Having travelled 250km through the world’s largest desert, running across munro sized sand dunes, over jebels, through wadi’s, in +50°C whilst carrying all our food, equipment and clothing for the week the beginning of the end was approaching. After almost 2 years of dreaming, planning and preparing the end was clearly in sight and yet even though it was close it still seemed far as the effects of the mileage were taking their toll. It had been a rough and restless night but the final day had finally arrived as the sun rose over the camp for the final time. As it was the last day the Berbers left us with the tents for slightly longer than customary upheaval of just after 6am. Instead they and all the volunteers did a victory lap round the camp in the lorries, cars and on quad bikes beeping the horns, clapping and shouting. All the runners stopped their normal routine to join in and soak up the spectacle.
For the final stage the initial section of the run had been marked out to go straight through the centre of the camp and the bottom 50 were given a head start in the hope that the field of competitors would finish closer together. Many of these competitors were in the band of the walking wounded including the two British women who had persevered to finish the long day alone in just over 30 hours (the top guys took just over 20 hours running time for the whole thing). The remaining competitors lined the running track to send them out the camp. Already a bit of a party atmosphere was building.
We got final photos in the desert and of our tent mates before trudging over to the start line for more photos. After 7 days in desert our tent group had gone from a mixture of meeting each other occasionally at a race of two or of never meeting before to being a tight knit group after experiencing the highs, lows and intimacy of being chucked into this environment.
With thoughts of only 17.5kms of arid desert separating me from the finish and the sudden realisation that in a couple of hours time we would leave what had become the norm of eating, sleeping and running made it an incredibly exciting point in the race. The nerves and a restless night had taken their toll and made it very difficult to stomach my final meal, not a mild curried beef but a chicken tikka after trading the previous night. As I strolled to the start line I realised I was feeling the effects of living off minimal calories for the week as I my body felt weak.
No more mild curried beefs left in my pack and the thought of tasty food in a few hours time was something to be very happy about!
We stood on the start line in the group that had formed tent 76 for our last experience of “Highway to Hell” in the desert. The final countdown started “TROIS, DEUX.... UN” and we were off. We were off at a seriously quick pace which I was sure and hoped that people wouldn’t continue it after the 1st mile. It stayed fast for the entire way. It was almost a sprint through the checkpoints, grabbing water, getting the water card punched for the final time, grabbing a quick bite and then continuing on. It was turning out to be one of the toughest days with so many miles already in the legs it was all adrenaline that was pushing and driving me to the finish.
The run was tough but certainly going well and the reintroduction into society saw us travelling from a mixture of sand dunes and rocky, scrubby flats to small and secluded villages. Running past kids that seem to come from no where, wells that just dropped deep into the ground and mud built buildings. The final couple of miles brought us from rural morocco to the outskirts of the town that we were to finish in. Running past kids, chickens, goats and ancient cars and lorries chugging out fumes. The rich mix of smells awakening the senses.
It was quite a sight not only entering civilisation but passing through some incredibly deprived areas with a number of kids begging. We rounded the corner and joined the 1stand only section of tarmac of the race. Running with Si and Karin, two of my tent mates, we ran along the streets passing coffee bars, pizza places and shops selling cold cans of cola. My focus at this point certainly seems to be on one thing only. All that remained was the sprint to the finish; regardless of the miles already covered or how tired our legs felt it had to be done as the 3 of us cranked up the pace to towards the finish line. Besides there were still people to overtake. The last couple of hundred metres were of running through a festival atmosphere passing musicians, locals and family who had come out to welcome in the finishers as we joined other competitors in the finish area.
The next wee while was a whirl wind of collecting the medal off the organiser of the event Patrick Bauer, being funnelled through quickly to collect the packed lunch, have a quick relax and a bite to eat before jumping on the coach back to the hotel. The next couple of days were spent taking in copious amounts of food, drink and sleeping.
I finished the event in 127th overall, 2nd U25 and 15th Brit with a time of 36 hours, 1 min and 16 seconds.
As it has come to the end of this chapter I would really appreciate it if people left their own comments on anything they have finished, challenges they have done or coming up or any comments on reading about this adventure.