had demons at different points, but we had all finished the race.
as we headed off to the start line the next day for the charity run, we all concluded that the manner in which the race finished was mad, we all wore unicef tee shirts and had to run ten miles to the actual finish of the race where we received our medals, ten miles is very long with battered feet and nick on crutches, but team kev set off together, and finished together, tired, worn out, but victorious, and how nick did ten miles across sand dunes with crutches i will never know, but i totally respect his tenacity.
as we headed off towards where the group buses were parked, rich had got the wonderful p.a. michelle to arrange for our own private bus laden with soft drinks, crisps and other beautiful foodstuffs to take us back to the hotel, and we stopped at a moroccan little chef, where the wonderful staff fed us with bread, dairylea cream cheese and chips, and beer, the weirdest combo, but a memory all of team kev remember extremely fondly, thanks michelle :)
the hotel was an oasis, though me and nick were slightly peeved at being located at definitely the room furthest away from the main hotel, but phil fashioned a trolley with pillows for nick as we headed to our celebration dinner.
their were awards for kev as mentioned, as well as super bill who completed his dream of beating ran's record, and various rockstars including a double amputee who was with the walking with the wounded team, all combining to make for one emotional evening, but one that will linger in my memory with fondness as i remember it.
as my feet heal and i look back on mds i feel extremely proud, and thankful to moose for being my inspiration to do as much with my life while i am here, and making a positive out of a negative.
we have some amazing things lined up for bigmoose, which hopefully we can share next week, which i would love if you can join in with us, and the rest of 2016 looks pretty busy, which is just how i like it, so keep rocking your own life, keep expanding you circle, and dream big, you can totally do it if you really want to, just ask bill.
until next week i'll be seeing ya,