Terrain: 2 Djebels, 2 dried up lakes and lots of sand
Tired bodies emerged from the bivouac, the severity of the previous day a visible sign on bodies and faces. In the early hours as runners prepare for the coming days stage, from an onlookers point of view, it is like a mix of some ‘hospital’ program (particularly feet), an episode of ‘Survival’ and then a program about homeless people who are having to sleep in the same clothes day after day. It’s quite a mix.
Shorts and shirts now have a wonderful pattern upon them of dried salt. Feet are taped, padded and coloured red from iodine. Faces are drawn, weathered and hairstyles appear to have been created for some new episode of Mad Max.
Despite all this, moral is good. Bivouac is a great place for bonding and ultimately one of the key attractions of the Marathon des Sables. It’s in these open sided tents that friends are made for life.
Patrick Bauer stood on top of his vehicles and after a briefing for the day the runners spilled from the start. The runners in overall contention start each day as though running a 10k and then carry on that pace… it is incredible to see Ahansal and El Akad pull away from everyone. Despite running with packs, they have long strides and are light on the feet.
By contrast, once we are past the first 100 or so the look changes dramatically. Long strides become short strides and by the time the first 500 are through, short strides are fast walking then fast walking becomes walking. It’s all about economy of effort and understanding personal limitations and working out what needs to be done to complete the day! Of course, at the back of everyone’s mind is tomorrow, ‘the long day’.
Stage 3 was a beautiful stage of not a struggle for many. It involved many flat sections across salt flats or sand and although the day started overcast, the sun soon came out and baked the runner’s form above and below as the heat bounced off the ground.
Just before CP1 was an oasis, some lush vegetation and palm trees providing a welcome break from orange or white. From here a road branched to the right and then a long salt flat before the first djebels. Up and over and more flat running before CP2.
CP2 was the entranceway to a long rocky and sandy climb up the second djebels and then a rocky plateau that provided wonderful panoramic vistas of all that was around. A dune descent was followed by miles and miles of sand to CP3 and then the final flat push along rocky terrain to the finish and bivouac.
Matt Price (804) from the UK said “I just couldn’t run on the sandy flats today. It was hard work. Long straights that just kept going and going. The heat bounced back of the floor. It was so hot”
Nick Mackenzie (745) also from the UK said, “I learnt today that the Marathon des Sables has no ‘easy’ days. Yesterday was very hard and technical but today was equally hard but from a different perspective. It was hot. Flat. Brutal”
At the front end of the race, 2012 winner Aziz El Akad finally broke the Mohamad Ahansal strong hold of the race and on in a time of 03:00:17. In second place, Salmeh Al Aqra pulled back some time on the overall standings with 03:03:45 and Mohamad Ahansal finished third in 03:05:21.
British men are still performing exceptionally well with Danny Kendall 12th in 03:28:07, Andrew Fargus 13th, 03:29:56, Tobias Mews 17th in 3:43:50 and Neil Talbott 18th in 03:44:13.
Laurence Klein once again gained more time on her rivals and forged ahead to another stage win in 03:28:07. In the early stages of the day, Megan Hicks was looking strong running in second place ahead of overall third place, Jo Meek. But by the time the line arrived, Jo had pulled back time and although Megan finished second in 03:54:23, Jo was only seconds behind for third in 03:54:38.
British ladies are performing beyond expectation and now have a strong presence in the top 20; Zoe Salt was 4th on stage with 04:14:14
Overall standing after stage 3
- Mohamad Ahansal 08:35:06
- Aziz El Akad 08:48:51
- Salameh Al Aqra 09:00:45
First Brit is Danny Kendall, 10th in 09:42:27
- Laurence Klein 11:05:38
- Megan Hicks 11:29:48
- Jo Meek 11:33:51
Next placed Brit is Zoe Salt in 4th, 12:27:31
Tomorrow’s stage is the ‘big day’ and will more than likely dictate the overall outcome of the race. A distance of 75.7km with 30km of sand and an additional 13km of dunes will break many.
The men’s field is very close and anything could happen. Laurence Klein has a convincing lead in the ladies race but the fight for 2nd and 3rd place is just seconds. Should Laurence have a bad day, we could see some real changes.