Marathon des Sables 2021 - Day 3 (37.1km)

Over night there was more carnage.  Despite wearing ear plugs, you could hear frequent vomiting and hearing people make a mad rush to the toilet.  Some succeeded, some didn't.  For many the two toilet bags we were given at the end of each stage was not enough and it wasn't always easy to get more.  Toilet paper was becoming a tradeable commodity.  I was running low too, but my backup of spare facemasks (which unlike many others I hadn't binned) proved to be a saviour!

Anyway, the start today was very sobering; a tribute to the French runner who had sadly passed away.  The start was very muted and involved walking about 800 metres with his team mates before we gradually transitioned into a jog.  It took me a while to find my legs but I seemed to be having a slightly better day.  The run to the first CP was mixed but involved some significant early dunes before flattening out onto a long and straight section with fairly hard ground.  I ran with another French runner who I was glad to tag onto.  Up to this point (and in fact for almost all of the race) I was often in no mans land - not close enough to the front group, but the time gaps in my part of the field were significant to the point that often I could see no-one ahead or behind, let alone run with.  I was going at a decent pace and I managed to pick off a couple of people along the way.  It was the sort of pace that was comfortably uncomfortable - I probably would have not gone at that pace left to my own devices, but at the same time was worth investing the extra effort to stay with another person.  However, with a few km to the next CP the terrain became a bit more varied and twisty, sandy bits, scrub etc. and I dropped the other runner.  Not so much because of my pace, but again it was another hot day and he couldn't sustain the effort.

A much better start to Day 3.

I actually went into the first CP feeling fairly decent.  Again, no real idea of my race position but I had a rough guess that I was somewhere in the top 15.  I went straight through the CP and within 500 metres it was like someone had turned off the lights.  Sometimes, this is the way of it, its almost as if the CP breaks up the rhythm.  I managed to continue running, but was now more of a sustained shuffle.  Before long I entered a sort of salt pan / dry river bed section.  The heat just seemed to be absorbed into the white surface and I was having exactly the same trouble at roughly the same point as the day before.  I was kind of figuring now that beyond a certain temperature I just couldn't operate properly in it - it was beyond the limit my body could handle.  I went to a slow walk and over the next 2-3km I was passed by 4 people including the French runner who was with me earlier.  This was the final straw and I managed to get back into a slow run, before gradually overhauling him again just as we reached the second CP.

Fairly typical terrain for the race, sandy but not really dunes.

It was now the final 10-11km to the finish, the first bit being mostly runnable stony surface before gradually transitioning into more sizeable dunes.  I had got a second wind and I was now running all of it, including most of the uphill soft sandy sections unless extremely steep.  I left the two French competitors behind and gradually managed to overhaul an Irish runner who had overtaken me whilst I was walking earlier on.  I urged us both to work together and perhaps overhaul a further competitor just ahead, but just as I was having a renaissance, he was struggling and immediately fell behind.  I had a far stronger finished and ran the final dunes before finally dropping into the finish for 13th place on the day and remaining 13th overall.

Sorting myself out going into/out of a checkpoint.

Whilst collecting the water ration I was given the booklet revealing details of the long stage tomorrow.  Unlike previous years, the exact details were only revealed the day before and once I found out it was 82.5km I just shook my head, I couldn't believe it.  There was a thought running through camp that the long stage would be truncated due to the extreme heat and drop outs, but no.

All I could now do was recover as best I can.  When I say recover, its more a case of lie there, try not to get any more dehydrated and wait it out until about 6pm when the temperature drops and its possible to take on more fluid than is lost.  I always found the afternoons hard, a long time just lying there, mostly uncomfortable and loads of flies.  I have no idea where the flies came from, but they were always there and did not disappear until dark.  No matter how much wafting of the arms took place it made little difference and if there was one thing I could change about the event it would be right up there!

It was also quite windy that afternoon and the quality of the erection of the tents was variable to say the least.  When the wind picked up, if the tent was not placed very well the best case would result in lots of flapping, at worst as in Day 3 it unseated the wooden pole (which was really a tree branch) and it landed on my toes and head.  It would have been sods law had I dnf'd not because of the race, but because I was bashed on the head from the tent pole!

As the day wore on, it became clear it was another day of carnage out on the course.  I frequently heard the helicopter fire up, which I soon realised could be associated with another person being airlifted off the course.  Whilst I found the day ever so marginally better than Day 2, I think the accumulated effect of sickness was really beginning to bite.  Two of my seven tentmates failed to finish, one finished a minute before the 7pm cut off (insufficient time to recover in time for start of the long day) and dropped out the following morning and a further tentmate in a very delicate position physically. 

Later on that evening we had been told by another tent that one of my tentmates was in the medical tent on a drip.  I wondered over to give him his email messages that had been printed out and what I saw was total carnage and will stay with me for a long time to come.  There was a tent with what I would guess 12 'beds', everyone on a drip, then another open ended tent with probably 20 people all laid down next to each other not moving waiting their turn for a drip as well.  There was then a sort or triage so the medics could decide who was the next most needy when a bed became available.  Another competitor in the tent next door is a colonel in the army and he said in all of the years of service he had never seen anything like it.  It turned out my tentmate who was a fit twenty something year old had seven litres.  The extreme dehydration was no doubt not just due to the heat, but he was one of the victims of the sickness bug so any liquid consumed didn't stay down for long.

As for me I felt ok, but was certainly nervous about what the next day would bring.


Popular posts from this blog

Spine Race - Some Stats (2012-2024) - Updated following 2024 race.

Ranger Ultras - High Peak 100k

Ranger Ultras Pennine Bridleway 270km