Last updated: 20-Aug-18
By John Bell
Stage 3: 08/04/14, Moungarf Wadi to Ba Hallou, 37.5Km
We are told that more than 45 competitors are out of the race as we are about to set off on the third stage of the Marathon des Sables. One competitor had made the finish line with only seconds to spare ahead of the cut off last night and we all applauded those who had now left the event, having given it their best shot. The usual round of happy birthday greetings, celebration of the times and placing of the elite runners – Danny Kendall getting the most vocal celebration being the highest placed Brit, running in 5th place – and a run through of the stage and reminder of how many water bottles we were to receive at each checkpoint.
Today was one of vast open landscapes with very sandy passages snaking between dunes, followed by crossing the Rheris Wadi which is one of the biggest in the region. My feet started to ache today, not sure if blisters or simply bruising to the bottom of the feet as a result of running across long stony sections over the last two days. The pain is easily overcome and I am able to continue running. Darren (Daz Tent 145) and I agree to run the dunes section together given we are similar in pace and frankly, it is more enjoyable sharing the experience than running solo. We climbed our first Jebel today, Foum Al Opath, which had an average slope of 12 degrees and was about 1Km to the summit. This was tough, very hot and I couldn’t shake the image of ‘’if I was a snake these stones provide perfect shade and this is where I would be’’. Luckily there were no signs of life other than fellow runners.
The temperature got up to around 52C during the day. Personal admin and water management are absolutely key during this event and we seem to have a decent handle on both aspects. Whilst constantly drinking, eating salt tablets (about 3 per bottle / 20 per day), snacking on energy foods and mixing electrolyte supplements in with the water, we never ran short ahead of each checkpoint. Occasionally, very occasionally, we even had a few drops to spare to pour on our heads. This felt so good but the benefit vaporised pretty rapidly.
Once we got clear of the dunes, about 26.5km into the day, Daz felt ok to start running again whilst I felt I was too hot to run at that point. As is always the case, we choose our own path and I didn’t see Daz again until camp. After the last checkpoint I was happier with the temperature and was able to run again, making up a number of places and ran through the ruins of Ba Hallou which predate Christ. Pleased to finish the day running but disappointed to take a little over 8 hours for the first time. Looking back, this was definitely temperature rather than energy related…and perhaps a little psychological too.
Decided to go to Doc Trotters for the first time tonight and was surprised at the carnage. One Spanish guy in front of me in the queue was in such bad shape that he couldn’t even stand up in the line. Eventually we got to a position where he was able to crawl into the medical tent and I held his place in the queue for him. We were issued with a numbered ticket, similar to the cheese counter at any given supermarket, and whilst waiting were sat in a row washing our feet with antiseptic. This was a good feeling and those of us with the energy and either enough pain tolerance or painkillers in our system were able to swap war stories. Eventually it was my turn and I found myself next to the Spanish guy who had now taken off his shoes – horrific is the only word that springs to mind. Serious damage to the bottom of his feet and heels which looked very raw…no way he was going to get through the long day on those.
I was seen by a young looking doctor, Baptiste, who rather discouragingly was also known amongst the Trotters as Junior. This was his first MDS but he turned out to be excellent. I was clear with him that I didn’t want any skin cut off – they are renowned for this – he agreed to treat the blisters and provide protection for the coming days. He sliced the blisters (they are much bigger than those we get at home), inserted the scalpel then poured iodine onto the blade and let it run into the blister. A joyous but necessary experience. I asked him to check the balls of my feet and at this point it appeared the ache I had endured during the day was bruising rather than blistering. He put some foam padding over the area, bandaged me up and sent me on my way. Feet felt good and ready for the next day, in stark contrast to some of the poor competitors I saw in there. A small number were on drips in a more discreet area and looked to be in a bad way, whilst others were waiting for treatment and looked done in.
Good to run another day. Photo credit: John Bell
Back at the tent Mark mentioned that he had seen a scorpion at one of the checkpoints and looking at the photos it was concerning to note that it was in fact sand coloured. I had expected them to be jet black. Brian mentioned that when he had visited Doc Trotters earlier he had seen a few people arriving by helicopter for immediate treatment. We were also told that there was a large dropout rate today, taking the total to approx. 95.
Go to DAY FOUR.