Before the race I connected with runners I had met at events, we had a night out to get to know each other before we set off, this was a great thing to do so we knew who would be in our tent and we could build comradery between us, we classed ourselves as the lads of LAD tent, what I can I say, a truly amazing group of people who all completed the MDS, now friends for life.
To get us underway we had a standard airport breakfast with beers, hey, we were on holiday, we made our way to the gate, unbelievably Tom Pope left his bag where we had breakfast, his race started early as he sprinted back to get it, getting back to the gate in time, we settled down for the flight.
Once landed we made our way to the coaches, managing to grab the back seats like proper lads, we settled in for a 7 hour journey, this turns into 9 when 10 youths block the road, not ideal but we made it to the camp in the end, it was dark when we arrived so we were unable to get a feel for the size of the camp, but the excitement was certainly there and flowing through my veins.
At check in we were told that there were not tents left so we would have to be split up, NON in my French accent, finally with some strong persuasion from Mike they find us a tent in the inner circle that is reserved for other European countries, strange but we had our tent, glorious, lovely, luxurious tent 30.
One hiccup was that we lost a lad called Oli (Don’t worry he was found but was on an earlier flight so was in a different tent), this meant that we were a LAD down until Sir Ed Partridge from Guernsey joined us, this was a blessing in disguise, Ed was a Doctor, not only that, a really really top bloke who was a pleasure to meet and settled right in to our lad culture.
The next day is registration and preparation, this is where everything you think you don’t need, you send to the hotel, or in my case, things I may need I put in my ruck sack. EPIC fail, my rucksack weighted 10KG’s without water, I know now this was far to heavy with me only weighing near on 60KG’s.
I was given a time slot according to my race number, when it was time off I went to have my kit checked to ensure I met the requirements, I couldn’t remember my pack being has heavy but it was, looking back now I packed far to much with the fear of needing something “just in case”, I would never pack this way again.
Checked off, back to the tent to essentially relax before the start, this is a strange moment has all the preparation has been done, your checked in, now all is left to do is to the run the event, I walked around the camp, gathering my thoughts and thinking this really is going to heppen.
Our tent is ideally placed, we see everything from where we are so when the water truck arrives, we don’t rush, simply wait for the que to due down and over we go, fueled with h20 we settle in, making dinner and getting comfy for our 1st night in the desert.
Camp quietened down and we began to fall asleep, this didn’t last long as the wind blew a gale and it felt like we were in a sandstorm, lying there thinking to move or not me and Tom finally speak up and say to the lads we need to sort our tent out, we are up, finding rocks and moving the lining about to block the wind the sand, I think after all that we made a slight difference.
The morning arrived and to my surprise our tent was being taken down with us in it, we were all shocked and in a matter of minutes it was gone, this was the point that time disappeared, I am not a big eater but I knew I had to eat, the start time was getting closer and closer and I was panicking, feet had to sorted, still needed to eat, sun cream on, music in place, water topped and drinking, so much to do!
Time has gone, it was time to make our way to the start, I hadn’t managed breakfast, a combination of excitement and nerves, it didn’t matter, the pure exhilaration of this moment overtook and I was ready, feeling pumped we hear “Highway to Hell” for the 1st of 100 times!
The buzz of the runners is like nothing I have ever felt, nearly 2 years of preparation, thousands of pounds spent, the complete unknown, the list goes on, my adrenaline peaks and I’m off!
I am immediately hit with 15K of dunes, both of my calves tighten, this is a painful start to this epic journey, no way am I walking from the start, I push on and eventually they ease, this was the start of the mental challenge of the MDS.
Strong winds picked up which made it incredibly difficult to run but I did managed to run down the dunes, seeing CP1 was great, just as I approached it my quads cramped so I immediately took more salts, they recommend 2 per 1.5L of water, not enough for me so I took 2 every hour, as I left the CP my brother came in, not looking happy he sat down, we had a quick chat and I was off.
After the dunes came hard rocky terrain followed by dunes again before a run down hill to the camp, jumping over the line day 1 was done and much had been learned already.
Time to find the tent which was easy being in the inner circle, a few of the crew were in and clapped me in, a great way to be greeted, the biggest challenge was carrying the water bottles you get given straight after you finish, 3 x 1.5L bottles! With the day being done it was nice to relax and watch others come in, throw their bags to the floor and lie down, I was pleased to see everyone but of course it was Andy I was looking out for, when he showed himself walking across the desert with his bottles, I felt happy he was home and our journey would continue together into day 2.
The quiet time was fun, we joked about what restaurant we were eating in, Italian (spag bowl), Thai (Green Curry) etc, after dinner it was soon time to get down and tonight the wind was far less then the night before, we had also worked on our tent skills!
Knowing the rapid locals would be taking the tent down quick I was ready, not chilling, more focus on food, with the porridge not working yesterday I opted for a 500 calorie ultra fuel drink, 30 seconds and it was done, this made me feel mentally good that I had energy in me.
Next was feet preparation, I kept the blisters at bay yesterday so my set up was working, blister shield, Injinji inner sock and X- Bionic outer sock, a bit of mission to put together but blister would ruin my race so this was a top priority for me.
We were all slicker today and waves of runners made their way to the start line, we joined and hearing the familiar sound of the start meant day 2 was imminent.
With my bag feeling lighter today it’s already starting better than yesterday, 500 calories in me I feel good, it’s sand dunes again which I was learning to run on, I got to CP1 nicely and was pleased to see some of the guys from our tent, we had a discussion about the next CP distance and based on my water intake I decided to leave a bottle, we discussed it being 9K, it wasn’t.
I soon realised I was drinking water far to fast and after checking with other runners the distance was more like 15K, I needed to ration it, it was getting hot, I would run from 1 marker to the next then walk, then count to 10, 10 times while running, then walk, this was mental strength to get me to the CP2.
At seeing CP2 the relief flowed through my body, water, water, and more water would be waiting for me, I topped up, drank all that I could, loaded my bag with a spare bottle and still had some left.
So after the MDS shower I trotted on to checkpoint 3, this was only 11K away but at the MDS, 11K is not easy, the heat, wind, terrain and fear factor all play a part! When CP3 came into view it was a right result, it meant only 7K until camp.
What came after CP3 was am immense climb, I like hills and am good on hills, but this one had me blowing.
After conquer the climb it was time to get to camp, I ran in with a lady from Switzerland who had done a 200K race before, I felt like I was mixing with the elites, a big cheer when we crossed the finish line, that was marathon number 2 done and I’m feeling good.
Knowing this day was done I got happy at the thought of my pack getting lighter, food to eat now and tonight, day 3 was going to start with a more normal pack weight for my own weight, a small detail but very exciting. After 2 days my feet are ok, my lower back is hurting with where my bag was rubbing and bouncing from running, this was part of it so I didn’t worry in the slightest.
My confidence was growing with each day that I completed, coming through unscathed and smiling, I was loving this.
I set off at a good speed, I get faster, it’s about 12K to CP1, I am running well and meet Mike (lad tent member and fastest Irish finisher), then we see Popey (Finished 79th) going up the dune, I am flying and on it, I am running well and having the best moments of the MDS so far.
I start to feel a hotspot on my little toe so I said to Mike I’d get it looked at CP1, we get there, I take my shoe and two socks off, then disaster hits when I slice my foot on a rock.
It was taking time to sort out so me and Mike split, every second that passed people were running past me as I was on my back, I was getting more and more frustrated as I was doing so well, there was nothing I could do other than wait!
I finally got back on my feet and ran off, my mission now was to catch Mike, with this in mind I just ran, blocked the pain of my foot out and pushed on, when I finally saw him I was so pleased with myself, it was only a small goal, but I had done it and I was feel very good.
We then saw a nice climb to come.
After this it was dunes and I mean big, nasty, hot dunes! It was so hot that we had to walk, everyone was walking, the dunes were so steep you had to use your hands at some places and balance at the tip of the dune or I’d roll down the dune, something I didn’t want.
Walking with Mike was great, we chatted, we opened up on why we’re running, getting to know each other better was a good way for the K’s to disappear, along came CP2.
We hydrated, ate and moved on, the temperature was boiling, there was no wind and I could feel myself getting hotter and hotter, we jogged walked and jogged again, I was trying to keep up with Mike but couldn’t, looking back now, my early running had caught up with me and couldn’t keep going, I soon tell Mike to go on, I am holding him up.
People started to overtake me but there was nothing I could do, my tank was empty, the 200K Swiss lady jogged past me but I still hadn’t anything left to give, the heat and terrain was getting the better of me on day 3.
Despite this I did’t stop, did not feel like quitting, did not want to be out in the sun any longer than I needed to be so I kept marching, eventually CP3 came and then the camp, as I was walking towards camp 3 ladies whizzed past me and said “come on, don’t let 3 girls pass you!”, at this I drifted into their slip stream and ran on, what a great moment and something epic events are known for.
That was the 3rd day done and the next day was the long day, all 84.5K of it, this would be the longest run of my life, recovery today and preparation for tomorrow was what was on the agenda. The camp and even the tent felt different, this was it, anticipation, nerves, anxiety, you name it, it was there.
As we all got to bed early for sleep the volunteers hit the disco and partied like it was 1999, loud music was not what we wanted, luckily, I had ear plugs so I rammed them in an drifted off. Not the best night sleep but it was sleep!
So wakey wakey, time to get on it and do an Ultra Marathon after doing 3 Marathons in the previous 3 days, my longest run ever and a big mental day ahead.
The night before myself, Reevsey, Nick and Andy decided to do this day together, it was going to be tough and we knew we would need each other to get through this, having now done this I know this was the best thing we could have done!
CP1 was about 10K and after that was the jebel climb so we decided to run to the first CP and beat the crowds, you don’t want to be caught queuing so this was a good call, Reevsey and Nick got a march on up the jebel with their additional leg stride, the Dicks’s are not known for their height but we are known for our speed and agility, with that whilst the guys were queuing, we rock climbed and beat them to the top!
At CP3 I was introduced to the little B*S*A*d spiky things that hide on the floor of the recovery tents, you sit down and they spike you in the butt, the pain is instant and horrid, if running an ultra was not bad enough you had these things to watch out for, really not funny! However, when someone else sat on them you could not help but laugh!
After refreshments and no not a Carling we moved on to CP4 (45K), it was getting really hot now and the task seemed endless, tiredness was creeping but we had to stick together and keep each other motivated, just before CP4 we decided to split just until we got to the CP, Reevsey & Nick used their extra leg room and me and I stayed with Andy, he’s an amazing younger brother and today he was struggling, head down and plodding away, he wasn’t going to beaten and dug deep to keep his body moving.
At CP4 we met up, did the usual rehydration, eating and sitting on those spikey things, the temperature was starting to drop which was great as our pace picked, we even got a little jog on, downhill of course!
As daylight ended and darkness came we snapped our glow sticks on and the desert began to light up, not a lot, but enough to see where you were going, heading to CP5 we were and we got there in good spirit, even though I had to take a dash to the desert for a number 2, not ideal in the dark and you really don’t want your head torch on so everyone can see you!
At CP5 there was a tea bar and deck chairs, we chilled for 15 minutes, conscious not to stop for too long as the body would start to relax, with that thought we got up and kept going, I could have stayed there longer but the guys wanted to push on, at the time not great, but looking back now, being part of a team was great to get us home sooner rather than later.
On to CP6 we go, a steep sandy elevation hits us immediately, this is hard, tiredness is definitely kicking in, when I get to the top I look behind and all you can see is a line of glow sticks, I look forward and all I can see is glow sticks, what a moment. At this point I thought it was time to put some tunes on, Eric Prydz, Pryda was selected, the most perfect progressive house track for that moment, I felt emotional, looked to the stars and thought I’m doing the long stage of the MDS, I did shed a tear or two!
I can remember the 10K to CP6 was very flat, with the temperature being much more comfortable I jogged for a cheeky 100 meters, that was enough!
The lads were still together and we had 20K to go, brilliant, there was not much talking between us, music was on and we were focused, one step after the over! CP6 came and went in a flash, we are marching to the last CP before home, that in its self was a great feeling. I was now far over the longest distance I had ever run and my body was in the unknown, interestingly it was doing alright, I think my mental strength really pushed me on, the goal was to finish in one go!
We get to CP7 and are told that the white lights in the distance is camp, wow, we were nearly there, maybe it was because we were nearly there that at this point my body started to ache, sore hamstring, painful lower back and shoulders, you name it, it hit me!
No time to relax we kicked on to what I can only explain as the worst 10k of my life! The camp looked so close, then so far, then so close again, the organiser has designed this bit to play with your head, you really think that you are there, and then it disappears again!
There is no talking, heads are down and various gaps appear between us, we wait for each other and go again, this happens about every 50 meters as Andy for some reason developed a wee problem and had to stop at least 10 times, but as we said at the start of the day, we would start together and finish together, that we did, all crossing the line together, about 18 hours out on feet in the Sahara desert.
It was a strange feeling when getting over the line, more relief than anything else, the previous 3 days had been full of adrenaline and excitement, this time not. We had a warm tea which was lovely and then handed 3 x 1.5L bottles of water to carry back to the tent, not ideal, we kept dropping them but in the end we got to the tent where we woke Popey & Mike up, they had been back long before us, amazing lads!
The feeling of my bag coming off felt truly terrific, until my shoulder muscles spasmed, ouch!! Some quick stretching, sleeping bag out, it was time to hit the sack in my dirty running gear, I didn’t care!
As we had finished the long day in 1, we had a proper day of rest today, people kept coming through until about 6.30PM, I felt for these runners, I couldn’t imagine being out on the course that long, with little rest before the final day.
My feet were swollen and I think I counted 17 blisters, my cut was oozing puss so it was time to visit the Doc Trotters, I wasn’t the only one! There were people in much worse shape than me so I just closed my eyes and tried to relax as the scalpel went through my skin and the iodine sting kicked in!!
Once bandaged up it was time to head back to the tent to relax, that’s what we did all day, we were treated to a Coke, normally I would refuse but no way out here, it was immense, the sugar!
So tomorrow is the final competitive day, we had a full tent of lads and we were in good shape, once again trading food, insults and trivia, I was really enjoying my holiday!
So here we are at the last, we get up earlier than normal, the race is starting at 7.30 rather than 8.30, Ed the LAD Doctor kindly taped my feet up ready to be smashed, and smashed they were going to be!
Now I was buzzing for this last day, my bag was super light so I was going to run as fast and hard as I could, my day couldn’t have started better!
I then managed to lose one of my running water bottles, meant I would need to hold a 1.5L bottle of water, somehow I managed to clock my fastest pace of the week, this amazing, there are not many people around me so I keep pushing on, my tunes are driving me on, Armin Van Buuren – A State Of Trance is echoing out of headphones, I am flying, the gels, shots and salt tablets are being stuffed down, CP1 passes, CP2 passes, come on Dicksy, keep going!!
At about 25K nightmare!!!
As I reach for my salts and food, I discover that my belt is empty, they must have dropped out when I didn’t zip it, this is earth shattering as without salts some very bad things can happen to you. Without energy my body was slowly grinding to a halt, more and more runners pass me but there is nothing I can do, luckily a kind guy sees I am in trouble and gives me something of everything! Boom!
Slowly I come back to life and I start jogging on, not as fast as earlier as my body needs time to adjust, CP3 passes and I am getting ever closer to the end of the MDS, just 7K to go!
At this point I hit dunes and my music stops working, this is really annoying as I want to be in the zone, I can’t get it to work so I forget it, still carrying a bottle of water I jog up and over the dune and see the finish!
I start to jog faster and zone out, this is it, my body is carrying me to the end, out of nowhere I hear my name being shouted, it takes a while for me to come out of my zone and spot that it’s only my little brother, Andy!
This was not planned and was simply unbelievable, we started this journey 2 years ago together, now we were going to finish it together, at the same time. This feeling was immense, we pushed each other on, legs running on pure emotions, as the finish got closer, we got faster, this is crazy, we sprint into the start of the finish area, I grab Andy’s hand and we cross together!
Words cannot explain the moment above and I am so happy that this moment has been captured, I get emotional looking at it every time.
After this it starts to hit you what you have just achieved, it’s unbelievable, me and Popey get a little emotional with each other because like me and Andy, Popey was doing this for a charity close to his heart.
We had an amazing week and I wouldn’t change anything, I will go back and run again, I don’t know when, but I will.
Looking back over this blog I can see how my journey has developed over the past 4 years, how differently I think about events and what structure I now bring to my training, including the approach my mind takes to such events, the MDS is where my journey started and is an amazing event, very different to “Beyond The Ultimate” events, but well worth doing.
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