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Marathon des Sable

Thanks to Mike Barrett for detailing his incredible adventure in Morocco, North Africa. Mike’s report is a frank, heartfelt story of pain, courage and determination. Congratulations from everyone at Tuff Fitty. Read on for a compelling tale:-

Marathon des Sables (MDS) is a legendary race in the Sahara Desert and billed as the toughest footrace on earth.  It consists of 6 stages; stage 1 is 31km, stage 2 is 41km, stage 3 is 85km (over 2 days) and stage 4 is 43k, stage 5 is 31k and the final stage is 21k.

Many years ago, I used to watch Transworld Sport, it was on Channel 4 on a Sunday morning (if anyone remembers), this desert race was featured, and I was hooked (we are talking the 1980’s here).  A few years later it came back on my radar when a competitor wandered off course, was found by a tribe who kept him alive until he was located by the organisers.  For some reason, I thought there and then I’m doing this… It went off my radar but drifted in and out of my peripheral for many years before I decided it was going to be done on my 50th year.

[Current time] Everything for the past 9 months has taken a backseat; my beloved bikes haven’t seen my backside, and the Littlehampton pool hasn’t been furnished with the sight of me in my floaty pants.  My training for the event was very much based on something Dom Amey focused on when we were training for last year’s Ironman Austria… Train so that I can run tomorrow. Each session was run at a pace whereby I could get up the next morning and run again … The nearer I got to the event the further I was going and the more frequent I would run… Eventually I was running on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and on Monday!  The pace was slow with a view that I had to get up the next day and run. I always ran with my backpack which fluctuated between various weights from 4 to 10kilos.

As part of race preparation, I took to wearing a sauna suit and many layers when I went out running.  I also went to hot yoga, where I was a already a regular, now though! I was turning up wearing hoodies, hats and leggings with people looking at me in disbelief. I’d venture down to the hottest part of the studio under the heat pipe and just sweat! My final heat preparation consisted of five sessions in the heat chamber at Chichester University.

The net result of all the heat work meant I was bloody freezing all the time.  As the event got closer the more Iris had to turn her heating up to accommodate me!! I’d sit in my office at home with the heating on, door shut and a heat fan next to me!

In addition to the daily runs, participants must be self-sufficient carrying everything needed over all six stages, (except the tent).  On top of carrying our kit we had to carry our food and cook our meals and, as we all know, nutrition can make or break us.  The water was rationed but could be topped up at checkpoints and a large 5litre bottle was given to us at the end of each stage. 

How hot was it? With nothing to see but sand, sky and the sun the desert was ever changing, the heat at times soared over 50 degrees. Many blogs talk about the slower runners and walkers having it tougher than the top 150, this is true, they’re the ones out in the heat of the day, on their feet longer and with less time to recover.

In amongst this, there are certain rules to abide by, you must carry at least 2,000 calories per day. You must carry some mandatory kit including an anti-venom pen and your bag MUST weigh at least 6 ½ kilos but not exceed 15.

At this point I want to say a very special and tearful thank you to Iris who at times I would drag up and over the downs in various conditions as part of my training.  One time she’d fallen arse over … and still she carried on. Wind and rain she was with me. There were times when I just didn’t want to run but her energy pushed through and out we’d go.  My nickname for Iris is Bee and I asked her to buy me a bumble bee which I attached to my right shoulder strap on my backpack. Even now, the emotions swell with the fact that there was part of Iris running in the desert with me (nagging me on my right shoulder, eat! Drink! Eat! Drink!). I also asked her for a letter for each day which she gave me on the Thursday along with a ‘finish line’, ‘if it doesn’t go to plan’ and an ‘if you feel like giving up’ letter.

Thursday night I arrive at Iris’ house ready to go and we chat through the kit which I’ve run through countless times already at my house.  It’s locked in and loaded with one nagging doubt……. footwear!

Friday arrives and the alarm sounds at 2:30am, it’s time to go… Iris drives me to the airport, and we say our goodbyes and the tether has been cut… I’m on my own from here. It’s 4am at Gatwick and scrawny athletes with MDS backpacks suddenly start emerging from every direction.  A queue is formed and within an hour or two I’m on the chartered plane to Morocco.

The energised excited and nervous voices of everyone far outweigh the noise of the jet engine as we all excitedly swap stories of how we’ve got here.  We land and a 4hour coach journey awaits us. We arrive at camp to the sound of the locals chanting in a corridor of noise.  I see a wave of peaked black tents, called bivouacs and I head to my tent of choice – tent 88. You can choose your tent beforehand or have one chosen for you.  There was a guy called Gary Chivers who I played football with at Brighton, as randomly looked at tents online and at the names of people who were already in tents; I decided to pick tent 88 because, there was a guy called Gary Chivers and either way if it was or wasn’t him (the Gary Chivers that I know) it’d make a funny story for why I chose tent 88. Gary, not the Gary I played football with but tent 88 Gary!!! Was a good sport when I told the story of why I chose tent 88, claiming to be the Gary but later not the Gary which helped create uproars of laughter as nobody knew what to believe. At this point I have two bags, my race rucksack and my hotel bag.

The hotel bags go to the hotel ready for finish day.  My evening meal of choice was tinned veggie chilli and rice, all easily cooked on a mini stove; hot chocolate for the evening and a non-alcoholic beer so that I could say “ I had a beer in the Sahara”!  A briefing was held of the race regulations and boom, in the blink of an eye it was dark, sleeping bag out, pillow blown up and I try and sleep, no chance! Tossing and turning having opted not to bring a soft mat. I did not sleep one bit.  I woke with a bruised hip where it had continually rolled across a ridge in the rug all night.

Saturday, billed as admin day for the doctors and MDS admin teams to check our kit and medical certificates. We start with breakfast, my choice for the week is Ready Brek.  I tried various types of breakfasts, but Ready Brek worked for me.  More sitting around and just chatting… getting to know tent 88, we have one lady in our tent, Julia. She was concerned with her backpack weight and didn’t sleep well on her roll mat and was going to ditch it when I said, “I’ll take a square foot of it if you do get rid of it” and soon some scissors appeared, and I was the proud owner of a foot of foam which rolled up and was attached to the bottom of my backpack.  Finally, Tent 88 is called and there are four gates to go through.  Handing over the ECG and medical certificate was the most anxious time for all, this is because the guys at this gate had the power to stop your race.  Safely through, it was time for the pre-race photo and boy how clean I looked! Back to the tent having handed over my luggage, which was scary as I’m now left with just my race bag!  No turning back, no adding luxury items!  Including water, my backpack weighed 11kg, that’s about 3 kilos more than I’d trained with! Ouch!

Our final ‘cook what you like’ meal evidenced the Moroccans had this sorted, they had fresh vegetables cooked in a tagine on an open fire, I repeated my previous meal!  Suddenly the light went and a very eerie silence fell over the camp with just the rustling of sleeping bags to be heard.  I slept just 3 hours this night on my square foot of foam. Two of tent 88 brought sleeping tablets, enough to knock them out for several hours!  5am arrived and the Berbers were wandering around waking everyone up, today is Stage 1!

Morning admin consisted of, wake up, swap tee-shirt to race tee. It was cold between 3am and 5am so gillet on, then for me, it was light the tiny block of compressed cardboard, these last 8 minutes, after which my water is only warm, I light another, while this is heating I’m repacking my bag (sleeping bag, tee, getting socks out and on and then foot care ready to go). The water is now close to boiling so I pour onto my Ready Brek, leaving about 100ml of water for prepping my veggie stock cube*. I brought enough coffee for each morning but gave this up to my tent mates as a welcome gift on Saturday morning. Toilet and then back to eat, water bottles filled, mat rolled, final check, then we’re off to the start line, another ritual.

*Previous years, salt tablets were handed out like candy, this year after “scientific” research these aren’t that good for you, but a stock cube is. And, to be fair it tasted a lot better than I was expecting, however as a Brit, you can’t escape the link of HOT stock cube and Sunday roast with being in a hot desert.

Start line ritual. Every morning was ground hog day, we’d all shuffle out way to the entrance of the start chute, where we’d have our beacons checked and fist bump, high five everyone we met! Most mornings were a dawn start where the sun hadn’t got out of bed, by the time we were running however it would pop up and over the horizon and it would move fast! You’d see the glimpse and within 5 minutes you’d see the whole of the sun.

Music blaring the two senior race organisers who were with us all the time went through a very Euro warm up process to the same song…

Once this was complete, we’d have the same safety briefing, with the occasional guest appearance of a doctor. One time, the doctor in broken English told us all why we should have fresh lemons and limes to help cure cramp (at 5:45am in the morning it’s just not sinking in). Then we’re into countdown and to the same tune of Highway to Hell…

31k – this felt easy!  I crossed the line and felt ready to go again.  I wasn’t far behind the first two back at my tent, my ranking was good! I enjoyed my lunch Huel plant-based spaghetti carbonara. I’d fuelled well and hydrated every 5 minutes thanks to the Garmin alert I’d set up. The rest time in the tent disappeared and suddenly it was evening and time for admin. Cooking and bed prep! The tent between 2pm and 5pm was stiflingly hot, yet the Berbers continue to walk around helping people with a vest, hoodie and their over jacket on! Fun stories exchanged with my tent mates and I’m feeling good, I read my day 1 letter then suddenly it’s time for sleep. That night I’d say 2-to-3-hour sleep time! Noticeably cold at 3am!

5am repeat morning admin

6:30 start line ritual

7am Go!

Just 41k today which meant I was out in the sun between 2pm and 3pm in the salt plains and it was roasting! A taste of what stage 3 would bring! I noticed my toes feeling a bit sore near the end, but still, 3rd back at the tent and I believe I’d only lost a few places in overall ranking … I wasn’t interested in placing, this was an adventure of a life time. Crossing the finish line around 3pm it was a notable difference in admin time.  Quickly making lunch, a few hours rest before it becomes nighttime and the usual evening admin. I’d gone into Rambo mode and decided I’d nurse the blisters myself with my medical kit. I pierced the blisters and aired them ready for wrapping in the morning. I read my day 2 letter and I’m still in good spirits. And boom! It’s sleep. Another restless night! I’d say somewhere between 2 to 3 hours again of interrupted sleep.

Ouch! I Could’ve done with more time as it was a 4:30am alarm call as we’re starting at 6am. My aim at the start line for today was to keep going and arrive back at the bivouac between 11am and 3am. Hmmm……..

I pushed through aiming to get halfway and arrive at checkpoint 5.  I made it here in the heat of the day and cracked open my Huel!  Cooked it and met some guys from Belgium, Spain, Norway and Denmark; the Dane was living in Brighton! I helped these guys out with boiling water and shared some of my sweets with them, I had a lightweight towel which I got soaked in ice cold water giving it to the Dane who was suffering from heatstroke… I left feeling positive, but I could tell my feet were not doing well. About 10k in, and I noticed what I can only describe as a ‘drawing pin in your shoe’ moment… and the pain that came with it. This was on both feet, I plodded on with the run/walk approach…  night finally came and I was 20k away! I’d got to a checkpoint and needed to see a medic badly, two of my tent mates suddenly appeared, they were walkers, so I knew things were going wrong! As they’d caught me up.

We all sat for a while and tried to get some sleep but, it was no good for me the pain was too much, I stood and made my way to the medic tent, I told the others to push on, Alex notions ‘I am staying with you!’ Without Alex! Who knows what would’ve happened!! The medic tent put 8 injections of iodine into the pads of my feet (both feet)!  I got back on my feet and with Alex, pushed on through the night with the elevation going up and up, the silhouette of people in front was always above the eye line, it was knackering and immensely painful but also the mind games were kicking in. Fortunately, the hours passed with Alex and I chatting, he lent me his poles which helped cushion my landing. We aimed to get to the final checkpoint at 4am, have a sleep and then do the final 10k at dawn. Checkpoint 9, the final checkpoint, proved almost fatal for me.  I’d realised that I hadn’t eaten since my Huel lunch! That is not good, my body is shutting down! Fortunately, I’m still drinking every 5 minutes. I lay down at the checkpoint and I’m shivering, too tired to get in my sleeping bag, I roll up in the tent carpet, a man beside me gives me his jacket and I sleep for about an hour.  Alex appears with a black tea I drink and I force down some biscuits and slowly but surely the sugar hits my bloodstream and I can begin to move, it’s now 7am and I feel guilty as Alex has missed his dawn sunrise. We leave checkpoint 9, just the two of us and we walk with me inching forward and Alex doing his best not to leave me. It’s calm and suddenly no one is front or behind us! To our left, a row of 5 or 6 camels walk right across the front of us… hairs stand up on our arms and I do my best to enjoy it and capture it on video! 3 hours it took before we crossed the line! 

I went straight into the medic tent, another 8 injections in both feet and some disastrous bandaging, I took reams of tape and waddling back to the tent to do it myself. At this point I can barely walk for the pain!

My tent mates are alerted to my suffering by Alex.  Ben, the pharmacist is on hand with tablets and everyone else is all about giving me tape, food, drink and help. I sadly couldn’t make it to the video tent which I regret! I slowly expose my feet and my tent mates see firsthand what I can’t. The looks on their faces are horrifying, if thought bubbles were visible they’d all read the same…… “He’s not going to finish!” I took inspiration from this; I parked it in my head to use later! We had group tent slippers (hotel freebies) which we carried with us and used to venture out on the sand to go for a wee! My feet are so red and sore that for me it’s like walking on broken glass. I am truly in a bad way.

The evening comes and it’s back to admin, I lift my spirits with my letter of the day, I cook my evening meal and cheer myself up with a hot chocolate and some sweets.  I knew deep down that the next day was going to be tough, I knew that I’d need to be fuelling.  I brought a treat out, apple and custard and with the water heated up I poured it over the lumpy powder and sat and ate; my eyes closed and I drifted to a winter evening in a pub with a fire, a roast and now apple crumble and custard; there I stayed for about five minutes.

Again, another sleepless night and the fear of what the morning was going to bring for me!

I had this stage billed as the toughest regardless of my current situation and it lived up to it! 43k to go! After the long day and the end not in sight at the start line I felt if I can get through this, then tomorrow the distance gets less and lesser. We set off in two groups, the top 150 starting an hour behind the main group! I was armed with Ben’s pills, paracetamol, he said pop 2 every hour and you’ll be fine! I started off with just a walk, this was sooooo painful, every foot strike was like broken glass, that hot sand on bare feet feeling coupled with jagged rock! It was flat to start! I just had checkpoint focus, get to the next checkpoint it’s only 8km or 10km away! I quickly noticed my walk wasn’t quick enough! I was at the back of my pack, the few in front soon drifted off and then out of view.  A glance behind me and the main pack (and camels) weren’t in sight, they would be soon and sure enough I’d be last place!! I forgot to mention that my tent mates had hunted down some poles!

So, I started to tap out a rhythm and with each touch (bump), my walk turned into a trot which turned into the jog, the problem was though, this wasn’t much quicker than my walk and a crew in front now visible weren’t getting closer. I did notice that either the paracetamol had kicked in or it was actually easier on the feet to run than walk, less impact I guess… and as my thoughts drifted in and out of various states of pain, I was suddenly upon the crew in front and now I’m not going to be last, or second to last and slowly but surely energy was coming to the mind that I’m going past people. Checkpoint 1 reached, I stop to replenish water, as I was slower it meant I had more sips of water which meant I had to look after the water consumption, 3 sips every 5 minutes became 2 sips. The checkpoints felt further away than normal. As I exit another checkpoint, I’m in excruciating pain and I turn to my letter, the first line nearly breaks me, no one is around, so the bumble bee is reading it aloud.

I finish the letter and power on. We were also on a point-to-point finish, a new bivouac location. Same tent just a new location. 32k done and still 11k left! Enter sand dune ally! Basically, 4km of nothing but sand dunes, gradually uphill, and rolling, you’re climbing 10 to 15ft up, crest it, then straight back down, run 30 metres and then repeat. Painful and agonising. Relentless like waves on a windy Worthing beach. What made this worse is there’s a checkpoint you can see every time you crest the dune. You’d see it, then it’d disappear for 30 metres, it continued dune after dune. It’s there to break you, I draw now on those thought bubbles, 10 hours in and the finish line is visible, 1km away, 800 meters to go and suddenly hear my name! My tent is positioned along the finish shoot and my tent mates have spotted my Union Jack flag… I can hear them… spirits lifted I cross the line, Alex and Julia come and greet me and whisk me off to the tent! It’s about 5:30pm I was desperate to go to the video tent but again the feet and need to just lay down got to me and I live to regret not going. My tent mates doubted my arrival but were chuffed to see me. Their thought bubbles were different tonight “this guy is mad and he’s going to cross the line whatever it takes”. I had to have a quick turnaround tonight, eat, admin and get my head down.

A sleepless night is something you don’t anticipate for the adventure, but it needed to be factored in; the sleeping pills now seem like a good idea. At 3am in the dead of the night, our senses are raised with a strong but gentle wind blowing straight through the tent. This isn’t an English wind that is bullish and battering, it’s just wind in a straight line, like, if there was a god of wind in the desert commanding it to blow! As the tents weren’t budging the wind got stronger and stronger and before long, the god of wind called up the god of sand and said if I blow can you give me some sand! And, just like that, we were at 3am, in the middle of a sandstorm. It went on for about an hour! It’s an eerie noise, like a shower in the distance, shhhhhhhh shhhhhh, you can’t expose any part of you, it hurts. And as soon as it’s finished it was time to get up.

31k you’ve got this! It’s two lots of 15k with a 1k finish. Checkpoint to checkpoint. And off we go! Today Ben has given me co-codamol. He said you’re supposed to take them every 4-6 hours but given the fluid we’re on boarding you’ll be fine every 60 to 90 minutes! I’ve no idea what this means as I don’t take tablets at home. Off I go armed with my pills… I tap out a gentle jog. And feel good not to be last, I get to checkpoint two and decide to stop and lay down … that’s not good as I also needed sleep! I close my eyes and wake with a jolt, could’ve been a day that passed! It was 15 minutes, it hurts but I put my trainers back on, by now I’ve ripped the Velcro off the front to relieve the pain by creating some space.

I leave a fairly empty checkpoint at a walk; I’m reading an Iris letter to help me and go into my own space! I thought I was moving relatively fast (I’m walking) but hear some people behind me, we are on a single track, so I decide to step out of their way, I come off the track and turn and to my fright it’s three Berbers and two camels. Like Scooby Doo and Shaggy, I jump in the air, my legs grappling for traction, I shoot off with a rush of adrenaline… I pass ten people before settling down and taking my first glance back, I’d manage to put some distance between us… the last 10k of the 32k was tough, rising and falling up hills with jagged rocks sending me in different directions and in sooo much pain!!  8 hours done and I cross the line, met again by my tent mates Alex and Martin, they carry my backpack and water back to the tent… I fall to the ground in the tent, close my eyes and can smell the finish line and I smiled for the first time in 4 days.  I then start to chuckle about the camels and re-live the story to my tent mates who all found it hilarious.

Gary looks at me admiringly, I didn’t think you’d be here after you got back from stage 5 and he called me his inspiration, a nice touch. Best not let him down tomorrow then! As we clean the area, Ben asks me if I’ll keep the letters, hell yes, but two remain unopened! We all joked and pitched in with what it might have read! I guess we will never know! They remain closed and always will!

With another late finish, the tablets, I lay there thinking about food, feeling hungry but with no appetite, Gary demanded I eat. I fire up my little stove, heat the water, hydrate my dahl and spinach but I look at Julia and just said I can’t eat it! And throw it away, I sip a hot chocolate and fall asleep having had just Ready Brek, an energy bar and 2 gels to fuel 31k and 21k tomorrow.

Sleep, I think I’m now deprived of sleep, but I’m yet to start hallucinating!!! This night was no different than the previous, the camp was visited by both gods again determined to get rid of us from their desert, same time same noise same sandstorm…

Despite our now orange appearance, with the final morning ritual complete the entire camp is in good spirits, we’ve shredded everything from our backpacks except the mandatory 2000 calories that we need to start the stage with. The Berbers were happy to take anything and everything that wasn’t opened. My final bowl of Ready Brek another hot chocolate, my head is raised and I’m going to jog this one out and I’m not stopping at any checkpoints.  It’s just one of my training runs up Goodwood, with every km I mapped it to my route at home! And bit by bit I jogged my way through it!

As the finish line came into view about a kilometre away (as with previous stages), I could feel the emotions boil. The moment I’ve been dreaming about for years. I’d planned to turn the data on my phone on as I came to 200m away, ring Iris and cross the line together (she had trained as hard as me). But I couldn’t do it, the emotions were so strong. I managed to video the final shoot and I tried to talk on the video but sounded like a sobbing child. I crossed the line and fell into the arms of one of the English support crew… I held it together! My phone was pinging with messages from the week gone by. Sweet Tea! OMG who needs beer! A finishers photo! Deep breath, and smile! I wandered out towards the water station. 21k in 4hrs, not bad given the state of me. Another bottle of water and we were ushered to the coaches for immediate evacuation to the hotel.

I’m given another food pack, I’m so hungry but I’ve no appetite, I sat on a seat next to a Swedish man and we spend six hours having a broken English conversation. We stop halfway and civilisation engulfed us. We’ve stopped at a swanky hotel for a beer or coffee. I can’t move for swollen feet,

I’ve sliced open my trainers like flip flops to ease the pain, some finishers are walking freely, others are like me. I’ve gingerly made my way to the lift and up to the bar before realising my money is in the coach! Can’t go back, not like this, so I reside to drink a free rank cup of coffee, I wanted to have something better but thought I’d mark the occasion when I get to our proper hotel. I sit alone just watching people come and go and what was 20 minutes felt like 2 minutes suddenly it was time to slowly shuffle back to the coach.

We clamber off the coach knowing there’s a queue for check in, I prayed for a room close by, the first time I’d been reunited since Saturday with my hotel bag. Iris had done me a care package which I was bursting to open! At this point my feet, the soles of my feet are on fire! I’m in Room 330, off I go, a hotel worker carries my bag! He is off, then realising that I’m not getting anywhere quick and in a very awkward moment, he stops and waits, I catch up and boom he’s gone again and we repeat this awkward experience 3 times, finally I’m in my room.

A bed! Pillows! A duvet, towels! Running water! I clamber onto the bed and just lay there .. More silence more just me! An hour or two maybe three pass and I look at my feet, they’ve now swollen to an alarming size and for the first time I confess to being a little worried! I walk on my heels to the bathroom where I run a cold-water bath and soak my feet for about 30 minutes to try and reduce the swelling. It works a bit! Right next up, head to the shower to get rid of the sand! Wow, the feeling is surreal but waves of pain spoil it.  Rinsed off, I run a bath! I wanted to open my (non-alcoholic) beer .. I open my care package, many delights, my favourite though was eye drops! Second was my absolute favourite a Yorkie! I lay in the hot bath and this was heaven, like floating on a cloud, I started to catch up on messages. An hour passes and the shrivelled mess gets out of the bath, towel dry and into bed with feet raised and time to call Iris… chat chat chat… I’ve still not eaten! Well, does a Yorkie count? I try and tell her parts of the race but it’s so raw I find the emotions get the better of me and so she tells me about some of the guys at home who have been following me online. It took Gommy and Mark by storm and taken over their life.

Realisation, I had a bowl of ready Brek on Thursday morning, I ran 31k eating an energy bar and 2 gels, Friday morning another ready Brek and ran 21k on one energy gel. I couldn’t stomach the packed lunch on the coach, meaning I’d ran 51k on 2 bowls of Ready Brek, 2 bars and 2 gels and on four hours sleep!

I manage to message the MDS English crew who arranged for food to be sent to my room… it was lush with vibrant colourful fresh vegetables and fruit… and then! It was the morning!

It took me 20 minutes to walk to breakfast (should have taken 3)! I walked into the dining area, a little cheer erupted, it was tent 88 on a round table! I hobbled over and it was high five’s and hugs all round. I sat down and my new friends were all over it, getting me coffee, OJ, eggs and toast! The rest of the day was spent lounging around the pool.

A taxi to the hotel, I couldn’t face the walk! Tent 88 grouped together in anticipation that we’d be featured on the movie; they went through the awards before finally dimming the lights for the movie… see link! Unfortunately, I’m clearly not movie material nor are any of my tent mates as none of us made the cut! I bought four bottles of beer, the pain in my feet was so intense I was determined to blot it out with beer, however with the day the beer wasn’t having any effect despite its claim of 5%. 3 bottles in and I was done! Another taxi back to my hotel and a long hobble to my room. Soft bed, feet elevated and another long conversation with Iris before drifting off to sleep.

Here is the official 2024 movie

Breakfast outside, I wandered up and saw Gary and Martin who quickly sat me down and got me food and coffee. We chatted about the movie with great banter about not making the editors cut, rumours of an extended version were being spread! People believe anything!

We were seated by surname so I was near the front, I’d been in the queue through security with Martin and Gary, all very relaxed, I could barely walk, they were constantly looking after me. As they disappeared down the plane, Martin suddenly emerged inviting me down the back with Gary so we could sit together. We ordered beer! 2 cans please, the first wasn’t going to touch the sides! Would you like 3 for 2 sir? Errrr!!! Gary somehow fell asleep listening to his purchased-on eBay iPod. I kept hitting the replay button, he suddenly came too, announcing to Martin and I that it feels like he’s had the same song on repeat for days! We laughed!

Elation grew on the plane as I could visualise seeing Iris at arrivals. As I hobbled through the final double doors at Gatwick there she was and a huge round of applause erupted, we hugged for what seemed an age… she carried my bags to the car, I turned and said “I really fancy a McDonald’s strawberry milkshake!”

When I was in the moment, I was saying “never ever again”! But as always, never became an “if I was to do this again”, to a “never say never”. Who knows! One day.

It’s bloody expensive, it’s beyond comprehension of how consuming the preparation is let alone the training! You must be selfish; you must have a partner who gets it! And, you need patience!

  • My feet were, I believe, a direct result of the wrong trainers, due to a calf injury preventing my last few training runs (which were planned for my gators), I’d have possibly resolved some of my issues.
  • Not going to the video tent each day, we had the opportunity to submit a 30 second video as a surprise to our loved ones, friends and family. I managed only two visits.
  • I didn’t need all the food I packed! I could’ve got away with the sun heating my food. However, you couldn’t beat the hot drinks they were spirit lifting good!
  • Not fully enjoying the hotel and final night due to the pain
  • Not taking a sleeping mat.
  • Oh and sock choice… training in winter ill prepares you for the hot temperatures.
  • The bumble bee on the shoulder feeling like she was there nagging me! Encouraging me!
  • Tent mates, these guys were brilliant and we’re staying in touch, meal out in September.
  • The 85k stage was epic, as were the camels.
  • The finish line and the 5-star hotel
  • And of course, the tee shirt and finishers medal