Friday 20 April 2012

Day zero: Camp life on the Marathon des Sables


Marathon des Sables is more than just running. It's a different way of life for a week. Two days before the race starts, we head out to the desert to settle into what will be our home.

After five hours on the road comes a rather amusing cattle lorry ride - with-bags-and-all - for a couple of kilometres. Blinking nervously once the lorry doors open, we all descend down and into the strangely familiar sight of a semi-circle of black canvas tents, peppered with berbers and camels.

Tent 61 is my tent. I am sharing with my two friends, better half, and two laid back Israeli guys. We are lucky to only have six people. The tents do hold up to eight.

The tents are pretty robust. They consist of a large sheet of black canvas nailed down into the ground and supported by wooden poles. The berbers take these tents down and reassemble them on every stage. I thought we'd be sleeping on bare ground but they put down a red-coloured carpet as well - luxury! The tents can be adjusted slightly, which is really useful to know if there is a sandstorm.

Tent 61 ends up being a rather valued tent. We are the first tent on the left as you finish. Those spared metres end up being a godsend after trekking all day! Tent 61 also faces opposite the legend that is Mohamed Ahansel - one of Morocco's finest runners. I found it fairly staggering that little old me could be opposite such an elite runner. What other races offer this opportunity?

Before the race starts, runners are looked after in what I thought was 5-star luxury. Food and drink is provided. And it's good food. Crusty bread, fresh yogurt, spaghetti bolognaise with parmesan cheese, creamy mushroom soup. Even red wine is thoughfully given in the evenings!

The purpose of going out earlier is to go through all the logistics - medical sign offs, kit check, final bag pack. So for the whole of day zero, all 800 plus nervous racers packed, unpacked, repacked, took things out, put them back, then panic bought from the "shop" cleverly engineered.

My bag ended up weighing 9kg pre water, which is fairly reasonable. Bags tend to range between 6.5kg-15kg.

The checks went well for me. My ECG was signed off and no one wanted to see the contents of my bag. Now just the anxious wait till stage 1.

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