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Rose K's Marathon des Sables: Part 2


Posted by Rose K under Ultrarunning on 21 May 2014 at 11:00 PM

Rose K completed the Marathon des Sables last month, she's not some professional adventurer, she works a full-time job, likes the occasional gin & tonic and hadn't run an organized 5km until 2 years ago.Rose running MdS

Not everyone would choose to spend 10 days of their annual leave running through the desert, so we wanted to hear how her adventure went!

Day 1

We had 1km of running then we hit the dunes, the biggest in the world. I read a blog by Al Humphreys saying that you must finish day 1 frustrated that you didn’t run fast enough. This was sound advice.

Sahara dunes

I took it very slowly which was very hard because I was so excited. In hindsight it was the best thing to go slow on day 1. A lot of people were in a very bad way having raced off from the start. It is a marathon not a sprint after all.

HIGH POINT - seeing the dunes for the first time, they were breathtakingly stunning.

LOW POINT: at Check Point 1 I filled up my two chest bottles with water but only screwed the lid on 1. I bent down to do up my laces and I lost a litre of water onto the floor.

Day 2

Because I finished with so much in the tank and in about 800th place after day 1 I thought I better step up the speed. The terrain was much flatter and the ground was harder so I teamed up with one of my tent mates. We ran 500m and walked 50m for most of the day. We covered a lot of ground and it felt good - I never realised what a confidence boost it is to overtake people! I think this was one of my favourite days.

Flatter Day 2 MdS

HIGH POINT: receiving messages back from home, realising how many people were watching me and supporting me. 

LOW POINT: day 2 was a great day, not any lows to report. My first blisters did begin to appear but nothing drastic.

Sad Rose

Day 3

Throughout my training I had done countless 20 mile runs, I could almost say that it is my favourite distance. Day 3 was just this so I went in feeling confident. It was so hard!! It was hot, sandy and I had no one to run with. I finished slowly and miserable and went to sleep dreading the next day - the 50 miler.

HIGH POINT: no highs! It was a horrid day!

LOW POINT: all of it, I cried a lot.

Day 4

People call this "the beast" and it is often regarded that if you get through this you have completed MDS as it is only a marathon to do. There was definitely a different atmosphere in the camp when we all woke up.

Taped up feetI had already planned to wake up earlier so I could put fresh tape on my feet, having removed it all the night before and used some of my precious water to give my feet a really good scrub. I wanted to give myself a lot of time to ensure I had got everything done, eaten as much as I could stomach and give myself the best possible chance for this mammoth distance ahead. 

I had originally planned to get in a 45-50 mile run about 6 weeks before but injury prevented this, beyond 33 miles was going to be in the unknown. I set off steadily with some of my tent mates. We knew there was a huge Jebel (massive hill) at 12km so we intended to get over that and then assess how to tackle the rest of the day after that.

We made it to Check Point 1 in good time and spirits. I then got to the hill to see people on their hands and knees climbing it! There were about 400 people on its slopes and they were moving so slowly. The midday sun was in full force. I did not like the idea of losing so much time and getting roasted in the process. To this day I have no idea what possessed me to do it but I just took on the sand dune which was running down the side if the jebel and ran. 1 step forward, 3 steps back was the progress in this knee high sand. But at least I was moving forward in some sense. Fellow runners were cheering me on and of course a lot of them were telling me I was mad. When I got to the top I was met with a round of applause and I had just over taken 400 people. This was good! Tired but enthused by this big step up the ranks I continued. The sad part was leaving my tent mates but they were so supportive of me when I decided to make this jump forward I knew they wouldn't mind if I went on.


The next element was a flat lake bed, this place wouldn't have seen water for years, centuries perhaps. It was very hot but at least the terrain wasn't sand so I rewarded myself with a fast walk (the army boys call it tabbing) to rest my legs but continue to make ground. At this point the elite runners began to over take me (they were let off 2 hours after us) I was astonished how fast they went, they are athletes of the highest degree.

Rose K Marathon des Sables

The eventual winner, Rachid El Morabity, grabbed me by the hand and got me to run with him for a bit, my pigeon French and his pigeon English meant the chat didn't extend beyond him saying I looked pretty, but would look better if I wasn't so sweaty and me telling him that if he made me run with him any further I may collapse. 

Miles and miles later, having made a friend called Neville we reached the half way point. The sun was going down so we knew we faced about 25miles of running in the dark. The nice part about this was that we could take off our hats, glasses etc and the temperature was bearable. The speed went up. 

Moments later we were in pitch black with only the light sticks on the back of people's rucksacks to guide you and a huge green lazer at the 33mile checkpoint shining into the sky. iPods went in and Neville and I just paced along next to each other, willing the other on.

We stopped at mile 33 for some supper which I had prepared especially at home. It consisted of smashed potato and loads of Parmesan cheese, it tasted like heaven!! The hard part was then getting up to keep on to the finish, a lot of people were choosing to bed down for the night but all my friends who had done it previously said that the best thing to do is keep going. So with our hearts in our boots we got up and plugged on into the night. Only 18 miles left. 

Everything about the next 5 hours blurred into 1. It was just sand... Hard sand, soft sand, sand dunes, sand, sand, sand. We ran when it was hard enough to do so but otherwise we marched. The comfort we had was the game we invented called 'victims'. We'd see people ahead of us and focussing only on the light on the back of their rucksacks we wouldn't let up until we had over taken them. We made up so much ground this way and each Victim was a mental boost.

When the finish line finally came visible we didn't allow ourselves to get excited as it was still another 5k and the route was littered with broken men and women who were at the end of their mental strength. We did our best to encourage everyone to keep going and that they should tag along with us to the end. I think we crossed the line with about 8 others.

When I got back to my tent I was happy to see some of them back already, I was greeted with hugs and stories of everyone's day. No one had found it easy! I flopped into bed and was instantly asleep at 4am, I'd been on my feet for 18:45hours.

Rose K MdS splits

Only when the rest of my tent mates arrived at 10am did I wake up, they were broken and there wasn't a dry eye in the tent. 

All of us had broken the back of the toughest race on the planet.

HIGH POINT: reaching the top of the Jebel with energy to spare and knowing I had just taken down a lot of people.

LOW POINT: leaving the 33mile checkpoint and knowing I was still no where near finished

Day 5

Rest day. This consisted mainly of sleeping, eating and watching the poor souls come into the camp in dribs and drabs. The final competitors finishing the long stage at 7pm, 34 hours after they started. 

As a treat we were all given a can of iced cold coke at 4pm. I'm not a coke fan at all but this tasted like the elixir of life, the whole camps mood was lifted and for a moment we were all delirious on our sugar highs.


Before bed I went through my rucksack, shedding all weight I could.

Marathon des Sables camp

Tomorrow was the last day, I had shot up the rankings because of my kamikaze hill climb the day before and I knew I could make up more spaces. I also wanted my medal around my neck more than anything else in the world. 

HIGH: the coke we were given.

LOW: seeing my tent mates coming in after a hideous time on the long stage. They were so unhappy and it made me feel for them so much.

Day 6

Marathon day: we started at 7am so the people at the back would finish in the daylight and wouldn't miss the final prize giving. This was a blessing as the temperature was less extreme. There was no speak of "let's run together" on this day, we were all on a mission to get across that finish line as soon as possible. My music went in on the start line and the moment the gun went off I was running. The ground was more stony than sandy so I pushed myself as hard as I could go. It felt good to know that I didn't need to conserve my energy for another day and that all the fuel in the tank was to get me to my medal. 

Start line MdS

Again the elites were set off later than us so they overtook us. Each time one came passed I would do my best to keep up (even for a second) so my pace increased. By Check Point 2 I was 10k from home, I'd over taken friends and more importantly Rory Coleman, my coach! I was full of running and the finish was creeping closer, until.... The sand. 4 miles of sand followed, pace went down and so did morale. I kept on plugging and eventually I could see the finish. It was a strange moment when the arch appeared over the dunes. All that hard work, hours of running, saying no to parties etc was down to the final few Km's and when I crossed, what then? 

Stepping over the finish was the cue for the waterworks. I was a teary mess, totally overwhelmed by the fact that I had done it. I'd pictured this moment millions of times in my training but never realised I could do it. It was an achievement I could claim as mine for the rest of my life. I wasn't the only one in pieces so there was a lot of hugging strangers and in our many different languages telling our fellow competitors that we had done it and it was all ok.

Rose K MdS medal

I made my way quickly back to the tent to find only 3 of us were back. Lots more hugging went on and we then set out back to the finish (via the comms tent to email home) to cheer on our tent mates. 8 of us had set out, all with different motivations, training, ability and attitudes towards this and all 8 of us finished with our medal. It was a great feeling to watch the last of our gang, Ben cross the line. Only then did it hit home that it was done!

HIGH: being a girl on a mission and running like I had never run before. Nothing was going to stop me. Oh.. And FINISHING!

LOW: call me weird but I didn't want it to end in a funny sort of way

Rose K and crew on finish line

Now to the gritty stuff - what state were your feet in after a week in the desert?

Rose K feetI hate to disappoint you but they weren't that bad.. I looked after my feet very well and it paid off. Of course I got blisters and I am 4 toe nails short but I am afraid I don't have any horror stories. I kept telling myself that it is just skin and if you give up for just skin then you are pathetic. Everything was healed within days of leaving the desert. 

I know I was very lucky and I could have been a lot worse!

You pushed the Aegis Anti-bacterial treatment in you Tech Tee to the limits - what have you done with the shirt now?

However advanced a fabric is it isn't going to beat the Sahara. We were all disgusting by the end of it, everyone's tops were covered in sweat, dust, blood, food, snot, everything!

I have framed my shirt, unwashed of course (you can imagine the face of the framers!) and it is proudly hanging on my wall forever more! I'll be placing my order for its replacement in the Tribesports shop as I loved that top!

Rose and MdS shirt

And finally, will you run it again? 

I would LOVE to run it again. It was a wonderful experience and a huge step away from real life. Very few belongings, no phone and living a very basic life while pushing your mind and body hard. I was very happy in the desert because I had prepared hard and was ready. I envy anyone who is doing it next year, however I cannot emphasise how important the training and preparation is. It is a clear case of ‘The more you put in the more you get out'