Monthly Archives: April 2009

4/28/09 Back in the Bike

Tuesday.  Finally.  About time.  Geesh.  Whatever bug or virus or whatever it was appears to be gone.  All gone.  No utter exhaustion.  No dizzy.  No nausea.  No stop-the-world-I-want-to-take a nap.  I’m scared to say it lest I jinx it, but I think FINALLY I am better.  That was three full weeks of feeling like crap but that’s behind me now.

Thursday night we had a run around the reservoir. We were supposed to do pickups.  Every two lamp posts increase your speed and then two lamp posts back down.  Usually I like this workout.  It’s how I got through Lake Placid IM at night, lampost to lampost.  But on Thursday I just settled into a jog and every time I told my legs to speed up they said “nope, not gonna do it” and they just went about with their slog. “We’ll run all day at this pace but we are not picking it up for you or for anybody.”   Harumph put in place by my own legs.  Who is in charge here anyway?

Second loop I saw my coach and confessed “I didn’t do a single pick up.  I keep telling my legs to do it but they won’t.”  He kind of laughed and jumped in to run a loop with me.  We talked about all our races (MDS for me, Boston for him) and came up with a plan for me to SLOWLY get back into doing intervals and speed work.  I have to build up some muscle for the bike before I start trying to hammer again.  I have to take everything in increments like I’m starting from scratch.  I was just so relieved to not have to call a taxi to take me home that I was willing to agree.  Workout was done before I knew it.

On Saturday I got to the park early to bike.  I had no expectations, just see how far I could get.  Not looking to pull over and nap would be progress.  I did one loop on my own (eh, 22.5 minutes, not terrible but nothing to write home about either).  Then two of the gals from my team were flying by me and I asked if it would be okay if I drafted off them, they said sure and for two loops I got to feel the speed without the effort.  They were awesome.  Felt like we just flew around the park.  I finished with a couple of lower loops and was so happy to go home feeling 100% okay.  Granted it was only ~20+ miles but I felt okay.

I didn’t run on Sunday — was too hot and I really wanted to just feel good for once instead of exhausted.  I had a very long day on Saturday and a lot of work to do on Sunday so I just took it as a rest day and a chance to get some work done that was overdue.  I over extended on Saturday but it was a normal tired.  Tired because I was on the go from 5 a.m. to midnight.  Not tired because I opened my eyelids.

Monday night was my speedwalking group.  I am quickly falling in love with my Monday night WW gals.   I kind of informally lead the group (because I’m just pushy that way.)  I’m just so impressed with how hard they are all working and two weeks in a row have shown up.  Their faces were glowing at the end.    There is a lot of positive energy with these gals and that’s what I love.  No whiners, no complainers.  People who want to work.  No better feeling than to see them all succeed.  It is a great reminder to appreciate the fact that it is just great to get out and do something in the fresh air.

This morning we started riding at 5:10 in the park.  I did better this week.  I stayed with my group for 2 loops this time and got dropped on the 3rd.  We were going up Cat Hill and as I was cresting I shifted to a harder gear.  Too hard.  I lost momentum and the group pulled away.  Exactly as I did that the coach says “spin faster first, THEN shift to a harder gear.”  The exact OPPOSITE of what I did.  I shifted to too hard of a gear and dropped my momentum.  In two seconds the pack had pulled away from me.   I absolutely could have  fought to catch them but it would have left me with nothing.  I let them go.  Next week I’ll fight for it, this week I was happy to keep up with them for 2+ loops (last week was only 1.)  I cut across the transverse so they could catch me for the 4th loop.

Finally they caught me as I was about to do Harlem Hill again.  This time I did the hill with one of the Ironteam gals who was out for a recovery spin.  Nice chance to catch up.  We just spun up the hill and it felt good.  I was so happy.  I wasn’t dizzy, nauseous or tired.  I wasn’t strong either but that’s okay.  I know the strength will come back with just a little extra effort.   There is a big difference between when you know that there is potential and you just have to work harder  and when you know that you are just fried and there is nothing you can do.  This group is really nice — two guys and three gals plus me.  They are all good riders and I enjoyed riding with them.  Next week I’m hanging on for 3 shooting for 4.

This morning I came home and I had my bikers high.  I used to get it every week during Ironman training.  Chasing my rabbits around the park I would feel GREAT.   Haven’t had that in a long, long time.   But this morning, I feel great.  I’m back in the bike.

Namaste

This, my first [bicycle] had an intrinsic beauty. And it opened for me an era of all but flying, which roads emptily crossing the airy, gold-gorsy Common enhanced. Nothing since has equalled that birdlike freedom.

Elizabeth Bowen


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4/23/09 Where’s the Blog?

Thursday.  I guess a week is about the limit before I start getting the “where’s the blog” queries and then they come in a bunch.  I’m here.  Honestly just been too tired to write.  But I’ve been blogging in my head, does that count?

I’ve been thinking a lot about recovery.  How much do I need?  How long should I recover?  Why do I need so much more than other people?  What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I lift my head off the pillow?

I realize this is an important part of training to document so next time (never) when I do a 125 mile race I will know what to expect.

When I first got back I actually felt pretty good.  Got back on Monday April 6th over 2 weeks ago– obviously exhausted from the flight.  That  Thursday night I showed up for run practice.  Felt fine.  Actually ran with the gals who just finished New Orleans.  Okay, okay we only ran up and around the reservoir once and then went for Margaritas but I was feeling pretty good even before the margaritas.  The first week I noticed my appetite was even more voracious than usual but I chalked it up to the race.

Too much celebrating.  Wine, wine everywhere and margaritas too.  Okay, okay I gave myself the week to drink it up and then pulled the plug.  I wasn’t feeling well.  Something not right.  Liver poisoning?  I mean it wasn’t THAT much drinking but certainly more than I had been used to.    I didn’t feel well.  I didn’t want to party anymore.

Week 2.  Still not feeling better.  Rained out of bike practice which was a blessing ’cause I couldn’t wake up to go.  Thursday I went to run practice and that’s when I knew I wasn’t alright.  We were doing 800 meter intervals with rests in between.  On the first 800 I knew I was in trouble.  I felt like I was running through Jello.  “You don’t look like your usual self” one of the coaches commented.  “I don’t feel like myself.  I don’t think I should be doing this.”  Did I stop?  No.  Did another one.  Getting slower.  Things are starting to hurt.  I was trying to run but I was falling apart.  I didn’t understand.  125 miles across the desert and not a peep from any muscle or  joint.  1 mile in the park and I’m pulled pork.  G’night, I’m going home after 1.5 miles.  Pathetic.  PATHETIC.  I don’t ever remember leaving a practice. 

This last Saturday went for an EASY muffin ride with the gals out to Nyack.   Rode to Piermont feeling great.  Stopped to wait for the other gals.  Didn’t feel too sparkly getting to Nyack but okay.  Had coffee and chat with everyone and started peddaling home.  Hmmm.  What’s wrong with my bike?  It’s not moving.  It can’t be me.  Must be a dirty chain.  (I LOVE to blame a dirty chain.)   First hill out of Piermont almost didn’t make it up.  Wow, everything is looking fuzzy.  I’m aware that my tires are weaving a little too much.  You lazy bum.  Move it!!  C’mon!!  Start riding up stateline.  Put in Granny gear and I don’t care (riding my triple).  It might have taken me an hour to get up stateline hill.  When I got to the top I knew I wasn’t right. 

When I got to the top of the next hill I actually looked over the railing.  Is there a grassy spot I could just pull over and take a little nap?  A nap?  A NAP?  You are going to pull over on 9W and take a nap? What the heck is wrong with you?  I don’t know, I feel dizzy, I feel nauseous.  I know if I could just lie down for 4-6 hours I would feel fine.   I don’t exactly remember when I did it but some part of me pulled over and dialed my friends.  “Need help, come get me, I can’t make it home.”  Oh my God.  Did I really call for a SAG wagon on a freakin’ MUFFIN ride?  It wasn’t even me, it was my alter ego.  I don’t even remember dialing.   The girls came to get me.  I got home and went back to bed. Turns out I had a fever that broke much later.  So maybe I really was getting sick?

Sunday I just slept. No fever.  I finally made myself get up and walk to Strand books to pick up a couple of out of print books I had been looking for.  Made it down there and was able to book browse for about an hour before the wave of exhaustion hit me again.  I looked at the sidewalk.  I don’t see what’s wrong with lying down for a few minutes of the sidewalk.  Oh God,  TAXI!!!  Two minutes from becoming mistaken for a homeless person.  Sleep, sleep I just need more sleep. 

In one week I averaged 11 hours of sleep per day for seven days. A couple of days were more than 11.  I’ve never slept that much in my life.  I knew there was something wrong but I was too tired to try to figure out what it was.  I was taking vitamins, drinking wheat grass and beet juice and making licorice tea (recommendation for adrenal overload).

So this week I started to feel a little better.  I went to a spin class on Monday and thought I did okay until I realized that it was only 45 minutes long and kicked my butt.  But at least I finished the class.   Then Monday night I got a real boost because the power-walking group that I was helping to organize all showed up and we did 3 miles in the rain.  I was so proud of them it was like someone gave me a shot of espresso.

Tuesday I hit the tennis courts.  Whoa…  My hand/eye was fine.  I was able to hit the ball with no problem but I could barely move.  I’d try to run for a ball but it was like there was fly paper on the bottom of my shoes.  Oh geesh, what did I do?  Contract Sleeping Sickness or something?  I remember a bug flying into my mouth in the desert but I had spit it out.  What was wrong??!?!    I went to bed at 8 p.m. so I could be up at 5 a.m. and ready to ride for bike practice.

Wednesday morning bike practice.  Not good.  Not good at all.  Our group splintered almost immediately and I worked to stay with the two lead gals and the coach.  Race pace with two intervals per loop.  The idea was that we would be pace lining so our race pace wouldn’t really feel like race pace.  Well unfortunately I lost them on Harlem Hill so I KILLED myself to catch them.  I felt something go click in my head.  It was my system shutting down.  I can’t do this.  I stayed with them up to Cat Hill for the second loop but I just didn’t have it.  I was spent.  Too pooped to pop.  I cut across 102nd and went home.  I left bike practice.  I never leave bike practice.  Normally I would just finish on my own.  I was worried that I wouldn’t make it home.   Let’s see that’s 3 team workouts in a row where I TANKED!!!  Terrific.

So tonight we have an easy recovery run on the reservoir.  Okay this I should be able to do.  Just keep it nice and easy and don’t kill myself.  Maybe I’ll just shoot for 2 loops of the reservoir and not taking a nap.  That would be progress…

Of course I can already hear everyone.  Well of course you’re exhausted.  You’ve just done the Marathon des Sables.  People take months to recover.  No.  Other people who I did the race with are already do 50 milers.  The guy who came in 8th at MDS (Mike Wardian) and 1st American, just did the Boston Marathon and came in 55th (2:30 was his time).  He’s not sleeping.  He has a full-time job, a wife and two kids and he’s fine.

Okay, okay, maybe I’m not in as good shape as Mike Wardian and maybe I’m 15 years older than him, but still 2:30 Boston Marathon?  I just wanted to do a Muffin ride.  I’m all about the sliding scale but c’mon.

I am feeling a little better every day.  But I’m not feeling peppy yet.  I’m not feeling like I want to go running where many of my co-competitors are running and biking and maybe not up to speed but feeling okay.  Oh right, I forgot, I never felt like running BEFORE MDS, no reason I should feel like it now.

My final conclusions are:

If I was in better shape I’d recover faster. 

I’m older.  It’s a fact that I’m just not a spring chicken anymore and frankly that really pisses me off.  49 is not always the new 30.  Sometimes it’s just plain old 49.

I think I might have actually caught some kind of virus.  Even for a recovery period I have been beyond a normal tired.  If by Monday I am not feeling better I’m going back to the doctor to have my blood tested.  (I just had it done the week before I left.)  But I am feeling better so I think okay to just see how this pans out.

If I have to take off the rest of the year, that’s fine too.  I did my “A” race for the year.  Everything else is just gravy.  I don’t have any huge goals for Rhode Island or Timberman though I would like to break the 7 hour barrier.  (7:04 at Tupper.)  If not, eh, no big deal, I can always just sleep the summer away and start again in the fall.

There’s good stuff too.  My appetite seems to be back to normal.  Even better than before MDS.  I don’t seem to be craving food now.  Just that first week back.  I’m actually less hungry than I usually am.  I’m trying to capitalize one that.  Been eating very healthy and portions under control.

I have the desire to workout.  It’s not like I don’t want to which would be worse.  I want to, I’m just too tired. 

I’m getting some work done this week.  Last week I was finding it hard to even concentrate — the computer screen seemed so complicated.  Now I’m back into the groove and seem to be able to concentrate. 

I’m not feeling depressed at all.  All of my exhaustion is physical not mental.  I’m really very happy with my MDS experience.  I couldn’t ask for more.  I did everything and had a magical trip.

So that’s where I am.  Tomorrow is WW check in.  I think I might be good this week.  I might actually be able to pull out my tracker and start tracking again.  So maybe I am starting to feel recovered — a little.

Namaste

I like this article with an interview with Mike Wardian.  Click here to read.

Caroline and I finishing the long stage.

conniecaroline

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Miracle des Sables – Part 4 — The Marathon

This is part 4, to read part 3 click here.


“The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.”
George Elliot

The last day of the race. Marathon day. The most interesting part for me was the collective attitude of all the competitors — bandaged, bruised, sick and well alike — everyone was saying the same thing “ONLY a marathon to go.” After nearly 100 miles over the last 4 days a marathon seemed like nothing.

The previous afternoon was filled with a lot of joy for me. One by one all of the people I had been worried about filed into camp. People I thought for sure would not make it (based on how sick they were looking when I passed them) made it back to camp and although they were limping or sick they all had a huge smile on their face. We had all completed the long-stage by hook or by crook. After that, we could do anything!! Lots of hugs going around the camp. I was strangely filled with a bigger sense of pride over some of my new friends completing the long stange than I had for for myself.  Way to dig deep my friends, way to dig deep.

Everyone was performing last minute surgeries on their feet. I was afraid to touch mine because since Dr. Eddy had taped them up two days earlier, I did not feel so much as a hot spot so I didn’t want to touch them.  My feet were great and I wanted them to stay that way. Everyone in our tent and neighboring tents were so excited to embark on the last leg of our journey. A marathon. A simple little marathon. We could do that!!

I felt really good that morning (as I had each morning.) I almost felt stronger as each day progressed. Part of me worried I wasn’t working hard enough but I couldn’t remember a single moment in the desert when I felt I wasn’t working hard but whenever I got back to camp I seemed to recover fairly quickly. Granted all I did once I got back to camp was eat, rinse off and fall asleep. There was not a lot of other activity going on.

We started the marathon at 9 a.m. and they gave us 11 hours to complete it. 11 hours to do a marathon? Even I can easily complete a marathon in that amount of time. The fact that they gave us 11 hours probably should have been my first hint that there were some surprises headed our way.

At first we started out on a very long flat strip. I was feeling really good and I just took off running 8/2 right away. I was so happy to be running. I felt light and my backpack felt like it was empty. I kept pinching myself. This is amazing!! I’m flying (okay well not really flying but in my mind I was flying.) Even my powerwalking was in overdrive. Some of my tentmates and neighbors who had been struggling the day before flew past me patting me on the back and smiling, everyone was high. EVERYONE was ready to finish this race.

I guess the biggest testimony to my continued naivete was when I saw the mountains ahead I just assumed that we would be running around the base somehow. I was trying to think to the map and which way would we go, right or left? Right or left? Didn’t matter, I was doing great. How nice to have something left in the tank after 4 days of battle. Hmm, why don’t I see anyone going right or left? Instinctively I refused to look up. RIGHT or LEFT people? Why are we not turning RIGHT or LEFT? I kept scanning the horizon. Which way? Which way?

It slowly came to me. Please no. I slowly lifted my eyes and yes, there I saw the trail of ants. Little dots of white and red, slowly climbing the mountain. Shoot me. Just shoot me. My happiness had been so short lived. This was another one of those steep passes with lots of rocks. Suck it up. One foot in front of the other until you get over it.  If you look closely you will see little dots all the way up and over the top.
stage-4-up-the-mt**photo credits to my friends Arthur Baczyk and Kerri Elfvin and Frances LaBrune who took so many amazing shots.

Going down the other side was not much easier.  Red paint on the rocks indicated the route we should take.  Most of the time they just picked the hardest route to make it tougher than it had to be…

down-the-other-side

But the great part about this side was about half way down I realized I had been on a trail almost identical to this in Arizona.  I got my confidence back up and about half way down I started to bounce off the rocks as I learned at camp  and hit the flats running again.  Took me much too long to get up and over the mountain but that would be it, right?  They couldn’t keep adding more torture.  Right?

I think I now finally understand the Marathon des Sables routing technique.  If given a choice of left/right go vertical.   We would get about a mile of two of flat and then they would throw something else at us.  We had a second mountain pass to go over (not as bad as the first but still a challenge.)

At the first check point they offered everyone two water bottles.  Not a good sign when they offer you extra water.  “How far to the next check point?”  About 8k was the response.  8K?  8K?  That’s only about 5 miles.  Why would I need extra water for that?  FAMOUS last words.  My sipping bottles were topped off but I took extra water just to be cautious.

Very soon we hit more dunettes.  I don’t do these very well.  I do about 3 and then I start to fade.   It’s climb up, up, up, down, down, down.  A rollercoaster of escalators is the best way for me to describe it.  Sand slipping under your feet.  It becomes quite the workout and my butt muscles really felt it.  I had to pause and pop some more gels.  I was very aware of dips in my energy and had to replace immediately.  I was always on the edge of not enough energy and the rush of any kind of sugar helped immediately.  If I was to ever do this again (which I won’t) I would take more fast sugars for the daytime and not as much salty snacks.  Jelly beans would have been good to have.

Here is the end of the dunes in sight.back-in-the-dunes

At this point I’m just trying to get check point to check point.  We were back on flat land again and friends were catching up to me — we did a little back and forth but we were all just doing our own thing.  Unlike the long stage we didn’t “NEED” one another to get through this but it was nice to see a friendly face now and again.   I caught a “train” from some guy who passed me (I just jumped on his pace and followed him until I couldn’t keep up any more.)  I  tried to make as much time on the flats as possible.

One kind of terrain that is kind of hard to describe is called Wadi.  It’s kind of a mix of soft sand, vegetation and mud.  The problem with wadi is you never really get two steps that are the same.  One step you’ll get a nice firm hold and the next one you sink in.  It’s very tiring.

wadi

Then the dirtiest (and I mean dirtiest) trick of them all was when we came across a broken damn/bridge and had to run through water left over from the flooding.  There was no way around it other than through it.  It wasn’t that far but the idea of having to get our feet wet in dirty contaminated water was not that thrilling.  At this point I couldn’t have cared less and I just plowed right through but I knew all those with bandaged feet were thinking twice.  Not only would the water loosen their bandages but with open sores, all kinds of bacteria could get in there….  I just shut my eyes and ran across — wet feet and all.

river-crossing1

Within a mile of crossing I saw two different people pulled off on the side of the road trying to fix their bandaged feet.  Water and tape don’t mix….  Bacteria in open wounds — not good either.  But the good news is we were closing in on the finish. My feet would dry within a couple of miles.

When I hit the open flats again I was really struck with the reality that I was going to finish the Marathon des Sables.  I thought back to NYC Marathon 2005 when it didn’t really hit me until the last .2 miles running up hill toward the finish line with Melissa jumping up and down in the bleachers screaming “you’re doing it! you’re doing it.”   Now, in the desert, I didn’t have an audience.  No people cheering.  I had left my friends behind at the river crossing and I saw a couple of people ahead but basically it was just me and an occasional breeze.  I know this sounds incredibly corny but I felt like the breeze was surrounding me and whispering all kinds of kind words of encouragement.  It was as if the breeze was happy.  “Okay, okay”  I spoke to my hidden guides, “let’s not get all excited until we actually see the finish line.”  The breeze died down but I still felt like I was swaddled in smiles of contentment.

Another freaking mountain to climb.  Cut me a break.  Can we just finish please?  I start climbing and as I near the top there are a lot of young local boys trying to talk to me.  I don’t know what they want but all along the course for the last couple of miles, kids were asking for my buff or water bottle or food.  I just ignored them because I didn’t have anything to give them.  A young boy comes halfway down to meet me and is waving his hands.  “2 K”  he is saying, “2 k.”   Oh, my God, is he telling the truth?  2K is it really 2K?  I’m so excited.  I feel great.  2K is nothing!!  Well maybe not nothing at the Marathon des Sables they can throw a lot of torture into 2K.  Don’t get too excited, don’t get too excited.

I reached the top of the mountain.  Saw nothing.  Followed the painted rocks to the left and then there is was.  I was on top of the mountain and about a mile in the distance I saw the finish.  Only problem was the side of the mountain was a straight drop down.  I look ahead and they have volunteers stationed on the edge of the cliff.  A guy was standing there to help you get down into the soft sand.  You have got to be kidding me.  I don’t take his hand.  I need to balance.  I try to give him my right hand.  He wants my left hand.  Give me your left hand.  No, I don’t want to give you my left hand.  Let me do it, let me do it.  I grab the rock and I put one foot down.  I grab another rock and put the other down.  A tiny, tiny, tiny jump one foot and you will be in the slide.   I jumped and then I slid, slid, slid down the soft deep sand of the mountain.  Like gliding down an escalator.  And then I was home free.  Flat land to the finish.

Okay, Okay I said to my angel guides, now you can get excited.  The winds picked up and swarmed all around me.  I started to laugh.  The winds started to laugh.  We were all laughing together.  This is it!!  We did it!!  We did it!!  I felt like I was flying.  I start to walk faster and faster but I can’t quite break into a run yet.  Another competitor comes up behind me running.  “Run!! Run with me to the finish.”  I’m stunned I try but I’m kind of frozen.  I walk faster and faster and then all of a sudden a wind pushes me from behind and I start to run.  I don’t feel anything.  I just see the finish line about 1/2 a mile away and all the months just flood back into my memory.  The snow, the backpack, the hours, the climbing, the crying, the waiting, the nerves.  Everything is swirling and floating away from me.  All I see is the finish line.  Not a regular finish line just a handful of people but as far as I was concerned a thousand people or just ten didn’t matter, it was my finish line.

I cross the finish line with some gal who walked over.  I felt bad.  I should wait for her to go ahead but she is not even making an effort to move and I just have to keep moving.  Patrick Bauer puts my medal on my neck, kisses both cheeks and I see Dreamchaser pals waiting for me on the side.  George and Terry and Sam and Jay and Tess and Ineke.  I know there are more but I can’t see.  I’m stunned and dazed.

I finished, I really, really finished.  And I feel good.  Really, really good.  I did it.  I really, really did it.  Surreal.  Unreal.  Real.

That night we were served dinner in the tent.  I had plain spaghetti that never tasted so good — actually warm.  A glass of wine that I took back to my tent to enjoy later and savor.  We were all stiff and tired but happy, everyone was so happy.  Everyone in my tent finished.

After the sun set the Paris Opera came out to perform.  I couldn’t move but from my tent I could lean back and see everything.  My perfect tent.   We all cozied into our sleeping bags.  I opened my little glass of wine, toasted my friends and tent mates.  Took two sips and fell fast asleep to the sounds of a symphony floating through the air and the wind whispering “you are right where you are supposed to be.”

Namaste

paris-opera

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Miracle des Sables – Part 3 — The Long Stage

This is part 3. To view part 2 click here.

“Once men are caught up in an event, they cease to be afraid. Only the unknown frightens men.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The night before the long stage our tent became a surgical tent. One of the gals in our tent was a nurse and she was really terrific in helping everyone with their multitude of blisters. One gal’s feet were so bad they had to go to the med tent and have major cutting and bandaging done.

The two main ailments that were bringing people down were blisters and dysentery.  All of my tent mates and neighbors were experienced marathoners and ultra-marathoners — much more experienced runners than I.   They had all trained well. They were simply victims of the desert.   Why I was spared much of this I leave to the guardians that seemed to walk with me.  Going around my tent of 8 people we had one person with a pulled IT band and calf muscle, one sprained ankle, 4 people with crippling blisters rendering their feet painful to hobble on.  There was one other guy who did not seem to have any major complaints though he may have just been quiet.  I had one small blood blister after day two of wearing two pairs of socks.  I popped it and bandaged it and it was fine.

Nobody in our tent had dysentery though it was rampant throughout the camp.  Seemed like every tent had at least one person who hadn’t been able to keep food down.  After two days of diarrhea and vomiting even the best runners were left with no energy. Even if they were able to keep going they had to stop frequently behind a bush.  Obviously dehydration became a huge problem for them.  Most people continued on despite their obvious physical pain. They weren’t there to win, they just wanted to finish this crazy challenge known as the Marathon des Sables.

I know it is hard for some people to understand the  I-just-want-to-finish mentality but for those of us that get it, fighting through the pain is a kind of win in itself.  Most of us were not really concerned with our rankings — it was more a one-on-one with the desert that can’t be measured by a clock.

The weather was not that terribly hot.  It got to about 85 degrees in the afternoon but sometimes it felt hotter if it was direct sun.  It would have been nice weather had it not been for the crazy winds.  It seemed at times that the winds would just pick up and you had to really lean into it to keep going.  Temperature was the least of our worries (at least the first two days).  I saw a lot of bandaged ankles and taped knees from people who made a simple misstep on the rocks and dunes.

The more people I saw with things going wrong the more aware I was of how lucky I was and the feeling of being protected kept growing within me.  I wasn’t taking it for granted at all.  Believe me, I was not thrilled to have to traverse that kind of mileage but I was constantly brought back to a place of gratefulness that seemed to make my journey more bearable.  Every time I started to falter I just looked up and said “I’m in Africa, I’m in AFRICA!”

On the morning of the long stage they confirmed we had 35 hours to finish the 55 miles BUT they threw in a little twist — we had to be at checkpoint 4 within 16 hours or we would be disqualified.   Hmmm, that put a bit of a wrench in things.  Check point 4 was the 50k mark.  That was 31 miles in 16 hours.  Sounded doable but 31 miles would be the longest I had ever gone in one stretch.  A lot could happen in 31 miles and I had a lot of reminders hobbling and puking around me of what could happen.

I started the long stage feeling really great.  I was really moving along in the first 10k and was actually ahead of a lot of people.  Then I became aware of some hotspots  under my right arm, my inside right ankle and on my left baby toe.  I didn’t know what to do.  I had another 50 miles to go and I knew that discomfort I was feeling was just going to multiply.  I had to make an executive decision and I decided to make my first stop of the race at the first check point and see if anything needed attention.  I would take ten minutes and take off my shoes and see what was going on.  I had 16 hours, I was sure I could invest 10 minutes.  Reminded me of Lake Placid when I kept asking my coach to calculate if I had time to change my socks….

When I got the check point it took me awhile to find a doctor to help me.  Finally I found Dr. Eddy who had me take my shoes off.  Sure enough I had the start of two tiny blisters.  We both kind of chuckled at my petite blisters in light of the ravaged feet seen around camp.  They hardly seemed worthy of the puncture and tape that he put on but I firmly believe that had he not done that I would have ended up with some really painful blisters.  We put some tape on my arm where it was chaffing.  All fixed up and ready to go.  One problem.  EVERYONE had left the check point.  I WAS LAST!!! Oh my God!!  I panicked.  There was nobody left.  Everyone had gone ahead.

I really started to book my way out of check point 1.  I had been really lucky so far and had not had to actually use my compass or even really look for route markers.  My strategy of never letting the other runners out of my sight had worked so far but now I was really panicked.  I had spent nearly 30 minutes in check point 1, could I catch anyone?

I started to close in on some of the walking dead. My adrenaline (scared out of my mind that I would be stuck lost and alone in the desert) made me just plow through.  After I passed a handful I started to feel a little calmer.  Okay if I were to pass out or something at least someone would have to step over me to get by….

I made the mistake of following some guy from Germany.  He went off course and we ended up doing a little extra rough terrain but ultimately I started to see some other people in the distance.  I remembered that the fast runners had a 3 hour delay in their start so if nothing else they would pass me.  Okay all is not lost, just keep on hauling.  Lo and behold I came across one of the gals from the next tent  she was really sick and having a rough time of it.  She is a really great ultra runner (did 13 ultras last year and made it into Badwater this year — an invitation only race.)   I felt really bad for her because she is really thin to begin with and three days of puking was not helping her energy levels.  But she was still moving and still passing people.  Tough as freakin nails.  We chatted a little and she motioned for me to keep moving and she would catch up as she exited behind  a bush.

I passed through check point 2 and I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure she was still following me.  She was hanging tough.  I needed her to hang tough because come nightfall I was going to drag her into the desert with me whether she wanted to go or not!!  I was already getting nervous.  Not enough people for me to follow.  I’ve never run in the dark — she had a lot of experience.  Even if she was sick she would be a better partner than none.  We had a lot of miles to go before check point 4 but I was getting nervous that I wanted to make sure there were people around me.

It had been my hope to run straight through the long stage.  Sitting here now I can’t exactly tell you why that had been a goal but it was.  I knew plenty of people pulled over and slept during the long stage and maybe it was my naivete to think that I would be able to do it but I wanted to try.

We arrived at checkpoint 3 and we had the biggest surprise waiting for us.  TONS of people were there including a lot of our gang!  It seemed everyone was in the medical tents getting blisters operated on, resting ’cause they were dehydrated, or out back behind the tents puking up whatever was left.  I had never been so happy to see so many sick people!  (Well I wasn’t happy they were sick, was just happy to see my friends!)

I was ready to keep on moving but a couple of people were really hurting.  We decided to band together and make a little group to go forward into the night.  I knew I was wasting some time waiting for them but I also knew I needed them.  I was so happy to have company going into the night that I didn’t care any longer about how long it would take.

So we set out on our march….  Six of us in total.   Colleen and Alisha leading the front (they looked the strongest).  Caroline and Jessie in the middle.  Me and Molly taking up the rear.  We had our little glow sticks dangling off the backs of our packs and we started to make our way to check point 4.

Very soon after leaving check point 3 I started to have the worst pain in my back.  Very strange.  Felt like someone was stabbing me under my left scapula.  I was not happy.  This was my first pain of the entire race.  The ground was full of rocks and we all switched on our headlamps.  For about 2 hours I was just staring at the ground trying to avoid tripping over a rock and feeling the knife in my back driving deeper and deeper.  I was tense but I was so grateful to have these gals with me that I forgot about how trying this was.

We got to check point 4 before 9:30 about 12 hours from our start.  Some of the gals wanted to continue on.  I knew I couldn’t.  It wasn’t even a choice.  My back was hurting so much and I was having such a hard time with the darkness.  My executive decision was made in two minutes.  I was setting up  camp for awhile at least to rest my back.  Caroline and Molly were with me and we rolled out our sleeping bags.  Jessie, Colleen and Alysha were contemplating moving on.

That was my night under the stars with no tent.  I fell asleep instantly only to wake up at 2 in the morning wide awake ready to move on.  Everyone was gone!!  Even Molly.  Just me and Caroline who had already been talking about dropping out.  No way for me to get up and go in the dark by myself and no way could I just leave Caroline here by herself — that would be a dirty trick.  Nothing else to do but button down and wait for sunrise.

Then the windstorm hit.  Whoa, biting, cold wind whipping through the camp.  Tents flapping, equipment blowing around.  I hunkered down into my sleeping bag but it was piercing.  I had to fetch my emergency blanket to cut the wind.  Clouds covered the stars and I was secretly happy that I had not tried to continue on.  That would have been terrible.  Darkness, wind and clouds….

In the morning I rallied Caroline reluctantly to get up.  She does a really funny imitation of me that I hope to get on tape one day.  I basically tell her that come sunrise we are to be already packed up and ready to go at the first sign of dawn.  She tries to walk but she can’t.  I give her some Tylenol and inform her she has no choice, she’s going with me.  I just kept thinking of what Marlie used to say to me — if you can win a point you can win two, if you can win two you can win a game, if you can win a game you can win a set, win a set you can win a match.  You just have to move one foot in front of the other.  C’mon we’re leaving….  (Caroline later reveals she was just too scared to tell me she wasn’t coming with me…)

As we were about to leave heads started popping out of the medical tents.  Molly was still here, she wanted to go with us.  Ian another friend was in the med tent too.  Kerri who I had passed at check point 2 had made it afterall.  My God what kind of super humans were these people?  Any normal person would have quit already.   Apparently the doctor’s had dragged them in during the night because they sounded so bad.  Caroline and I didn’t sound bad enough so they just left us out there to suffer!!! Harumph!!

Ian wanted to quit.  It had been 3 days since he had been able to get any food down.  He looked grim.  I told him to not make the decision lying down in the med tent.  Molly talked to him too.  He had come so far and it was only a little further to the next check point.  That’s what I kept telling everyone.  We are only going to the next check point.  At the next check point we will reevaluate.  I was aware of  the clock ticking.  Caroline was up and ready to go.  “I’m going to start out because you’ll catch me soon enough” she said.  I agreed.  Molly set off with her.   I decided to wait for Ian.  A little voice was whispering in my ear that this was where I was supposed to be and I was supposed to make sure he got up and out of that tent.  Who cared about the time?  We were going to make the 35 hour cutoff easily.  We only had to do 25 more miles and had 13 hours to do it in.  We were good.  We just had to get Ian up and moving….

Slowly Ian got up.  He gathered his gear and we set out.  I knew once he started moving he would be okay.  Constant forward motion, it didn’t matter how fast we went as long as we were moving.  I didn’t make a formal breakfast, I just figured I would eat as we walked and warmed up.

First thing we were hit with were the dreaded dunettes.  They are like little roller coasters.  You go up about 12-15 steps,  cross over the top and slide down.  Another 8-10 steps across the bottom and back up, over, down.  By the third one I had to stop.  Whoa I’m feeling dizzy, needed some food, tried to eat a poptart, wouldn’t go down so I chugged a couple of  gels.  About 6 more dunettes and we were heading toward a mountain.

All I kept thinking was thank God, thank God, thank God.  There would have been no way that I could have done that in the dark.  I would have fallen and twisted something.  I was instantly aware that I had no more back pain.  It was as if the back pain had come just to stop me from going forward the night before.  I felt as if there was some kind of guide or plan.  I was supposed to have slept at check point 4.  I was suppoed to have met up with Molly and Ian and Caroline.  I was supposed to do the rest of this in the daylight.  I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

As we approached the mountain there was a camera crew out there and they stopped me to ask if I was thinking of quitting.  “No Way” was my answer but I wish someone had told me my buff was on inside out!!! click here to watch.

The hardest part of the trip was climbing the mountain. I honestly don’t know how anyone did it in the dark. We climbed up using hands and feet and it was very precarious. One false step and we could easily slide into a crevice.  Maybe the people in the dark didn’t see the dangers?   I was scared and again thanked the guardian angels who knew enough to make me stop at check point 4. If I had continued into the night and came across this rock climbing I would have quit. I could barely do it in the daylight never mind at night. Once again I felt protected and cared for but I had to ask what the heck rock climbing had to do with a marathon?

Climbing down the other side was not easy either but seeing the long flatland ahead calmed me. Molly and Ian were ahead and I trailed behind Caroline and some other guy. We were doing it. Check point to check point.

By the end of the day we had picked up another guy in our weary band. I was feeling pretty good but I knew how much pain the others were in. I stayed behind to keep Caroline company for the last mile. I was so impressed with her. 30 miles earlier she had been ready to pack it in. As had Ian. But step by step, mile by mile they made it across some really rough terrain and soon we saw the bivouac. I crossed the line with Caroline all the while applauding her indomitable will.

We did it.  We finished the long stage by putting one foot in front of the other and willing each other to finish.  I was still feeling strangely good.  I really didn’t understand why but I had long ago released myself to whatever energy it was carrying me across that desert.  “You are exactly where you are supposed to be” was what the little voice in my head kept saying.   Okay, okay, now just get me through the marathon……

Namaste

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Miracle des Sables – Part 2 — The Dunes

This is part 2 of the story, to read part 1, click here.

“Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’”
The Talmud

Our race began in the dunes of Erg Chebbi when the buses dropped us off in the middle of nowhere Monday morning. 33K to go and I for one was ready to rumble. A week of being cooped up in the hotel, watching the rains pummel the desert and wondering if the race was going to be canceled or not was just building up more and more anxiety that needed to be released. I was very nervous about having to do 20 1/2 miles ahead of me for the first stage but figured if I wasn’t ready by now I would never be.

Tent mates from tent 103 and neighbors

Tent mates from tent 103 and neighbors

After a short warm-up on the flats we headed right into the big dune called Erg Chebbi. For 8 miles we would be traversing up and down through the sands. My recollection of it was not so scary or difficult as much as it required technique. I tried to recall everything I learned at camp about dunes. I tried to get right into someone else’s foot steps when climbing. I looked for options of going around the tops instead of up and down when possible. Going down the big soft sides I went heel first and kind of jogged down with the sand sliding out from under me. It felt like I was walking down an escalator — I was moving but so was the earth beneath my feet. Uphills were hard and downhills were fun. I stayed with my group of friends as much as I could but they were really fast on the downhills and I would sometimes have to scramble to catch back up to them. Colleen took this picture of me coming down the one of the dunes.
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Eventually I lost most of the group I was with but had plenty of company. When we finished the dunes we had a long trek across a very flat but rocky surface. This same surface I would come to recognize as shale rocks and see quite a bit throughout the race. Ironically most of the runners hated this surface but for some reason I made my best time on this surface — probably because it was flat as a pancake. I actually caught back up to some of the people who had left me in the dunes. Alas, it was only to be dropped by them once again when we hit more dunes. For five days I would be playing tag and catch up with most of the same people. I’d pass them, they’d pass me. Unfortunately they were mostly French so I didn’t have much to say to them other than “Bonne Courage!!”

My favorite recollection of day 1 was when I came to a little drop off. It was only about a 4 foot drop but it stopped me. Hmmm, how should I get down this? If I just jump it will probably hurt with the 22 pound backpack on my back. I hadn’t had any knee problems so far and wasn’t looking to press my luck. I thought might just be easiest to sit down and slide down that way but before I could two runners jumped off on either side of me. I watched them fly through the air but when they landed they both turned around and extended their hands to me to help me down!! Two French guys. They were so nice it was something out of the three musketeers. Very gallant. I thanked them profusely in all languages I could come up with. It was just so nice and just one of many examples of how everyone was so helpful and supportive.

It took me 6 hours and 50 minutes to finish the ~20 miles. I was absolutely thrilled with my time. I know that sounds like a really slow time but considering we started in the dunes and ended in more dunes, I was simply thrilled to beat the cutoff of 10 hours. It was a huge relief to me. I had no idea if I was going to be battling the clock everyday so to finish with over 3 hours to spare felt like someone had lifted 10 pounds out of my pack. There were plenty of people coming in behind me and I saw the last guy come in around 7:30 (just before the 10 hour cutoff) that night while we were all tucked away in our sleeping bags and drifting off to sleep. I thanked all the angels who had guided me that day and had kept me safe.

We were early into the second day when I came across Colleen and George from our US group. They were helping some guy who had become disoriented and couldn’t keep going. Apparently he hadn’t been able to keep any food down and now it had gotten the better of him. He wasn’t able move and he was ready to call it quits. Realizing I was losing some time and not actually contributing anything I offered up one of my gels (dumb) and kept moving. About five minutes later I heard the haunting sound of a flare going off and saw the red flash rocket into the sky. It was a very scary feeling. Warning of how precarious it was for any one of us to be out there.

I was so surprised to find so many faces of the desert — some of it looked like it came right out of an old Western movie and some of it looked like what I imagine the Serengeti looks like more plant life and we saw wild camels and herds of goats. By far the most dramatic and beautiful were the dunes. There is no way for me to describe how beautiful they were. At one point I had to stop to try to drink it all in. I will probably never see dunes like that again up so close — cradled in them in fact. I literally felt my heart hurt it was so majestic. I felt humbled in my mere humanness. I knew I was experiencing something that would stay with me for the rest of my life. I remember thinking “I get it, I get why people want to come here and see this.” Then I had to climb another dune and it was back to the matter at hand.

I like this picture Colleen took of me after a veeerrryyy looonnng gradual climb.  That’s me on the top.  I remember feeling like I was on top of the world.

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This is a picture from the Darbaroud website. That is me in the bottom right hand corner.
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I finished the second day in 7 hours and 40 minutes. 35 Kilometers or 21.7 miles. Again I felt more than fine with that. I worked hard. I’ll admit that the doctors reluctant to sign my papers the week were kind of haunting me so I kept myself at just at about a level 7 of exertion. I was still experimenting with my boundaries.

When I got back to camp I was so happy I had made it through the day I couldn’t stop smiling. Then one of the gals I had roomed with in the hotel came up and told me she was dropping out. She wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t go on. I tried to talk her out of it. “See how you feel tomorrow, don’t decided now, you’ll regret it.” That was the last I saw of her. The next day she dropped out mid-way through the day. I was seeing more and more people beginning to crumble and it was making me nervous.

That night at camp we got another visit from one of the volunteers Olivier. “Tomorrow they have changed zee course. You will now cover 91 Kilometers wheech vill be zee longest stage in the heestory of ze MDS.” He acted like this was some kind of honor or something. Really we were just fine with the shorter version. Then he told us we had a time limit of 35 hours to complete the 55.8 miles. We let out a collective groan. I guess it didn’t really matter though — we were ready to do 50 anyway, what would be another 5.8? And it was the long stage so they wouldn’t make it that hard of terrain, would they? Ha!!! So naive, so naive…

To be continued….

Namaste

Olivier liked our tent a lot and sent a reporter over to talk to us.
Clcik here is the link to our “interview”:

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Miracle des Sables – Part I Camp

It’s Tuesday morning April, 7th and I’m back in my apartment in NYC. Have been thinking a lot about my two weeks in Morocco and have much to say, much to express.

For me this was more a spiritual journey than a race. Of course I got caught up in race moments, but overall I would sum up my experience as one that was truly blessed. I honestly don’t know how I did that race. I know my friends will pooh-pooh that comment and say things like “you trained for this” and that I always put down my abilities. But I can really say that this race is not for the weak. It is not for the average Sunday runner. This is a tough race. It’s not just about running. It’s about surviving. Everything about the race conspires against you. The terrain, the weather, the distance, the sleeping conditions, the food, the dysentery. Everything about it is designed to chip away at both your mental and physical strength. The one comment that I heard from every single competitor was “there is no way to explain this to anyone who hasn’t done the race.”

This is my personal account and nothing to be generalized for anyone else. Everyone was out there with their own baggage and fighting their own fight. In the end I found there was a big difference between my journies at Ironman experience at Marathon des Sables. Ironman exposed all my weaknesses. During the bike and the first five miles of the marathon I found myself face to face with every fear and insecurity that I possessed. During MDS I found a reservoir of strength I had never tapped into before. I didn’t confront doubt. I had no doubt from the first step until the last. Maybe some of that confidence came from going through Ironman but while out there in the desert I never questioned my ability to do it. I questioned my desire to do it, but not my ability. I discovered I was a lot stronger than I had ever thought.

I had a huge list of things I was scared of going into this race my first time sleeping outdoors, not having enough food, not having enough water, going to the bathroom outdoors, the heat, not being fast enough to make the cutoffs, being to fat, being too old, being too weak, being hormonal. Ironically NONE of those fears came true. Just a lot of wasted emotional energy. In fact, I was more than fine in many of those areas of concern. So fine that for most of the race I felt like I was gliding through a bubble. I watched everyone suffering around me. Vomitting and diahrea were rampant. Blisters were disgusting and crippling. People tossing their walking sticks only to have them gratefully grabbed up by the person behind them.  Legs bandaged and limping.  People wanted to quit after the first day. But somehow I remained in my little bubble. I didn’t get sick, I had one or two minor blisters and my attitude was very cheery all week. I would like to say that it was just good training and good luck but I know that it was more than that. I was accompanied throughout the entire journey. Call them angels, good spirits, desert winds, whatever you want, but from the moment stepped foot in the desert I felt I was not alone and I was being taken care of.

I call my story Miracle des Sables because the moments I remember the most were all the little miracles that happened from the moment I stepped off the bus (or maybe even earlier.) I know I had a lot of people doing some serious praying for me (an entire church in NYC in fact) as well as my friends and family and people devoting their meditations and prayers to me on a daily basis.  I got emails from my friends and coaches at night so I know there was a lot of energy being sent toward the Sahara.  I know it sounds crazy, but I truly felt it. I didn’t feel like it was just me struggling out there, even the moments when I was physically alone I always felt another presence.  In addition to that companionship, I somehow kept catching up to my friends and had long stretches with human company that made everything a lot nicer.

First little miracle was my tent. In previous years the American tents were farther away from the finish/start line. I had been hoping that I wouldn’t have to wander off too far to lug my water back and forth (or to get lost). When I saw where my tent was 4th in from the water, I was so happy. Nice and close — easy to find — easy to lug water.

When I saw my tent mates I was really happy.  They were the absolute best. Five of us had been in camp together out in Arizona and the other three were so funny and great.  One person I really wanted to be in my tent ended up being right next to me and I have really come to think of her a mentor in untra-running. At training camp she gave me some great pep-talks. Now at night in the desert she would go over the next day with me reminding me of little things, to pace myself, lots of water, believe, be confident. It’s kind of hard to wake up with a bad attitude when you fall asleep with someone saying that kind of stuff to you.

Our tent was not really what I think of as a tent. Well it was certainly not like the one in an LL Bean catalog. Bascially it was more like a rectangular tee-pee. They criss-crossed some big sticks and hung a huge burlap sheet over them. To be honest I’m not exactly sure what it was supposed to be protecting me from. It was burlap with a wide weave. If it rained, it would go right through. It was attached to the ground on two sides and the other two were wide open so wind blew threw without a problem. The only thing I could see it useful for would be for protecting you from the sun but since we would be running out in the sun, not sure why we even bothered with them.
The first night the tent fell down on our side while we slept.  I kept waking up with some black cloud over my face and realized it was the tent getting closer and closer.  I turned around so my feet would be at the end.  In the morning our entire tent fell to the ground.  Ours was the only one but it didn’t matter, it would be packed up and relocated anyway….

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Within the tents they would put down some big berber rugs on the ground. On top of that we would put our sleeping mat and sleeping bag. It really was not that uncomfortable as long as you got the big rocks outs. We had a couple of fast people in our tent and every night they would kick out the big rocks before I got back. And at the same time my friend would put out one of her bottles of water to warm up in the sun for me so when I got back I could make my dinner with already warmed water. I was very taken care of….

I had a great spot on the edge of the tent so when I looked out at night I could just stare at the stars. I didn’t worry about snakes or anything because there were two circles of tents and ours was on the inside circle — the guys in the tent across from us would offer a first line of defense against any creepy crawlers coming in from the desert for a look (I know that is not really true but it made me feel better to tell myself that.)

We had to carry our water cards with us at all times. Every morning they gave us a liter of water to start our day and at night they gave us three liters of water. At each check point throughout the day there would be one or two given depending upon terrain, heat or distance. Every time they gave us water they punched our cards to keep track. They wrote our race numbers on the caps and sides of all the bottles so if you dropped a bottle in the desert you would get a penalty. It also helped when there were 24 bottles of water around the tent to have the numbers on them. All of my fears of not having enough water were soon gone. Plenty of water. Even enough to rinse out my clothes at night. I didn’t waste any water but I was never in danger of going without. (Granted it was also not 120 degrees but I think they would have given us more during the checkpoints if it was.)

My biggest surprise at camp was my food. Everyone kept saying that I wouldn’t want to eat. I told them they didn’t know me. As it turned out they were right. When I would get back to the tent at night the last thing in the world I want to do was eat. I would choke down my recoverite and make my tent mate my witness that I was drinking it ’cause Lisa said I had to. By the third day I couldn’t really get that down too well but I compromised. Either I ate my dinner immediately or drank the recoverite. I seemed to be able to get one or the other but never both. Of course I ALWAYS ate my potato chips… If I was to ever go back (which I won’t) I would maybe bring some protein powder milk shakes and try those for dinner.

In the morning I would have my Bear Naked Peak Protein Granola with soy creamer and that seemed to work well. A lot of calories in a small portion so it didn’t seem that hard to get down. Most of the people I saw eating granola in the a.m. seemed to have no problem. I also had pop-tarts which supposedly were a great treat for most people. I couldn’t really eat them. I could choke down one but found I was tossing the second one by the first check point and by day three I was giving them away.

What did work very well for me was my Infinit powder. I just sipped on a bottle of that all day long and supplemented with an occasional gel or other calories. Cliff shot blocks worked well. All the dry stuff like almonds or jerky I found hard to get down as soon as the sun came up. But it was okay because I would just eat one little piece at at time and by the end of the day I had nibbled my way through the bag. If I was to ever go back (which I won’t) I would focus more on my day calories and maybe more candy-like things. I brought too much salty and not enough sweet. But by the end I was throwing out food with everyone else and there were people who had no food left gladly grabbing it up….

The bathroom situation was of course a big concern to me. But within a 12 hours of landing in camp I pretty much got the drill. We gals would all wait until dark or pre-dawn and go out into the dunes. On the course everyone got pretty comfortable with just dropping behind a bush as needed. Of course I was lucky to be one of the few people who did not get a stomach bug. Those people were running out to the toilets all the time. (Toilet is a bit of a stretch, they dig a hole in the ground and put a plastic plate with two feet markers around it to show you were to position yourself. You are protected by the equivalent of four thick shower curtains on each side. If you stand up your head would stick out.)

I think my OCD helped me a little in keeping everything clean. I made sure to sanitize my hands often throughout the day. Not just after going to the bathroom. If anyone touched anything of mine, I sprayed my hands and the item they touched. I think the best thing I did was every morning before I filled my water bottles I sanitized the mouth piece and rinsed it with fresh water. Once I filled the bottles I made sure the backpack was on my back so there was no way the water bottle would accidentally touch the ground or something or some person.

Very quickly everyone got into their routines at camp. Everyone was nice, our tent laughed a lot and that was what I had hoped for.

At night they would come to our tent and speak in very broken English.  We had Frances in our tent who was French so he translated for us all the time.  “Tomorrow you wheel be doing zee duhns.  33 Kilometers and zee cutoff time eez teen hohures…  teen houhurs….  There will be two check points.”

Let the games begin.

Namaste

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