Behind the scenes at the Marathon Des Sables

There they stood, the heroes of this year’s Marathon Des Sables, in a queue as long as the ones to get up the Jebels on course. Faces burned and blasted by heat and sand, Tshirts hanging loosely off desert-honed bodies, some limping, some laughing but all of them desperate for a hot shower, clean clothes and a cold beer.

I had volunteered to go down to Ouarzazate from Marrakech to help Running the Sahara with checking the British runners in and out of their hotel rooms and onto their airport buses. I wanted to help as I knew what it felt like when I came off the race last year.

This is a massive operation with 450 British runners to sort out. Sarah, the main administrator and Chief of Lists  was there at Saturday breakfast along with Penny, the other volunteer. We checked and re-checked names, agreed how to get everyone in as quickly as possible and made as many plans as we could to make it easy for the runners when they arrived. Slight hitch when we found out that some of the bags that should have gone down to the Hannan hotel where still at the Berbere Palace, but we found them and sent them on down.

Then we waited. Half past four the first bus was due and a little group of very glamorous and excited Wives And Girlfriends settled themselves outside. “We’re giving out hugs!”

They had a long time to wait as it was a couple more hours before the first bus came in. That was it:

“Can I help anyone? Name? Did you find love on the route, or are you pre-booked with someone? Here’s your key, bags are out to the left, bar and swimming pool to the right. Dinner has started and is on till 11pm and CONGRATULATIONS!”

Some bags had gone to the wrong place, some runners were at the wrong hotel, we had to reconcile the list and keep the last people waiting a bit longer, and one incredibly patient and lovely man was our very last and ended up bunked in with a female runner he had never met.. maybe romance blossomed, who knows.

The runners were exhausted and some were furious when there was a hotel or bag glitch, but not one of them lost their temper with us, even when I could see they were having to really bite their tongues not to…. so thank you, folks.

Best question: (hopefully) “Do you ever sleep with the competitors?”

Best beard: Close run thing, there were a lot of fine ultrabeards on show but my favourite was the bushy Irish one with ginger and white bits. Nice man too.

Worst luck: Keith Weavers who had been going up the Jebel when someone in front of him dislodged a rock and it fell on his foot breaking two toes. He took off his shoe to get it looked at and couldn’t get it back on. Doc Trotters wouldn’t let him go on in his slippers.

Best finisher: There were at least 3 people on crutches with broken bones by the end of the race – all finishers. That takes some cojones! Or the female equivalent since one was a girl – allez les filles!

Best blisters: Many excellent entries here but it goes to Jonathan O’Hara, who looks like he got his pinky toe circumcised.

Best thank you: “I spent the end of the long stage thinking of ways to murder you for making me enter this. I decided on upside down crucifixion since it was Easter.” From Ruth Dobson

Best moment: Every time I met a friend from facebook and got to put a face/feet to the name and say well done in person…..  priceless.

If you enjoyed the blog, check out my book

“Dodging Elephants” – 8000 miles across Africa by Bike

3 comments on “Behind the scenes at the Marathon Des Sables

  1. Philippe-Henry Cadet on

    I am sure your volunteer work was appreciated. This year, it was brutal. Ha Ruth Dobson is right on (for the: Best thank you) lollllllllll. Okay I go back to sleep now.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *