How do circles appear on sand in the desert? How to make the Bedouins laugh? How many Pikachu can be found in desert? What do “backpack cuttings” mean? And will a carpet be warm, if a camel chews it?

I hope you’ve read the first chapter about Marathon des Sables, preparations to it, packing, trainings and doubts? Ok, let’s move on!

Moroccan week

So, the day of departure has come.

Chisinau, morning, alarm clock, pants, tea, banana, shoulder bag, hugs, padrecar, airport, airplane. Rome, Casablanca, Marrakesh.

Spending an hour in the queue, I finally went to town and breathed the hot, night Moroccan air. And in half an hour I was peacefully sleeping in the hotel.

My first morning in Marrakesh was hot. I crawled out to the breakfast, where I’ve met my future cell mates – Pafnutii and Yurasik. They have been “languishing” here for two days, doing massages, sunbathing and drinking juice with local wine. They have taught me some local customs – and here we are smoking hookah, lying in the sun and swimming in the pool.

Pashka told us happily that his baggage (backpack with all its contents) didn’t arrive to Marrakesh and got lost somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. He’s a guy with humor:

What a pity… And elder comrades have told us to keep the important things closer to the body. Well, thank goodness, he’s not alone here: something was arriving from Moscow, something I’ve found in my backpack, something (slippers) could be “borrowed” in the hotel.

As a beginning, we’ve decided to go for a walk in the city. Well, Marrakesh is a typical representative of the Arabian world. Markets, fuss, dirt, women in black, men in white. Cool, as to say…

After walking through the city, eating chic lamb at the market and showing the Berbers how to butcher the meat…

embracing snakes and hypnotizing the fakir…

riding a cart with a donkey and taking a look at some abandoned streets of the city…

we put a tick against all the attractions and came back home. Everything’s cool, except the fact that the forgotten on the sun Iphone told us it doesn’t like Morocco…

On the next day we made a run to check how does the ammunition for MDS work, to understand how is tolerated the temperature and, in fact, how fast we can run in these conditions.

Ran to the airport to meet another two “martyrs” – Iya from Russia and Vlad from Ukraine. Pasha didn’t meet only them – he was solemnly given his beat-up backpack, which, judging by its appearance, has been to Chile and Sydney.

With all this excitement we went to the hotel and made ourselves a pedicure, so that our legs wouldn’t think we don’t love them (if only they knew then, what’s coming next :)).

On the next day I made a review of my backpack and sorted all the food into different packages, checked each calorie of 14 000 for seven days, deciding that two meals per day, a quick lunch with nuts and two glasses of tea (from one tea-bag) will be enough. As it turned out later, I was right.

From left to right: carbohydrate cocktail for quick recovery after running, breakfast-lunch, lunch-dinner, snacks – nuts+dried fruits, gels during running, tea and sugar. X-day is extra food for unforeseen circumstances.

Put two days in a package and packed them densely. Weighing my backpack, I was pleasantly surprised – 6,35 kg. All on the minimum, on the edge of adequacy. Perfect.

All that remains is to shave the knees, to make the taps stick better, and that’s it. Go to sleep. And in the morning we take a taxi and go to Ouarzazate – therefrom we are being taken to the desert.

The landscapes outside don’t remind of a desert…

On the way, becoming bored, I’ve decided to teach Pafnutii a game called “take and remember”. When other players hold you something (keys, for example), you should say: “I take and remember” before the other says his “take and remember”.

Oooh, how bad I’ve regretted this rash decision. I’ve been playing this game for 30 years and, frankly speaking, I’ve considered myself a professional before that moment. But, after I catched Pasha a couple times, he understood the point of the game, and for me it turned into an endless multi-day nightmare. He managed to catch me during the day, at night, during breakfasts, lunches and snacks, during gathering branches, cleansing corns, and even in the bathroom. He did me when I was sleepy, dirty, hungry, tired, frozen and sunburned. He didn’t back down even when I was coming to the finish, barely moving my legs, when I was returning my satellite phone, even when he gave me his last sip of water. And he was as happy as a kid all the time I forgot to answer to him. He made everything to make me hate this game. After all these things, in Chisinau, when I took something from other people, I automatically answered “I take and remember”. People looked strange at me. Well, I publicly announce:

“– Pafnutii, you won! I give up!”

Ouarzazate

It’s a small city on the edge of the desert. The town is famous for the fact that it houses one of the largest (20 hectares) studios in the world – Atlas Studios. In this studio were shot many famous movies, like «Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra», «Game of Thrones», «Gladiator», «Alexander» and others. And Ridley Scott and Brad Pitt are almost regulars here.

In this beautiful place we swam for the last time in a pool, packed away the food, drank wine – prepared psychologically for a hard week out of civilization. I recommend it to everyone who’s going to run the MDS: to hang out in Morocco a week before the race, to distract from all the weekdays, problems and fuss.

And there was a case in Ouarzazate, that Vlad Tislenko succinctly described in his report:

Dima is called Bear Grylls for a good reason – he has eaten a huge bug right in front of me, with the comment: «I hope these are a lot in the desert, we won’t have to be hungry»

I admit, it happened. And yes, I can eat a bug with a crunch. Depends on the mood :)

If only I would have known the consequences of this snack, I would have avoided this insect a mile away…

To the desert!

In the morning we, carrying our backpacks, went to the buses that’ll take us to the desert. Finally…

In the bus we were given the roadbooks – books where every stage of the race is described in details: maps, coordinates, climbing, schedule, penalties and other things.

To everyone’s disappointment, this year the distance was shortened to 237 km. And the longest stage is “only” 86.5 km. In previous years it was 250 km, with the longest of 91 km.

Besides this, we were given a registration form and brownbags. What are these I’ll tell you later.

The bus rode slowly, about 6 hours. We had to stop from time to time, so that the future ships of the desert could eat and pee.

Embarrassed people departed from the road for a hundred meters, shyly hiding in the rare bushes. Oh, if only we would know then, that this distance will shorten to a meter when we turn back. :)

And we finally arrived. Desert. The first MDS location – the place where we will start from tomorrow. We are met by the Berbers who perform a strange dance.

We join and immensely amuse the locals with the fact that we dance in the same strange way.

Ice melts between us, let no one find us…

Here we will be registered and given a bed-place. There is a small queue near the registration tent – they check the passports and give the number of tents. Russians, Moldovans, Ukrainians and Estonians are placed in bivouacs with the numbers 25, 26 and 27. And we enter the camp… Wow, such a great scale!

The bivouac is a black Berberian tent, that stays on spacers. Inside there is a carpet chewed by camels.

We arrived first and, as the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm, that’s why we took the best places – near the “wall”. And, of course, I immediately waved the Moldovan flag. After all, Moldova is for the first time on MDS, or better to say – MD’s on MDS!

Each participant is provided with about 2 square meters, and, frankly speaking, the whole next week I was very comfortable to live in such a small place, under the same roof with strangers, sharing with them my food, water, satellite phone, chargers, clothes, boo-boo-bags, band-aids, night gases, anecdotes and letters.

These 2 symbolic meters show how fleeting is our life, how unimportant is the size of your villa, that it doesn’t matter how many hectares does your factory occupy, because sooner or later you will come back here, to your 2 square meters, and you won’t need anything else.

Actually, the camp is built this way: a huge «three-layered» circle of bivouacs for participants, organizators’, medical personnel’s, water and information tents stay apart. In the same place is also the dining room for normal people. And the finish arch (how without it).

Two hours later after we moved in, a small sandstorm began. And we see, how, like in slow-motion, out of all this sand and dust majestically appear our new friends: the airplane from Paris has arrived and brought 9 more members to our team. Now we are 14 – players of  MDS Russian Speak Team 2017!

9 people from Russia: Anton Dolgov, Kirillov Pasha, Lyoha Firov, Anton Haldin, Lyubomir Makashin, Lyoha Rubejnii, Yura Makarov, Iya Pershina and Artyom Kalabin.

From other countries: Kolya Roshkovich from Hungary, Vlad Tislenko from Ukraine, Joel Yucht from Estonia and Natasha Andreeva from Lithuania.

In total, Volocean’s thirteen :)

Every second one is an Ironman or ultramarathoner. And every first is a madman, who decided to check himself in the desert.

At the end in our bivouac were living Pasha, Yurchik, Joel, Vlad and I. Five instead of eight – there will be enough room for everyone!

Guys shaved Artyomka, so he could reflect light spots to the helicopters with his bald head.

And, in the evening, we were given a hearty dinner, warmed by the fire, admired the sunset and went to sleep.

Registration

The night arranged things in their proper order – it was cold and windy. My watch showed 7 degrees.

It’s so wonderful that I didn’t cut down those 60 grams and took a sleeping bag a little heavier and warmer than I was recommended. But anyway it was a little cool. And getting out of the sleeping bag in the morning, wearing only a T-shirt and shorts, was cooler than ever. It will be worth to take a weightless windproof jacket with me next time. Instead of it, I put the sleeping bag on my shoulders and wandered this way around the camp till sunrise.

But my little discomfort was nothing. A lot of people couldn’t close their eyes at night because of cold: some woke up and rubbed themselves, some put on all their clothes, some tried to wrap themselves up in the chewed by camels carpet.

In a word, the cold and wind that night confirmed my guesses – a set of 1000 fill power sleeping bag, a merino T-shirt, a light jacket and a weightless foam mat is everything you need to keep warm at night in desert.

To warm up, we’ve decided to star in Pafnutii Tarantino’s videoclip:

Every morning on MDS begins with water distribution. A truck comes in the center of the bivouac circle and a small queue gathers to get their 1.5 liters of water. Normally, you spend half a liter for breakfast and tea, and for the start remained the other part – about a liter.

After the breakfast everyone decided to do the most important part – final kitting of the backpack. It’s the last chance to find a compromise between comfort and weight. Because just today they will need to leave all the extra stuff and remain face-to-face with their decision.

All the 1200 runners laid out all their stuff in front of the bivouacs: food, powerbanks, flashlights, casseroles – and scratched their heads to understand what to take and what to leave. I took with me an electronic balance and everyone was weighing his backpack, taking out useless things.

I had two GoPro 5 with me – the small GoPro Hero 5 Session and the big GoPro Hero 5 Black. I wanted to take the small one, but it turned out that on same video settings (2704×1520, 30fps) the bigger one has a better focus. Strange, but I’ll need to carry 46 grams more.

I’ve decided to make a final cut of my backpack – got rid of another 100 grams of hangings, useless pockets and rubber bands.

Well, now we tap our knees, so that nothing breaks, because the suspension is the most important thing we have in our arsenal and we need to keep it safe.

Packed all my stuff into backpack and we went to the registration.

It turned out that this procedure is not fast at all – half hour queues to each stage, and there was a total of four stages:

Leaving unnecessary things

Weighing the backpack – 7.12 kg

Giving of a gps-spot, salt tablets and a plastic checklist – a thing made of plastic, which is perforated every time you reach a checkpoint and take water.

Checking of medical certificate and normality of the cardiogram.

Giving of the BIB-number and taking a happy picture to remember. Maybe to compare and to laugh after the finish.

What’s odd, is that they don’t open the backpack to check if you have all the mandatory things. What’s the catch? We found out about it later. That’s it, I’m ready.

Wait, what’s this? Oh, that’s a twin brother of the Moldovan flag. Trembles in the hot wind of desert. Jeez, such a pleasure.

To remember how we looked before the race, we’ve decided to take a picture.

Last preparations for the start – Iya nobly agreed to braid my hair (because the braid has the power). The running showed that the aerodynamics of the braid are not disrupted, and the resistance to the incoming air flow is minimal. Thank you!

Actually, Iya is a very strange person on MDS. Her running is good, but this girl has never participated in any official races. It means that the MDS medal is the first one in her collection. Is she insane?

Guys somehow took out a couple of bottles of wine, which were drunk immediately with joy and showy toasts. So to say, the last sip of civilization, hic.

And now it’s time for leg photo shoot – it has become a tradition to take a circle picture of our feet before and after the finish.

The wine did its job – we felt an urge to be right in the middle of some adventures, so we went to look how is the start arch established. Seeing how bad are they doing it, we had to show how to do it right. After four days, the organizers regretted that they gave a Moldovan the opportunity to regulate the start gates :)

It was getting dark. And the runners started to gather in the middle of the bivouac circle – something was going to happen. Briefing. Thousands of runners from all over the world were getting bored waiting for the beginning, until we came – the Russian-speaking team MDS 2017.

At first, nothing was going to be bad. But after that we got bored, and Pafnutii came into the center to make a footage for his videoclip “Ice melts between us” MDS edition. He blew our brains out with this. We began to do sit-ups to the beat, so as not to make this cute man upset.

It seemed to me that 13 sit-uppers is not enough and I took out two Pikachu from the crowd. They happily joined the sit-ups (it turned out they had a wedding anniversary that day).

Everybody came closer, and that’s it – several dozen people already do sit-ups with us.

At a certain point, Joel, our Estonian friend and, as it turned out, a professional dancer, couldn’t resist (with Pashka’s help), jumped into the center and began to breakdance wildly.

It was so WOW, that we stopped to do sit-ups. And here everyone got wild – after a few minutes already a hundred of people were dancing. People danced on air like there’s no tomorrow!

Everyone danced as he could – with screams, convulsive twitching, hugs and hora.

Only the organizators stood silently aside. They seemed really puzzled and sad for the failed briefing :) By the way, from the briefing I’ve remembered only how to use the boo-boo-bags.

We calmed down only after 3 songs, and Patrik (one of the organizators), finally could greet us, standing on the top of a jeep. He-hey, Patrik, let’s go dancing!

Well, it was our last day before the start – cheerful, carefree, joyful and filled with pleasant expectations from the race. How often we used to remember it then :)

Before going to sleep, we talked for a long time, and the last thing I thought about was:

It’s good that we’ve danced today, because after seven days of running we wouldn’t have rocked this way…

And tomorrow Marathon des Sables is waiting for us. In all its power and beauty.

To be continued…