WOW, firstly, I can say how honoured 😊 I am to have such an amazing following, support and interest in this event. I can’t thank you all enough for your kind comments, donations 💷 and support emails 📧 I received every evening when I totally needed a pick me up.
Jason an I dreamt this one up over a year ago, (neither one of us can agree who talked who in to it!! LOL...) and here we were after hours of kit buying, testing, swapping and training through the winter months in the dark and mud up Cannock Chase at Gatwick airport full of nerves and anticipation having never done anything like this before.. We arrived in Morocco on the Friday Night to a 6hr coach ride deep into the Sahara and straight to the bivouac which was basically a small tented town with a circle of about 200 large black tatty sheets held up by branches, sticks and a few large tent pegs which were uprooted and moved every day for the next checkpoint. 🐫🏜⛺️
It was absolutely freezing the first night but luckily my first kit test and choice of sleeping bag proved perfect whereas others were freezing as it dropped to about zero in the night. Saturday was check in and kit checking ready for the off first thing Sunday.
The 1000 entrants were reduced to about 800 on the start line due to non-starters for reasons such as injuries, illness etc.. The MDS starting ritual was to play ‘ACDC’s Highway to Hell every morning and then off we went. I took it steady on the first day so I could settle in and get used to the heat and backpack which was approx. 7.6kg’s incl. all food for the week, wash kit, medical kit, survival essentials, sleeping bag, jacket and sleeping mat). The day was a relatively easy 32k in the desert which was basically a mix of stony, sandy dusty terrain, I came in overall 63rd and 6th in my category.
Day 2 was another 32k but exceptionally harder as they sent the route straight through the highest and largest beautiful expanse of sand dunes in the Sahara 🐫🏜⛺️ which lasted for about 13k.
The best way to explain the feeling of running up the dunes was as though you’re on a long escalator going the wrong way in a sauna and the top never seems to get any closer!! 😲😬😳 I chose not to run with walking sticks to keep the weight down and that day in the dunes was the only time I missed them. Our tent mate Gary Ashton, another strong runner, was with me when we got to the start of the dunes who did have walking sticks and proceeded to plough ahead of me and others in a ‘4 wheel drive’ way.
This was the day the infamous ‘Cactus’ the dog ran past me through the dunes like the little fella was having an easy stroll.
Still finished the day strong and moved up to 57th overall and 5th in the ranks. although difficult it was one of the most stunning environments i've ever ran in.
Stage 3 was a good day for me but I’d heard a rumour that the top 50 were classed as 'elites' and went 3 hours later than the early main group starting in the mid-day sun for the longer 76k Stage 4. So I thought, ease off a bit and stay just on the outside of 50, when I got back I had a perfect run and was up to 53rd, perfect.. Even gave a loads of kisses to the live webcam in celebration 😊 or so I thought.......
Then our angel of an email delivery lady arrived at the tent in the evening she had the names of all the elite runners on a list, and there I was 49th 😫😫 😳😳!! FFS !!🤬🤬. Basically, I got bumped up due to either other runners receiving penalties and / or a few of the female results didn’t count so it was top 50 men. I felt a bit sick but at the same time I was quite honoured that I’d been classed as an ‘Elite Ultra Runner’!!👍🏃♂️The first group went off in the cool early morning sun whilst I waited in another tent with other elites including my mukka Jay Jennings and a very quirky, funny and interesting ‘Robert Pope’.
Robert is famous for running across America 5 times dressed as Forest Gump in every detail incl. the beard (pic above) taking the exact same route, more info on Rob and his charities: http://www.goingthedistancerun.com/
Then came our start which was just a line in the sand where they spread all the 50 in one line (pic below) and I couldn’t believe who I’d been classed with as some of the guys were the best ultra-runners in the world including the Moroccan Abdelkader El Mouaziz, finished MDS 4th overall, born the same year as me but has won London Marathon twice, New York Marathon, Olympics and loads of other famous races. And then there was little old me stood next to him, a middle aged lily white casper the ghost impressionist amateur runner from Cannock about to start the hardest day midway thought the hardest foot race on earth!! I was like a little excited kid but extremely nervous at the same time. 😲😬😳💩
Highway to hell played and we were off. Unfortunately after about 10k my fears were realised and couldn’t keep a good pace as my heart rate was all over the place as I was overheating so I had to slow down. It also meant I was burning more fuel which was carefully rationed. The long 76k route again took us through some stunning scenery and amazing salt lake flat beds that were like velvet to run on. 🏃♂️😊
The other problem with starting the long stage late was the inevitable running longer in the dark, I spent four hours not being ably to see very far in front, I couldn’t pick the fresh firm trails and kept stubbing my toes, so much so I had to stop and bandage my big toe 🤕. Managed to lose a few more toe nails and loads of time 🤬.. After 50k I was losing energy as the earlier stresses were catching up with me and I don’t think I got the fuel quite right due to a last min change of the elite start. 😰
Had to do a few km's walking and recuperate but picked myself back up to finish the 76k just before midnight in a time of about 11 hrs, 45 mins which was quite slow for the day and bumped me back down to 70th overall and 12th in our category..
Thankfully after such a hard day we had a rest day so I was down to the medical tent having my feet strapped up and rested all day. (yes, by day four the weight was just falling off us!!), If anyone wants to lose a bit then this would work better than any other weight loss program out there!! lol...
Still happy with my progress overall I went in to the last formal competitive stage of 42k feeling good. This time the top 150 runners started later but as it was only a marathon I wasn’t too bothered (ha ha, only a marathon in the desert, FFS 😲!! ).
Luckily this was a runners day with about 30k of hard ground to run on so I made the most of it. Although after 10k they dropped in a cheeky hill climb that caused a bit of a backlog but didn't slow me down too much.
I knew I wasn’t going to win so I took some time out in the later stages to do some pics and videos to give everyone a chance to taste some of what we went through. After about 36k you could see the ultimate finish line about 4k in the distance which gave me a massive pick me up.
I finished the last day strong and moved up to 65th overall, back up to 8th in the category and the first category vet brit which I was happy about.
If someone had predicted that’s how I’d finish on my first MDS then I would have took it all day long.
Jason went in to this with a few injuries and niggles so did what he did best and was the forever resilient and strong runner who built in to it through the week finished in the top 150 overall and 2nd behind me in our brits vet category 🥇.
The MDS is an amazing experience but at the same time was by far the hardest and most brutal thing I’ve ever done but I felt extremely lucky to have the ability to do it and experience something so wonderful. That said both of our feet took a right battering but many were far far worse.
Jason and I met some good mates during the trip and to top it all off raised over £4000 for The Ethan Maull Foundation which often crossed my mind and kept me going when I had a few low points, especially during the long stage.
We returned back to find that Cactus the dog had more publicity than we did so we had to get in on the action and dress him in a Komfuel buff to keep him warm at night.
I had some amazing email messages of support from friends, family and people I didn’t even know and have to admit there were a few lumps in the throat as there were with the other lads. 😭 I want to thank everyone again for the amazing support and extremely kind donations for the charity. On our return we found out that thanks to you all we doubled our target and hit £4000.
Can I also thank my family for putting up with my mood swings during injuries, and some of the intense training times. James @Komfuel for supplying me with loads of nutrition support, Stephen James (Exercise Specialist consultant who did a proper job on testing my fitness and heart under stress at London Bridge hospitals amazing testing facilities which meant I could take part after my own doctor flapped because my resting heart rate was so low!!). Jo Wilkes for giving me a free airBNB at their home in Lanzarote to train, Jorge and Jack, picking me up at the beach in Lanza and generally running me about for training sessions.
My good friends Mark, Annette and Dean at the Engraving Company in Cannock who pimped up our trainers FOC to allow the gators to work properly. Never got a grain of sand in my shoes all week!!! https://www.facebook.com/theengravingcompany/
All the guys at Porches Human Performance for putting me through the acclimatisation process and helping to get me ready for the harsh desert environment..
Steve and his team at Run Ultra for organising the trip so well and their unwavering support during the event. https://www.runultra.co.uk/
My amazing tent mates who all made the week so much more special, Howard Paine, Henry Waterfield, Paul Harris, and Gary Ashton, all cracking lads. Also some top blokes who we all bonded well with, Jay Jennings, Ian McCraig, Rob Pope, Eduardo Prato Jaén and Spyros Logothetis.
Mark Shaw at my amazing tri team Les Stables for my general team support, run gait advice and general guidance over the last few years. http://www.les-stables.com/
My mukka and racing partner Jason Wilkes for partnering with me in the whole event, training, stresses of it all and keeping an eye on me in case I did my usual and over cook it!
Finally, I’d like to thank my friends and 2 times MDS finisher legend Craig Horton (who died for 60 seconds training for his first MDS a few years ago) and Rick Gannon for both of their amazing tips and support. Without some of the advice our time in the desert could have been so much more uncomfortable and much harder. Thanks both..
Thanks for reading, Des x