Taher Merchant continues to talk about his attempt at running the toughest footrace in the world, the Marathon des Sables.
If you missed the first part you can read it here.
D-Day had finally arrived on the morning of April 7th. A total of 850 participants were all charged up and raring to go. I got my bag pack which weighed 12kgs with the water all strapped up, my gaiters on, all gels and food in place and set out to the start line. All lined up at the start line Patrick turns on the song “Highway to Hell” and starts dancing. I was in absolute shock. It was exactly what I had thought of when I had heard about this race!
As the race started I had my plan in place to start steady at a slow pace on the first day. The course was stony, had dunes and a hill climb. I was just enjoying myself reflecting on my training and how hard I worked to be here. All was going fine until I saw the Hill climb. I got excited as I knew this was where I could go a bit faster and probably overtake a few. I went running up and then slightly faster going down. All those who know me well knew that I get happy and tend to go much faster when I see the hills. As I was coming down I went faster and overtook a few people and continued this pace. I did not slow down. The terrain continued to be stony and the sun was burning my skin but I just kept moving.
The Unthinkable happens!
Around the 10th km, I saw participants slowing down but I overtook them and went ahead without realizing there was a depression and the terrain very stony. It was now that tragedy struck where I lost control and had a fall. In order to break my fall, I fell forward but my back foot got lodged in between two boulders which resulted in twisting of my leg. I clearly heard a clicking sound in my lower back. I knew I was in for trouble but ignored it and kept going to reach the finish line.
After Stage 1 of the race was done, I realized I was finding it very difficult to walk. I went to the medics who examined me and said I have injured my hip or have torn a muscle and all they could give was a pain killer. If I were to continue the race, it was at my own risk.
I took the risk after all I had not come this far to pull out. Headed back to my camp, had dinner, took my medicines and knocked out.
Next morning as I woke up I found it hard to get out of my tent. I toughened my mind to believe it was a sprain and nothing more. I was ready to take on stage 2. I started this stage very slow as I was in a lot of pain and discomfort. All went well until I started to climb the dunes. The pain just intensified a hundred times and I was not able to move up. I tried very slowly but it just wasn’t happening. I knew I was only a few Kms away from the first checkpoint and I had to make it there. I pulled out my poles and dragged myself to get to the checkpoint. On crossing it I saw the medics and collapsed in their tent. I waited for 30 mins while they accessed the situation. I was in a lot of pain and I could sense this was the end. The medics again said they can put me on stronger pain killers apart from that they could not do anything more.
Toughest decision of my life
We spoke and weighed the pros and cons of going into the next stage with this injury. We eventually concluded that it could be fatal and it was not advisable to move forward. My heart sank and my brain froze. My dreams had come crashing down and it all just didn’t sink in as I had come all this way to run a race of a lifetime and not have to go back after stage 2. I had worked very hard towards this and gave it my all during training. It was indeed a very heart-breaking moment for me.
As I lay down, I saw one of the organizers and a dear friend, Steve Driedrich who guided me a lot through the MDS. He came up to me and said that he had followed my training closely and knew how much I had put into this race but sometimes stuff like this just happens and it was bad luck! I looked up to him with a brave face and told him that I would be back at the MDS again. He smiled at me but somewhere I could feel him sense my pain.
Once my decision was made I was then given pain killers and escorted back in a vehicle to the camp where I could spend the night with my tentmates and leave the next day to Ouarzazate where I had a doctor waiting to see me and advise me on the next course of action.
On reaching the camp I had someone from the management waiting with many sheets of paper which had printed messages from my friends and family who had prayed and wished me well for the MDS. The messages got me emotional and I just tucked into my sleeping bag and thanked God for giving me such amazing friends. It was hard to believe this was happening. I pretended like everything was okay but in reality, my heart had been shattered into a million pieces.
My time here was over
The next morning I left the camp after a check with the medics and was taken to Ouarzazate where I met with the doctor. I had now decided that I needed to go home and get my further investigations and medical tests done. The following day I flew out from Marrakech to Bangalore.
Nelson Mandela once said, “In Life, we never lose we only learn”. I have learned a lot during this entire process right from my training days till the day I left my camp. I believe that although I trained hard maybe the almighty had another plan for me.
I have enjoyed every bit and had an incredible journey so far and this would not have been complete without thanking the following people. Vijay, Varada, and Aditya from Fast &Up thank you so much for being so supportive. Abhineet from Puma and Deepak for supporting me with all the training gear and kitting me up for the MDS. The entire team of Jayanagar Jaguars, I love you guys, you inspire, motivate and support me always. My family for allowing me to take a lot of time off from work and train as much and last but not the least my coach Pramod Deshpande who believed in me, trained me and helped my dreams take flight!
I will be back on my feet soon and will train hard and be back at the MDS. I leave you with these words from Winston Churchill “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts”