Darkness to light – Marathon des Sables

Water splashed over the large brimmed hat, Gilles poured and poured on Didier’s head to help reduce his temperature. Droplets floated in the air like stars in space and as they made contact they exploded with dramatic effect.

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Dried salt on cheeks and lips disappeared but moments later re-appeared as the searing 50+ degree temperatures evaporated the water that continued to pour.

It was very early on in the longest stage of the 28th edition of the Marathon des Sables. It was midday. Gilles and Didier had only dented the distance needed to be covered before the 34-hour cut off would be imposed.

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Moving onward, Didier embraced Gilles arm for stability. A very sore and enflamed right knee could give way at any moment. Gilles as ever, faithful to the cause provided the support and self-sacrifice to ensure that Didier’s journey to the line was safe and as trouble free as possible.

Twelve hours after the start, darkness approached and with it some food and rest. With a new lease of life the two continued into 13 km of relentless dunes that reached two to three meters in height. In the distance a green laser shows Gilles the direction he needs to go. Didier follows, two become one and as the sun rises and the heat returns, victory and the opportunity to fight another day seems possible.

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From the finish line I see two shadows on the horizon. It is 1600 in the afternoon. The warriors have been on the trail for 32-hours. Tired, weary and emotional they approach the line. I see Didier’s tattoo glisten in the scorching light. An MDS logo on his arm with nine stars around it, a star for every MDS finish. Next to the 9th, a space, would he obtain that 10th star at the 2013 edition of the race?

In the final meters to the line you can hear the shouts from MDS staff,  “Bravo Gilles”, a marshal shouts “Allez Didier” and then the clapping and whoop whooping starts. It’s done, they cross the line an incredible 75.7 km’s completed over some of the most demanding conditions possible.

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Didier falls into the arms of Gilles in an embrace similar to a small child who has just found a lost mother. Tears stream down his face as he sobs uncontrollably. Gilles, all smiles, pulls away and kisses him on each cheek with a passion seldom seen. It’s a moment I will never forget. It epitomized all that the Marathon des Sables represents. It shows a bond between two people and confirms all that is good and pure in human nature.

You see, this is no ordinary achievement, Gilles is a guide and Didier is blind.

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Emotions of 2012

What a year! what a year indeed… it is the last day of 2012 and like so many others I wanted to sit down, reflect on what has happened and put a post together documenting some of the special moments of 2012. But as I looked back, so many sprung to mind… many moments I witnessed through social media such as Facebook and Twitter and others I witnessed first hand. So I have decided to select key moments that I witnessed personally, however, before I do that I do want to give a ‘nod’ to some key moments that I didn’t witness first hand…

Australian Pat Farmer finally made it to the South Pole after starting at the North Pole (view here). Pat is a multiple world record holder for endurance running. He has run around Australia and across North America twice.

Salomon launched the Sense. A shoe that created a stir and a buzz that could only be compared to the same sort of buzz around an iPhone, iPad or equally another key moment of 2012, the Suunto Ambit.

Ryan Sandes arguably one of the best ultra performers in 2012 started of his year in style with a win at the Vibram 100km in Hong Kong.

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Micah True passed way from heart related issues while out running in Mexico. The ultra community bonded together as initially he was lost for days causing Scott Jurek and Chris McDougall (Micah was made famous in the book ‘Born to Run‘) to travel to Mexico and aid the search for him.

Jez Bragg won the Fellsman race for the 3rd time in preparation for his attempt on winning the UTMB. Unfortunately Jez was plagued throughout 2012 with stomach issues. We are pleased to say that he now seems to have rectified these issues and is currently blazing a trail on ‘The Long Pathway‘ in New Zealand.

Kilian Jornet announced his new project ‘Summits of my Life‘. A long term project that will take four years, during which he will travel to the greatest mountain ranges in the world attempting to climb some of the most breathtaking peaks and come back down again as fast as he can. Unfortunately on the first project, the crossing of Mont Blanc, the project was struck with disaster as Kilian’s ski guide and partner for the project, Stéphane Brosse fell to his death. Kilian devestated by the incident spent time with Stéphane’s family and withdrew from Western States.

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The big dance, Western States did not disappoint with two incredible performances and two course records. Timothy Olson beat Geoff Roes record with an incredible performance made all the sweeter when you hear his incredible life story… (listen to our interview on Talk Ultra) Ellie Greenwood confirmed herself as possibly the greatest female ultra runner of the moment breaking Ann Trason‘s long standing (considered by many unbeatable) course record.

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Dakota Jones after a storming win at Transvulcania La Palma went to Hardrock 100 as the one to beat… as it happened, Hal Koerner took the win with Joe Grant in second place.

Speedgoat 50K raised the question about trail, course markings and when and when you should not deviate from a course… ultimately our one and only Speedgoat made a decision that relegated Kilian Jornet from the top of the podium and replaced him with his team mate Rickey Gates. It all got a little crazy and of course RD’s will now make sure they specify the ‘rules’ when putting a race briefing together.

UTMB – It rained, it snowed, the cloud came in, the course got shortened and Lizzy Hawker won her fifth UTMB albeit NOT the UTMB as it was not a full course, so, Lizzy will be back! Francois d’Haene however was very pleased with his win over the shortened course.

Just a week after the UTMB, Francesca Canepa from the Vibram Team turned up at the super tough and long Tor des Geants and won it… amazing considering just 7 days before she was second behind Lizzy Hawker.

Lance Armstrong… need I say more!

Mike Morton had an incredible 2012 with a stunning performance at Badwater 135 just missing the CR by 75 seconds. In addition to this, Mike ran and won may 100’s all around the 13 hour mark. However his performance of the year came in Poland at the 24 hour Championships. Running 277.54 kms he dislodged Scott Jurek as the Amercan holder and set a new benchmark.

Kilian Jornet went back to his ‘Summits‘ project and set a second record on Mont Blanc. This time crossing from Italy (Courmayer) to France (Chamonix) in 8hrs 40min. Article here

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Fresh from a record attempt over Mont Blanc, Kilian Jornet went to Mt Kinabalu Climbathon in Borneo as part of the Skyrunning calendar, won and became World Champion…. again! Of course this race had some controversy as it didn’t go to the summit. Another outstanding performance was that of Emelie Forsberg, she won the ladies race and in doing so confirmed herself as one of the most talented and dominant females of 2012. Kilian now warmed up went over to Reunion Island and took on the tough ‘Raid de la Reunion‘. He made it look easy and he even had time to do interviews at the feed stations during the race… without doubt, Kilian is one of the most talented and gifted athletes in the world.

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Max King and Ellie Greenwood blazed a trail and set records (once again) at JFK 50… oh, did I mention Max’s run at UROC and did I mention Karl Meltzer and Lizzy Hawker winning at Run Rabbit Run… of course, what about Miguel Heras and Emelie Forsberg at San Francisco 50Darn it…. so many great moments…. what about Lizzy Hawker at Spartathlon, second overall and a new female record.

So finally Skyrunning announce the new calendar for 2013 and the big news is a simpler format, the inclusion of a 100 mile race and a season final in America at the Ultra Race of Champions. Without doubt (I am biased) Skyrunning was a game changer in 2012 and the new calendar has already created great excitement for the coming year…

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Believe me, the above list is by no means comprehensive and I am sure I will look back and think… ooh, what about this and what about that… I could go on.

But now here is my pick of personal moments from a great year. Rest assured, I am picking one month; one moment!

JANUARY

Talk Ultra was launched and thank goodness the format of an ultra running podcast that was more than just interviews was accepted. Taking the risk to do a ‘long show’ seemed to pay off and the loyal followers and support has been fantastic. I can’t thank you all enough for the growth of the podcast and 2013 will see it grow!

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FEBRUARY

For the 7th year running I went out to Club La Santa on Lanzarote and had another incredible week training in the sun with friends and clients. It has become a fixture in my year and never fails to disappoint. 2013 will see us arrive on the Canary Island once again for more fun in the sun.

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MARCH

A race fixture on my calendar for several years, the EcoTrail de Paris came around once again and I went out to Paris with Niandi for another great weekend of running and spending time in our favourite city. As it turned out we both had terrible races and DNF’d at the same time… you can always learn something!

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APRIL

I was fortunate enough to be invited over to Turkey to take part in and report on the inaugural Iznik Ultra. I had only been to Turkey once before, many many years before and that was to the South. So I  was very excited to spend time in Istanbul with Niandi and then head down to Iznik. The race was superb offering a selection of race distances over a varied course. Both Niandi and myself took part in the 60k event. I was pleased to come away with a win and Niandi made the podium in 2nd place in the ladies race.

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MAY

May signified a change in my year and very much set a format for what was to come… I was invited to the Transvulcania La Palma on the island of La Palma. Skyrunning had assembled one of the most competitive fields in ultra you will ever see or witness. It turned out to be a who’s who of ultra running. The whole experience is a memory I will never forget… training on the trails pre and post race with the best in the world, witnessing the race were Dakota Jones ran an incredible course record for the win and were Frosty (Anna Frost) set and smashed the old course record in what was to be one of the best performances of the year. This was followed with the conference ‘Less Cloud, More Sky‘ providing the ultra community an opportunity to help establish a direction for the sport in the future. We all then packed up and moved to mainland Spain for ‘Zegama‘ but that’s another story…

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JUNE

Zegama arrived and the heat and sun of La Palma was replaced with rain and mud. Lots of mud. Kilian Jornet just 7 days earlier had collapsed on the finish line at Transvulcania La Palma with exhaustion. At Zegama he showed his recovery powers and showed everyone in the race how to run in the cold, wet and mud. Oihana Kortazar took out the win for the ladies ahead of Nuria Picas who was slowly becoming ‘runner of the year’.

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JULY

The Pyrenees and an invitation from ARC’TERYX to go and test out the new clothing range called ‘Endorphin‘ on the Skyrunning Ribargoza VK course. Great friends, great memories and some stunning scenery.

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AUGUST

Wow – Trofeo Kima and one of the most impressive run courses I have ever seen. I was told by Lauri Van Houten before the event that this course would blow my mind. Little did I expect what lay ahead… 6 hours being flown around via helicopter on the most stunning and awe inspiring run terrain I have ever witnessed. Kilian Jornet won the mens race and Nuria Picas won the ladies race. A stunning stunning race that signifies everything that Skyrunning is. Want to enter…? Don’t hold your breath. This race happens only every other year and typically only has about 125 places available.

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SEPTEMBER

Berga in September, the weather breaks and Cavalls del Vent turns into a race of survival. Despite runners struggling with hypothermia the race produced a classic. The mens race was competitive seeing Kilian Jornet once again taking the win but this time ahead of Tony Krupicka finally finding some form after over 18 months out of the sport due to injury. Finishing off the podium was Dakota Jones. The ladies race produced the race of the year for me… so often in the longer distance races we see an outright winner crossing the line with 10’s of minutes to spare… not here! Nuria Picas, Frosty and Emelie Forsberg pushed each other right to the line with Nuria taking the win on home ground.

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OCTOBER

Southern France in the town of Millau. The temperatures dropped and I slowly froze myself following the La Course des Templiers, the final in the Skyrunning calendar. I will remember this race for the incredible win by Nuria Picas ahead of a sprinting Emelie Forsberg who put Lizzy Hawker into third place. In addition to this, Kilian Jornet and Nuria Picas were crowned World Champions. Incredible performers in an incredible series of races.

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NOVEMBER

The quiet town of Begeggi on the Italian coast and the Berg Trail. I had an invite from Salomon Carnifast to follow and photograph the race to help promote the first edition of the race. The race was being attended by mountain running legend, Marco de Gasperi. In the weeks before the race I contacted Stevie Kremer who had moved from America to Italy earlier in the year. We had met at Sierre-Zinal where Marco de Gasperi won the race and Stevie placed second. Marco unfortunately went of course in the Berg Trail and therefore spoiled any chances of a win. Stevie however showed her class winning the ladies race convincingly and placed top 10 in the overall. A name to watch for the future…

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DECEMBER

After a stunning year of following races, reporting and photographing I finally took some time out and headed back to the island of La Palma with my partner Niandi to play on the Transvulcania La Palma course. Two weeks of perfect weather and stunning trails provided the perfect end to a stunning year. It was great to spend that time on the trails in our own space and in our own time. Running when we could, hiking when we couldn’t run and walking when no other option was left… the latter half of the year was plagued by knee issues for me and although they havent gone, my time on the Transvulcania course with Niandi was a real highlight in an incredible year!

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the support I have received in 2012. From race organisers, athletes, team managers, brand managers and all those connected to the sport I love. In particular I would like to thank Niandi for her patience. I also need to give a special mention to Lauri Van Houten and Marino Giacometti from Skyrunning for the trust they placed in me for 2012 and the continued trust for 2013.

It has been an awesome year and 2013 is already looking like another year of moments, emotions and memories.

Sincere thanks to all of you