19 April 2015

A desert in Barbary: A long day and a cup of tea

MdS Race Recap: Stages 4 & 5

8 Apr, 0800GMT: Stage Four, 91.7km (56.98mi):

Tent 178, ready for the long day.
There are two more pages of maps. 

Note the start of the dunes at CP4, 50.2km
The dunes continued through CP6, at 74.8km. Whew.
There is now a visible swelling in the fore area above my right ankle and it is tender to the touch. I have no idea what it is but the residual inflammation has caused my ankle and foot to swell, resulting in a less-than-pleasant putting on of my shoe for the long stage.

Ahhh, the long stage. That moment in time, 15 years ago, when my knee failed me and I was pulled from the course in the middle of the night. This was the stage I had been looking toward, ready to stiff-arm anything that came between me and its completion.
A windy starting line. 
One of the neat things about the race is that the top 100 racers start three hours after everyone else, so as you are going, they come up on you and it is remarkable and inspiring to see them run past. Mosi and Ricky ran together and, to give you an idea of just how talented they both are, they finished at 2200GMT, about 13 hours after the start. Wow.

It took me a little longer. The day started windy and it never once abated, blowing up sand and dust throughout the entirety of the stage. Around CP1 (out of 7), I fell in with an Australian named Ryan, whom Mosi & I had chatted with on the course several times in the previous days. We ran and walked at intervals, mostly dictated by terrain, and had a nice rhythm going. Although we didn't talk a ton because of the heat and effort, he was perfect company, with his boundless energy and positive vibe.
He's totally surf chillin', I'm throwing up numbers to remember where in the race I am. Sheesh. 
Our day got more interesting about halfway between CP1 and CP2, when we came upon a fellow runner who had gone down and was now sitting on the side of the route, white and clammy, with an inoperable GoSpot locator. Three other runners stopped to help (including Sarah from Tent 177), and we laid her down, got her legs up and they put water on her neck gaiter and head while I got her GoSpot working and sent the signal indicating we needed medical help (batteries had died). I had packed a Skratch Rescue Hydration mix sachet and I poured it into a water bottle and slowly gave it to her, while one of the other runners used his sleeping mat to provide shade.

When the medics arrived, the runner asked us to stay. She was determined to finish the stage and the race and was terrified that the medics would pull her. We told her we'd let them know, but that for the moment, she needed to get fluids in her system and rest until she was well enough to get back on the course. After the medics got the I.V. going, and we were reassured that she was going to be okay, Sarah, Ryan and I continued. Unbeknownst to me, the moment was captured (Mosi sent me this image two days ago):

Photo: Ian Corless
For the record, she finished both the stage and the race. 
Ryan and I slogged on, and as the sun set, I tried to capture the moment on video:

I was apparently very tired at that point. Here's the official video of Stage Four (pt1):

We made it into CP4 as the sun was setting and, after a quick meal, donned our headphones and continued. We made it into CP5, halfway through the dunes, at XXXkm, around 2330, and after a welcome cup of hot tea, continued on into the night. Funny things happen at night, and I found myself staring at the sand wondering how much there might actually be and how big of a beach it would make. I also followed insect trails in hopes of seeing a scorpion or something unusual, which I finally did but was too fumble-fingered to get a picture of it. We were each in our own world, but keeping tabs on the other (we'd set up a system of turning off our headlamps to indicate a pee stop) and even with Sting keeping me in movement, I could hear Ryan singing out loud to his tunes, which was strangely comforting. There was no discernable skyline and dust and sand swirled about, smudging the moonlight into pale indifference.

We completed the 24.6km of dunes and approached CP6 at about 0230. I was cold. I hadn't been able to eat or drink anything since about 0030, and I couldn't get warm, even though I was wearing my lightweight down jacket. Looking around the CP, there were bodies massed under and amongst the two Berber tents set up, but still exposed to the relentless wind. As soon as we stopped to refill our water bottles, I started shaking. I asked Ryan if we could just stop for an hour to warm up and then keep going. He agreed and pulled out his sleep sack and we huddled behind three other runners, our shoes still on. My shaking got worse and I ended up pulling my sleep sack out and he bear-hugged me until I stopped shaking, by which time my body was aching from its warming effort.

The sun was creeping by the time we started off again, with only 18km to go. It took almost four hours, partly because I was moving so slowly and still not warm and partly because the terrain was once again the undulating, soft, no-traction sand, until, with 2km to go, it gave way to rocky plain.

How do I explain the feeling of completing Stage Four? A small sense of accomplishment and the immediate thought that I needed to return for another edition. When I got back into the tent, Mosi & Ricky were in repose and Alissa and Martin were asleep; I pulled out my sleep sack and joined them, only waking in the mid-afternoon heat, finally warm.

Fitness assessment: My legs were slightly sore, but my fore ankle was swollen to the point where there was no discernable break between my calf and ankle. I had a massive blister on the pinky toe of my right foot. Everything else was good.

Sunset after Stage 4.
10 Apr, 0700GMT: Stage Five, 42.2km (26.2mi):

The marathon. The stage after which one can say they have completed the MdS, where the medal is bestowed upon you after you cross the line.

Why is Ricky sitting? Because he is in the Top 100. so will leave at 0830, rather than 0700, like the rest of us.
With Jay Batchen, Mr. MDS America, who completed his 10th race this year. (The huge dude in the back is Keith from GBR, a former rugby player who ran the MDS with Prince Harry's Walking with the Wounded charity.)
I decided to wear my compression socks that day, which I had brought for overnight recovery, but which the huge lump on my leg needed at this point. I had been given a painkiller the night before, but the act of pulling the socks on brought tears, which streamed down my face even as I caught my breath and said little. Sarah, from Tent 177, saw me and asked if I wanted a painkiller and promptly brought me one, for which I was immensely grateful.

I started off with a shuffling gait, determined to "run" more than walk the stage, but upon hitting a section of hard packed dirt with soft patches, I simply was in too much pain. At CP2, I asked one of the medics for another painkiller, which he graciously supplied. I route-stepped it out, determined to finish in under eight hours. When I crossed the finish, it was a small, bent-arm fist pump. And a hug from two other runners, one of whom happened to be Ryan, who had finished much earlier. I got the blessed cup of finisher's mint tea, my medal, my finisher's vest, my water and, after dropping those off at the tent, went to medical.

The dunes on marathon day. 
The very last CP of MDS2015; yes, my finger is in all three shots. 
Me with Kieran Alger (GBR), whom I'd met virtually in the months prior. He also finished in the Top 100 and we exchanged our respective jerky. American bacon jerky wins, hands down, over the British beef jerky. 
So, my medal is the wrong way 'round, in all pics. (Post medical with the bandaging on the ankle area.)
The medal the right way around, but now you are all distracted by Mosi. 
Oh, and Mosi? Yeah, he finished fourth that day. Boom.


  1. WOW!! What an adventure! Felicia, you have introduced us to an incredible world I never knew existed. Thank you so much for demonstrating what one person can do to influence so many others.

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