Even though it was a tough day – with some of the highest dropout rates of any year – that evening, the tent was amazing. Ben, Andy and Elliott, in addition to our tent recruits Alex, Nicholas, Ali and Rose made for a ‘sleep-over’/festival type atmosphere. It was remarkable seeing everyone. Obviously exhausted and feeling beaten up after a tough, hot, sandy day - NO-ONE complained! Everyone got on with it, having fun, joking around, sifting through their packs, organising for the following days and taping their feet. Even though I don’t believe him, Andy came in saying that he actually felt good. Stating he was ‘Strong like Bull’. Turns out contrary to expectations Andy did not leave a slug trail of sweat like he did on the Pilgrims. Instead he left sand storms and twisters with the pace he was travelling… well maybe not quite.
Over the next two days, it didn’t feel like it was getting any easier, however moral was still incredibly high – the evenings became a really sociable time where we played music, sat around chatting and sharing our highlights from the day. Mostly sand based exchanges... we were lacking inspiration, alright! Postman Frog delivered and we had an influx of Desert based jokes, quotes, inspiring sentiments and group messages which were shared around the tent. We quickly found that Rose actually had the whole world emailing her messages – good we all thought, more weight for her to carry!
From the offset – there was a real communal sharing ethos in the tent. We shared bits of our food, and helped each other with our packing. Ali managed to have the heaviest backpack (along with the worst organisation), closely followed by Ben (pack weight, not organisation). When we realised that the additional weight was primarily food, it was like a venue of vultures. A gannetry of gannets! Rest assured, we made their packs considerably lighter and our bellies considerably fuller. A win win situation you might say! Nicholas benefited the most, having brought just the bare essentials.
The long stage was one of apprehension, mental toughness and stamina. The last of our boys came in at 7am, which was a phenomenal achievement. And guess what... not one complaint, not one murmur of self-pity was heard. They got their feet up and collapsed. How Ben, Elliott and Alex managed to find the energy for joking bordered on the absurd! I mean, 22 hours on their feet. Sure they were slightly delirious, but spirits were high. What happens in the desert stays in the desert, however according to Ben and Elliott – one of their favourite moments (in their life) was seeing Alex waddling behind them like a penguin with his shorts down around his ankles, holding his privates up, trying to prevent any further rear/under-carriage chaffing. There was not enough Vaseline in the world to help the poor man. Note to self – sand is abrasive!
That afternoon, we went out to see the last competitors coming in – it was 34 hours after they had started and near 4pm. Everyone came out of their tents, a huge welcome line was formed and applause rattled around the desert as they shuffled their way through the last few hundred meters. I wonder if I would have been able to carry on going for 34 hours… simply remarkable and complete elation seeing them cross the finish line. We then clapped in the camels – following up the rear signifying the cut off time. The day was over.
We had all broken the back of the race and had only the last day to contend with. A marathon. Just 42km. Honestly speaking, after having just ran 82.5km, it did not feel that bad, which is crazy! The top 200 started off 90 minutes after everyone else, which made for an incredible experience. When we started over-taking people they were all cheering (or trying to trip us up). Nicholas started with the main pack (after being given a time penalty at the beginning for leaving his ECG at home) and decided that he was going to try and win the stage. ‘My first and last marathon ever’, he said. After 4 hours 10 minutes, he crossed the line first, looking for his parents. Sadly they were not there and he lost interest in being ‘hounded by the press’, he picked up his water and retired to the tent. Finishing in 22nd place for the day. Remarkable.
After the charity day (which was one of the most infuriating additions to any race, ever!), we were finally allowed to hop on the bus and head back to the hotel. We were given an amazing pack-lunch with a hock of flat-bread and feasted like vegetarian lions. Back in the hotel, instead of waiting to get our room key, we bee-lined straight for the bar, where we stayed for the next 3 hours. Beer and pizza have never tasted so good, that is for sure. After the first shower, we completed our transformation and felt human again. Andy lost a game of ‘fives’ and I moved into the double king size bed, while he and Alex shared. If only I could have recorded his face.
The next day saw us have a long, wine-filled lunch, from around 12pm to 7pm. Elliott was the only one who made the prize giving (where we won best dressed brits with our tutus), the rest of us decided to take an early nap. Andy and I had not drunk for nearly 4 months, so we were both surprised that we lasted till 7pm to be honest. Alex managed to get sun burnt after lying out by the pool all day and falling asleep. Ali and Rose also made it to the evening meal – impressive. Sadly Nicholas had to leave us early, heading back to Marrakech with the folks.
The flight home was delayed by 2 hours and we finally arrive at Gatwick around 4pm. It was incredible – there was a huge crowd with banners. Friends and family were cheering and welcoming us all home. Pretty special walking through that door to see everyone - a rather fitting end to an amazing experience.
Thank you once again EVERYONE for being a part of this incredible journey!!