After 26 months planning, many weeks trying out new gear and quite a few nights lying awake, the big event came and went like a blur (not that I was running fast or anything).

A quick recollection of the highs and lows is almost impossible to put down in paper, and a long report will be written, but I thought it would be nice to post a summary here as soon as possible.

You've probably read about the rain early in the week. It was very heavy at times and everything seemed surreal, floods in the desert, kids jumping in and out of the streams, entire villages seeming to be having a party in the rain. It wasn't until much later in the week that I realised just how unseasonal the downpours were. Thunder and Lightening, dark grey skys - it was weird, but not as strange as the feeling that went through our minds as we pondered if the event was ever going to happen while we were cooped up in the hotel for two extra nights.

Campsite Under Water

Campsite Under Water

Finally, on Monday morning we were bused to the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a startline banner to announce the presence of 'the toughest race on earth', and the 800 or so 'toughest racers on earth', and me. I was feeling a bit shy amoung what I can only describe as the fittest, most athletic looking bunch of people I have ever been surrounded by. Without much fuss, we were on our way with 33K of dunes, sand, rocky flat ground, paths through derelict villages, more dunes and more sand between us and the finish. I thought I was taking it easy but finished in 5 hours, which was very respectable indeed. Not too hot, not too bothered. All went well.

Then my first sleepless night in camp as the winds howled and the cold gripped me like I have never felt before. I hate cold!

Official Photograph of the Marathon Des Sables 2009

Official Photograph of the Marathon Des Sables 2009

Day 2 on Tuesday was pretty much the same as the day before, just a tad longer, about 36K. I managed this run just as easily really as day 1, no ill effects whatsoever. I wasn't overly tired, no blisters, feet ok, and my only complaint, if any, was that my backpack was starting to hurt my shoulders and lower back. Not friction, just sheer weight. I estimate about 22lbs to start. Finished out this day in 5 hours 30 odd. And noticed that I was in the top half of the field which was a great boost. I was keeping it steady and staying out of trouble in these early miles. Thank God camp on Tuesday night was a bit calmer and I slept much better, despite the chorus of snores from some nearby tents.

Day 3 was the big one. We were given the news late the night before that the long day this year would be a record 91K... 56 bloody miles!

I had psyched myself to about 80K but this extra 11 seemed to put everyone on edge. Myself and Sarah, whom I had run every step with so far, decided to run to the first checkpoint, walk/run to the fourth and have a break for something to eat, then see how we were. This is exactly how it panned out for us. My only stop being a brief check up with 'Doc Trotters' on a tiny blister that had formed on one of my left toes. A bit embarrassing really considering the massive damage some were presenting. Freshly bandaged and fed at CP4 we only had a marathon to go - 30 miles done. I reasoned if we got to CP5 we would then be looking out for CP6 and then sprint for the finish.

Official Photograph of the Marathon Des Sables 2009

Official Photograph of the Marathon Des Sables 2009

We were presented with a very demanding start to the next phase as there were quite a few dunes to cross and then a climb over a mountain. Maybe I was tired at this stage but this felt like a climb up Croke Patrick and down the other side. Not pleasant after 35 odd miles but as we were trekking at this stage my legs felt fine. Into another vast area of dunes and into the night we trudged along all the time passing others. We realised as we approached CP5 that we has not been passed by anyone for a long long time. There was carnage all over the course and the tents in CP5 were full of bodies curled up in their sleeping bags. It was close to midnight but there was no way we were stopping here long. A quick top up of our water and we were off.

I got excited and again reasoned that we only had about 3 hours to

CP6 and then maybe 2 hours to the finish at the pace we were going.

This lifted both our spirits as we set off through long relentless stone filled flat areas, slopes and rolling hills with our head torches guiding our way. It seems strange only now to think we were getting excited that the finish was near with more than 5 hours to go but that was how we adjusted our rationale at the time, to good effect.

CP6 came into view from a long way out as the organisers beamed a huge lazer across the sky. We tracked the green light for over 2 hours and finally reached its source. 2.30am in the middle of the Sahara, and probably the strangest, eerie feeling that I have ever experienced. It was quiet but crowded, we were sore but moving just fine, it was cold but we were sweating, I was hungry but had no inclination to eat. Nobody said a word, and my lasting impression was that I was in some sort of bubble where reality simply passed by in muted silence, we were in a shop window but couldn't see out, calm and in control of our actions but waiting for something to go wrong.

Official Photograph of the Marathon Des Sables 2009

Official Photograph of the Marathon Des Sables 2009

Slow precise movements, preparations and getting ready for our final push for the line a mere hour and a half away. We noted that we had been going for 16 hours at that stage and laughed out loud at the silliness of it all, the only break from the bleak and silent world that we had found. For some reason I suggested that we might get in under 20 hours - my maths brain was shot.

On the hill out of CP6 we passed a guy walking, staring straight ahead, fists clinched and arms by his side. He had no back pack. I asked if he was ok and he replied very strongly that he'd had better days. A jeep pulled alongside and I moved on hoping that he was ok. I knew really, he wasn't. A lot of people we passed had something wrong with them. limping, shuffling, stopping to check kit, God only knows the horrors that were out that night, but we were getting on just fine. With time passing very quickly, I said to Sarah, 'come on lets make a sprint for the finish', she pointed out that we had an estimated 40 minutes to go. I knew that, but with just 40 minuted left I was in a sprint finish - walking mind you, but in my mind sprinting the last 100 yards of a marathon such was the distance we had covered, and maybe more importantly the amount of time we had been on our feet.

Official Photograph of the Marathon Des Sables 2009

Official Photograph of the Marathon Des Sables 2009

40 minutes went by like 40 seconds and we ran over the line hand in hand. What an amazing experience! Delighted with ourselves we found our tent, crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep instantly.

We had the luxury of a day off after that. Waiting for the rest of the camp to finish along with some tent mates who were going to take up to 30 hours to finish the ordeal of the long day(s).

Day 5 was to be little more than a fun run - a 42K marathon. I spend the first 3 hours with Sarah and left her at CP2. She need a break as she was not feeling the best that day. A bug had crept into camp and almost everyone was suffering. Thankfully I felt little effect from this and was able to finish off the final 14 miles of this little jog in just over 2 hours 30 minutes. I was flying really and even managed a sprint finish. It took me something in around 5 hours 30 to finish and with a big hug from the race director I was finished and had my coveted MDS09 Medal.

The Marathon Des Sables is without doubt the most amazing thing I have ever done. And it will take a lot to top it. Absolutely amazing!

I am trying to get onto the waiting list for 2 011 to do it all again.

Many many many thanks to everyone who helped me along this little journey, family, friends, Proactive, Connemarathon, Athenry AC and thanks also to everyone who sent well wishes and emails throughout the week. It really means a lot to know people cared. I have been asked if I was doing this one for charity and my response was always, no, this one is for me, but I have to say the one person on my mind through every step was my best friend and mother Noreena who unfortunately died suddenly last January. She has always been my biggest fan, loved following my marathons and I know, loved this one from a different place. I really did this one for her. X

54th and 55th marathon.