Terrain: 13km of dunes and approximately 30km of sand.
It was always going to be a make or break day and stage 4 of the Marathon des Sables did not disappoint.
For the ladies, Laurence Klein went into the stage with a strong lead that was close to 30 minutes over Megan Hicks with very strong Jo Meek pushing Megan for the 2nd slot on the podium. Laurence was going to need to have a bad day or Megan was going to need an incredible day to take the lead. As it happened, both happened.
Laurence unfortunately struggled very early on in the stage and was taken ill allowing Megan and Jo to run ahead of her. By the time time she arrived at CP4 at around 40km’s she was already well over an hour behind putting Megan as overall race leader in the race. In the dunes, Jo was pursuing Megan and she was just 5 mins behind. However, Megan continued to run strong and by the finish she had completely dominated the long stage putting her well ahead of all competition. Brits, Jo Meek and Zoe Salt continued to have and incredible 2013 Marathon des Sables and not only finished second and third on the stage but are now in these places on the overall general classification. Zoe Salt had in incredible ‘long day’ and had closed on Jo at the finish with a gap of just 94 seconds.
Mohamad Ahansal hand finished 3rd yesterday and many wondered if he had a chink in his armour? I however thought he was playing a game, showing some vulnerability so that he could pounce when the time was right. In the dunes, Aziz El Akadf from Jordon (winner in 2012) was just ahead of Mohamad Ahansal by seconds… he was pushing hard, as he ran past I could hear him breathing. The dunes sap strength and energy but these guys make it look easy. Bounding from left to right foot they stride past me. First El Akad leaped from the top of the dune and then Ahansal. The race was on! Ultimately though it was short lived, El Akad couldn’t hold the pace and blew up allowing Ahansal to run away with another stage victory in a stunning 06:54:47 (El Akad finished 10th in 08:29:34).
Chasing behind was Salameh Al Aqra who not only took second on the stage with 07:13:55 but also is now second on general classification. Antonio Salaris had another strong day with a third place in 07:29:45.
Highest placed Brit, Danny Kendall was worried by the long day but he had a wonderful day in the sand finishing in 8th place in a time of 08:17:16 and this now puts him in 10th on GC.
The long stage of the Marathon des Sables is the day that all runners dread and need to treat with respect. It is the day that everybody has to dig deep, to find that inner strength to achieve a finish. This year in particular after three incredibly tough stages, the 75.7km day was going to be a crunch day. As Mohamad Ahansal had said the previous day “this is the hardest Marathon des Sables I have ever done”. Nobody here would disagree with him. One word has been used unanimously around the camp, ‘Brutal’. It’s a word that I often here at races but believe me, this ‘MDS’ has been exactly that, brutal.
The long stage had a mixture of terrain but ultimately it was all about sand and dunes.
The race is split with the top 50 runners (inc first 5 ladies) starting three hours after the rest of the field. At 0830, just under 1,000 runners left the depart, rabbits for the 50 elite who would chase them down.
It was going to be a day of heat, tiredness and the desire to make the finish in less than 34 hours. A long flat straight was followed with a climb through a col and then more flat running with mixed terrain of rocks, sand and small dunes. Of course runners run from checkpoint to checkpoint but the first target is CP4 that has it’s own cut off time. Many runners arrive here as night falls or in darkness and start impromptu fire to cook, eat and relax. Some sleep a little and then push on.
CP4 to CP5 was the larger dunes at meters high, a rollercoaster of sand and then the long push to bivouac and then end of another incredible day.
As I write this, the race has been underway for 28.5 hours and we still have approximately 100 runners on course. Two of these are my friends, as mentioned in a previous post, Didier and Gilles. These are the story of the Marathon des Sables. I stayed up all night watching runners achieve a dream by crossing the line… some cheering, shouting and clapping. Other runners too tired, too broken to show any emotion. It’s here that faces tell stories. Ekes glazed, seat dried on foreheads and cheekbones. Cheeks hollowed through dehydration and effort. It’s a look of the brave, it’s a look of exhaustion it ‘s a look of ‘I did it!’
The emotion is for all to see. It’s those moments in the dark when a runner cries with tears of relief and happiness that shows that the fatigue, the sacrifice, the dedication and the commitment to achieve a goal are all worthwhile.
Time has no relevance. The journey is what counts, the experience and the ability afterwards to say ‘I completed one of the toughest endurance challenges on the planet”
To all who achieved and all who failed trying, I salute you.
- Mohamad Ahansal 06:54:47
- Salameh Al Aqra 07:13:55
- Antonio Salaris 07:29:45
First Brit Danny Kendall, 8th in 08:17:16
- Megan Hicks 08:45:19
- Jo Meek 09:52:35
- Zoe Salt 22:21:32
- Mohamad Ahansal 15:29:54
- Salameh Al Aqra 16:14:41
- Antonio Salaris 16:36:52
First Brit Danny Kendall, 10th 17:59:43
- Megan Hicks 20:15:07
- Jo Meek 21:26:26
- Zoe Salt 22:21:32