Mark Masters Morocco


Hamworthy harriers Mark Caldecourt has successfully completed what is regarded as the toughest footrace on the Planet.
Held in the searing heat of the Sahara Desert the multi day event crosses some of the most inhospitable terrain known to man.

By completing the event Mark has deprived his fellow club mates of the opportunity to complain about the heat, or the sandy tracks of Canford Heath or Studand Beach. Picture the scene:
Monday / Friday / Sunday run in summer.

Project Manager Ian Edwards " Crickey chaps, Haven't been this hot since Juliet mistakenly ordered a Tindaloo from the Wimborne Tandoori  "

Senior Site Project Manager John McClelland  " It'll be hotter than this when I move to Spain "

Chief Bio Chemist  Mike Hughes   " gwaedlyd tywydd "

Mark " Lawrence " Caldecourt  " HAH!Hot ! you call this hot? when I were running across the  Sahara Desert.........." followed by a blow by blow account of the venture, varying only with the sand dunes getting steeper and the temperatures ever hotter with each retelling.
What are the Harriers going to moan about now? Mark has a lot to answer for.
On a serious note, this was a truly magnificent achievement, Mark has been kind enough to pass on the account of the event written for his Company Newsletter, It is reproduced below.

Marks account of the 2008 Marathon Des Sables

If only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, it takes a very different species to want to race across 180 miles of Sahara desert on foot over six days, in temperatures reaching 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whilst most runners will be making their final preparations for this year’s London Marathon far away in southern Morocco, 800 competitors from more than 30 nations will be getting ready to take part in one of the world’s most extreme endurance events, the Marathon Des Sables, a gruelling race in one of the most hostile environments on earth.

The MDS, was started over 20 years ago by Patrick Bauer, a former concert promoter from Troyes in France, who created the race after he walked 200 miles alone across the Algerian Sahara in 1984. He found the experience so harsh yet uplifting he decided to make it an annual event.

Self-sufficient except for water and medical assistance runners have to carry their own food, sleeping bag, cooking utensils, clothing and emergency equipment in packs weighing up to 15kg. The course is divided into six stages that include wadis, mountains and strength-sapping dunes – but, mostly vast expanses of remorseless, scorched Saharan flatlands. The crippling terrain is augmented by sporadic sandstorms that blow up out of nowhere. With a total absence of water in the air sweat evaporates instantly.

I had been rather alarmed to discover that the race’s insurance policy included a section on “corpse repatriation”, though to date there has been just one fatality , a 20 year-old Frenchman who died of a massive heart attack in 1988. The organisers now insist that every runner undergoes a thorough medical before the event.

Rules are simple but strict: compulsory kit includes an emergency distress flare, an anti-venom pump for scorpion and snakebites, 2,500 calories of food per day and salt tablets. Each competitor is given a modest nine litres of water per day which is distributed at various points  - drink any more and you are eliminated. Time limits each day are marked by two camels that also complete the course. If you are unlucky enough to be overtaken by the dromedaries then you are disqualified.

The exact course remains a secret until the day before the race, when runners are given a set of directions, complete with compass bearings and terrain description. I was reassured to learn that the organisers have lost only one competitor for more than a day. In 1994, a Sicilian policeman got lost in a sandstorm and wandered the desert for nine days, living off bats and his own urine before being found 125 miles away in Algeria, some 40lb lighter (some reassurance) !

What sort of fool would sign up for such a challenge? Well somewhere amongst those 800 runners will be runner 474, me, Mark Caldecourt a 38 year old Project Manager currently living in Bournemouth.  For me the Marathon Des Sables represents the culmination of over 18 months training and also the fulfilment of a long standing personal goal.

Having been running now for over 17 years (and got the numerous T-shirts to prove it) I have finally decided to call it a day, but not before I lay one last ghost to bed namely the MDS...............
Whilst running has played a major part in my life I feel that it is time to give my body a break and return to a more `normal' way of life (ie. remembering what it is like to be able to lay-in bed on a Sunday morning, being able to eat and drink when I like, not having to walkaround with a bag of frozen peas strapped to my Achilles after a long run etc……)
Throughout my running career I have always felt the lure of the MDS primarily I suppose because it is, `as it says on the tin' THE HARDEST FOOTRACE ON THE PLANET, and secondly if I gave up running without ever attempting the MDS I would forever be asking myself whether or not I could of completed the race.
I have for some time attempted to persuade/cajole/conscript fellow club members to join me on my little `jolly' to southern Morocco but have always been amused as to how quickly the subject changes to the local 10k or similar (you know who you are!!)
Running has taken me all over the world and I have made some good friends through the sport. I feel quite privileged to of been an active member of some truly fantastic running clubs most notably Stragglers in Kingston-upon-Thames and Hamworthy Harriers in Dorset.

I may not be one of the running elite, however, I have run to what I believe to be a good standard and achieved all that I possibly can whilst enjoying every moment of it. What better way to go out than completing the MDS..............

Ps. anyone seen my bucket and spade?


POSTSCRIPT: On Saturday the 6th April 2008 I finished the MDS in the small Moroccan town of Tazzarine some 50 hours after I had begun my epic journey in the giant dunes of Merzouga. Upon returning to the UK my ‘retirement’ from running lasted exactly 3 days when I was offered (and foolishly excepted) an entry for the London Marathon the following Sunday………….

Mark has asked me to point out that no Camels were harmed during his Running of the Marathon Des Sables. He will also be making a donation to the Moroccan branch of the  Destitute Helicopter Pilots Benevolent Fund.