The Marathon des Sables was everything I had hoped for upon my return, 15 years after I first tasted the air of anticipation at the starting line. It was grand and epic and humbling and exhausting, but not once did I doubt my ability to arrive at the end of this journey. I am grateful and humbled. In this conclusion, I hope the efforts I have put forth have inspired you in some small way and that the money I have raised assists those injured Marines & sailors as they rehab and find their new normal.
For the recap, I am breaking the race recap into three days: Arrival & Stage 1, Stages 2 & 3, and Stages 4 & 5. I haven't yet conceived of how I will write the concluding blog to this grand adventure (or whether there should even be one!). For now, the stages of the sand......
31 Mar, 0900L:
Mosi & I arrived at Charlotte Int'l to take the first of three flights which carried us to Africa....four hours early. Yup, neither of us double-checked the departure time and we both had it in our heads that it was 1100, so there we were, dropped off by an Uber driver (who had pretty much the best travel story of being a tourist in Jamaica, replete with crashing his scooter with his wife on the back) and excited to embark on our trek. Wah-wah.....We chilled out at the US Airways lounge and triple-checked our gear.
1 Apr, 0800L:
We arrived into Madrid-Barajas airport as the sun was rising and as we completed morning ablutions in the airport restrooms, we were joined by several other Americans (Steve & Doug) and we repaired to Mas Q Menos for some breakfast sustenance, consisting of café con leche, pan rústico con jamón ibérico y brie y un donut de chocolate. Mosi had not yet before experienced the amazing-ness that is jamón ibérico and thus was born a saying listing one's life priorities: "Get money, get ham."
|Landing at Madrid-Barajas.|
|View of the Atlas Mountains from the plane as we came in for landing.|
|Double-decker cow transport.|
3 Apr, 0800L:
After a day of reassessing gear and adjusting to time zones, we, along with about 275 others, boarded the MdS buses that would shuttle us to the first bivouac. And by shuttle, I mean a six-hour ride. There was a lunch stop and a pee break, the latter setting the benchmark for the devolving level of modesty by which all racers relieved themselves as the race progressed. Upon arrival, Mosi and I settled into our home for the next six days, Tent 178, with our fellow racers: Alissa, Ricky, Patrick, Dean (AUS), Martin (CAN) and Rachel. We quickly realize that our tent's vibe is on point, replete with several bad-ass runners, both a 5- and a 13-time MdS veteran, ridiculous innuendos and random hilarity. Each of their stories inspired me, and I was in awe of their drive, talents and touched by the graciousness of their hearts. I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to be with for this race.
Admin day, which meant getting your bib numbers, your water and medical cards, your GPS ankle tracker and your emergency locator device, having your pack weighed and one last assessment of gear. There are 180 tents in the bivouac, set up three-deep in a horseshoe, with around 7-8 occupants per tent from over 40 countries. They announce 1,360 registered to start, with 209 of them women. I got to meet several fellow runners, including the folks in Tent 179, an 8-man team from Canada and France who will be carrying three disabled children in a modified rickshaw across the desert. Wow.
|The course sweepers; always be ahead of the camels. The line in the back is the check-in.|
|Sun setting over the camp...|
"The tent city was set up in concentric horseshoes, and everyday people stood a little closer to the tents to pee. My crew's tent (177!) was in the outermost ring, so we had front row seats to the encroaching urine line. Actually, the 200+ women continued to make futile efforts to find cover throughout the race. Most adopted a head-down quick step past the urinating men and their exposed parts until they’d gone exactly As-Far-As-Their-Mother-Would-Expect-Them-To-Walk-Divided-By-Overall-Kilometers-Run-&-Feminism. At that point, they resigned themselves to a few inadvertent sightings of their bottoms, squatted behind some scraggly 7-inch desert shrub, and tried not to pee on their shoes. Not urinating on your shoes is challenging on a good day. It can be particularly challenging on a windy day."
5 Apr, 0900GMT: Stage One, 36.2km (22.49mi):
Here's what it looked like in the book.
|Course map & instructions for Stage One.|
|The hand-drawn version.|
|Prepping. The Berbers invariably take the tent down before we've finished this task.|
|Fixing my socks and shoes.|
|Tent 178, Stage 1: Martin, Patrick, me, Rachel, Ricky, Alissa, Dean & Mosi|
|The first of many climbs throughout the week.|
|Stage One complete!|