The last stage wasn't the gentle trot that I had hoped for. The organizers decided it would be a timed stage of approx 8km which saw us run from the camp to the finish line in the San Pedro town square. We left in two waves with slower runners leaving at 9.30am and the rest leaving at 10am. Come 10am my wave started and straight away people bolted, so I followed. It took a few kms for my legs to wake up and feel good despite the day of rest, but I managed to hold a good pace considering I still had a pack and 240km of hard running in the legs. Once again I picked people off and again I ended up next to Felix for the last km. Rounding the final corner into the square Felix did the awfully British thing and asked if I minded if he sprinted for the line. I was equally British and said of course he could as he felt that 4th was his 'spot' for each stage. I came over the finish line and the biggest and heaviest race medal I have ever got was placed around my neck with numerous congratulations and sweaty hugs. I had done more than enough to maintain my position as 3rd overall, highest placed British runner and the highest placed in my age category (30-39). The atmosphere in the square was amazing with a band playing, family and friends of many competitors watching, and competitors who has to withdraw were also there. The pizza went down a treat as did a nice cold can of fanta, before a couple of us found the nearest bar to get a well deserved local beer (which went straight to the head!). After numerous photos I went to the hotel. Sadly by the time I got to have a shower there was no hot water left but it still felt good cleaning a week of dirt away and putting on clean clothes. I hit the town for lunch with many of the guys I had shared tent 7 with (a great bunch of guys who all did really well in the race - one of the only tents in which everyone finished) and we were soon tucking into massive steaks and fresh salads. And when I say massive I mean massive - I have never seen or eaten a steak that big! Later that evening we had the awards ceremony. It was great seeing everyone for the last time and celebrating everyone's success, over a nice glass of Chilean red, with another massive plate of meat each (I have definitely had my protein fix for the next month!). I went up for my first ever podium and trophy, and certainly enjoyed the occasion. What a place and event to get your first podium! We then got to relive some of the last week and see some of the pictures and video that had been taken over the week. I look forward to seeing more when I am back in Blighty. Then it was a few more drinks with my newly made friends before a short stumble to the hotel and a welcome first night in a proper bed. Now I am on my way home to my family - a long 26 hour journey! So that's it. I will try to find time to post later about my training and kit as many people have asked me, but this is it for now. Thanks all for following me, and again if you haven't yet, don't forget to visit my just giving page and also look at the great work that Surrey Sands does. https://www.justgiving.com/Jonty-Cowan
There is a really nice atmosphere in camp right now. Everyone is congratulating each other on a hard day’s work yesterday, and the sense of relief, satisfaction and achievement is evident in every face. Everyone but 2 people who started yesterday finished.
I had a great day. I started a little more conservatively than I had the last few days and ran with a few others to CP1. Thankfully they had to cut out a lake crossing at the start so we didn’t get wet feet, and it also shortened the stage by 2km. shortly after CP1 I was running with one other guy in 4th, but from about 7km I was on my own in 3rd. We had more of the salt crust to run on (imagine trying to run on frozen broccoli) but it was more runnable yesterday thankfully. The frozen broccoli turned to a dirt track from CP2, which went on to CP3 at approx. 30km. It was shortly after this that Felix caught me again, which I was grateful for. The shuffling along was starting to hurt and my adductor was tightening, so I needed the company.
We ran the rest of the day together getting each other through. The scenery was varied once more, with monster sand dunes to climb, rocky jeep tracks to follow, mine fields to pass (no kabooms heard thankfully!) and then a final sting in the tail, climbing a pass through ‘Moon Valley’. The tourists there were slightly bemused by the site of two dirty, sweaty, tired runners shuffling along. Hopefully the pictures they took are the highlights of their holiday photo albums!
Coming into camp after 10hr 11mins of running was a great feeling. I had expected to finish in the dark after about 12 hours, so to finish in the light was great. It was great to finish with Felix and to also help him keep 4th place overall. It has made a great difference running with Felix as he pushed me on.
Today I will mostly be eating. Then tomorrow we have the final stage. We are waiting to hear the distance and if it will be timed. Most people just want to walk it together, me included, but we will see.
Pizza and beer will greet us at the finish line, which will be very welcome. Sweet stuff and expedition foods are not very palatable now. Many conversations in camp centre around the foods that will be eaten (steak and chips is on my mind…) and how nice a shower will be.
This has been a long journey for me which is finally coming to an end. I first signed up for MDS2013 in 2011. That was postponed for a year to 2014 when we lost the twins, and I had to withdraw from MDS2014 due to injury. To have finally completed the dream after 3 ½ years is amazing, but to have had such s great week and achieve far more than I could ever have imagined had blown me away. This chapter of my life is done.
Thanks for each and every comment and message this week. It is pretty surreal sitting at a computer in a desert laughing, smiling and occasionally shedding a tear, but it has made the experience that much more special knowing the support that I have had back at home.
Thanks too for the donations to SANDS. It means a lot for me to give something back to them following the loss of our twins 2 years ago. (And if you haven’t donated yet, why not go to justgiving and search for ‘Jonty Cowan’…)
What next? Family J I owe them big time (and have majorly negative brownie points). Amanda, Emma and Noah have been amazingly supportive, putting up with early morning runs, obscene amounts of kit to wash, obsessions over gear weights and the number of calories in food and much more besides. I simply could not have done this without them.
Day 4 is in the bag with another third place. I started strong as we slogged up sandy, rocky dunes and then down some huge dunes. Going down the steepest ones feels like snowboarding as you have to zig zag down and almost jump to turn. At CP1 Felix caught me up again but I was glad for the company as the next 13km were across a sandy, rocky plain which went on and on. Towards CP2 I pushed on and built a gap again, but then we hit the salt flats. Whilst it was easier going than yesterday, I seem to struggle more than Felix and he caught me again. We ran (and walked) through the 14km of flats up to CP3. From here it was a flat 6.6km along a decent trail. Despite feeling the heat (again in the 40s) and some soreness in the legs, I told myself that all I had to do was run the equivalent as going to Stoke Park and doing 2 laps. So I did. I have never run a tougher 6.6km before, but I managed to gain a 2min gap on Felix by the time I hit the line. It is great fun running with Felix, but we also enjoy the competitive side of this too.
All in it was probably an easier day than yesterday, but we have the big day tomorrow – 77km. Whilst we have 36hrs in which to complete it, I hope to finish within the first few hours of darkness.
There is a huge sense of relief that people have got this far. There have been more drop outs, more with injuries getting the better of them. Given how everyone else feels I am actually doing quite well. My legs seem to recover well overnight. I went to see the medics today about my feet just to make sure they are ok and I am doing the right thing, and they said that I am probably doing the best in camp at looking after my feet and to just keep doing the same which was nice. It took me about 1.5 hrs to tape them last night, but it is obviously worth it!
Sadly the fresh water pool hasn’t materialised but I will still find a way to wash my shorts or they will start walking by themselves!
The volunteers here who are running the race asked me what I think about when I run. They were amused by my answers – random songs (for the last 2 days “every day I’m shuffling”), doing random maths (if we pass a flag every 25 metres, how many do we pass in a day – 1600 in 40 km) and I think of Amanda, Emma and Noah (which is the biggest motivation of all).
Thanks again for the comments.
Churchers posse – nice motivational words! Its pretty tough staying cool in this heat being a pasty white Englishman, but I am obviously doing ok ;)
Tom – I knew there was something positive that would come out of our memorable river run – perfect training for this! Just one more day to smash it, but it’ll be a tough day all in! I will definitely be using that Jens Voigt tactic ‘Shut up legs!’
Tony R – cant wait for the real cuddle.
Brian – I am mostly managing one foot in front of the other, but occasionally forget and catch a rock. Ah well, who needs toes?! I am intrigued to see the pictures as I haven’t seen any myself at all. I am taking less and less pics as I just try to run now J
Herve – thinking of contracts makes me want to stay here and run another 250km J
Chris – v cheesy but it made me laugh…
Dad – thanks for all the messages, they mean a lot to me
Alan – thankfully it was an easier day all in. lets see what happens with 2nd, but I think that 3rd or 4th is more likely, as long as I don’t have a disaster tomorrow! The celebratory beers are on Saturday. A v welcome thought, particularly after 6 months of v little booze!
I am unlikely to post tomorrow given I will be tackling the beast…
Wow. That is the hardest day of running I have ever managed. Although it is fair to say that there was more walking than running today.
We started across some hideous terrain – an old dried out lake bed which was just salty mud interspersed with grass reeds. It was a lottery as to whether your foot would stay firm, fall through the crust a few inches or you would go over on your ankles. After about 5 km of that we hit a trail until checkpoint 1. Already the legs were aching. I was in 3rd place at this point and had managed to open a gap on the chasers. The guy in front were about 2 mins in front but he managed the crusty stuff better than I was. We then hit small sand dunes which sapped more out of the legs for a few km. when we hit a dirt road I was happy to start as I could run properly, but pretty soon that hurt. I wanted a hill to give me a chance to walk and use different muscles, but instead we turned on to more of the crusty stuff. At this point I really struggled and ended up walking a lot as it was just so difficult to run. After 20km the second placed brit (Felix) caught me which was a life saver. It was exactly the right time as I was aboutnto break out the ipod to get my spirits up. He helped push me through and run a bit more. We ran the rest of the day and actually helped each other – I was chief flag spotter and he helped me run more.
After 30km we had a sandy, flinty uphill section. By now we knew that 2nd place was out of reach so we mostly walked, relieved for the respite. But after 2km someone was catching us so we had to walk run. It was the longest 8km of my life, especially as the flags were so difficult to spot today (the whole route is marked with pink flags every 25 metres). At 5km to go we had to climb a 30 metre sand dune which must have been about 50% gradient. It was a proper hands and feet effort and half way up it felt like I wouldn’t make it up as every footstep just sank back downhill and the sand was burning my hands. Needless to say we did struggle up it.
We then had the equivalent of a park run to complete, mostly through sandy and rocky dunes, with the guy behind us still catching us. We pushed each other on and with a couple of kms to go the guy behind us dropped back. With a last 50m sand dune to climb to the finish, I had completed the toughest stage so far. Amazingly I just held on to 3rd place, which is amazing given how bad I felt earlier in the day.
Apparently the temperature today got into the 40s which explains one reason why I struggled today. Having trained up to 35C I have felt ok in the heat the last 2 days, but today was tougher.
My legs are pretty sore now and my toes suffered on the difficult terrain, particularly on the left foot. I would say that a pedicure is in order, but it would likely hurt too much. But I will patch them up tonight ready for tomorrow.
We are now about half way through which is great. I need to get through tomorrow feeling good at the end as we have the long 77km stage after that. So tonight I am going to see what I can ditch from my pack to help lighten the load. As I have gone pretty minimal already there wont be much, but every little helps.
The camp looks a bit like a war zone right now. People are hobbling much more now and there have been a fair few drop outs each day, mostly as people are missing cut off times. The stench of the clothing is pretty ripe and it is all salt stained. I am told we camp by a fresh water lake tomorrow so I hope to get the chance to clean off a bit there. A wet wipe can only clean you so much!
Thanks again for the comments and messages.
Hannah – shame that matt has the pox but as you say good that he didn’t get on the plane. Only a small bit of sunburn on the back of the legs. But v dodgy tan lines! And I am of course tsking pictures of my feet to show you all! J
Rita – I met Elliot today which was nice
Charlotte – you are obviously a walking joke book!
Maja – thanks for your message. I am doing my best to keep on running!
Poul and Kirsten - thanks for your messages! Glad to see I am getting coverage outside the UK as well.
Tony’s tutor group – even Chema struggled today. Are cracks appearing?
PC – it was cold again last night but no cuddling needed yet! Hopefully we wont need that given how bad we all smell.
Tom etc – shock horror, I am not the baldest here! Amazing I know.
Mr B – I like that – the silent legend! Although the brits are loving my results and I get various random people congratulating me which is a bit weird.
Right, my ass hurts sitting on this nasty stool and I have blisters to drain. Yum!! J
That was a brutal stage today. We started running about 10km through a canyon with numerous sections through a freezing river. Not nice when it hit the crown jewels but at least the numb toes stopped the blisters hurting! We then had a long climb of about 700 metres before an amazingly fun run down a massive sand dune. The trails then flattened out as the heat notched up for Kms 20-40. I reverted to my run walk strategy which seems to work well and allows me to catch and pass people. The last 4 km was along a road and I could see the guy behind me catching up. So I set myself a slightly more run orientated schedule with more running than walking. That helped and I stayedm5 mins in front of the next guy (felix, another brit).
In the end I managed to finish first Brit again and so have 20 mins on Felix (2nd placed Brit). But he lost the trail today snd did 1.5km extra so tomorrow I expect him to beat me tomorrow.
Overall I managed to go one better and finished 2nd J I have moved up to 2nd overall across the 2 days. Before anyone suggest it, the leader is about 1hr 45 ahead and so there is no chance of me going one better again – he runs the whole stages whereas everyone else has to walk large sections.
Despite the rivers today my feet did well today. They were sore all day but the blisters I had are not too much worse. Right now I am sitting with my feet in a bucket of water typing this before I go and have the joy of draining them. Nice!
I am taking lots of pics but cant upload them so I will share them when I return. The official photos are being posted but I am told by Amanda that they aren’t v flattering of me…
Thanks for all the messages and comments. Sorry I cant reply to all but:
Pete – nice work on the quicker 5km. when I get back we could have a race – you would probsbly beat me given how I am likely to feel
Brian – whildt stronger, harder, faster is true, my daily strategy is ‘slow and steady wins the race’ J
Charlotte –thanks for the jokes – keep them coming
Tony’s tutor group – thanks for the message and send me more! It all helps
Nici – plastic bags – way too heavy!
Rita – thanks for the note – I will seek out Elliot!
Hannah – good gossip! J sounds like I missed an entertaining evening
And lastly apologies for the spelling – these windows tablets are nasty for typing!!
Stage 1 is done. I had good day and was pleased with how I coped with the stage. We had a variety of terrain – running through gorges and canyons, across plains, over loose sand and rocks. Overall we descended from our start at 3,300 metres which I am grateful for. I coped ok with the altitude, mostly with dry, burning throat. The heat was fine first thing but at 11am it was like someone turned on a blast furnace.
The worst part was between checkpoints 2 and 3 which involved a never ending slog up a canyon. It was a slight uphill but enough to make it tough running, and with no wind coming through the canyon the heat was relentless. So I ended up running 100 steps and then walking 100 steps, which got me through. Needless to say most people spent much of the day walking. Only couple of small blisters on the toes which I have treated and will tape for tomorrow.
The pack felt good all day. I am v pleased to have taken the effort to make my pack as light as possible (approx. 8.2 kg). Some guys have 13 kg packs which I can’t quite comprehend carrying. Needless to say they are currently ditching everything they can to make them lighter! I just love the fact that once I have eaten my food for the day and used supplies like tape and liquids, gels etc, my pack gets approx. 650g lighter each day. So by the final stage I expect to carry approx. 3.5kg which will be a dream in comparison!
I came over the finishing line in just over 4 hours, which I am very pleased with as I feel that I ran at a good pace well within myself. I was shocked to finish the stage as first Brit and third overall. I don’t expect to maintain that but it is nice to have done well on at least one day!
Tomorrow is meant to be a harder stage and we start with a river crossing pretty early which concerns me for my feet. But I will just see what happens and take each section as it comes.
So now I just have to have some food, tape my feet and get to bed before it gets cold – it got stupidly cold last night which made for a poor night’s sleep. Hopefully now we have dropped some altitude it will be warmer tonight…
I can’t see any messages or e-mails as they haven’t downloaded them yet so will look tomorrow.
I arrived after a long day of traveling. Santiago airport was an experience - nearly missed my connecting flight due to the long queues everywhere but after a sprint to the gate I made it, and thankfully so did my bag. Chilean customs were interested in the food in my bag but thankfully let me through with no issue. I worried that they were going to take it all leaving me having to panic shop in Calama. The scenery from Calama airport to San Pedro de Atacama was amazing and makes me excited to see what is in store. We have had competitor check in, kit and food has been signed off and so we now get given lunch then get into busses for the 1.5hr journey to camp 1. Stage 1 will then start at 8am tomorrow. I am certainly pleased to have got here and sorted the admin. Now it is lots of sitting around waiting for the start. I am of course nervous about what is coming, but am actually quite relaxed about the whole thing. I have done everything I can to prepare for this and so it is now just a case of starting and see what happens. Thanks to everyone that has donated - I am touched by the generosity and it will be a source of encouragement to me. Laters...
Having spent the last 6 months preparing for this race there is now just one week to go. This time next week I will have completed the first day. But right now, the bag is packed (which was entertaining trying to get everything in!) and tomorrow I take my first of many flights (I travel to Chile via the US for a work off site).
Many people have asked me how I feel about it. I have many feeling. I am nervous, scared and excited all at the same time about venturing into the unkown and what is in store for me. I am looking forward to the adventure, and feel I have prepared as well as I could have done for everything this race will throw at me (altitiude, heat, distance, being self sufficient etc etc), which should hopefully mean that the nerves wont be too bad for this one. I am most concerned about my feet as the chances of getting blisters are high, which will inevitably make the event harder to complete.
No doubt the next two weeks will be a rollercoaster for me, and tomorrow I step on board...