MdS Stage 4: The Desert Changes You

On May 8, 2009, in Racing, by Meghan

While I felt comfortable with my 22-minute cushion, I expected Luz to go for it on this 4th and final stage. I went to bed the night before ready to run a strategy Bryon suggested: find Luz at the starting line, then sit on her for this 42.2 kilometer marathon distance stage. I never found Luz at Friday’s crazy, bustling starting line, so I adopted a Plan B, to just keep doing what I’d been doing.

The race started with a gentle climb towards a small jebel about 5 kilometers away. This was fun because the easy grade provided sweet views of the unending chain of runners and the sea of color they imposed on the desert’s neutral palette. On this climb, I encountered familiar faces, Luxembourg Simone and Great Brittan Jennifer. An easy climb up and over the jebel yielded another flat expanse and a view of the first checkpoint, still several miles away.

The first checkpoint came and went at the base of another small jebel (Or two?). Then we ran on another gentle uphill grade across a long series of dunettes. These dunettes were a ton of fun to play on, and they eventually yielded to a wide, sandy wadi and then the second checkpoint.

After the second checkpoint, I suddenly felt tired, and, for the first time all week, navigating the desert’s complex landscape was real work. I have little recollection of the final 15 or so kilometers of this stage, because I just put my head down and ran. I do remember cresting a jebel to see the Marathon des Sables (MdS) finish line about 3 kilometers away, across a flat reg. I recall trying to run hard during that last distance, and feeling like I was going nowhere. My MdS finish felt like one of those dreams wherein you try to run but you are mired in mud or wearing very heavy shoes, and no matter what you do, you run in slow motion.

People have talked about the experience of crossing the Marathon des Sables finish line, of feeling spiritual, of feeling changed. I watched hundreds of people cross the finish line that day, and I saw infinite expressions of evolution out there (Congratulations to everyone who endured this journey. We all should be so proud!). My finish was with little ado, mostly an epic feeling of relief for finally getting across that last rocky expanse. I collected my medal and looked around, not knowing quite what to do next. Luz saved me when she approached and congratulated me, saying that, while she had beat me today, it wasn’t by enough to change the overall race rankings. We hugged and I thanked her for her tremendous competition, especially during the long stage. I meandered without purpose until Bryon collected me into Tent 100.

I didn’t discover it until later, how MdS changed me. I had changed during the last 12 kilometers of the long stage, in the middle of the empty Sahara Desert night. Out there, I learned that a boundary is only such because it’s arbitrarily established by the human brain, and I broke my own pre-established barrier when I exceeded what I thought were the limitations of my own running ability. We athlete folk can probably count on less than one hand the sporting moments about which we are most proud. Stage 3 of the 2009 Marathon des Sables, with special attention to the stage’s final 12k, was for me one of those moments.

Stage 4 in the race's Roadbook, the 2009 Marathon des Sables (from

9 Responses to “MdS Stage 4: The Desert Changes You”

  1. Danni says:

    Wow you are so awesome Meghan. How fun to be fast and competitive! I think that most people, athletically, are capable of more than they think they are. Like, I’ve learned that lifting heavy I might feel stalled but suddenly someone yelling at me gives me strength I had no idea was there. Amazing stuff! It’s all in our minds! And you have a good mind there lady 🙂

    Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!

  2. Backofpack says:

    Incredible accomplishment Meghan. This adventure is one that will carry you through life – enduring lessons and lessons in enduring. I love that it changed you and in such a positive way.

  3. Gretchen says:

    What an incredible story! Thanks so much for sharing it, and awesome job on the race!

  4. Tom says:

    Megan; Thank you for the great story, and what a adventure for you. one that will change your life and that way that you approach life.

  5. JeffO says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share the whole journey. Your adventures are very inspiring.

  6. Journey to a Centum says:

    If you only had cool socks like Leslie you life would be complete…

  7. Meghan says:

    Thanks to all of you for your awesome comments and thoughts.

    But, apparently I still need cool socks!

    Thanks, all!

  8. Coach Spencer says:

    Stumbled across your blog. Wow! What an accomplishment. …got me thinking…

  9. […] MdS Stage 4: The Desert Changes You […]

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