I just know that this report deserves more time than I am going

to give it.

Why? Because it was probably the best running experience of my

life (to date). I ran my first marathon 6 months after giving up

smoking 30 cigarettes a day - New York 2000 completed in 5 hours

and 15 minutes. I had found a new life.

Little more than a week ago, and now 39 marathons later, I have

found another new life. Two marathons in two days was exciting

but off-road gives a whole new meaning to excitement.

Friday afternoon, traveling with Bridget Anne to the lonely East

Midlands of England was always going to be a great experience.

We seem to relax in each other's company - and so we should given

what we have to endure during the Marathon Des Sables 2009. It

was an instant 'great craic' weekend. Although every now and

then we'd remember that we were about to go the distance twice...

And what was worse - "off-road". I remember saying to countless

amounts of those who'd listen - "What the f**k does off-road mean

- bog, forest, field, mountain, rivers, gravel road, climbing

(do I need rope?), road, paths, WHAT? I/we hadn't a clue.

I was assured that I should wear my road shoes. OK, so does that

mean I should wear my shiny patent winklepickers that I wear on

the road between Proactive and O'Briens? Or does the word shoes

mean runners? Shiny shoes wouldn't wear well so I decided to

bring an old pair of ASICS... And another pair for the second


As a marketeer, it was really positive to see that what we preach

sometimes filters down to the streets. When I asked the very

helpful concierge at Jurys Nottingham if they had a city centre,

he replied, "We're very PROUD of our city," and went on to

describe the shops and centres on offer. Once we got there, there

were signs and banners everywhere by Nottingham City Council

promoting the city using the word PROUD. They have reason to be

proud. Nottingham is an impressive city. Shopping? We haven't

even started! BA and I trawled through every sports shop we

could find, looking for that piece of kit that would save the day

and make the task ahead seem easy. We bought ski pants,

waterproof jackets, cheap and, unfortunately, leaking water

bottles, checked out the latest fashions and did as they do in

Nottingham - we shopped.

Saturday morning, we headed for Long Eaton with more than a

little trepidation. We were, to be very frank, sh*tting

ourselves. Slinking into the race HQ - a guy lying on his back

getting his MDS ECG (keep up) and lots of very outdoor-looking

people generally and Bridget Anne and I. Oh! Listening to stuff

like, "Oh did you do that 1,758 hour race? I was a bit tired

after trekking around the world the previous week so I decided to

stand on one foot for 72 hours with my back pack at 126 Kilos".

Mmmmmmmm, a tad deep for us.

We stood outside for the starters' picture. Them with their back

packs, us with our tiny front packs that we'd just bought, and

soon we were off. This was a navigation experience, no mile

markers, no sign posts, a map, and if you get lost...well, we'll

see you next year. Basically! After three miles (or so) we

latched onto Mr. Navigator. He was obvious, a leader, strong,

upstanding, confident, a real motivator and he was flanked by two

others that seemed to know that he knew what he was doing. We

decided to "know" the same and latched onto the back of his merry

little group and relaxed to a very pleasant pace of about 10 min

miles. What was even more pleasant was that these guys thought

nothing of walking every hill. EXCELLENT!

Not much happened until mile 15 or thereabouts when we went

'round a bend to see two others lost. Yes here, we were in Long

Eaton (wherever that is) along with 7 others - lost. After a bit

of debate and very polite consultation, the navigators pointed

towards the light and took off. We struggled to stay with the

pace but we did.

Back on track and then the most animalistic instinct unfolded.

Just as we entered 'Robin Hood Way' Bridget Anne's ears pricked

up, her nostrils flared and her eyes widened. The second woman

was ahead and we were closing in. She powered past, surged ahead

and soon she was second. No arguments! I think it was this

competition that kept us going as a group and we finished out day

one without much problem and ended up doing 28 miles in 5:18. We

all hugged, and then asked each others' names and where we came

from. It was a strange feeling having such a bond with someone

you know absolutely nothing about.

The stronger amongst us camped at the HQ which was as bleak and

basic as we were warned. We choose to go back to our cosy hotel

in Nottingham.

A couple of beers... And a glass or two of wine.

Watching the weather, we decided to head to Long Eaton for day 2

earlier than the scheduled race start time of 8AM. There was a

24 hour Tesco just up the road so we decided to get breakfast

there at 7:20 and run ahead of the pack at 7:30. Tesco was

closed and the pack decided to start at 6.30. Oooooohhhh crap!

We were on our own and had no breakfast.

I took charge of the map as Bridget Anne couldn't tell what

hemisphere we were in. So I was Mr Navigator/Motivator, except I

was less obvious, was leading no one, was feeling extremely week,

had a kinda hunch on my back and kept telling Bridget Anne that

we were going to die.

This day turned out to be the best. So much happened that I could

write a book. We were in great shape from the off, despite the

difficulties of no breakfast and isolation, we had a good laugh.

A woman turned a corner and got startled, we headed through the

small lanes through housing estates, through farmers' fields, it

was early, checkpoint one was unmanned, a guy passed us at mile

4. He got lost and passed us again a couple of miles later. We

ran, walked, chuckled forward. The weather was great. The

scenery was amazing. Hills looking over vast valleys of people

doing what people do on a Sunday mornings and we were doing

something different. We loved it. Got to halfway and found a

Tesco, egg sandwich for BA and Chicken and Bacon for me. We

stayed for 20 minutes laughing and eating. It was weird,

comfortable, and very normal not to be in a rush. The guy was

there too - he got lost again.

On so, to our final quarter. And it got easier. Navigation was

smooth, although not for the guy who we were to meet another two

times. Through an amazing wooded lane, by a beautiful canal,

passing by a railway line that you'd see in any film and without

notice we were back again. Day 2 finished in 5:44 in such ease

that I have no doubt we'd both have been able for another 5

miles. I found out that over 40 finished day 1 and only 18 were

brave enough to get out on day 2.


I am not going to mention the type of bar we ended up in or how

many bottles of wine we drank. We sipped a very nice Champaign

Cocktail though, as we had every reason to celebrate.

That brings me to number 39.

Ray O'Connor - March 2008.