An emotional finish to the Marathon des Sables for Ben and Emily Rolfe. Read about their incredible achievement.
The Marathon des Sables is a magical experience generally, the race stripping away all modern trappings, with no phones, emails, social media as well as no bed, no shower and no solid food! To have shared this experience with my 16 year old daughter was truly amazing. It was hard with a capital H, but we both made it and that first shower and first beer were well and truly earned!
The race itself was 237km or so, split into separate stages, and our finishing times (approx), as follows:
Day One – 31km, 6hrs 30
Day Two – 40km, 10hrs
Day Three – 31km, 9hrs
Day Four – 86km, 27hrs
Day Five – 0 (finish day four)
Day Six – 42,2km, 10.5hrs
Day Seven – 7.7km, 2hrs
There were 1250 entrants, around 1170 started, and around 100 did not finish. One chap we travelled with a lot was called Julian, and he looked ropey just before the first Checkpoint on Day Four, to the point where I sat him down 500m from the Checkpoint and made him drink over a litre of water. He dropped out of the race at the Checkpoint – even though he managed to rehydrate and he had over an hour’s grace at the Checkpoint, mentally he just could not recover.
The long day for us was brutal. We managed our hydration well during Day Four, and made the decision not to rest more than 30 mins at a time. We had “Tasty Beef Stroganoff” at around 10.30pm around a camp fire at one of the Checkpoint’s with Duncan, the double amputee (he had Chicken Korma).
We powered through the night, treating blisters when we could using a lighter, needle, antisceptic and “second skin” paint on elastoplast. This worked quite well until two of my blisters popped and started to fill with sand, and then Emily’s became so big it was the size of a golf ball and I couldn’t pop it as the cap was too hard. We carried on as the sun came up, enjoying a power bar breakfast in the dunes at around 8am just before Checkpoint 7.
Patrick Bauer gave us both a much needed cuddle at Checkpoint 7 as our tear streaked faces showed our suffering. The last 10km were interminable, but our tent mates were there to greet us at the finish around 11.30am. We then tried to eat, but the heat and exhaustion made it hard. We queued for two hours to see the Doctor to get our blisters treated (he basically took all the skin off my toes, and strapped them back up ready for the marathon the next day), and tried to eat some more whilst Em was interviewed a couple of times by the press (as the youngest equal female finisher she became a bit of a star in the camp).
I collapsed on the floor of the tent at 7pm and woke up at 10pm with the cold, so got up to get in my sleeping bag. We were up at 5am the next day to start the marathon at 7am – probably the worst prepared I have ever been for a marathon (no pasta party the night before!).
The terrain might be dunes as big as houses, flat plains with unforgiving slate rocks, mountains (called jebels), or just relentless sand which sucked your feet in up to the ankles. We had to carry all the food we needed for the week on our backs and our packs without water weighed 10.5kg at the beginning of the week. We had to sleep in the open sided tents but were fortunate to only have windy nights a couple of times (waking up at 2am with a mouthful of sand is not something I want to repeat in a hurry).
The organisers recorded the highest temperature at 51 degrees centigrade. We saw snakes, small rodents, scary looking bugs, fortunately no spiders or scorpions so our anti-venom pumps remain unused. We both suffered from stomach issues at various points – I was up all night after the first day with illness and subsequently felt awful all Day Two. Emily made sure I was hydrated, made me eat and cajoled me through the dunes and over the last mountain (using ropes) to the finish of Day Two. We made a great team.
The emotions and sense of achievement when we finished, together, is something that is going to be hard if not impossible to repeat.
Emily and I want to thank everyone for their support in our endeavour from the bottom of our hearts. The words of encouragement in the build up, the extremely generous sponsorship, and the emails we received whilst in the desert, were after a hard day’s running and hiking a tonic to our weary bodies.
We have managed to raise an amazing £21,648 for Diabetes UK, and the number is going up all the time. Thanks to everyone that has donated to this great cause. The site will stay open for a month or so.
Although we have exceeded our goal and paid for the microscope, any excess will be put to good use by Diabetes UK for things like the family events that so helped us immediately following Alice’s diagnosis.
Donate to Ben and Emily’s just giving page.
Read more about Emily’s Marathon des Sables experience