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The Marathon des Sables 250km run: St Mary’s physiotherapist has completed his 2017 challenge!

St Mary’s physiotherapist Rory finished in an amazing 37th out of 1183 in a 250km in the desert over Easter.

Setting yourself a challenge means different things to different people. For St Marys’ physiotherapist Rory Brown it meant running 250km in the desert over Easter. The Marathon des Sables (MdS) is an annual event attracting over a 1000 like-minded individuals from around the world to Morocco, where they take on the heat and sand dunes of the Sahara.

After months of training, Rory took to the start line on the 9th April. Not only did he complete the race, he finished in an amazing 37th out of 1183! Here is what our athlete had to say:

“What an experience. There were lows, highs and everything in between, but I am proud to say I made it to the end. After a long journey we finally arrived at the Sahara. We were given a day and a half to prepare, go through technical and medical checks and to get used to sleeping rough. We were also plied with water and food... then it all began for real.

On the first stage I struggled immensely, I could feel myself overheating and felt awful for most of the day. We covered around 20 miles and had an introduction to the different conditions we would have to face across the coming week. We had to adapt to run across terrains of soft sand and rolling dunes, hard and uneven rocky ground, dried out riverbeds and small foothills. By the end of the day I was ready to come home, however being in a tent with a great group helped. The rest of the day was spent refuelling, trying to get comfy and chatting. My thoughts focussed on the understanding that somedays it hurts, but I had done the training and had a general plan for each day, so it was a case of just getting on with it and taking each stage as it came.

Luckily things started to improve. I think my body was getting back to normal after the journey and the sitting around doing very little, and adapting to the heat. Day 2 was longer and also included going over one of the Jebels, which involved a steep climb with a mixture of scrambling over large rocks, some loose stony areas and then down deep soft sand on the other side. It was fun but it certainly takes it out of your legs. Overall I kept a better pace and felt much more in control. As we all got more into the race talk inevitably turned to the infamous ‘long’ day, which this year was just over 86km. Scared is an appropriate word and was felt by most of us, although this was also one of the reasons we were there. The start of the long stage is staggered to ensure everyone finishes in the dark and experiences running at night. In the desert there is no light pollution so when you turn off your head torch and look up you see a night sky like never before. There were more stars than you could count and we saw a stunning red moon rise as it turned dark. This made me appreciate how lucky I was to be there.

Planning was the key to the long day: I had decided when I would properly refuel and timed this to correlate with the sand dune sections were I would likely be walking. This allowed me to take on good amounts of carbs and give myself time to absorb them before running again. In the end I pretty much managed to only walk the two pre-planned bits when refuelling. The rest was somewhere between running and what we termed the ‘Sahara shuffle’. Camp was a welcome sight when I finally spotted it lit up in the skyline, however, being the desert, this meant there was still 3 or 4 miles to go. Running through what looked like a runway of glow sticks lighting our path over rock and sand, we all slowly made our way home. When I finished late evening, camp was still relatively quiet and there was a steady trickle of arrivals throughout the night and well into the next day. The long day was followed by a rest day for those who got in in time, allowing recovery and refuelling before what was a relatively short marathon on the last race stage. Finally we started to move back towards civilization, running through a couple of small settlements and an old mine.

The heat was brutal at times, regularly hitting low 40’s and reportedly hitting the mid 50’s in one of the dune sections on the long day. What made a difference was the breeze, from anywhere- even just running down a slope. This allowed my body to cool a little and keep going. Throughout the race and within each run the terrain was mixed which I found helped with the distances as when your speed varies frequently and there are steep sections you are forced to walk, ensuring the intensity of effort was at a more sustainable level.

Crossing the line on the last day was an amazing feeling, knowing you had survived and made it through such a challenge. Race director Patrick Bauer was on hand to give everyone their medals and celebratory photos were taken. Although this marked the end of the official timed race, there was one more stage the following day. This is the Charity day and was in aid of a sport based school and community education centre that the Marathon des Sables has supported for many years, having a direct impact on the local communities and giving otherwise non-existent opportunities to children and adults alike. This was a great way to finish an unforgettable race, before I slowly made my way back to reality and took some well-earned days off.

Lastly, the people. From over 52 nationalities, everybody was amazing. People were friendly and from the first to the last mile would offer help and support to others. Those in your tent were even more important and have become friends for life after having experienced the desert together. Personally I am proud to have completed the race and gave all my best efforts. I have learned a huge amount in many ways and now rather than thoughts of returning to the desert I am finding myself looking at other challenges and different environments in order to keep my running passion fired up and experience more amazing places.”

We are all immensely proud of Rory’s achievements, and excited, though maybe a tad nervous, to hear where he’s planning to run off to next!

Rory is a physiotherapist here at St Mary’s. If you want to book into our clinic with the physiotherapy and rehabilitation services, you can find the details here:

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