Stage five was the long day of 73km. I think that everyone started out with the idea that getting through this day would be very important and basically the end of the race as all that would be left was the short final stage. The first 30km were on dirty roads, flat and easy running. I set out at a pace that I thought I could maintain for the day. This put me a little further back in the field as there were some competitors who started off very strongly. I went through the first two checkpoints in around 15th place.
|Water refill during the long stage (Source: 4Deserts)|
|Still running strong in the first 30km (Source: 4Deserts)|
After checkpoint 2 we went off the road and into more desert, sand-like conditions. I kept the pace even and that helped me move forward in the field. I didn't change anything during this period of running and all that I needed was not to slow down. I was feeling strong and enjoying the challenge. I arrived at the next checkpoint in about 12th and running well.
We then headed into some salt flats and unlike the previous days, where I didn't enjoy the salt sections, I was feeling great and running consistently in that terrain. I caught up to three people and ran with Steven (Belgium) over the rough ground which seemed unreal after a few days of running and walking in the salt. We caught Mark (Zimbabwe) and arrived at the massive dune together. From a distance the dune looked very intimidating, but when we actually got to it the sand was much more firm than it appeared previously and we could climb it at a slow walking pace.
At the top of the dune was the most spectacular landscape I saw all week. It was more salt flats, but it looked like a choppy sea or some type of lunar landscape. The crests of all the salt waves were hard and in between it was soft. It wasn't easy running, but it was breathtakingly beautiful and that made things a little easier. This was only a short section and we descended to checkpoint four on another dune. It was a long section between the two checkpoints and I had finished my water. I was also about to start another long section in what would be the hottest part of the day.
|More salt flats, this time between 30km and 40km (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)|
|A massive sand dune to climb at 40km (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)|
|Unbelievable lunar landscape above the dunes (Source: Eric Rohnacher)|
|A fast, fun descent to CP4 (Source: Eric Rohnacher)|
At the checkpoint I loaded up with water and set out with a plan to keep a consistent pace like I had done in the earlier part of the day. This didn't last very long! I was not strong at all during this unending 14km section between checkpoints 4 and 5. Mark and Steven ran ahead of me and I could only watch them get away as I struggled with the heat and probably because I had not eaten enough food during the first part of the day. Only thinking about it now I realize that the salt flats and dune leading to the 40km mark where I ran out of water set up my trouble during the next section.
It was a flat part of the course along a winding river with us running through each of the corners and passing in and out the dry river bed. There was no wind and some salt in places and the heat was unbearable. I was despondent and unhappy about what had happened and the direction the day was taking. In addition to that my feet started swelling, or at least I noticed that my feet had swollen, and that added to the discomfort. I plodded along, running and walking, and only kept in mind the goal of getting to the next checkpoint. When I finally made it to checkpoint five I was overjoyed. I sat down, took the insoles out of my shoes, drank some extra water and drank a small caffeinated energy drink. The best thing about the checkpoints was that you felt like you could start again from zero. No matter what had happened before the checkpoint it was possible to be a different runner after it. So I left checkpoint five running strong.
|Long, hard running in the worst part of the day for me (Source: Joel Meredith)|
|A winding river bed that felt it like it would never end (Source: Joel Meredith)|
The distance between checkpoints five and six was boring. It was about 9km, all on a slight incline and with only two bends in the road. We could see kilometers ahead and that it was all uphill. I ran really strongly in this section and could see myself catching up to the runners ahead. It was amazing to be running strongly again and the miles flew by. I arrived at the next checkpoint feeling good and ready to keep on running.
The last part of the day was to the camp in Valley of the Moon. It was a climb and then rolling ups and downs for the final kilometers. I ran up the hill at a good rhythm and caught up to Mark. We ran together for a while, but in the last three kilometers we were completely finished. Mark had run out of energy, probably from not eating enough along the way, and my legs were absolutely fried. We walked in the last few kilometers and enjoyed having some company and getting to the end of a long, hot and challenging stage. We were in 9th and 10th positions and those would be our final positions at the end of the race.
|Taking it easy after the long day (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)|
It was a huge relief to be finished and know that all that lay ahead was 10km of running and that after a rest day. I soaked my feet in the medical tent, attended to my blisters which had grown during the day and got an early night's sleep. The rest day was long. I slept a lot, sent a long email and ate all the food I had left. Matias had told me it would be like a war camp and he was right. There were a lot of very sore people sleeping and lying around. However, I felt a sense of relief and joy in the camp that we were almost done.