MDS 2015: No man is an island

30ème Sultan Marathon des Sables - Journey to the Sahara, 2015

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne, ‘Meditation XVII’

When I signed up to take on the Marathon des Sables it never really crossed my mind that I might be part of a group of people trying to reach the same goal. I’ve never really seen myself as ‘part of the main’ and at various points in my life I have often felt like an island being battered by wind and wave! I think, if we were all honest with ourselves we have all had this feeling of being disconnected from others, be that at work, within the family or at play.

In my case I think it is particularly telling that I feel more connected to the running community online – through blogging, Twitter and Facebook than I do in reality! I have tried club running and it was not really for me so I withdrew back to running, competing and training solo. Therefore it has come as a bit of a shock to me to see how connected we are as runners and particularly as Marathon des Sables runners. Within a few days of getting my confirmed spot I was invited to become a member of the secret MdS 2015 UK Runners Facebook group and suddenly found I had some new followers on Twitter – all because of this elusive and confirmed position in the running world! A few days later I was invited to join another secret group on Facebook – MdS London Runners and within a few hours of accepting that I was made an Administrator and began to really feel ‘…a piece of the continent, a part of the main’. A few hours after becoming an administrator I found myself jumping into the fray and offering to use my house as a base for long, looped 12 and 24 hour training runs at some point in the future and actively encouraging people to come and run with me – it seems the MdS has the capacity to change the habit of a lifetime and I’m feeling excited at the prospect of training and running with other people for the first time since I took up running!

Initially however all of the invitations to join groups, accept new Facebook friend requests and Twitter additions I felt nervous and maybe a little suspicious! Who are these people? What do they want? What can I possibly bring to the table? The answers, funnily enough, became apparent as questions began to be asked on the forums: what about insurance, who is racing where, would anybody like to train together, does anybody have any tips about good hills to run in London etc. My suspicion and nervousness disappeared the minute I realised I was not alone in my confusion or in my relative infancy in the ultra-running world! I was particularly heartened to find that I’m not the only person out there who has decided to put it on the line and state that they don’t just want to finish – I’m not the only amateur running geek with a passion for pushing the boundaries of what I feel is possible.

Racing, by its definition is a competition or a contest of speed in which you pitch yourself against your peers and as such I was worried that my peers and fellow competitors might not want to make friends, talk, share ideas and help one another out. My suspicion was that maybe this would all turn from being a great experience into being something altogether more taxing than already anticipated with mind games and trash talk going on but I realise now that this was, and is, nonsense! We all want to do well and some of us have higher expectations of ourselves than others might but the one thing that unites all of us is that we want to do something special and finish the toughest foot race on Earth to the best of our abilities.

I find it strange to think that I’m sitting here writing about going to the desert to race at all – as far as I’m concerned I’m racing against myself, I’m racing for an experience and I’m going out to the desert to have fun and to meet new, like minded people who I hope to make friends with regardless of their stated aims or ambitions. I think it’s truly great that a small group of people from such diverse backgrounds, with a wide range of abilities and expectations can be brought together through the simple act of running. Granted, this is more than just a simple run but at the end of the day running is what it is and I suppose what I’m really trying to convey with this piece is that John Donne was absolutely correct in his assertion, outlined at the beginning of this post, that we are all in this together and that the sooner this is realised and embraced the better it is for all concerned – let’s band together, share our experiences, our knowledge and our excitement and make this the most fun and cohesive MdS yet!

As I’m fond of saying the night before races, often just to myself: ‘Let’s do this, let’s lace up, race and laugh!’

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