There is no way around it, no way to dress up the words in falsehoods and certainly no way to filter the fear with a hashtag or two: I am nervous. The desert of the Marathon des Sables is coming whether I am ready or not.
For those of you who follow me on social media will know; I took a break from posting a few weeks ago as I was struggling mentally. I never want to hide away from documenting all parts of my running adventures, the intoxicating highs and the agonising lows but I had to take a break to rebuild, rebalance and recover.
This low was brought on by the looming task ahead of the Marathon des Sables, the toughest task I will probably ever face. The desert had seemed so distant for so long that when I realised that it was no longer distant but ominously imminent it jarred my self esteem. That twinned with every time I would talk to friends or someone new about it they would not respond with word of encouragement but rather skepticism dressed up as concerned. I would laugh off the endless waves of “please be safe”, “have you thought this through?” and “are you mad?”. I would cowardly agreeing that I must be mad and this mentality became my truth. I believed I must be mad. I no longer felt brave or adventurous, I felt naive.
All of these words finally wore a hole in my scaffolded armour. The hole I had tried to heal following my failure to complete the entire Pilgrim Challenge, a 66 mile ultra spread over two days across the Surrey Hill, tore effortlessly open. Through that crack doubt crept in alongside fear. I began to doubt I could complete Marathon des Sables and I now feared what I had once been so excited for. I doubted my training and feared the ridicule I’d face in failure. I truly thought of giving up before even trying.
I don’t want to go into it all but just know that it hurt both physically and emotionally and seemed unending. At it’s worse I lay face pressed deep into the pillow I no longer wanted to leave this bed, this house, this safe space. A million tiny moments, a million small prayers to a god I no longer believed in, while my alarm clock blared at me to move with responsibility calling. I saw no way out of this seemingly inescapable spiral until I went for a walk, a very long walk.
On a Saturday morning, three weeks ago, I took a train to Reading and walked the 56 miles home. I chose to walk all of it rather than running as I wanted to show myself that as long as I keep moving I can achieve. Most of it was along the beautiful Thames Path which made navigation very simple: keep the river near you at all times. It felt incredibly therapeutic and with every passing mile I could feel my confidence returning and my smile broadening.
I walked 32 miles on the Saturday and 24 miles on the Sunday self supported with the food I would eat during my days in Marathon des Sables. I created my own multi-day ultra, conquering that unknown created by not completing Pilgrims in 16 slow and steady hours. I was joined by my ever supportive partner for the final 17 miles which also proved to be the worst weather wise as we were barraged by hail, snow and hurricane like winds. But by getting home I realised that I am more capable than I believed. I have carried the burden of depression for over ten years, unseen and intangible but painfully presence. The fact that I have carried the weight of this silent sorrow, long before I carry the challenge and literal weight of my pack for the Marathon des Sables, gives me hope that I can just keep moving forward whatever life throws at me.
The desert of the Marathon des Sables is coming and I think I might be ready…