Friday, 22 December 2017

The Final Push....

Tent 4 checking out the rankings
before the final stage
Waking up on the last day my first thought was "I'm glad that I didn't quit yesterday"....that may sound like an odd thought for me to have had, but I've never been a fan of running in the dark. The dark does scare me somewhat, and I tend to be rather clumsy, fall over and injure myself in the daylight never mind at night-time. At one point I actually had to give myself a stern talking to, just to make me carry on to the finish, as this little voice in my head was saying "This is meant to be's not fun, so why not just stop?" Hence the reason I nearly kissed the man who told me I only had 1 more kilometre to go...

My poor little neglected toes!

By the last morning, we were all but finished...surely it was just a formality to get to the line?...or so I thought!!! It was a slightly shorter stage and we were starting a bit later so that those who'd finished in the middle of the night got to have more of a rest. I hadn't been able to locate the podiatry girls the night before, as I knew I was developing some infection in the blisters round my toenails from the shoes/sand combo...but they were still not to be found. Oh well, at least it was the final stage.

Over the scrubland to the "road"
That lovely "road"
Everyone started together again for this final effort....across a few small dunes and bits of scrubland, back onto the "desert road" we'd spent most of the long stage on. The speedsters disappeared off as quickly as ever, but I caught up with Aziza relatively soon and we ran together for a while chatting a bit (in my broken French) and waving at Morag as her vehicle drove past us. I really noticed the later start and the fact that there seemed to be no breeze at I found myself feeling the heat a lot more, and the first checkpoint (officially near the 10K mark) took forever to reach. By this point, I was running alone again as Aziza had dropped back, so although it wasn't nearly as enjoyable as the early morning running of the previous days, I just kept pushing on.

With Aziza on the desert "road"
Looking ahead....more dunes...
I had been warned about the "sting in the tail" of the final day, but it was still a bit gutting to see the sea and then realise that we were turning away from it and heading down parallel to the coast, over some incredibly high dunes. My heart sank as I saw the height of some of them and they seemed neverending. I was feeling more and more unwell with the heat, the sun, the sand and the lack of wind. I struggled up another dune using my hands as well as my feet....practically crawling (though that's probably disrespectful to the term crawling) and jamming each hand (and arm) in as far as possible to try to gain some purchase - in fact I would reach so far "into" the dune that the sand would feel cool and damp. It was rather entertaining to see the 4WD vehicles try to rev their way up the dunes only to end up sliding backwards down them again.

And yet more...with no CP2 insight as it was
somewhere over the top....of a few more dunes!
I thought that at least I would be able to run along the crest and down the side of the dunes, but I was becoming really nauseated. Aziza caught me as I despaired of ever making the second checkpoint and then Flash tried to encourage me when he came past. By that point, I was just trying to keep moving forwards as best I could with the minimum of effort, as I felt that if I raised my heartrate at all then I would be sick. After an eternity I reached CP2....and sat down on a camp chair there, and poured several bottles of water over my head. I was very tempted to just pull out there and then as I felt so awful.

The cool water brought a bit of clarity to my thinking. They told me that to was 3k to the finish (5K in reality) and I knew that I'd started the day with a 48minute (or so) advantage over Aziza. Even if I had to walk (or crawl) 3K, I'd hope to do it within 48 minutes so I shouldn't lose my second place in the rankings, so off I went. I actually managed to run most of that final section, though I wouldn't suggest any imitate my running style!!! I sensibly let myself relax and walk up the final few dunes, and realised that as I descended to the coast road, I could still see Flash and Aziza ahead of me (he having overtaken her in that last section). Having crossed the road, there was a steep descent in which I worried I would lose control of my quads as they were distinctly wobbly, but a final wee rise later and the finish gantry came into sight.

"Please can I just sit down in the shade?"
I put in a final effort to actually run across the line but was too happy to have actually made it to notice that someone was filming it. As it turns out it looked rather funny - everyone else bent down to be awarded their medal and then straightened up again.....everyone except me, as I just stayed bent over. They wanted to take finish photos, but all I wanted was to sit down on a chair in the shade and find some way of cooling down. Nobody seemed to be hearing what I was saying but luckily Greg came to my aid, having already finished and recovered a bit himself. As I sat on my lovely shady plastic chair pouring water over my head, he rubbed ice cubes onto the insides of my wrists. I've never heard of this technique before but it was wonderful.....and will definitely be tucked away into the armoury for future use if working on such an event!

Greg to the rescue...
The ladies' podium :-) 
This revived me enough to realise I'd managed to hold my position as I'd actually only been 1 minute slower than Aziza that day, and so then we could pose for some photos of the top 3 ladies. I waited until Rosemary finished so we could have some more tent congrats and then she, Greg and I jumped into the sea for a swim (well, it was an excuse to wash the clothes that I'd worn all week!!). I managed to return the favour of Greg looking after me, as he suddenly felt unwell. Although we'd finished relatively early in the morning, we were not going to be given our welcome meal until the last runner was in, so he almost collapsed. He was lying on the tent floor talking jibberish and becoming very agitated. We all rallied round him with fans, riased his feet and I got the local medic for a drip. He wanted to try to put the venflon in the back of his hand but I found a great vein in his antecubital fossa (crook of the elbow). He really didn't want the trip (dextrose saline) but Rosemary talked him into it, and we reassured him that he'd finished the race so wouldn't get penalised. I had been warned about the lack of food at the finish so had prepacked a large bag of skittles, which Rosemary then fed to him (though we all had a few). He recovered almost as quickly as he'd deteriorated and was soon sitting up chatting again and joining in the general moans about the lack of food.
A rather isolated finish gantry
A hard-won medal!

Eventually some food was served and people rushed over to it.....though i wasn't one of them. I was back at the finishline as I wanted to cheer each and every runner in, as they deserved the applause just as much as the first runners. Having felt so unwell with the heat and sun (and reflection of it off the sand) that day, I thought they probably deserved more credit...especially as some of them did not have the racing whippet physiques of the leaders. However, everybody made it that day and sat around the camp that afternon (or went for a dip in the sea) wearing their well-earned medals and chatting away, consolidating new friendships. Yes, I'd struggled  that day, but I wouldn't have missed out on the week for anything...I'd absolutely loved it, and if it hadn't been hard at times, there would have been less satisfaction in completing it! Massive congratulations to everyone who took part!!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The "Night Marathon"

My foil blanket idea seemed to have both positives and negatives. I think the extra layer reflected my body warmth back at me and so kept me warmer, but I could no longer rub my legs etc to warm myself up, as the foil made so much noise and I didn't want to disturb my tentmates. It did seem, however, that they were all quite taken with my idea, as by the next night, out tent was a sea of different coloured foil blankets spread over bodies.

I hope to be running and looking
 at a beautiful sunset
The morning of day 5 was very odd.....there was no need to get up in the dark.....or even get up at all, except for the fact that everyone had been in "bed" for about 12 hours and hunger started to strike. The morning was spent wandering around between tents, chatting and discussing when to eat our meals for the day.....decisions, decisions. I even got out my cross-stitch and did some of that.

We all agreed that we would rather just get up and run, than hang around for most of the day waiting to run. The route was meant to be about a "marathon distance" but by now, we knew to rely on neither the advertised distance nor the placement of water stations. Start times and start groups kept changing, but by the afternoon it had been decided that all but the top 15 could start at 2, and they would like the top 10 to start at 4. As I was lying 15th, that meant a 3pm start for me.
I was very envious as I watched most of the field start an hour before me, including Aziza. There was a bit of a breeze so it wasn't too hot and they had the advantage of more than three hours of daylight in which to run. This helped them with foot placement and route choice as, although we were meant to be travelling along a sandy desert "road", I discovered soon after starting, that it was much easier to run away from (but following the line of) the road as the sand was much firmer.

The sun started to set when I was only halfway
 between CPs 1 and 2
Greg led my group off and soon disappeared out of sight but Flash was not far behind me until about halfway between the first two checkpoints. I'd passed some of the back markers before the first checkpoints and realised just how long a day (or rather night) they were going to have. It was nice to see all of my early-starting tentmates along the route between the first and second checkpoints as there was still plenty of light for us to recognise and encourage each other.

I had hoped to have been able to get to about halfway well before the sun set, but it was already almost dark by the time I got to the second checkpoint which was officially at 20km. Morag was manning this water station and had been instructed that we were not allowed to continue further without having our headtorches on. I was rather disappointed at this as I'd hoped to be able to continue without mine for a period, letting my eyes adjust to the fading light and actually appreciating running at night in the desert with the stars above me. I'm rather afraid of running in the dark, so I didn't like the way my head torch narrowed my world to a tiny circle of light in front of me, and made everything else seem much darker. I was slightly alarmed every time I heard a noise off to the side of me, though I'm sure that it was just wind in any small vegetation that there was.

I wasn't quite sure of distances but when I caught up with my Balearic tentmates (who had now decided to run together and support each other), they assured me that it was only about 3k to the next checkpoint. There were flags and lights marking the route every so often (I will not say every 500m) so it was impossible to get lost, but as with the others, that water station wasn't actually at the advertised place and so it really did take ages until its lights came into view.

Whenever a support vehicle came along the road, I would try to enjoy the extra light of having the headlights behind me as much as possible and then try to also use the taillights to help me with my footing before my world shrank back into that little pool of headtorch light again. I couldn't help but notice that when the race leaders caught and sped past me (looking like it was no bother for them to run on that surface in the dark), they did seem to have vehicles following quite closely behind them, which must have helped with their lighting somewhat.

Finally making that finish gantry,
ready to have my number scanned
I found that section slightly tougher as the sand had softened again and sometimes it was hard to work out if you were going up or down as the darkness was so disorientating, so occasionally your foot would hit the ground before you expected it to, or else you'd shoot forwards much further than you expected. When I finally got to the flag and light marking the point where we turned off the "road", I nearly missed the man sitting there who let me know that it was just 1km further to the finish.

Cheering others in...
I think it shows that it was the terrain and the darkness that had slowed me down rather than tiredness or the temperature, as I managed to pick up my pace and passed a good 6 people in the last km. I decided to ignore other people's tracks and cut across through some bushes and small dunes when I spotted the final flags and gantry nicely lit up. If it was a marathon distance, I'd definitely recorded a PW of just over 5 hours, but I was only a couple of minutes slower than Aziza who'd had the advantage of more light, and Natalia had also had a good run to finish in a similar time to me (though an hour later due to her later fact, only the 3 leaders had made up the full hour's deficit and overtaken me).

Interviewed like a "rabbit in the headlights"
As soon as I'd crossed the line, I was asked to do a random tv interview, and then I had the big the challenge of finding the right tent in the pitch dark. Luckily I spotted Greg heating water up on a small fire (the promised hot water at the finish wasn't there.....quelle surprise) and he pointed me in the right direction. I had my "beer", a lukewarm rehydrated meal, and then welcomed my other tentmates back as they appeared. It was interesting to see how people had fared on that long stage.....some were chatty, some were starving, while others just threw themselves down on their sleeping mats and went to sleep. I confess to not staying up until the last "runners" arrived (at 2am) but luckily all my tent were home and asleep long before then.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Day 4 in the Big Brother Tent....

Early morning light
By day 4 a routine was setting in for me....I would go to bed relatively warm and wishfully hope I'd stay that way all night, then wake up when it cooled down and try to rub whichever hip/leg is uppermost, but do it quietly so the rustling didn't disturb my tentmates. Lie there awake for what seems like hours, waiting to hear the "call to prayer" being passed round some of the support tents, then celebrate that it's finally (almost time) to eat some more food and won't be long before the sun (and hence temperature) rises.

Going solo again
Breaking through the dunes
I started the (running) day with a smile as the light was beautiful, the temperature was perfect and I could pick out some more runnable areas of sand almost the whole way to the first checkpoint. Aziza seemed to have also noticed the pattern of our relative positions over the past few days, as although she started out faster than me, I caught her more quickly and she then ran along with me for a bit.
More dunes....
....and yet more sand
After CP 2 there seemed to be rather a lot of soft sand nicely arranged in energy-zapping dunes and I found myself falling back off the pace. Even though I felt that I was struggling significantly, the same must have been happening to others as I found myself closing the gap back to Aziza. When I caught her up, we exchanged a few words of French and she suggested we run together. I thought this was a great idea as up until then, every day had been a rather lonely run and I hoped to be able to learn a bit more "sand-running" technique from her, but suddenly I noticed that she was falling back on all the climbs and not getting back onto the pace. I tried to match her but then decided that it would be easier for me to just carry on at my own pace, as I really didn't want to be out there longer than I had to (and I was feeling the heat).
No....the gantry has disappeared again!!
Spying the I nearly there?
The last few kms seemed to go on forever, as the finish gantry was at the end of a ridge of dunes, so you could see it from a long way away, and it didn't seem to get much closer. I knew people had been penalised for avoiding dunes on previous days so I made sure I climbed all of them, even though other footprints seemed to go around some of them. Finally I made the elusive gantry, poured more water over my head, drank another nonalcoholic beer (?strawberry this time) and waited for Aziza to congratulate her as she crossed the line 3.5mins later.

Natalya, Aziza and myself at the finish
Water over my head and a cold can in my hand.....bliss!!!
As usual, Greg had been first back from our tent, though I was getting closer to the Balearic Boys, and then Flash wasn't too far behind me. The performance of the day (well for our tent anyway) came from Rosemary as she got stronger and stronger over the course of the run, gradually picking people off to finish as joint 4th lady and so we waited for her to have a finish line celebration/hug. We did decided that the secret to her success was the extra food we'd had the day before. A lady in our tent had decided that she'd brought too much food so was going to throw away 2x 1000calorie dehydrated meals. Flash, Greg, Rosemary and I had "helped her out" by eating them for her (a great afternoon spent sitting in a circle taking a spoonful of pasta and passing the bag on to the next person).
A well-earned hug for Rosemary

Me, Flash, Greg & Rosemary done
and dusted for the day!
When we found our tent that afternoon, we realised that it was set up in an ideal location. On the previous day, our open side had faced a tent full of Italians (who liked to parade around camp in just their we developed a few nicknames for them), but this time, we had a view right across to the finish gantry, so we could watch fellow runners as they made their way up the last few dunes and into the finish. I think I did more "active recovery" on that day than on any other one, as every time that I saw someone I recognised I'd get up, cheer them on and try to get over to the finish line in time to see them in. It made for a very friendly atmosphere......and led me to suggest a possible modification for the next year's event to the race organisers. I thought it would be fabulous if the finish gantry was at the end of the avenue of tents, as that way there would always be people watching runners finish and we'd be able to cheer each other one, while still getting some well earned rest and being able to eat our food. I "think" the suggestion went down well......
I do a good impression of a tramp!!!

I knew it would be a very long night, as we had the "night marathon stage" the next day, and so there would be no early start. In order to try to get a slightly comfiest night.....and slightly more sleep.....I added in an extra layer, in that I wrapped my survival blanket around me (over my bivvy bag and under my cardboard box).....

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Definitely in the desert now....

The "desert proper" i.e. cold nights!
Unfortunately it didn't seem as if my cardboard box had helped me much, but as it turns out, that night had been colder than the first as there was a thin coating of ice on some of the water bottles in the morning.

We were getting into a morning routine now of putting headtorches on, trying to make breakfast (I was glad I'd brought packets of muesli and milk powder as well as porridge as hot water was not always forthcoming) and then packing up in the dark, while stripping down to running gear as late as possible.
With company early on in the day

Another briefing (or rather an inaccurate account of the distances to the water stations), some banter (so much so that I was actually facing the wrong way and chatting to Colin, a fellow Scot, when people started running) and we were off. 

No sunglasses in the morning light
Along the ridge of a dune
I found that I really enjoyed the first hour of running each was a perfect temperature, the light was beautiful and I could run without my sunglasses, and the sand was slightly firmer going (if you avoided the tracks). I'd picked up a few pointers along the way about aiming for the ridges of the dunes (but not right on the edge where it may crumble/slide), heading for darker rather than lighter sand, and looking out for vegetation as that gave me more grip. All seemed to be going well as I caught Aziza earlier this day, and to my surprise, even passed Flash before the first checkpoint (he'd been way ahead of me on both previous days). 

On the 4WD track 
Picking out the firmer sand
There was a sandy 4WD track to the second checkpoint which made the route obvious, but it wasn't the nicest thing when you heard a vehicle come up behind you. I know they were wanting us to get out of their way (as they needed some speed to prevent them from getting bogged) but I decided that they were actually there to "support" the runners so I wasn't about to flounder around in soft sand by moving off the harder spots I was picking out. Most vehicles were happy to take their time in passing, or even veer widely out into the surrounding desert, but some definitely liked to cut back in front of you, so messing up your planned footing.

Another dune? Lovely!!
I think I was filmed by one of the race organisers at the second checkpoint.....not my finest I poured yet another bottle of water over my head and commented "Another dune? Lovely! Who needs a beach holiday?"

This was because the route from this checkpoint (into the final 7k, which was actually more like 10k, so explaining how I'd apparantly made CP2 so quickly) went straight up a large soft done, which was clearly impossible to run up. As I finally plodged (hands on knees and push) my way to the top, I came across a photographer trying to direct me over the edge of some other dunes to run and jump to create some good pictures. I kindly declined and continued towards the flag I'd spied up ahead. 
Focussed on a flag ahead

After a few kms of soft sand, we popped out onto a surfaced road. Anyone who knows me would have thought that I would have jumped for joy at this, but I think I was too tired for that. The road seemed to last for ever....mainly in a straight line, but winding up and down so that distant runners ahead came into and out of sight. 
Coming out onto the road

Due to the late notice for my participation in the event, I'd had to borrow some shoes (with gaiters attached) from my friend Jo. Although I thought the extra shoes size wouldn't matter too much as my feet would probably swell, there was a gap slightly in front of the gaiter attachment where sand could get in, and so the front of the shoes seemed to take in half of the desert. This meant that my toes would bang against sand every step which wasn't exactly pleasant.....and I even found myself seeking out softer, sandier bits of road rather than the old sealed sections.

Having crossed a rather isolated finish line!
I closed slightly on the guys in front, but not by much, as it was rather hot and soul-destroying with the sun reflecting back up off the pale road surface. As this section was rather longer than anticipated, I was down to my last few drops of water (having only filled up 1 water bottle at the last checkpoint) when I spotted a flag off to the side of the road. From there it was a short "crosscountry" route to the final dune of the day....which had the finish gantry at the top of it.

Camp was down the other side of the dune and so, as we were there ahead of most of the camp being set up, it was again nice to chill in the one communal tent that had been erected, and chat to some of the faster runners who'd been there awhile (including Greg from my tent, and the very speedy Russian lady Natalia, along with Evgenie from the Ukraine.......though we joked about Natalia's temper flashes when the wind blew sand into the tent, or the poles looked like they were about to collapse).

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Late night "stop outs"....

It was dark by 6pm and so most people got into their sleeping bags and settled down for the night. I had tried to put off eating my dinner for as long as possible as I knew that if I ate early hungry, I'd wake up starving in the middle of the night. Still, as my tentmate Flash and I sat there tending a little fire to heat some water to rehydrate the food, we felt like dirty stop-outs even though it was only 7pm.

When it came to turning in after that, I realised my schoolboy error. The last stage was due to end on the beach, but we'd still be staying there that night and wouldn't return to the hotel until the evening afterwards, so we were allowed to hand in a small bag to have at the beach after the event. Unfortunately I'd managed to put my sleeping bag into that bag, and had just taken my bivvy bag with me (I'd planned it the other way round in case there was a sea breeze on the beach) even though I wore all the clothes that I had in my pack, it wasn't exactly the comfiest night when the temperatures dropped. Let's just say it was actually a relief to hear the "call to prayer" at 4:45am and know that the day wasn't far away!

Paying attention at the briefing
And they're off...
Day 2 was scheduled to be longer than Day 1, but by the time we had the briefing at 6:30am we'd already discovered that the "routebook" was rather a work of fiction. Distances and start times were rather variable (sometimes by as much as 2 hours which rather caught people unawares as they tried to get ready before dawn broke), and the water support points weren't always exactly as advertised. More to the point, they weren't always at the distances specified in the briefing that we'd get 10 mins before we started, so I (as well as others) ran out of water on occasion over the week (even though I wasn't wearing a watch, I did try to judge the distance I was travelling and so how long my water was supposed to last before I could fill up again).

Into the sand...
The field spread out quickly
Anyway, we were soon off and the day heated up. I started relatively slowly again, but the field quickly spread out. There were footprints going in several different directions in the sand, but as the race photographers also sometimes tried to convince you to change your route so they could get better pictures, I mainly ignored the tracks and aimed for the large way marking flags (officially every 500m but in actuality, whenever they felt like placing one). 

The "pretty" dunes (pretty hard to run up)
It was my first experience of the proper soft sand dunes.....which could be quite dispiriting to traipse up and down. However, each climb was rewarded by a great view (and helped you relocate the next flag) but there didn't seem to be many runners about. As it turned out, several people bypassed the dune section and ran around them on firmer ground to the first checkpoint (they were later penalised for this with small time penalties), so it was hard to know where you are in the field. I came out of the dunes and headed across flatter ground, only to find myself re-overtaking some runners who'd run round the side of that tough section.
Spot the flag.....clue:topleft

I passed Aziza slightly earlier on than the day before (but still between the first and second checkpoints) which gave me a bit of a buzz as I thought that I'd be left way behind once we'd started the desert running "proper". The last section was firmer terrain, especially if you ran just to the side of the 4WD tracks, and you could see the finish gantry from a long way off. It was still a relief to cross the line and be handed another nonalcoholic beer (I think I got pomegranate that day to compare to the pineapple flavour of day 1). 

The day had been shortened slightly as the sand was too soft for the 4WD and vehicles to take the tents/portaloos further along that route.......which might've seemed great at the time.....right up until you realised that the extra distance would still have to be covered later on. The tents hadn't yet been erected but as it was still morning, it meant that we could stood around and chatted rather than cracking into our food supplies too early.

The lovely Rosemary and Greg
We developed 2 new tentmates......Rosemary and Greg (actually in Oman on their honeymoon), as they were the only non-Italians in their initial tent. We thought "the more the merrier" (our tent was truly international.....we already had me, 2 Brits living/working in Oman, 3 Dutch, 2 from the Balearics, 2 Finns and a Swede living in England) and also that more bodies would help us all keep warm as the Bedouin tents are just 3-sided structures.

I had taken some cross stitch with me in case there was a lot of downtime to fill, but chatting and getting to know people (as well as discussing when and what we were all going to eat) seemed to fill the afternoon and suddenly the sun was starting to set.....time for dinner and then bed (with an extra cardboard box over the top of me, once it had been emptied of the water bottles it contained).

Friday, 1 December 2017

A heat shock acclimatisation.....

The route book I hadn't received by email!
In the "Big Brother Tent"...well Tent 4!
When my Croatian friend Nikolina suggested we run the Oman Desert Marathon together, I jumped at the opportunity to rekindle my love for multiday stage races. I like the fact that you get away from all the trappings of modern life, carry your food/clothes/sleeping equipment etc with you, and spend each day just running, chatting, eating and chilling out.

The race organisation promised to sort out the flights so I duly entered but then things became rather quiet. Nikolina appeared to decide not to do it, and nothing materialised re the flights. I resigned myself that it wasn't going to happen so turned my thoughts more towards whether to run the cross country in Northern Ireland or not instead. With a week to go, flight tickets materialised and it suddenly became a massive scramble to get organised. With the help of a couple of good friends, I managed to amass all the compulsory kit, sort out the lightest versions I had of what I needed and source lots of dehydrated calories. Unfortunately there was no time to find some sand to run on, or a sauna to acclimatise in (in fact, I actually saw snow before I left Scotland).

It certainly felt warm as we set off!
An overnight flight, a long wait at the airport (for an even longer transfer) with other runners, a last minute change of accommodation and plans, registration with last year's route detailed in the race booklet (!) random kit checks, meant that I was definitely ready for a nice meal and a good sleep on the Friday night.

Relatively good running terrain
We had a very early start for breakfast and then an hour's transfer to where the opening ceremony and first stage were being held. As one directly followed the other we were already in our running kit and only had access to the bags we were going to carry for the week. The location of the first stage was determined by politics as, instead of the described "downhill linear route to help runners acclimatise" we ended up doing a circular route so we could start and finish by the camel racing track by the palace of the future Sultan (and deputy prime minister). 

Going solo
This stage lasted about 20k but gave us a taster of the week to come (well a baby version anyway) as we ran across sand, up some small dunes, along dried up sandy creek beds and desert tracks/roads, and peered ahead for marker flags. It also gave us a slight clue (had we thought about it) as to typical Omani organisation (checkpoints not being exactly at the distances they were meant to be at, variable timings, route changes from the "route book" and in fact, and actual changes of distance for the stage. 

Into the unknown....
We finished with a long run back along a sandy track past the camel racing stadium and then a kilometre or so along a road into town. I had started the stage happily chatting at the back but seemed to work my way up the field as the run progressed. You were not always sure where you were in the field exactly as there was some slight variation between flags (officially about 500m apart, but not always so, eg 2 flags in the last 4K) for example, when I discussed having to duck under wires just at neck height to one of my tentmates at night, he'd seen none of them, but I did find myself overtaking a Moroccan lady about 12k into the day. I knew that she'd won the event in the previous year and had also finished second at the Marathon des Sables so I didn't think I could be doing that badly......although clearly we were a long way behind the head of the field (which included Natalya, the Russian lady who'd previously finished won and been second at the MdS).
Along the camel tracks

As it turned out, I finished second lady on the day and so was over the moon with my performance.......though I did gather that it was "the most runnable day" so I figured it would all be "downhill" in terms of results for me.....but then again, it didn't matter as I'd gone there to enjoy myself and run without the pressure of a result or any times/pace (I'd even left my watch at home).

Happy to finish and earn my (nonalcoholic) beer :-) 
Luckily I was able to swop tents from
 Tent 9 to Tent 4 with some fellow Brits
We were given a (very welcome) non alcoholic fruit beer as well as water at the finish and started cracking into the food supplies we were carrying (I was also allowed to change my shorts as I'd worn longer ones that day out of respect to the nearby houses at the start/finish) while awaiting the bus that was going to take us into the desert proper (in fact it was a couple of hours on the bus and then 30mins by 4 wheel drive.....until we became bogged in the sand and walked the last little bit to the Bedouin tents we'd come to call home).