Marathon des Sables 2021 - Technical Checks Day

We went off to the airport, this year meeting at Gatwick at 8am ready for the 10am flight to Errachidia with Titan Airways.  Whilst hand luggage allowance was 5kg, as I had a small looking race bag I pretty much took all of my main kit (c.6.5kg) with me, only checking in items that are not allowed in the aircraft cabin.  The flight was pretty uneventful, landing in a very warm Errachidia Airport which clearly is not that used to handling many flights, let alone those that are international.  Nonetheless, everything was reasonably quick and before long we were on the coaches for the c.90 min ride to camp.  On the way we were handed our race book and water card - so to be clear the book can count towards your overall bag weight for the technical checks (about 100g+).

On arrival, we were more or less left to our own devices (other than being given some poo bags which we were shown how to use as part of the briefing later that evening), not before picking up a packed lunch.  It wasn't fantastic to be honest - any idea of some decent French cuisine quickly went out the window.  A very stale bread roll wrapped in clingfilm, some butter, a laughing cow cheese slice, small tin of tuna in oil, a carton of orange juice, a long life Madeline sponge, and some dates mixed with raisins.  To be honest it was even worse than it sounded, but I ate most of it anyway.

Layout of camp life - my tent was in the outer ring on the opposite side of the entrance - about the furthest away possible!

Over the next couple of hours the rest of the tent mates arrived and we started to get to know each other.  Before long it was dinner which again wasn't the best - I'm not a fussy eater, but what I do eat I like it to be hot especially when abroad.  This was more or less stone cold.  It can be best described as 'canteen' in style, plain pasta, rice with sweetcorn, chicken on the bone and various more flavoursome vegetable style dishes.  Dessert was typically a yoghurt or crème caramel.

Beyond dinner there is very little to do other than turn in for an early night.  Most people get up at first light e.g. 6am and this seemingly became typical for the week.  The day before the race is reserved for what is known as 'technical checks' and broadly comprises of the following:

1) Based on race number you are allocated a morning or afternoon slot for the checks (in my case morning).

2) First off you hand your non race luggage in, there is no option to return to the luggage once handed in so any decisions regarding race kit need to be made before this point.  Therefore you will be wearing your race kit from this point on (unless intending save race kit and bin whatever else you are wearing).  You will need your 'Technical Check' form so your bag can be labelled with your race number.

3) You then proceed to the next tent and the queue here is a bit slower.  First off they will check your passport and that you have 200 Euro.  Then the bag gets weighed - in my case it came in a 6.95kg - due to the Rice Pudding I was carrying as ballast which I was going to eat the morning before the race started proper.  I also slipped 3 gels in at the last moment too and glad I did as I was surprised that I was still under 7kg.

4) In the same tent, your GPS tracker is then affixed to your rucksack and you then proceed to the medical table to hand in the ECG and medical form.  I was quite concerned about this due to the number of errors (see preamble blog post), but they didn't batter an eyelid.  They were only really concerned about it being undertaken within a month of the event and that was about it.  They were slightly funny with a guy ahead of me who had the ECG and Medical Form signed off by different people.  I also know of one instance where the Doctor had put the wrong (i.e. previous) month down - that was a simple error that cost the participant a further 200 Euro to have a fresh ECG.  At this stage you are then given your salt tablets and medical card which is shown every time you visit the Doc Trotters.

5) Finally, the technical form is handed in exchange for your race numbers and then a photograph of you holding it.  The whole thing took about 1hr 45mins - quite a long time in the sun but its not exactly as if there is much else to do around camp.

I actually took my mask off, but clearly the photographer didn't take another.  Still, who'd have thought that face masks have a secondary use - see later posts!

Note the total absence of any kit checking.  Indeed I'm not aware of a single instance of anyone having had any kit checked whatsoever.

You are then pretty much left to sit out the rest of the day so I'd recommend a book or find something to do as there are only so many times you can check and repack your kit.  The evening follows pretty much the same pattern, some very mediocre camp food (make the most of it as its dry rations from that point on) and bed, somewhere between 8 and 9pm.

A huge amount of hanging around - stock photo.

As I had handed in my air bed that day for the technical checks this was the first night I'd be sleeping on just the carpet.  It was awful even though it was relatively flat underneath.  My sides ended up all bruised, had virtually no meaningful sleep and was already regretting my decision.  Thankfully the following morning a tentmate managed to procure me a sleeping mat that someone else was throwing away before the start of the event.  Its amazing how much kit gets dumped that first morning.

The tents pretty much start getting dismantled by the Berbers at first light and no matter whether or not you are still in your sleeping bag or half dressed they work to a fixed timetable each day.  All that was left was for me to consume the rice pudding that I was only carrying to make the minimum bag weight and get my head in the right place ready for the off.


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