A year and a haft after booking the race, we landed in Ouarzazate and all started to get real. The flight was fully booked for racers and everybody was getting all cheered up. After a 6 hour drive into the desert, the buses stopped in the middle of nowhere. We just got home. A 1900 people moving town. Our home for this crazy adventure.
Tent 67 would be our little cottage for 7. We spent the day packing and un-packing the bags before the official bag check. 10 min before going to the check, I destroyed my socks. Luckily, I had extra pairs. It would have been complicated.
After dropping the bag, we gathered the team Gatorade for pictures. That was it, we all realized it was on. Tomorrow, was the 1st day of the 31st
Stage 1 – Let’s Do this
After spending the morning trying to fix my gaiters that decided to break down before the race even start, I knew it was gonna be trouble for my race. But the essential was elsewhere.
It was finally race day, with the 15km in the sand dunes of Merzouga in this 37K stage. This was the stage everybody was waiting for, the deep dive in the Marathon Des Sables.
The sand dunes was brilliant. The view, the feel under the shoes… a unique experience. After check point 1, the wind woke up, with burst up to 70km per hour, raising sand in the air, lashing our bodies.
In the old mind, the sand was darker and I got trapped into a big burst. I turned black instantly. It turned out to be a very effective sun cover.
My shoes’ repair old the entire day and still looked pretty decent for stage 2.
Stage 2 – The fun started
With 41K of fun planned for the 2nd stage, I decided to start slow and go for power hike the entire way, to preserve my gaiters from exploding.
It worked pretty well as I pass around 150 runners between CP1 & CP2 in the heat of the day.
Overall, it was a very good day besides the oued crossing in which it felt like hell: the landscape didn’t change for 10K.
Yet, it was pretty good to get this one done without injuries. I got a tiny blister on each pinky, but nothing to worry about. I successfully played the safe game for the long day on Day 4.
Stage 3 – MDS vs feet : 2/0
Trouble started for me on the 3rd stage. My gaiters were no longer fixable after 15K and I had to keep going with sand and blisters from now own.
Challenging by itself, the MDS goes to an all new level with swelling feet. On top of it, my stomach was very upset… too much liquid and not enough solid food.
My legs were feeling great but I wasn’t able to use them anymore due to the pain in my feet. I had a down moment after check point 2 as I forgot to eat… but I got it through. I talked to brilliant people on the course as for the last 2 days.
Crossing the line, I was very concern on how to handle the long stage the next day, with blisters and broken gaiters.
Stage 4 – Paradise in Hell
The long day… 84K of pure craziness. Starting earlier than the previous days, the camp woke up smoothly while the top 50 runners and top 5 females were still sleeping, as they were starting 3 hours after us.
The main difficulty of the day was right after CP1, so I decided to apply my race plan to run fast to CP1 to avoid traffic in the main djebel. It worked perfectly as I passed it like a breeze, moving way faster than the previous day.
My race management was perfect. I was fresh for the long day and passed the 1st 18K fully running. As sand will filling my shoes and the heat catching up, I had to slow down to power hiking… sooner than expected.
At 24K, both feet where burning from all the sand in my shoes, making it very difficult to keep the pace. Hell started. At each footstep, I could feel my heartbeat in my feet… They were swelling so much that each footstep was pure pain. I though they were going to explode each time I hit a rock.
After CP3, I finally got passed by the 1st runners. They were moving like magic. They were graceful, smoothly evolving in the desert. It was beautiful to see them fly.
CP3 to CP4 looked my being on Mars. There was a very strange feeling of being out there. The long section in soft sand was unreal below the sun starting its way down.
After the uphill after CP4, we finally got in the shade of a mountain… I just smiled. Going down in the sand, I was mesmerized by the setting sun. A uniquement moment where all became orange. This was the most perfect moment of the MDS. I was alone, with nobody in sight, enjoying the moment. My feet were crushing me, but I was just enjoying this blissful moment. Pain didn’t matter. I found paradise in hell.
Getting to CP5 for the start of the night, I had 30K to go with crushing feet. But i was happy. I was smiling to the volunteers and the night sky. I have never seen that many stars in my life. The full Milky Way was visible.
At the last CP, I stopped 5 min to rest my feet. I though for the last 40K about removing my shoes, but I was too afraid I could put them back on. I though about it one more time but finally decided to move on. From CP7, I was able to see the lights of the finish line… They looked so close but were so far away. All uphill, the last Ks felt like eternity.
When I was 300m away from the finish, I realized I made it. I did the long stage, leaving only the marathon stage to go. There was no way I was not going to finish the MDS. It was a very good feeling.
Interestingly, like in the 3 first stages, my moral was always up to. I never had a break down whatever the pain. I think I was just enjoying the moment.
Paradise in hell indeed.
Stage 5 – Marathon Day – 6 feet under
Tapering during the rest day after the long stage, my body was crushed. Transit issues and massively swelling feel were pinning me down for the day. I tried to recover but I was simply not making it.
Starting earlier than previous days, I almost missed the start as it took me more than an hour to get my shoes one, cutting my hand in several spots will trying to put my gaiters. I instantly felt pain just by putting my shoes on… butI started.
Agony and pain summed up the path to the first CP. I had to stop 4 times for transit issues… I was in the last 30 of the stage. It was a little scary but I focused on moving forward. At CP1, I refocused, erased pain from my brain and started to walk at a decent 5.5k/h. At CP2, still keeping the pace, I knew I went through the pain and was gonna make it though. I was ecstatic.
Last CP, last bottle, last sand dunes and then… the camp in the far distance. There was 6 or 7 K to go and I was happy to make it, to be a finisher of the MDS.
I joyfully passed the finish line, concluding this adventure of gaiters’ trouble.
If sportively, I am very disappointed of my MDS as my gaiters/feet issue prevented me from performing, I am very happy to have lived and shared this amazing adventure with this crazy desert family. My moral was always up, even in the pain. I was just happy, even when I was 6 feet under.
Stage 6 – Charity & Medal
That was it, we left our home for the last time for 17K for the UNICEF. Everybody was chilling and walking all along the stage. It was not about racing anymore. it was about enjoying the moment with friends.
Walking all the way with the team, enjoying the final moment of the MDS. We were remaking the world… thinking of new horizons and new adventures.
Waiting each other at the finish line, hugging right before it, we almost forgot to actually cross it.
After receiving our medals from the race director himself, it felt a little weird. A strange mix of satisfaction to have made it through the MDS and sadness of it being over.
What an adventure my friends, what an adventure.