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Steps In The Sand: My Marathon des Sables Journey - It's race week!

Steps In The Sand: My Marathon des Sables Journey - It's race week!

8 April 2024

I can't believe we are finally here! 11 months ago I sat in my lounge on a Sunday afternoon, shortly after completing the Guernsey Marathon, thinking to myself, "what next?".

I remembered watching the documentary "The Toughest Race On Earth with James Cracknell" about ten years ago as an overweight, 20-a-day, couch potato and thought "not a chance". At this time, my distance running record was 400m at secondary school. That documentary went into my memory archives and I never thought about it again.

Fast forward a few years and due to a family history of heart problems, I needed to have a number of tests and, long story short, found out that my lifestyle was very likely to be ushering me to a premature death, it was the wake-up call that spurred me on to drop 30 kilos and give up smoking. Shortly after this, lockdown kicked in and I decided to have a stab at running. Day 1, I ran for the first time since school, achieving 1.1km and almost coughing up my lungs in the process, "surely that was 5K" I thought to myself, but no. Anyway, I persisted and by day 21 I ran a 2h09m half marathon, which, looking back is actually pretty impressive! Then, the obsession just became about more and more distance, my first marathon (3h58) followed 6 months later and my first ultra (60K) 6 months after that.

Fast forward again to 2023 and I'd completed the Guernsey Marathon 3 times and both the ultras in Guernsey, I didn't really know what to do next. On a whim, I thought back to that documentary and the Marathon des Sables, I'd been keeping tabs on it now that I was a keen runner and it was on my bucket list, but at over £4,000 to enter and thousands in associated costs, it's pretty... exclusive. So, on the 26th June I sent a message on Teams to my boss, James Wood and within a week, with the support of the other directors, we were on: Redwood were going to sponsor me and cover my entry fee. My first thought was a four letter word I can't type here.

Over the 10 months that have followed I have ran hundreds of times covering thousands of kilometres in Guernsey, Jersey, France, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The first six months of training went spectacularly, I was the fittest I'd ever been, but shortly after this, the problems started.

I struggled really badly with my mental health towards the end of the summer, coupled with physical exhaustion, I really started to struggle with the longer runs. I headed out for my weekend long run of 42K and I knew I wasn't in the right headspace before I had even left the house. Just over 5K in, I collapsed on the side of the road, exhausted, broken and emotionally wrecked. If that wasn't my body telling me to take a break, I don't know what is. Luckily this was the peak of my training and my first "taper" was due the following week, so I took a week off and started my taper. Over these months, I also managed to pick up a persistent injury on my right ankle, I twisted it on an endurance event (I can still hear the crunch 🤢) and I then repeated that injury a second time on a training run and a third time on an organised race in November, resulting in my first ever DNF.

A pretty awful end to my first block of training to be honest. But, part 2 of my training was here, which focused on carrying weight, eventually peaking at 10kg. I did a lot more hiking and a lot more walking, whilst the original goal of finishing in the top 10-20% in the MDS was now a moon-shot, I needed to focus on staying fit and not overdoing it.

However, my training started going pretty well and, well, I got cocky. After some low volumes I went out and tried to conquer an 80KM week (with a 46KM long run at the end) and I truly wrote myself off. It resulted in 2-3 weeks out of training, countless physio appointments, some nasty injections in my left ankle and an osteoarthritis diagnosis. At this point, I thought I was going to have to pull out.

A few weeks later, to the present, and I've slowly built my distance up again but ensuring not to exceed 30KM in any single run. Anything north, at this stage, of 40KM is where my ankle issues come into play and I can't afford to be injured this close to the event. So yep, I'm going in, completely blind and not knowing whether I'll even be able to complete this race, never mind achieving a noteworthy time, the latter of which is now all but impossible.

But, here we are, on the edge of civilisation, about to complete the longest ever edition of "the toughest footrace on earth". 252KM over 6 stages in 7 days. That's 6 marathons or 4 Saffery Walks, all with 10kg strapped to my back in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. "What an absolute...." you must be thinking, because I certainly am 😂

I'll be posting (network permitting) daily updates of my progress on Instagram, here:

And don't forget to help me raise funds for CI charities, here:

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