If you’re a filmmaker what you do outside of work often reflects on your work. That’s why I decided to include a section on recent activities.

Marathon Des Sables


When we arrived at the bivouak for the start of the race the enormity of it all started to sink in. We got to our tent and everyone started to sort out their stuff for the race.

Some guys were ultra prepared and others like myself were hoping to use this last day and a half for refining our kit and in my case also preparing my kit. One of the most important bits of kit was the gators that fit around your shoes. These keep the sand out. And believe me you don’t want sand in your shoes.

I had adopted a casual attitude to this issue and it would cost me. I brought superglue but one of my tent mates and a fellow Yorkshireman, Fred, assured me his glue worked wonders. So I cut up bits of Velcro and stuck them carefully round my trainers – much to the amusement of my tent mates since only a fool would turn up unprepared and untested in this department.

Anyway. I stuck the gators to the Velcro and it seemed fine. Job done.

There was a sense of panic on the weight of bags. Everyone wanted to be under 10KG. The French were averaging 7KG we were told. Here was I with a suitcase full of stuff! There was no two ways about it. Most of it had to go. We discussed endlessly our food strategy and I decided on a 2 meal strategy for each day instead of what I had always planned – a 3 meal one. It may seem risky, but the less you take, the lighter your pack and the less your burn. 2 meals it was.

Bed by 7.30 and – still jet-lagged from Singapore – I slept like a baby.


We dropped our personal stuff that we would only see back at the hotel once everything was done, so anything you decided to leave out, you’d better be sure because this was it. No getting it back.

We were issued flares and salt tablets.

There was a whole day and we were awake by 5am but it went pretty fast and before we knew it – the sun was going down and we would need all the rest we could get.

DAY 1 33KM

Slept extremely well and woke early. The berbers came round on the dot of 6am and took the tents from over our heads while we were still sitting on our rug. Suddenly the campsite had been transformed into a rabble of waifs and strays. We were refugees in the desert and our next home was 33KM away.

We were about to start what people describe as the toughest foot race on the planet. And very soon we would find out why.

The race would start at 8.30 so everyone gathered for an aerial shot forming the numbers ‘26’ denoting the MDS number we were taking part in.

At the start line there was huge trepidation. None of us knew what to expect and we were surrounded by 850+ others from more that 30 countries all about to attempt an enormous and daunting undertaking. Nerves were running high. Many things raced through my mind including my family and friends and all the people I knew who had already sponsored me.

Patrick the chief of MDS stood on the roof of a Landrover and announced the birthdays. They played the ‘Playing for change’ version of Stand By Me and the hairs went up on the back of my neck. The seven tent mates looked each other in the eye and wished each other well and I must admit getting a bit of a lump in my throat at that moment.

30 seconds to go. 10, 9, 8… We were off. Heading over the rocky plain towards the huge sand dunes that waited for us on the horizon.

The pace wasn’t all that slow to be honest. And as the pack set off it was hard not to feel some anxiety when people went past. Although I knew that all I wanted to do was finish, I really couldn’t help feeling I wanted to finish in a reasonable position, whatever that might be. So there was some self-imposed pressure to keep up with the pack.

It took an hour and a half to reach Check Point 1 at 13km, and we ran the whole way there. It was slightly overcast and the terrain was flat so it wasn’t too much drama. Now we were in the dunes. And they were big. But we had no idea how big at this point because we could only see the ones immediately in front of us.

Sparky and I were together the whole way and started off up the first dunes. The novelty of being on different terrain wore off very quickly as our feet sunk deep in to the fine sand with each step. This is where all that careful preparation with the gators came in!

It started to get much hotter and the energy literally drained from my body. What was worse was that we seemed to be going slower that everyone else around us. At times it felt like a dream where you try to go fast but can’t. But this wasn’t a dream. It was real. The heat was real. The sand was real. The exhaustion was real. This was the Marathon des Sables. Day 1. And I was now beginning to see why this race was revered so much.

About 2 or 3 hours in to the dunes was one of the low points of the whole race for me. The dunes were still rising and each horizon seemed to reveal another mountain of sand ahead. I couldn’t believe it. Eventually however there was a glimmer of hope. I noticed some runners who seemed to have leveled out some distance ahead. This inspired several expletives of relief out loud.

We were almost there. And when we finally got out of those bloody dunes I was almost beaten. The only thing that made me feel better at CP2 (26KM) was the fact that many others were in as bad a condition as I was – suffering and close to the edge in terms of what I thought I could take.

We rested briefly and ploughed on for the last 7KM, which seemed to go on forever.

Finally we crossed the line and had no way of know where we may have finished in the pack. Later we found oout. 309th. 5 hours and 47 minutes. Not too bad.

Tim Reid had already been back in the tent for some time and had finished well inside the top 100. Ali, Fred joined us shortly after, but the real triumph of the day was Tim Barker arriving back. Here was the man who had two destroyed knees and who had only come to walk. Nobody really thought he’d make it. His surgeon told him categorically that he would not be on the start line. And here he was – he’d done day 1 - a heroic effort that astonished all of us.

DAY 2 38KM

Woke at 5am to high wind. The first sand storms were upon us and those of us who had abandoned our goggles were now ruing the decision. The blisters from yesterday were not too bad after I had lightly bandaged them. And the freeze dried meals were still tasting okay – at this stage.

The fact that I hadn’t had a shower since Friday was of less of a concern than getting my lenses in with Sand blowing everywhere. I tried everything but there was so much grit on my fingers when the lenses got in my eyes it was agony, and I lost one immediately round the back of my eye, so I had to continue the rest of the day with vision in only one eye.

Despite the high winds the course was much more straightforward than day 1. No serious difficulties. Ran most of the way. Finished in around the same time as yesterday in 284th. Crossed the line with Sparky.

Had my blisters lanced again. Went back to the tent and got more ruthless with some of my kit. The first thing to go was my Marathon des Sables slipper. Just after I had bought them I read a blog by someone from a previous year who dubbed them ‘worse than useless’. He was right. They never made it mast stage 2 and to be honest they were lucky to make it that far.

I slept better knowing those slippers would no longer be a burden not tomorrow, not ever.

One invaluable tip for anyone who considers doing the Marathon des Sables: Go to Doc Trotters (the foot medics) every day to keep on top of your blister situation.

DAY 3 38KM

I remember feeling my stomach going queezy. Was it just my imagination or would I suffer like I had before in Borneo? Today was the toughest yet. 38km and a lot of dunes. But the mountain we climbed was spectacular, which semi made up for it.

We finished 280th today in around 6 hrs 30 mins.
It's a great relief to get the third day done without too many problems. My left knee which had swollen up at Christmas and caused me to withdraw from the MDS in 2009, seems to be holding up. This was one of my biggest worries about completing the course. But so far so good.

The blisters on the souls of my feet now cover half my foot and are getting worse - not surprisingly… As soon as I stop running the pain sets in and today it took me about 15 minutes to walk 100 metres to the medical tent.

The doctor winced when he saw my blisters. And I winced when he cut them!

Not feeling too bad overall apart from my stomach which is beginning to feel a little unsettled. Hopefully it will be fine tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the big one. 82km. You can’t really train for something like this. You just have to find a way to finish. We all know there's going to be a lot of pain...

I received a couple of email messages through the website and this was a real lift.

The mood in the tent is great. Couldn’t wish for a nicer bunch of guys. Lots of laughing and joking around.

Dreaming about pizza and a beer.

DAY 4 82KM

Everyone knows this is the day that that is going to break you if anything is.

So far so good though. No swelling on the knee. The painkillers are keeping the blisters on the souls of my feet in a tolerable condition. And the legs feel surprisingly fresh. As for the stomach – difficult to say, but it mostly felt okay.

We started noticeably slower than the previous 3 days but everyone was still running. And we ran most of the way to check Point 1 at 12.5KM apart from a few mountainous rises. Stage 2 began to get spectacular as we summited a ‘Djebel’ or Mountain and ran along its ridge with a cliff a few feet to our left. This was as good as I’d feel all day. We were among familiar company so I knew we were doing ok.

The big climb really started to take it out of me though, and I started to lag a little.

An hour or so later as we closed in on CP2 at 25KM I was feeling rough. Sparky and I took refuge in the tents and had a sit down amongst other guys who were also beginning to suffer.

Sparky told me to eat. But I had no appetite. Still I had to try. One bit of my energy bar was all it took. One bite. And it triggered a violent wretch. Luckily all that came out was a small amount of water. And suddenly I felt much better. Maybe it was just the heat.

We ploughed on the CP3 at 38KM and by the time we got close I was at the low point of my entire race. I flopped down by a tent like a rag doll. No energy to even refill my bottles. I tried a tiny bit of dried mango but the reaction was far more violent than my first episode at CP2. Several hurls and I could feel the blood draining from my face. Sparky and a guy next to us looked at me and I could see alarm in their eyes. Right then I thought my race might be over. To be in this condition with almost 50KM to go was not a great position to be in.

Luckily a nice doctor called Maurice, who had dealt with my blisters the night before, offered me an anti vomit tablet. Take it. Wait 15 minutes. If you can stomach water after that you’re good to go. And so it was. Good to go. I couldn’t believe how well it worked. But energy levels were another matter.

We started out again to CP4 which as only 11KM away – not too bad in the bigger scheme of things. After negotiating the next climb and down the other side the sun was beginning to set. The cooler weather, and my improving stomach finally began to lift my spirits and therefore both of us. We even began joking around for the first time since the tent this morning. It was a glorious sunset and we felt privileged to be there in the desert at such a beautiful time of the day.

Slowly darkness began to descend and the head torches came on. And soon we were following little dots ahead of us. By this point I had managed a few bits of biltong. To help pass the time and ease my way back I forced myself to have one piece every 15 minutes. And very soon we were at CP4. 49KM. We’d been going over 9 hours by now – slow progress but at least we were still in there.

I had dreaded the idea of not finishing and letting all those people who had sent me messages, sponsored me and who I knew may be looking at the daily results. So slow progress was better than quitting.

At CP4 we realized that there was still 33KM to go – the equivalent of day 1. Not a good thought.

That’s certainly what Sparky thought too. My old mate from school, is probably the chirpiest bloke I know. Always got a witty one-liner – always a smile on his face. But not now. Not with another. This is the only time I’ve ever seen him looking truly forlorn – bereft of sense of humour – at least for now. That’s what this even can do to even the sprightliest of folk.

We knew there were dunes at 56Km and for the first and possibly only time I was willing them to be there. Because at least it meant we were edging closer to CP5 at 61KM. Finally they came and they turned out to be not as bad as they could have been.

And by this point you go into autopilot. You just plod and keep going. I remember a French guy complaining that some of the markers had gone and couldn’t believe he could be bothered bringing it up never mind making the scene that he did.

We left CP5 ahead of a crowd of Spaniards who were talking incessantly. This spurred us to keep well ahead, and as I recall we even ran for a KM or 2 just get clear. Funny what can spur you on sometimes.

We were joined by a Belgian guy called Nicholas who also talked a lot. But he was a good chap and we passed the next 11KM quickly and strongly. As we edged our way us a hill we could make out what looked like lights on the horizon. And as we trudged closer the laser from the finish line became distinguishable in the sky. Had we really almost made it? It seemed too good to be true.

That last KM I started to realize that I was going to complete the Marathon des Sables and started to imagine drinking beer with my brother and eating normal food and sitting down. Oh my god… sitting down!

CP6. At 72KM we had a brief rest and marched out of camp on the final leg. And we set quite a pace. Spirits were up and we were finally feeling pretty good. It seemed endless and we said on about a dozen occasions that we couldn’t be more than 1 or 2 KM way but it just didn’t seem to get any bloody closer!

Then suddenly that all changed. I saw a vehicle and the finish line became distinguishable. We made a final weary surge and stumbled gratefully over the line. I later learnt that my cousin Ed had seen us come in on the live webcam. What a trooper!

We finished in around 18 hours. 3am. As soon as I stopped my feet became painful and it took me ages to get to the tent.

I have rarely enjoyed rolling out a sleeping bag more than then. One last vomit (outside the tent) and straight to bed. I lay there a few minutes contemplating that the worst was truly behind us and tried not to ruin it by acknowledging that there was still the business of the marathon to go.


What little there was of it we cherished.

The most outstanding memory was courtesy of one of tent mates, Tim Barker. I had a cup of tea with milk in it. It was nothing short of heavenly. I think I had two.

Well worth bring tea bags and powdered milk. It will temper the pain beyond words – I exaggerate not.

I also got an email from my cousin Ed who told me he had been willing me on and had followed my progress stage by stage throughout the day. What surprised me even more was that he watched me cross the finish line on the live webcam at 3am in the morning! What a trooper!

After 4 days of racing the kit was really beginning to smell. But we had kind of got used to it. None of us had washed or shaved for about 8 days and there was sand and dirt embedded in our pores. My running shorts were like cardboard and my t-shirt was stiff and stained with salt from my body.

The prospect of a marathon didn’t seem too bad compared to the big day but it still needed respect. It was 51 degrees and we were running through the heat of the day.

And we were going further that any of the first 3 days. We started at a canter and reached the first ‘djebel’ at 9KM. Behind this was CP1 so this was a good sign. Very quickly we were up and down it. There we were more than quarter of the way through the race.

Sparky left me to go on ahead before we reached CP2 (22KM) and I managed pretty well. There were familiar faces around and my pace was reasonable.

It was only by CP3 (31KM) that my lack of food intake began to take it’s toll. Despite the rest my stomach was still not right and I had eaten virtually nothing since the start of the day apart from a small bag of KP peanuts which were delicious.

I was just leaving CP3 and was stopped my Steve - one of the marshals – a Brit. He could obviously see that I was suffering beyond the norm and he advised me to take an anti-nausea tablet. He came and sat with me in the tent for 15 minutes and we chatted and laughed about stuff.

I set off on the final 11.5KM feeling much better. My time wasn’t going to be great but I didn’t care now. The knowledge that I had the worst behind me and that I was on the brink of completing the 26th Marathn des Sables was inspiring.

I trotted home in 7 hours on the dot. I doubt I’ll do a slower marathon but who cares!

I was so exhausted I sat down in the finisher’s tent when I returned my flare to the officials and promptly fell asleep on the spot. I woke up about 45 minutes later and limped over to tent 104.

DAY 7 17.5KM

It was strange waking up knowing that it was almost all over.

On the one hand there was great relief. And I couldn’t wait to wash, eat normal food and drink a cold Coca Cola! But on the other hand the experience we had all shared and what we had endured together was something special and I was beginning to feel sorry it was coming to an end. What an adventure we had had. We pushed our bodies and minds to the limit and so far, we had all made it.

It was hard to predict what the first KM would be like. Would everyone be sore and set off gently? Would people walk - just content to trundle home?

Not a bit of it. We set of at a hell of a pace. And it stayed that way until the finish line. CP1 was only 9KM away and we reached it in under an hour. My legs never let me down the whole race. They were fresh every day believe it or not. For that I am grateful.

From CP1 it was only a matter of counting down. Tazzarine was within view after about 2 KM and we only walked once for about 2 minutes.

Sparky and I overtook quite a few people close to the town and once we hit the tarmac we knew it was only 1.5KM to go and we managed a bit of a spurt at the end. I cannot tell you how good it felt to see the finish line, let alone cross it.

We went straight to the nearest vendor and sat under his tarpaulin. I wasn’t interested in the packed lunch I’d been given at the finish line, but I was interested in his Coca Cola and wolfed 4 down one after the other.

The experience was unforgettable. For the 8 days in the desert we were bonded by a common purpose – almost independent of the outside world. The camaraderie in our tent and amongst the other competitors from many different countries - everyone showed friendship, respect, humour and humanity to each other in a way that isn’t as evident in everyday life.

I loved the fact that everyone’s race numbers were included with FIRST NAME only and Country. That meant when you passed someone who was struggling you simply said ‘Come on Bob, you’re doing well… not far to go now’ (even it was). There’s something quite touching about being called by your first name by a stranger in a place like the desert especially when you’re all struggling in pursuit of such a tough goal. Whoever decided on that – it was a simple thing, but a touch of genius.

One guy who shall remain nameless told us of his lowest moment. He had been struggling for some time and felt a sudden need to expel fluid from both ends. Not knowing which end would be called to action first her pulled his shorts down and got on all fours by a palm tree. When he looked up he saw a marshal’s car had driven along side him in his most vulnerable moment. The marshal asked him if he was okay. He didn’t know how to answer.

I was ill on day 4, yes, but at least I was never quite that bad.

What impressed me more than the caliber of the athletes was the display of determination. I’m not talking about myself although I did need a fair degree of it. I am referring to those who struggled far more than me, those who were literally hobbling round, those who were still coming in the following afternoon on the 82 KM day when the rest of us finished late the night before. That takes unbelievable will power. It’s those people who I admire most.

Would I do it again?

It’s amazing how short one’s memory can be. I would consider it. Yes.

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