The market in Erfoud

I woke to the depressing sounds of the spray of vehicles driving through sheets of water, and so it was no surprise to peer out of the window to discover it was still raining. We went for a subdued breakfast, walking through courtyards where the rain was pooling and dripping off the trees, to hear the news that stage one of the Marathon des Sables had definitely been cancelled.

Although we had expected this it was still a shock and a bitter disappointment, and I was starting to feel that whatever happened I would not be able to say that I had completed the Marathon des Sables. We were informed that there was to be an official announcement later, so a group of us decided to explore the village to kill some time.

Erfoud looked rather drab in the wet, the usually bright pink brick and plaster walls dulled by the rain. I didn’t realise it at the time but this is a stopping point for tours and camel safaris into the desert and caters very well for tourists. We found a cafe with tables under canvas and sat drinking endless cups of mint tea and milky coffee, trying desperately to console ourselves. A couple of us tried to lighten the mood by coming up with a few stock phrases which we’d take it in turns to say every so often- “It’s brightening up a bit”, and “There’s a break in the clouds”.

Downtown Erfoud

This was probably the lowest point for us all; after the drama of the day before, the reality of our situation was starting to hit home and we occasionally fell silent, lost in thoughts such as ‘what happens if the race is cancelled? Will we get a refund? Will it be rescheduled? Will we be flying home tomorrow?’ It seemed too cruel after all the effort, not to mention money, we had all ploughed into this race.

By the time we returned to  the hotel, the sun had made a welcome appearance and the Best Of Morocco representative, Rob, famous for his dry sense of humour and expressionless delivery, called us over for the official announcement; stage one was cancelled, the admin day would be held at a nearby hotel the next day, and the race would start the day after that. We were to remain at the hotel for the next two nights, and would then be taken by coach to the start of the race on Tuesday.

It was such a relief to hear that the race hadn’t been called off and we would still get to experience the event for which we had been training for the past two years… the rest of that day was spent sorting out stuff to be sent back to Ouazazate and trying desperately to get our rucksacks as light as possible. In spite of my attempts mine still weighed around 10 kilos, despite losing the food for Day One. My friend had a panicky moment when she tried her pack on and realised that the shoulder straps dug rather cruelly into her shoulders. We ended up fashioning a pair of crude shoulder pads from a couple of sanitary towels and some duct tape!

The next day, Monday, we boarded the coaches to take us to check in at the Hotel Kasbah. Everyone was in quite high spirits as it was a gorgeous day without a cloud in sight and it looked as though the MdS was back on.

Whilst I was queuing to register I spotted Mohammed Ahansal behind me; Mohammed, and his brother Lahcen, are MdS legends, having won the event between them many times. They were both really nice, unassuming guys though, only too happy to pose for a photo and chat.

Queuing for medical checks

Eventually I reached the head of the queue, where my main luggage to be sent back to Ouazazate was taken off me. I was directed to a desk where I was given salt tablets, a flare and a timing chip, directed to another desk where the chip was fitted to my rucksack, directed to another desk where I was given a water card and card to be stamped each time I visited the Doc Trotters, directed to another desk to collect the fuel tablets I had ordered (you are not allowed to bring these on the flight), directed to another desk to collect my race numbers (which had my name on them- a really nice touch) and finally directed to the Doctors desk, where they studied my ECG and certificate for what seemed a horribly long time. Eventually the Doctor asked me if I had done long distance events before. I gabbled “Yes, 30, 40, 50 miles in one day… lots…”

He asked me if I had done the MdS before. I said no, and he said “Have a good race, drink lots of water” and then I was back outside blinking in the bright sunshine.

Each competitor is provided with a pack of salt tablets and officials will regularly encourage you to take them during the race. I’m not convinced they made that much difference but it can potentially be very interesting trying to take the leftover pills through customs.

A flare is also given to each competitor and must be kept with you at all times so that the route marshals can find you if you are in serious trouble. Setting off your flare is strictly a last resort option, as this means instant disqualification from the race so it’s game over. I resolved then and there that my flare would remain unused.

After the checks we were given lunch, and were told that Patrick Bauer would be delivering a speech at 3:00pm, so we hung around the large area by the pool in anticipation.

Our first sight of a camel!

Patrick finally made his appearance at 4:30pm, and, with the help of an English translator, said that there had been two main options for the MdS this year; they could have either cancelled the race, or still run it but completely change the route to avoid the floods. Luckily for us they had chosen the latter option (and it is only now that I can appreciate how close it must have come to being cancelled). The stages were to be arranged from day to day, so our road books, which we had been so keen to get our hands on, would now be pretty much null and void.

The first day would still be dunes day, but we would enter the Erg Chebbi dunes further to the left from a road accessible to the coaches and make a tougher crossing than originally planned. We were also warned that further changes may need to be made throughout the race depending on the weather conditions.

Me with MdS legend Lahcen Ahansal

It was then time to go back to the hotel; the only problem was that the buses seemed to have disappeared, and there were only two available to take us all back. There was a mad scrum for seats, and some folks resorted to sitting in the luggage hold until a lady French official spotted them; “Ah, no no no- you are all crezzy!”

Once back at the hotel I decided to use my packed breakfast the next morning in an attempt to further lighten my pack weight, and after some last minute pack adjustments, settled down for what was to be my last night in civilisation for some time…

Be Sociable, Share!

Tagged with:

Filed under: AfricaMarathon des SablesMoroccoUltra Racing

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!