Day 5, ‘the Long March’. Definitely the most extreme day of my life and so many of the others whether they be competitors or support staff. My race plan was to hit the first 2 stages as hard as I reasonably could and then take it very steady as it got hotter.
By check point 3 I was very happy lying 29th. The terrain varied from vast areas of shingle and sand, dried crusty mud, wind carved sandy valleys and rock formations, periods of significant wind then none at all and the odd dust devil. Few others were running by that stage so it was just a case of letting the day unfold. As the true nature and power of the desert heat became apparent survival became the number 1 priority!
Hit check point 5, the over night stop after 50km in 22nd. Took 15-20 mins to have a cuppa soup, get the sand out of my shoes and enjoy a surprise treat, a warm pepsi! Stage 6 one of the longest went very well and I felt great. Left check point 6 in 15th thinking 13hrs may be on. Oh how things were to change over the next 2 hours. Stage 7 turned out to be the most challenging for many. Temperatures were now 43 in the shade, hitting 50 in the sun (+122 deg F). After the high spirits of stage 6 I could now feel myself fading rapidly as I stared in wonder at the incredible other worldly martian landscape in front of me. I knew it was heat exhaustion but the speed at which it hit me scared me as much as being completely alone. For the first time in the race I thought I might not make it to the next check point, this was getting serious all of a sudden. Movement 100m in front of me caught my attention and I saw 2 guys stagger out from the shade of a large rock. I knew I needed to catch them, maybe they had more water left than I did. They didn’t!
We struggled on for a while seriously short of water and after about 2 km couldn’t go any further, taking refuge in the shade again. Incredibly this rock had a another racer behind it, a Chinese guy also in a bad way. As we’d hoped after about 20 mins a roving jeep came down the course, I lept up and waved it down. That extra water saved us from what could have been a really unpleasant day. I piled in water, my emergency food, gels and salt tablets and got myself feeling good enough to press on to check point 7 with the Chinese guy. At check point 7 he just lay down and went to sleep. I wondered how bad it was around the rest of course if this was the state positions 11th to 15th were in? Recovery in the shade was swift for me but with the water and electrolyte in my bottles at 50 degrees I was having to force myself to take even a sip. A mouthful of hot water and a salt tablet was enough to make you gag! Left check point 7 on my own as no one there was fit enough to press on with me.
The Sun was going down by now and the direct heat was less fierce. Long shadows from amazing rock formations heightened the beautifully dramatic, vast and desolate surroundings. I took pictures ahead and behind, once again there was no one. After 14hrs and 15 mins I made it to the finish in 11th, now 19th over all, wow, just amazing. What a joy to see the end of that stage, but the day was far from over.
Within a few hours the wind started picking up, it was now dark and half the field were still out there. The 4Deserts finish line welcome drum would sound out every 30 or 40 mins to announce the arrival of another finisher, however a new drama was beginning to unfold!
It was 01.30, wind now whipped though our tent, canvas flapped and cracked against itself with strong gusts throwing sand up into your face. We now had a serious sand storm! A series of powerful gusts flattened our tent and many others around Camp 6. Staff rushed to pull the remaining tents down before they and the kit inside them got blown away out into the desert. I could only imagine the carnage out on the course with visibility down to meters and shelter limited.
For the rest of that night I got some fitful sleep under a small part of our collapsed tent, my feet sticking out into the sand. Most just slept as best they could protecting their heads from the worst of it, sleeping either on top of the sand or their tents. It came as no surprise that the race was suspended a few hours later. Once everyone had been rescued off of the course we evacuated to an emergency location.
Looking at the race field as a whole, it really is sobering to see what a debilitating effect the desert had on the best elite runners to the slowest of us, a brutal demonstration of natures power. At check point 5 it didn’t drop below 40 deg until 21.00. We all knew we had had the ‘full Gobi experience’ with no one feeling cheated out of their ambitions for extreme weather and adventure during this race. Perhaps a little less adventure would have been good!
After what was always going to be a 24hr stage with no sleep for the staff and many competitors people crashed out on the floor of our temporary accommodation where ever they could find a space. The weather however wasn’t done with us yet. That evening most elected to sleep outside on the ground as it was stiflingly hot inside. In the early hours it began to rain and shortly after thunder and lightening! Not enough to deter us from starting the final short stage six though.
Buses took us en mass to the start and by 08.00 the lightening had passed leaving us with light rain and temperatures around 25 deg C in stark contrast to the 50+ deg C the day before! What an incredibly environment the Gobi is! This 11km short final stage was more of a celebration of the week than a race and the atmosphere at the finish was fantastic. Local music, dancers, food and drink added to the party like atmosphere, aches and pains were briefly forgotten.
Emotions that crossed my mind in those last few meters included joy, relief, pain, pride and pleasure, mixed with a tinge of sadness that this adventure and journey, not only across the World but 250km across such an a varied and extreme country were over. A journey full of experiences and moments with so many people from across the planet, brought together by an event that left us all wanting to meet and do it again! It was also with a great deal of pride and gratitude that I knew CF Guernsey through the efforts and support of many had raised over £10,000 for medical research into Cystic Fibrosis and the CF Trust.
The focus now becomes our newly created charity CF Guernsey and our work with the Guernsey Disability Alliance to give a voice to little known and understood hidden disabilities like Cystic Fibrosis.