Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Final Stage

High Noon. Friends, family, followers, Dudes and Dudettes wherever you may be - this epic journey - and I mean epic in every sense of the word, has finally (for Steve anyway - some still running) come to the end.  I was with Blain (skype that is) from the start to the finish.  I know most of you out there in the blogosphere have been following Steve's progress so I won't go into the numbers; what I can tell you is that he finished at #97 today with a time of 10:56:49 which, as I write this, has put him in final position #172.  That's interesting, when I started this post he was at #126 overall, that means that even though guys are coming in behind him in this final stage they could still overhaul him by virtue of having acquired a lower cumulative time.  Before he left for Morocco Steve confided in me that he would call it a success if he just managed to complete the course, a bonus would be finishing in the top half, coming in at #172 is truly awesome.

Bee and I were very excited by the prospect of a 'grandstand' finish and seeing Steve come thru on the webcam but we were both let down, I guess the site was getting so many hits that the coverage was very poor, often freezing for minutes at a time.  Sometimes B had coverage and sometimes I did, we worked out a 'takoushi' (ask Steve) method of dealing with this, B would skype me with video and I would take the call on my ipad, then I would prop up the ipad in front of my pc screen and in this way I could relay the pictures to Blain when she had none.  In the event we followed Steve's progress thru the 'posy' site, tracking him by seeing which runners around him had passed thru the only checkpoint and trying to figure out when he would come in. Blain was pretty confident that he would take between an hour and an hour and a quarter since this was the kind of performance he was putting in during training, plus she said that the entrants all give their kit away to the Berbers before the final stage and can sprint this part, additionally - notwithstanding the effort that they have made all week - there would be no more after this and so no reason to hold back... hmmm.  I am an optimist as you know but during this past week I have been burnt so many times that I have provided myself with the equivalent of a firewall and so my prediction was one and a half to two hours.  B actually said that she would bet money on her estimate.  Steve took exactly one hour, forty five minutes and seventeen seconds, Blain - I'll be around soon to collect.   I just took a sneaky peek at the final scoreboard, Gary Pickering came in at #159, well done Gary! and Mark Clifton who I thought was down and out on thursday has hung in there finishing at #628, what manner of men are these? - well done Mark, that's what I call tenacity.

I sure hope he met his target for fundraising and I want to say right here and now on Steve's behalf and on behalf of all those people who will benefit from this - a whopping thank you to all of you who have donated or provided support or sponsorship; the difference that a seemingly small gesture can make is astounding, I just wish there was a way for you to see the results for yourselves.  Who knows? maybe this week will inspire one or two of you to do something like this for your own chosen cause.

I must say that I have enjoyed hosting this blog and sharing the experience with you, this is my last post, Steve will be back in the UK on monday and spending the week here recovering before flying off on saturday night to arrive in Sydney next monday.  I feel so sorry for him because this will be the third year in a row that he'll be flying on his birthday and losing the entire day - bit like being born on February 29 I suppose.

I am gonna return to my life now, thanks again all of you for just being there, and thank you Steve for letting me share this experience with you - still blown away by your courage, strength and fortitude - I love you Dude and I'm mighty proud to call you my Son, now go home to your beautiful wife and stop all this fooling around in the sand nonsense.

Love - it's all you need,

Spencer :{

Post Script to Stage Five

Good evening all, 9:15pm as I write this brief PS, you will recall the panicky text I got from Blain when Steve was late coming arriving at CP3 today, one of the runners posted a message after completing stage five saying that there had been a tremendous sandstorm at the exactly the time and in the same place where Steve and Gary were running - hence the delay - just as I surmised earlier.  Speaking of Gary, had I been diligent enough to read all of Steve's previous blogs I would have seen that he was hooked up with G from way back, they trained together in Oz, sorry mate.

I will call B later and hopefully provide some moral support while the old man's away.

See you tomorrow for the final showdown,



This Stage was meant to be breeze...

1:30pm Stage five, I read the 'roadbook' (you can find this in the MdS website just under their banner - hover over 2012 Edition and click on  'roadbook') and studied the diagrams and it looks easy - well, comparatively easy - plus Steve's email assured us that it would be 'just a marathon' yet the people around him at CP2 are already through. (phone goes off - a panicky text from Blain) sorry Bee but I'm gonna reprint it here:  "Where is Steve?! Still waiting for him to pass CP3. Everyone around him is passing the check. This is so nerve racking!Xx" I called her up and we were on the phone a long time, navigating our way around the rocky website - once again she yells out "he's through CP3!" The low, low feeling one gets waiting for a number to change on the screen, the thoughts that go through one's mind, the perils that we can only envision are instantly evaporated when his number comes up 'through CP3'.  Then your heart feels like its gonna burst, alone in front of your pc at some ungodly hour you jump up, punch the air and yell out YESSSS!!!  Blain, sweetheart, welcome to my world.
In the excitement of the last half hour I forgot to mention that Steve got to CP1 in very good time, ditto CP2 and was set fair to post a good time, something must have happened between 2 and 3, his new running mate Gary Pickering also came in within a few seconds of Steve and listen to this,  Blain tells me that Gary is a real running machine so we surmised that there may have been a sandstorm or some other local problem.  Anyway, they're both through.  This is the point when one's mind begins to get active, you go to the leaderboard and see how long they are taking between (in today's case) CP3 and the finish line, you check down all those who have finished and work out a rough average.  Now you have expectations, a hook on which to hang your hope, like a teenager on a first date and now you know within 10 - 20 minutes when your man will come through; oh yeah, you'll be right there at the website - early - with the digital equivalent of a rolled up copy of The Times under your arm and wearing some entirely inappropriate hat or something, waiting (under the digital clock perhaps?) and hoping against hope that you won't be stood Steve would say,'sure!'  All you've done is set yourself up for a really rocky ride; those of you who know me will know that I am a born optimist, I like my glass to be half full all the time (or something like that) so I start my vigil a full 15 minutes before the earliest possible finish - big mistake!  I start to worry within the first five minutes and it gets steadily worse until the blessed relief that comes with the news that he's through.

2:40pm I am supposed to be picking up my wife from the hairdresser in a while, but by our calculations (Bee & I on the phone now, both watching the webcam at the finish line on our pcs) Steve should be coming thru in the next ten minutes - BINGO! - as we're talking I see him run up to the webcam, give a huge smile and raise his arms - I shout to Bee but her link with the webcam has dropped out and this time she's missed him.  I have to say here and now, he looked in fantastic shape and came thru about two minutes ahead of Gary P.  Relief for Bee however when his time comes up the board (click on the 'POSY' box for updates on the positions during the stage) - I make an unseemly hasty exit from the phone (sorry mate) rush off to get my missus and give her the news, (to be continued)...

4:20pm  Cont'd -  we then go food shopping (stay with me now...) and in our euphoria,  buy loads of treats and stuff we don't need, go figure.  Interestingly, Bee was not the only person who told me that they had difficulty in navigating the official website, I guess I have spent so much time just waiting that I have probably been all over it and seen most of the content.  I have to say that it is not that user friendly but it  kinda works, whaddayagonnado?

6:00pm Tomorrow is the final day, 6eme etape - 14 Avril: 15.5km.  My guess is that this final, short stage is like a faux stage.  It's very short so there will be no protracted vigil, there are some celebs or VIPs who will be allowed to cross the finish line and the whole thing will be like a celebration.  I will certainly be at my screen watching events unfold, I expect it will be spectacular.

Look, I know I keep banging on about the charity thing but in truth, this is really what all this is about; those runners are killing themselves for some wonderful and worthy causes and if that ain't enough, the good feeling you get after chipping in whatever you can is second to none, trust me on this one thing.

I a going to start dinner in a moment, if you're interested it's fish, so I am going to post this and chill; I've had some feedback and I am pleased to say it's all been good.

More news tomorrow folks, and thanks for staying with me - I feel that I know you all, see you in the morning.

Love Spencer :{

Friday, 13 April 2012


Almost midnight. Just connected with Bee - like I guessed, overjoyed but overslept - she's cool, main thing is the rest of this run is 'easy' unquote....

g'night -

Spencer   zzzzzzzzzzzz

Contact at last

I said I would be back - 9:00pm I just got an email from Blain, apparently he has sent us both an email but I haven't got mine yet; he is well, in good spirits and happy with his tent crew.  So upbeat, quote " tomo is 'just' a marathon and then we have about 15k for final day an all done - just a jog".  He hasn't had to visit the doctor, got the best feet in the tent and is really pleased to get emails from his mates and family around the world.  He also enquired about how the fundraising was going, in the excitement I have let that side of things slide.  It's so easy, even I managed it, don't worry if it can't be much, coffee money will do and believe me, it will make a difference, go on - you know you want to do it.
Blain received the message around 4:30am and fwd it to me, so far I have heard nothing from him direct plus, I must have spent an entire day in front of my screen and not seen him; B just switched on when I called her last night and there he was - it must be love.  I'm only kidding B.  As I write this, the pain from the dentist is kicking in and I am bushed (yeah, right!) so I'm gonna try and connect with B before she goes to work.
As Arnold Schwarzteneggar used to say 'I'll be back'.

Big Love,

Spencer :{

Now I understand...

It gets clearer every day, Stage four (the big one) was scheduled to take place over wednesday and thursday - BTW it's coming up for 1:00pm where I am and noon in Morocco - I have just checked the the results page and some of those guys are still running.  As I write, the last in was a Brit #528 called Karl Singleton who posted a time of over 40 hours and is in position #715, to compare, Steve did it in just under 15.  Following down the list after Karl there are the 'Abandons' these 60-70 people who have dropped out for 'minor medical' reasons or sheer exhaustion.  After these poor souls come the remaining 100 or more listed as 'en cours de classement', now my French isn't too good but I believe this translates as 'ranking in progress' (actually I cheated - was looking at the French language page, they've got it in English too) but what does that mean?  I can only assume that they are still making their way to bivouac 5; check! that's why they've got the webcam set up at the finish!  At this moment Steve is ranked #215 and this is based on his cumulative time so far, 30H 26' 07.  Something else I spotted, there are penalties for all sorts of stuff, wrong kit, wrong amount of food, straying from the proscribed route, taking banned stimulants, not displaying your number properly even for firing off your distress flare without good reason.  These transgressions can incur time penalties, fines or even disqualification, I guess that's another reason that the rankings sometimes appear to change arbitrarily at times when there is little or no visible activity.

2:00pm. Speaking of flares, D1 EL MORABITY Rachid the Moroccan current title holder and erstwhile leader had to use his during the first half of stage four yesterday, he retired with some muscle damage to his thigh and was airlifted to hospital - tough break, he looked so fit.  Like my boy keeps telling me "Pa, it's all in the preparation, anyone can do this, the biggest obstacle in the whole process is the one between your ears."  I may have made some of that last bit up, but it's the kind of stuff that he comes out with all the time. Dontcha just love him?

So you are allowed two days to complete stage four and those runners who are man enough or woman enough (there are actually 26 lady runners in the first 300) try and  close that sucker down in one day and spend today resting.  I'm kinda hoping that this is the case and that I might hear something from Steve; my guess is that he is either... oops, just realized I'm beginning to repeat myself.  Anyway, we'll find out soon enough.  I'm going to have a quick look at the MdS website and then I have to be away for a couple of hours.  I'll continue this later. (note to self:- this has taken over your life dude!)

5:30pm. OK, just back from the dentist and the full results table has been posted, the last man to complete stage four was Chewee Hoe Lee runner #784 completing the stage in just under 45 hours and he is in position #802, everybody after him has dropped out.  I see Mark Clifton made it through today, this is a guy from England who undertook to run with Steve.  Looking at the tables it would appear that Steve has hooked up with an Aussie boy #1028 Gary Pickering, they passed through most of the checkpoints within seconds of each other yesterday.  This may well change because Gary is in position #155 and at the end of the day as they say, it's every man for himself.

It would appear that I'm not gonna hear from that rascal and since this is a rest day for the runners plus I have to deal with my own pain, I will wrap this up now and post it.  If I hear anything later I'll put up another post.

Until the next time then,


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Stage 4 - 81.5 (count 'em) km

It's mid-afternoon as I write this, my heart is thumping and there is a heavy feeling at the pit of my stomach; the good news so far is that Steve has passed checkpoint 3 (37km) and is in around position #100, fantastic.  Trouble is the next 12.4km, massive inclines, rocks and dunes; now please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, are the runners expected to cover the whole 81.5km today?  I'm looking at the diagram and I can see checkpoints 4, 5 and 6 at at km81.5 there is a 'bivouac' symbol and it's marked 'B5'.  According to the 'Carte du parcours' the 4eme etape takes place over 11th and 12th of April, are they sleeping under the stars?  I'm gonna check this out carefully before I post - I just came back to this in the edit stage - yup! they do the whole 81.5 clicks in one day, incredible.

Some of the leaders are already at CP4 and at CP3 Steve was around 75-80 minutes behind them, now comes the hard part - watching and waiting for numbers to change on the screen - holy heartbreak... it would appear that he has dropped back to #127.  This could be his cumulative position and it's possible that some runners who were ahead of him and having reached CP4 'dragged' themselves up the rankings.  Am I making any sense? or just babbling?  I love this guy but this is killing me.  It looks like my rankings theory is holding up, most of the runners are taking about two hours to get from CP3 to CP4, Steve went through at 14:26, it's now 15:50 so I'll be staring at my screen for another half hour or more.  Oh blessed relief, Steve made CP4 at 16:26, just over two hours; another 10.4km and it's CP5, pulease let him be safe.  At this moment he is ranked #128 - this is Lionheart territory, come on.  Oh dread despair, I just checked the leader board and half a dozen runners at least have made it to CP5 - this is becoming a real rollercoaster.  Having said that, there are still people ahead of him in the table who haven't made CP4 and there are a few poor souls who haven't even made CP3 - now I don't know what to think.  OK, the board has been 'refreshed' and he's back up to #98.  I guess they're gonna go for the whole thing in one day, time will tell.  I've been watching this screen on and off for most of the day now and he's made it to CP5 a second short of 18:20, they are going for it in one day.  Some of the runners have even completed the entire fourth stage but, and this is strange, there are runners ahead of him in the rankings who haven't even made CP4; they have the webcam set up at the finish line, looks like a late night vigil for me but I'm writing this post as I watch and wait;  it's very dark out there - how can they see?  It looks like an average time of 90-110 minutes between CP5 and CP6 and some of the runners around Steve are through CP6 and on to the camp, another 10.5km - where is he?  Almost 2 hours and still not there, plus there's the last 10.5km - just checking........thank you God! He's in at 20:13, OK slow but safe!  122 of the runners have made it this far, out of over 800, he's not just a hero, he's a superman!  Come on mate, the end is just 10 km away.  I just took another look at the diagram of the course, it looks like the same kind of time for the last bit of this stage and at the time of writing, only 36 runners have got to bivouac five.  I'm gonna go into my garage, have a glass of Metaxa and a smoke and come back here in around 90 minutes and complete this post; hey - I have a life also.

I came back to my pc, I skyped Steve's wife, the beautiful Blain, and while we were talking and I was following the rankings she yells out "Oh my God! I've just seen him go through on the finish line webcam", sure enough, he's done 81.5 km today and is in a good position - I just checked, # 127! My Man!  Go Dude! I am so proud! A little drunk, bin smokin... but hey! my boy is in at #127 - in the MdS!  I can sleep easy, thank you God.

I'm forgetting, by the time this is posted, the results will be there for everyone to see, at least some of you reading this may get a flavor of what the family have to go through. (note to self:- stop bitching), note to followers, I wrote this this morning.


Spencer :{

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


On paper this looked like one of the difficult stages of the MdS, 35 Km, dunes, rocks, wind, sand and temperatures hovering around 30 degrees. I took up my desktop vigil at around 3pm (BST) tuned into the finish line webcam and when there was nothing happening I quickly checked the temporary results - joy! bliss! Steve came in at #315, he's safe and I can get on with some gardening.  I'm guessing that there must be no facility to send messages to loved ones since I still have not heard from him direct.  That's cool, I send him a quick message every evening just so he knows we're still out here following his progress online.
It looks like he is just short of half way, the fourth stage tomorrow is a whopper over two days, a total of over 81 Km. He must be coping with the conditions though because he has really moved ahead during this stage; to give you an idea of how tough things must be out there, 28 runners have already dropped out and as I write this, one poor Frenchman Thomas Sauvage # 185 is still running or crawling to complete stage three.
Since I undertook to take care of this blog I have found myself waiting around for news or results and during this 'free' time I have been checking out the Marathon Des Sables website.  Each day they post photos and footage of the stages, interviews with the participants, photos of the runners, the support team, the catering crew in fact the whole enchelada, in this way I have somehow become immersed in the whole process and I have been blown away by the harsh conditions, the relentless sun and the sand whipped up by the seemingly ever-present wind - how can they do this?  I couldn't do this, could you?; make no mistake, every single man and woman on this run is a genuine hero or heroine and the charities that they are supporting must mean a great deal to them.  Those of us who live in Europe or the USA or Australia take for granted things like power/gas/roads/healthcare/pizza express/cellphones/security - I could go on - but there are whole swathes of the world where basic essentials like clean water which we use to flush our toilets in the 'civilized' world  are simply unavailable to the locals.  This is what many of these runners, and I am proud to count my son amongst them, are doing this for so I urge you all, hit the 'donate here' box and just chip in what you can, doesn't matter how small it is, every cent counts.
Every now and then I'll preview this post to see what it looks like and how it reads and I have noticed that the dateline is set for Sydney - 9 hours ahead of BST, I haven't figured out how to change that yet but have it in mind, I'm doing this from the leafy green rolling Downs of East Sussex.
I'll be back tomorrow night (thursday morning if you're in Oz) so until then,



Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Stage Two

It's now Monday night and I have spent most of this afternoon watching the (sporadic) webcam coverage at the close of Stage Two.  Based on how Steve did yesterday I figured out the earliest time he might complete this stage and also the latest, just to be certain I extended my planned vigil by 20 minutes at each end thus giving me a three hour window to catch his face and reassure myself about his safety.  Like I said earlier, the coverage was sporadic, often freezing or simply dropping out completely.  By around 5:30pm I must have seen around a hundred runners and still no sign of him so I checked the resultats temporaires only to find that he had already come in (#415 this time) right in the middle of my window again with a pretty good time.  Talk about mixed emotions, so relieved to discover that he was back safe but really peeved that I had missed him.
Apropos emotions, do the participants recognize the torment and turmoil that we, the families, go through?  It's almost as brutal on us as it must be for them but let's face it, it's all in a worthy cause, BTW let's not lose track of that - you are welcome to donate, just click on the 'Donate Here' box and remember that every penny, nickel and dime goes direct to the the clean water program.
I have been dragging out this post in the hope that I might hear something from the Dude before I wrap it up but it looks like either they have no facility or he's too bushed to do anything; judging by the state of some of the runners on the webcam today I can't say I am surprised.
So far he has run 33.8km yesterday and another 38.5km today, tomorrow there is Stage Three a 35km 'run' over what looks like some pretty rough terrain, I noticed that quite a few runners had something like ski poles to aid them in negotiating the hills and dunes plus a lot of them had what I can only describe as 'overshoes', I guess that's to prevent incursion of sand - let's hope he has gained some experience in the early stages because I believe it can only get harder as they get towards the end.
I'm sure that like me you all wish him well, I believe that if this run depended on just goodwill, he would finish it a day early; truthfully, I really don't know where he gets his drive from.
Just checked my inbox again - nada/zip/zilch - hopefully I'll have something firm tomorrow, stay tuned folks - back in 24 hours.


Monday, 9 April 2012

Stage One Complete

Well, it's Easter Sunday night here in East Sussex and in Morocco it's coming up for 9pm; I must have checked my inbox 40 times today and still no word from Steve.  I can report though that he has completed stage one, coming in at #379 of a total of 854 runners and with a respectable time too.  I'm guessing that the long flight over from Oz along with the flight to Morocco the next day plus completing the first stage (30+ Km in the sand) with all his kit for the first time in the field have taken their toll and he is taking some well-earned rest.

I'm hoping for some more personal stuff tomorrow...

back in 24 hours,


Sunday, 8 April 2012

The night before the off.

Tomorrow is the big day, the start of the MdS and for all of you following Steve's blog this is where you'll get all the skinny.

Steve may get some web time or he may not, it depends on the circumstances like timing, volume and so on, he has promised to keep in touch with his old man (Spencer) and I have promised in turn to be his webmaster and keep everyone up to scratch. (I have always secretly wanted to be a webmaster)  This first blog is really a test run to see if I have got it right - it all seemed so simple as he was explaining it to me - let's see.

I expect to receive his first post tomorrow (Sunday) night and I am waiting with baited breath (or four eyes as we say in Greek 'me tessera matia') to get some news.

I am as nervous as everyone is (except Blain possibly) so I will be checking my inbox every few minutes - all I can say is 'stand by'.

Until tomorrow night then,


Thursday, 5 April 2012


I arrived in the cold and drizzle yesterday afternoon; I broke the journey (after about 14 hours) in Abu Dhabi, then after 90 minutes, continued onto London. The first leg was a bit miserable; flying long-haul economy in a packed pane is rarely good fun but I’m not tall so I really shouldn't grumble. I kept well-hydrated and also kept stretching so arrived in good shape. The deep-tissue massage with Pete back in Sydney on Monday morning before I left paid off big time; got off without any cramping or aches. I was lucky to be able to use the lounge at Abu Dhabi and made a beeline for the Six Senses Spa where I squeezed in a free 15 minute in-chair massage – bliss! I had enough time for a quick shower and then back in the air. This flight was only half the length of the previous one and the plane was pretty empty which meant I could spread out over a row of four seats – very happy.

My dad met me at Heathrow (thanks Pa!) and drove me back to East Sussex; it was great to see my step-mum and enjoy some home cooking. I decided to take a last shave (for a few weeks anyway) and also spent some time checking my gear; I’d had a fair bit of stuff delivered in the UK as it’s generally a lot cheaper that buying in Oz. Happily, my dried food was all there, as were my running sunglasses and a few other bits, but very unhappily, one of my key pieces of kit, my titanium spork (great name – cross between a spoon and a fork) had not been sent. Instead they sent me a small foldable pot stand…hmmm…Tried calling the store but no answer, left a message but have not heard back. It’s now the morning of my flight to Ouzazartte and I still don’t have this piece of kit. Choices are to try and get one in a camping store en route to Gatwick this morning or else get a few (hopefully sturdy) plastic spoons from a takeaway salad bar and hope they last – let’s see.

I spoke with the wife last night; as always full of sound advice and exhortations to sleep well. I travelled to Melbourne for work on Tuesday and as only there for the day, took an early flight (06:15) in order that I could have a productive day before leaving early for Sydney to catch my flight back to London that evening. She schlepped my bags with her to work and then met me at the International terminal in the evening. Aside from practical stuff like that, she’s been a rock for me while I’ve been preparing for this.

We got married in January and as yet we really haven’t enjoyed any ‘quiet time’ just for the two of us; would you believe we still haven’t sat down and read our Guest Book? She’s been very tolerant and supported me throughout my little obsession, though this has meant many sacrifices for her and taking on a lot more of the stuff that couples normally share. I've promised her I’ll take her on honeymoon later this year and she’s surprisingly laid back about it. I’m an incredibly lucky guy as I’m not sure many wives would wait >6 months for their honeymoon while their husbands go off to play in the sand (she's also absolutely stunning but that's a whole new blog of its own and I'll try and keep on topic). She’s been a huge help in keeping me motivated and focused and hasn’t complained when I wake her at 4 in the morning as I stumble around looking for kit. No way could I be here without her support. 

I had calls from her mum, sister and brother, Michael the day I left as well as from some of my boys; very thoughtful and much appreciated! It was funny the difference in what they said, boys were more straight encouragement whereas the girls were more concerned, advising me to ‘take it easy’ and ‘stop if it got too difficult’ – we a laugh about this!

Anyway, my dad’s come down and we’re having some tea and toast so I’ll sign off. I showed him details last night of how to update the bog so all being well, he’ll keep it updated.

Thanks again to all supporters!