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Never. Give. Up. Leave no stone unturned.

Never. Give. Up. Leave no stone unturned.

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I am jolted from my deep slumber by a massive cramp in my calf muscle, it hits me like a bolt of lightning and in an instant I am sitting straight up in my sleeping bag screaming into my buff. This is not the first cramp of the week, and I am pretty sure it will not be the last. My body feels like that of a 5000 year old Egyptian mummy as I am locked into my upright position. My entire body is hurting. A lot. I knew this week was going to hurt, however, nothing could have prepared me for the hurt I was currently feeling.  As the cramp slowly starts to fade, I am suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of urine, oh no…… Did I just wet my sleeping bag……??

After a few moments of panic, I realize that the smell is coming off the two camels lying a few meters away from me, looking at me quizzically. I look around me to see where I am, as I arrived here at CP4 in the black of night, with no idea of what my surroundings look like.

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Slowly the night sky starts to fade, revealing the most amazing panoramic view. I am surrounded by desert. And not any old desert, I am in the beautiful Saharan desert in Morocco. There are magnificent red dunes on one side and a Wadi cut deep into the earth on the other side, the morning air is fresh and clean, except for the odor coming from my 4 legged neighbors. For a moment I am in Utopia. I remember why I am here, I am halfway through the toughest race I have ever dared to enter. The 25th Marathon Des Sables.  For a just a moment I am hopeful, I need to get up and get going. The day before, we embarked on the 82.2km long stage and I still have 33.1km to get to the end of this stage. I need to keep going. Once I cross the stage finish, I will be so close to finishing this race with only a marathon and a half marathon to go over a two day period. Easy. I roll around and slowly crawl out of my sleeping bag. I push off the ground and attempt to stand up, and in an instant my world comes crashing down around me, with the most excruciating pain shooting from my right foot and I crash backwards onto my sleeping bag. In an instant I realize that this is the end of my race. I have failed……

Are you going to quit?

Are you going to quit?

I slowly compose myself and take a look at the bottom of my foot and immediately see the problem. The night before, my feet were too sore to run with my shoes on, so I got this brilliant idea to duct tape my flip-flops to my feet for the rest of the night. I am known for my barefoot running antics, so this seemed like a natural thing to do and a good idea to air my feet and take some pressure of my busted up toes and heels. The downside to my brilliant idea was that the flip-flops rubbed between my toes, breaking the skin and allowing for sand to be pushed under my skin and to collect under the ball of my foot with every step I took. I was so stoked to be running pain free again, that I did not feel this at all while running throughout the night. I now realize that I have a big problem. After 4 days in the Sahara I tell myself I am done, I had enough of this race. Why continue like this? I have already completed 143.2km out of 250km, the most I have ever ran over 4 days. I reach for my left ankle and remove the timing device, I also remove my race number and compose myself before I make my way to the medical tent to withdraw from the race. Only one problem, I need to avoid Patrick Bauer at all costs, I know that he would be disappointed and try and talk me back into the race. Avoid Patrick Bauer and bail.

I make it to the medical tent, and as I walk in I see one of the event coordinators sitting with a doctor. For a moment I pause, just standing at the entrance of the tent, not saying anything to the men. A million thoughts run through my mind. “Bail Adam, bail”. He waits for me to speak as he can clearly see what I am about to do. I feel tears welling up and the man gets up and rushes over, and puts his arm over my shoulder, and pulls a chair closer for me to sit on. I try to talk and I ramble something to the effect of my feet are too damaged to continue, I have tried my best, no more, I cannot do another day. 250km is beyond my reach, I will have to come back next year. Maybe. The gentleman, a French national, signals for the doctor to come over. The doctor takes one look at my foot and walks back to the desk to get his jump bag. He tells me to lie on my back, and starts to clean the sand out from under my foot. He works slowly, carefully lifting the blister and rinsing out the sand. I lay there on the stretcher, wanting this all to be over. My home in Dubai seems a million miles away right now.

After a while to doctor tells me to get up, and both men get me back onto the chair. The doctor tells me to stand up to see if I am able to put some pressure on my right foot. I slowly get up, careful not to put any pressure on the ball of my foot. He encourages me to add more weight to the front, and slowly I stand up on both feet, and to my shock, the pain is entirely gone. I slowly rock back and forward on the foot testing it, no pain. No pain? I am not sure if I should laugh or cry, and I choose the latter. I realize that it is more than a bit of sand under my foot that wants me out of this race. My mind wants out. The race coordinator takes me by the arm and walks me outside. “Allez” he says. You need to continue. You cannot stop now. I cannot do this I reply as I am in tears and feeling emotionally broken. Again he says, allez. Don’t give up, not now. You have made it this far. He tells me how he has seen people drop from the race, and then beg to be let back in the next day. Once you drop out, you are out. No exceptions. And then he asks me the hardest question. “Who are you running for?”

Why am I running this?? I am running for myself, for my family, for everyone who believed in me, and also for everyone who doubted me…. And for my charity, the main reason why I came to Morocco in the first place. The Ernie Els for Autism Foundation. I am running for autism awareness. I am spreading the word, representing millions of families who needs to have their voices heard. I cannot give up now. This is temporary suffering with a finishing line less than 110km away. There is no finish line for families dealing with autism. They are on a permanent journey, and need the world to help, or at least know about their plight. And I am not going to quit right now.

Caution! Few bad words in here, summing up exactly how I was feeling 26km into the 82km stage….

 

Believe it or not, that was just one of the many, many times I tried to quit the Marathon Des Sables. I am not a quitter, and I went into the race telling myself never to give up, and looking back now, I have never been on such an emotional roller coaster in my life. Hell, it’s only a Ultra Marathon. It’s more like an Ultra Marathon in Hell. It was a daily battle between my mind and body, they were hardly in sync, with one of them constantly wanting out, fighting for my attention. If it was not for the French race coordinator, my life would have been so different, I firmly believe that. I owe him so much really. He told me that in the 24 years of being part of this amazing race, he has seen so many people throw in the towel, only to come back begging, with tears in their eyes to be let back into the race. For many it is a once in a lifetime journey, spanning over many months, if not years, to achieve. And then there is the R50 000 + entry/equipment fee. People run for different reasons, mourning the death of a loved one, raising money for fallen war heroes, raising awareness for people in need and environmental issues. Each one on a deeply personal journey. A unique bunch of runners. Once you pull the plug and decided to bail, there is no turning back. It has potential to break your spirit as a human. You would have to live with yourself and your decision to bail for life.

I managed to pick myself up, and battled through the rest of the long stage, finishing the 82.1km stage in 33 hours. My tent mates all came in between 20 and 24 hours to give you an idea of how much time I spent out there, with just the desert and a million voices in my head screaming for me to stop. The marathon and the half marathon that followed the long stage was much better, as I crossed a phycological barrier when I completed the 82km stage, and in my mind it was the home stretch. I even managed to run a large portion of the last day, an amazing feat considering how badly busted my feet were. In the end, I am forever grateful for not giving up on my dream of finishing the Marathon Des Sables.

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Don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion – Muhammed Ali

In a recent interview I did with Charlie Engle, we talked about what it means to really suffer, and how as a runner, you should change your relationship with suffering and learn to use it to your advantage. Going to Morocco I realized that I was in for a long few days, I prepared my body as well I as I could, I was optimistic and after finishing really strong after the first day. The thing I overlooked was mental toughness, I did little to prepare my mind for the journey ahead. Looking back at how I trained, I remember doing some runs out in the Dubai desert in really hot and windy conditions, and how I bailed on a few of those runs when it got “too tough”, heading straight back to the comfort of my AC in my car. If I learned one thing in the Sahara, this is it. Your training should simulate the conditions that you will face during a run, you should suffer during your training runs, building muscle and mental toughness day in and day out.

The day that you stand on that starting line, be it a 5km fun run, or a 100 mile trail run, you should be able to tell yourself that you have done everything to be as best prepared as possible for that race, and that you have left no stones unturned. When the gun goes off, you tell yourself to keep going when it gets tough. You may stop. For a while. And after you have done what need to do to get going again, you dry your eyes, you pick yourself up and you finish what you started.

Never, never, never, NEVER, give up.

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Adam Du Plooy

I am a passionate South African trail runner living in Dubai. I completed the 250km Marathon Des Sables in 2010 and look forward to running various multi stage races over the next few years.
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About The Author

I am a passionate South African trail runner living in Dubai. I completed the 250km Marathon Des Sables in 2010 and look forward to running various multi stage races over the next few years.

3 Comments

  1. Adam my brother, you are a true inspiration and I must say that your message carrys through not only in the physical realm but to that also of the mental challenges that one has to overcome, many a time one believes that it would be easier to just give up, come back next time, try again another day well you my friend have inspired me to keep going, an inspiration… A legend in your own right, THANK YOU

    Reply
  2. What a gripping read. And a great message as well, brilliant.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for taking the time to read the article guys.

    Reply

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  1. Trail running might kill you, how to stay alive. - UltraRunner ZA - […] 10 things I hate about trail running Why? Because!! Never. Give. Up. Leave no stone…

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