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Marathon des Sables

Barney Kay, North East Regional Director of the National Farmers Union, has completed the Marathon des Sables. 

Barney KayThe Marathon des Sables race is a gruelling six-day adventure through a formidable landscape in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates - the Sahara desert. The race is the equivalent of running six marathons, with a total distance of 232km.

The rules require runners to be self-sufficient, carrying in a backpack everything you need to survive. There will be water stops throughout the race and the only other thing they are given is a place in a tent to sleep at night. Any other equipment and food must be carried.

To give you an idea of the distances Barney faced, the stages of the race are:

Day 1: stage 1 – 37km

Day 2: stage 2 – 31km

Day 3: stage 3 – 38km

Day 4: stage 4 – The long one – 76km

Day 5: rest day

Day 6: stage 5 – 42km

Day 7: stage 6 – 8km

Marathon des Sables photo gallery



View the picture gallery



Stage 6: The end of an amazing experience

13 April 2013

Barney has completed the toughest foot race in the world, the Marathon des Sables. See how he got on:

"We all took the charity stage really easily, just walking together, the eight men of tent 135. We travelled over the biggest dunes in North Africa in that last tiddly five mile stage, so even then Marathon des Sables were still testing us! I cannot
adequately describe what this event has been like. I have seen some of the most incredible scenery on the planet, craggy jebels, beautiful undulating (and seemingly endless!) dunes, and sun-blasted salt flats that shimmer and reflect the heat up at you, cooking your feet through your shoes. The temperature at times has been almost suffocating, feeling you're wrapped in a superheated air cocoon. Sleeping on a blanket on rather sharp rocks in open-ended tents, where the sand can blow through on face value was awful, but you get used to it so quickly and the little relative luxuries of the tent are what keep you going in anticipation of rest during the day. However what Marathon des Sables is really about is, the people.

"I have met people who inspire me forever: Mohamed who finished with one leg and a blade, Didier the blind runner who on the final stage got told by the organisers he was out of time and was being withdrawn and replied, they could have his competitor number, but he was finishing anyway - he came in only twenty minutes after cut off to the whole camp cheering him in. Marathon des Sables doing a quick u-turn and presented him with a medal - that's exactly the mental fortitude the event is all about. The Nantes firemen who carried disabled children in a wheelchair/buggy and so many other competitors who battled injuries that should have finished them off, but found a way to finish.

Mentally it renews your faith in human nature, everyone prepared to help each other to achieve this common purpose and so many people raising money for great causes (although interestingly this is a predominantly British trait I found), with so many personal stories behind them. Before I get too misty-eyed and start talking complete tosh – it’s been a phenomenal week, that's packed in so many experiences that will give me years of happy reflection, however I think I'll resist the urge to sign up again for next year... might wait until I can walk normally again first! Thank you everyone, runner 729 signing off - photos to follow."

Stage 6

Stage 5: The end is in sight

12 April 2013

After a long and busy day in the heat, the finish line is finally in sight:

"I have a rather nice bit of bling round my filthy neck! I sit here in a hot tent with lots of other grinning idiots writing to friends and family. I ran the first stage with two guys from my tent, Martin and Kevin, and we stuck together for the rest of the day. We each had different strong and low points and kept each other going. The temperature on day 4 (Wednesday) was 54 degrees centigrade, today if anything, it felt hotter. It was brought home to us, as we were in sight of the line, how tough this event is. A French guy came racing up behind us yelling for a car. I looked behind him and a flare was arcing up into the sky, he had flagged down a medical truck which raced off to the downed runner. A slightly older guy, who we'd passed earlier near an old mining village, and he looked fine, tonking along with his walking poles. Apparently he suddenly started veering about and then collapsed. The helicopter picked him up and took him off to the medical tent at the bivouac. I just hope he's ok, heartbreaking to get so close and not being able to finish. We have a cooked meal from the MDS and… some vino now! Now there’s tomorrow’s five miles. B x"

Stage 5

Stage 4: The toughest day so far

11 April 2013

Yesterday Barney faced the longest part of the race so far. He completed the 76km section in just under 18 hours:

"Firstly a huge thank you for all your emails of support. You have no idea how much they lift everyone’s spirit. Everyone in the tent anticipates getting them each day, I haven't had them yet as got in at 2.50am. Just under 18 hours for the most brutal day I've had to get through. We had all the nasties, 17km of leg-sapping sand dunes, couple of dear old jebels, fields of spiky rocks to trip on and hammer the blisters. I went most of yesterday with Duncan from my tent. He's always ahead usually, but was happy to travel in a pair. This makes all the difference and stops the mind obsessing on the breaking body. Especially at night when eyes haven't so much to fix on, stars were beautiful though. Well that was the one day I was nervous of and at times I thought it had beaten me, but Duncan's banter definitely helped me through. I never thought I’d say this, but it's only a marathon tomorrow! A lot of time lying in the shade in the tent draining blisters and taping feet back together. It's odd to be able to chill out, almost feel guilty. Our tent of eight are all in safely, great. Ciao!"

Stage 4

Stage 3: A tough day for the Achilles

9 April 2013

It sounds like the race is starting to take its toll on Barney's Achilles. But he has got through day 3 and has the fourth stage in his sights:

"Well, although mostly flat today, it was really tough. There was a section between C2 & C3 that was flatish sand that broke up under your feet. It seemed to go on forever at the hottest part of the day, around 40-45C. Not sure exactly how long it took, I think about 7 hours. We're all getting slower, but I am still with the same groups of runners since day 1, you keep bumping into the same people. Really nice Aussie couple caught up with me when I was having a weary spell and a bit of banter perked me up and got me going a bit quicker. I did the same for a French guy called Pierre, who is doing this for the third time aged 50. Nutter, once will be quite enough for me! The toes seem to be holding up reasonably well, but my heels are taking a bit of a battering. So... it’s the big one tomorrow, so far, so good. I told myself if I could get through day 3 and the knees were still attached I might have a fighting chance. Well the knees are remarkably good, but heels and both Achilles are murder, which makes pushing off in sand dunes quite trying. Prayers for tomorrow please."

Stage 3

Stage 2: Very hilly day indeed

8 April 2013

Barney has successfully finished day two and still in good spirits:

"Day 2 done! These jebels are masquerading under a false name, mountains feels far more appropriate. There was one really big long slog that was 15%, followed after checkpoint 2 with an absolute stinker that was 25% and two-thirds sand dune. Then a scramble that could have done with crampons, I was tootling over that at 1pm in the full heat of the day - luvverly! The hills were actually easier than yesterday, recovering my breathing so I can run on the flat. Finished in 6hrs 10, yesterday 6hrs 20, so feel I'm going similar steady pace. You may be wondering about the 1-hour time penalty? What am I not great at; paperwork, apparently we needed two pieces of medical bumff, not one, but 200 euros later full medical (= blood pressure!), I was good to go.

"I know loads of people are thinking of me, v grateful and your thoughts are keeping me going. If you want to send emails we get them a day later, but v gratefully received! I watched the man with the blade finish last night took 10.5 hrs - amazing! Fingers crossed for day 3!"

Stage 2

Stage 1: Japanese cows, firemen and bladerunners

7 April 2013

Sounds like Barney's in good spirits. He just sent this wonderful dispatch which gives a real flavour of what he's going through:

"Well that's day 1 in the bag! Sleeping in the tents is very dusty, windy, stony & surprisingly cold, which meant some changes in clothes selection - oh & a 9kg pack is kinda heavy after 23 miles. There were an unnecessary number of dunes today I felt, the right achilles is really quite angry and doesn't like them at all. The flat bits are fine, just hot, & the charming jebels (hilly bits) get the lungs working nicely. Some people out here are incredible - there is a lunatic japanese guy wearing a cow suit that did it in about 8 hours. There are also firemen wheeling some disabled people in incredible contraptions & a guy doing it with a blade instead of his right calf/foot - how he managed the dunes I have no idea! The scenery is stunning, think Mars & every Harrison temple of doom film set. Biggest personal niggles are worrying that the achilles might snap, bizarrely it prefers running than walking, which the lungs vetoed on the hills. The shoulders are killing me because of the bag. However I am so lucky to be here, incredible!"

Barney and cow

The day before

6 April 2013

Barney spent the day getting ready for Sunday's start with a hearty breakfast and has already had to put up with a huge sandstorm in his tent!

There's no escape from the sandstorm - even in Barney's tent!

Arriving in Morocco

5 April 2013

Barney set off yesterday morning for Morocco, arriving in plenty of time for the race on Sunday. He stayed overnight in a hotel in Ouarzazate, ready to set off early this morning for the start of the race. Heading into the desert, Barney and the rest of the runners now have an eight-hour bus journey ahead of them.

Barney Kay at Le Berbere Palace hotel

All packed and ready to go

4 April 2013

Barney's equipment   All packed up

North East Regional Director of the NFU Barney Kay is all packed and ready to go. Looking at the contents of his backpack, there were doubts it wasn't going to fit, but after some careful packing everything is ready to go.

Barney set off for Morocco this morning, ready for the extreme six-day race which starts on Sunday 7 April.

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