Tuesday 24 April 2012

MdS 2012 - Stages 4 to 6

On the morning of stage 4 I was a little all over the place. Instead of my run/walk strategy, I was now planning to powerwalk the stage due to my knee injury. For some reason it took me ages to get ready that morning - arriving at the startline with minutes to spare!

The stage itself was 81.5km long (approx 51 miles) from El Maharch to Jebel El Mraier. From the start I put my earphones in, turned the music up and went as fast as my legs could walk! I tried running a couple of times, but it just wasn't happening! This was hard especially as the stage starts were electrifying. People would surge off the line, while a helicopter would fly low overhead to capture the scene for TV. The adrenaline rush was incredible - but walk I had to.

As well as being long, this stage also took us over the Otfal Jebel - a 1.4km climb with an average gradient of 17%. The photo, left shows the technical descent (I'm 2nd from front). There were plenty of dunes throughout the stage also. Luckily, while my knee caused problems, my feet were still in good condition. Some minor blisters and hotspots - but nothing problematic. This stage will probably be best remembered as the stage where race leader and defending champion Rachid El Morabity fell with 1km to go, ripped a quad muscle and crashed out of the race! The MdS is savage, has no favourites - and no sympathy! For me, I completed the stage in 14:40.

A real highlight came as night fell in the desert. Our route was marked by green glowsticks attached to route markers, while competitors had to attach yellow glowsticks and fire up their headtorches from 7pm. That - and the first sign of the finishing line lights were welcome sights! It can get a little lonely in the desert at night! Otherwise, I felt pretty good - I was only walking after all. Amazingly, I climbed 3 places to 208th! Throughout the stage I constantly repeated a line from the poem "Don't Quit". Holly's mum had given me a coin with the lines on it before I left home. "Don't give up though the pace seems slow, you might succeed with another blow!". It's amazing how things take on a whole new meaning in a place and at a time like this!

My checkpoint strategy worked really well. Typically, I would pass up to 30 people at a checkpoint, and there were 6 on this stage! People were stopping to refill water, to rest, get shade from the sun, or to deal with blisters - I was just marching on! My new goal now was to get back inside the top 200. I'd probably lost about 3+ hours from where I wanted to be pre-race. Without the injury I would have been challenging for a top 100 place. But that was unrealistic now! The following day was a rest day for me - the final competitor finished Stage 4 at about 4pm Thursday afternoon (32 hours after the stage started). I hoped the rest would do my knee some good!

Stage 5 (Friday, April 13th) again started slowly for me. This was the marathon distance stage, 42.2km from Jebel El Mraier to Merdani. No major obstacles along the way, a perfect stage for running! I took a painkiller in the morning - but it didn't kick in until 2:35 into the stage. The relief in my knee once it did was incredible. I ran a bit... it felt ok... I ran a bit more - a little pain but managable! I had 14 miles to go, and I knew I had a lot of time to gain back if I was to break back into that top 200!

If anyone has seen a Rocky film - then this was my Rocky moment. Being able to run again - I picked myself off the canvas and started pumping with everything I had. Being well down the race field - I started passing a lot of people. From the stage results, I know now I passed about 300 people. Some tried to keep on my heels, I could hear them follow - but my pace was strong. It was the best feeling I had all week. I powered through a section of sand dunes - I was fresh and able to run after 3 days and more than anything, determined to get as much time back as I could. It's funny the things that happen at a time like this. At one point on the course, I ran over a rocky track that was so similar to a route I ran on Christmas Day (up the "bog road" to Sauce Creek - for anyone from home. lol). I couldn't help but think "This is why I ran on Christmas Day - for this moment!" It spurred me on even more! By the end of the stage, I was up to 204th overall and claimed back some time on those ahead. Given the way the start of the stage went - that was a major result!

Going into stage 6, the final stage - 15.5km from Merdani to Merzouga - I needed a strong run! I took my last painkiller 3 hours before stage start to give it time to work. I was going to run as hard as I could from the start, no matter what. I hoped for a tough stage - it was short, but I needed to beat 5 people by over 10 minutes to get into the top 200. The first 6.5km were flat and easy - the field was pretty bunched - not good! The next 9km were exactly what I wanted - big, tough sand dunes the whole way, the toughest stretch we had all week (the image left shows part of this). I ran as hard as I could, pushing as much as I could. I didn't know my position... was I ahead or behind those I needed to beat? If they beat me, then fair play... all I could do was my best, so I just pushed harder! I had my best stage finish of the week - 115th (not bad for someone without much pace on a short stage!), and climbed to my final placing, 194th overall! I couldn't really believe I'd achieved just that on the final day. I really wanted to run again the day after!!

Getting my medal on the finish line felt a bit strange. Elated to be finished, happy with how I'd finished, but a little frustrated - it could have been better. There was one thing I felt overall, however, looking back on the week as a whole. The MdS is all about making it to the finish line! Its 154 miles are brutal - and it finds out any problems, any injuries, any failings you might have. It tests you to the limit physically, and mentally, at some point and doesn't let up! Anyone who completes the MdS has overcome their own obstacles, their individual dramas and deserves huge credit for that, no matter where or when they finished! I'd achieved my goal, I'd completed the MdS. With that, I was very, very happy - and just a little tired!!
Now for the next challenge...

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