17/3/2007 was our departure date for Marathon Des Sables
(MDS) 2007 or the Sahara Ultramarathon. We were told
by the French organizer to meet them in Paris for transfer
to the Sahara Desert in Morocco. (Our entry fees for
the MDS covered the return flight between Paris and
Send-off at KL Sentral
Dr. Tan (DT) and I were sent off by our friends and
family at around 7.00 pm on that evening at KL Sentral.
Many pacesetters members in their yellow tee shirts,
staff from Hospis Malaysia and a group from my sponsor
Foto-zzoom (M) Sdn Bhd were there. Our spirit was certainly
lifted by the support and well wishes from all these
people. After the handshakes, hugs and photograph taking
DT and I went through the entrance at 8 pm to take the
KLIA Ekspres. After all the noisy send off, it suddenly
felt so quite and lonely as we step onto the KLIA ekspres.
"No escaping now" I told DT and he replied
something like "two fools on way to ultimate suffering"
or something like that. On the ride to KLIA, my memory
flashed backů. I was thinking about the past 8 months
after I decided to join DT to do the MDS 2007.
For me, 2006 started normally with KL International
Marathon. Things just picked up after that. I then joined
some climbing and trekking group climbing Bukit Tabur
near Melawati every Saturday. I climbed Irau and Angsi
and in May climbed Mount Kinabalu. I was taking time
off from running when in May I was asked to join the
100Km charity run on 15/7/2006 organized by Subang Jaya
After completing the 100km charity run July last year,
DT said he has make up his mind to do the MDS in March
2007. I thought he was kind of crazy. I was then in
the triathlon circle and I met Simon Cross from UK who
did MDS in 2006. After long talk with him over his experience
and after I looked at the organisers' web site, I felt
I would accompany DT in doing the MDS. Then my reqular
supporter Mr. John Tan from Foto-Zzoom Sdn Bhd said
he would financially back our venture.
The MDS organizers' website (www.darbaroud.com)
said that considering the toughness of the MDS, all
participants should do MDS to raise fund for charity.
It would be a waste of opportunity if we just do it
to challenge ourselves. I told DT that we have to identify
the charities and I proposed Hospis Malaysia and National
Cancel Council. DT agreed. Afterward after discussion
with Hospis Malaysia, everyone agreed that we should
just concentrate on one Charity and we decided it to
be Hospis Malaysia. Hospis Malaysia was to handle the
publicity. They put us in NST and NTV7. Our Pacesetter
friend Mr. Tey Eng Tiong who is with the Chinese papers
Sin Chew Jit Poh got the metro section Sin Chew Jit
Poh to run our story. These media exposure allowed Hospis
Malaysia to capitalize on our participation for their
fund raising. However there is a flip side, there is
always the nagging question, now with all the publicity,
what if we could not complete the MDS?
After deciding to do the race in August 2006, we started
to plan our training. The organizers' web site gave
tips on how to train for the event. Simon Cross who
did the MDS in 2006 also shared his experience with
us. The unique feature about MDS as compared with all
other races is that all participants must be self supporting/self
sufficient during the 7 days race. We must carry with
us at all times during the race all our food supplies,
medicine, equipments, cooking utensils, sleeping mattress
and sleeping bag from beginning to the end. We have
to ensure we have enough food to last the 7 days. The
organizers only supplied us with 9 litres of water daily
and erect bivouac for us to spend the night. In essence
we should train walk/run the daily distance (between
20km -42 km) with similar load we expect to carry on
our back in the desert.
Equally important, we had to learn about the types
of food which were light and high in calories and could
be packed into our back pack. If we did not have at
least 2000 calories a day for all the remaining days
in the race, we would be disqualified. My emphasis wass
on instant noodles, energy drink powder and dried fruits
and nuts. One also had to consider the combination for
each of the day. Ideally one should prepack the daily
ration for the seven days. However, the different shapes
and sizes of food and the limited space in the back
pack did not permit this. Instead we literally had to
jam pack the items into every nook and corner of the
backpack. We had to pack and repack several times to
familiarise ourselves where food and equipment are packed.
Our main focus during training for MDS was to build
up endurance of jogging and walking up to 8 hours a
day with our backpack filled with bottles of water.
We build up the weight we carry over time. I started
in August 2006 with 7 kg load and over the months increase
the load to 15 kg. This is the weigh we expect to carry
in the Sahara.
We were also advised by Simon Cross to bring trekking
poles to Sahara. This is probably one of the most valuable
advice from him. We did all our training sessions with
the trekking poles. People who saw us training with
the trekking poles all thought we were training for
a skiing expedition. We were to discover later in the
Sahara that walking in the soft sand is rather like
skiing on soft snow. With the trekking poles, in my
reckoning up to 20% of the load can be transferred from
the legs to the arms. (This was particularly significant
towards the later part of the day when our legs were
tired and we had to scale those steep sand dune slopes.)
During the training, we identified the main problem
we face is the persistent ache at our shoulders after
a few hours carrying the heavy backpack. The shoulder
would be sore the next day. There was no solution. We
just had to learnt to bear the pain. At the early stage
of training, my skin on my back also suffered some abrasion
from the long hours carrying the backpack. During the
training period, Dr. Tan were testing out the plasters
and compeed ( a special anti-blister plaster) during
the training runs.
For me I was not concerned so much about blisters.
However without having to wear shoes to run all these
while, I had to choose a pair of shoes to go into Sahara.
After looking at the shoes in the New Balance shop,
I decided to use a pair of trekking shoes. Though they
were much heavier than running shoes, they wer much
more solid in construction. I did not want to risk the
sole of my shoes breaking up in the harsh condition
in the Sahara. I even took along my RM4.00 black rubber
shoes into the Sahara as a back up (only to decide to
leave it for the Berbers at the start of the race because
I had too much weight in my pack.)
Coincidentally, I also decided to do triathlons in
July 2006. I did the Olympic distance triathlon in PD,
the Putrajaya Powerman and the Half Ironman in Desaru
from July to September 2006 and had set my target on
2007 Langkawi Ironman. Therefore for much of the second
half of 2006 I was training seriously for both events
the Langkawi Ironman Triathlon and the MDS. They are
fundamentally different events. The only common element
is endurance. DT and I had to spend the whole Sunday
to train for the MDS. I also need to put in a lot of
time for long distance cycling and swimming. You can
spend half a day at the pool and a whole day on the
road. I was having problem to apportion time to train
for the triathlon and the MDS.
I had done over 200km slow run from Batu Caves to Maran
in April 2006 (over 3 days). So I knew the distance
in MDS would be manageable. However I was very concerned
about the high temperature and the unfamiliar enviroment
in the Sahara. In the Sahara you have a mix of soft
sand, stony plains and rocky hills and where you may
face sand storms. In MDS 2006, temperature was over
50 degrees centigrade and the participants had to contend
with regular sand storms. Condition during 2006 MDS
was so severe that about a quarter of the participants
gave up. And we are talking about people what have trained
long and hard for the MDS. (One does not pay 2550 Euros
entry fee and fly half way around the globe to participate
in MDS without proper training.) The only thing we could
do was to train under the hot sun as much as possible
on the hilly and open roads in Hulu Langat with our
Some afternoons I would join DT to train with the backpack
at Lake Gardens. One of the afternoon in October 2006
at Lake Garden, DT and I just finished our training
and it was pouring. As DT was walking to his car, he
slipped and fell and dislocate his left elbow. I had
to send him to the hospital to have his elbow fixed.
That took him out of training for about 1 month. Then
one Sunday afternoon in December (the week after Singapore
Marathon) as we were training with our backpack in Hulu
Langat, I decided to run on the last 5 km coming downhill
faster and DT tried to follow. He sustained a bad right
knee injury in so doing. The knee injury was so bad
that he could hardly walk properly for a few weeks.
Friends were having doubt as to his fitness and ability
to recover for the Langkawi Ironman in February, not
to mention the MDS. I felt bad about the situation as
it was my running down the hill that led to it. Dr.
Tan was having difficulty cycling also. He went through
long rehabilation sessions in the gym on his own. I
admired his tenacity and his focus. He said he did thousands
of reps of leg exercises in the gym for over a month.
It was great to see him back to long walk and cycling
by early February. Though not fully recovered he managed
to complete the Langkawi Ironman in 17h 15m. I felt
relieved as I knew he would be fit for the MDS a month
later. Therefore DT suffered 2 major injuries while
training for the MDS.
As the event draws nearer, beside the physical training,
we had to make sure we have procured all the the equipments
and food. It is harder than it sounds. You do not get
everything at the same shop. You have to consider the
calories and the weight. We had to go through them over
and over, prepared the calorie computations, and packing
the food and equipments into the backpack.. We pack
and repack several times all the items. It is important
to be familiar where and how things are packed. I also
make sure I have back up of certain equipments like
the compass, blade and scissors.
We were told by Simon Cross that he made the mistake
of buying a backpack which was not so suitable for the
MDS in 2006. He said most participants used a backpack
with a front pouch designed specially for MDS. DT's
wife happens to visit Paris in August and went to the
specialty shop which sold MDS things. She bought 2 bags
with front pouches. The backpack with the front pouch
looked well designed with three bottle cages. The idea
was to be able to carry 3 litres of water at any time
in the desert. It has a fairly big front pouch which
can carry about 30% of what can be carried behind, therefore
give the runner a better balance compared to the normal
backpack which carries everything on the back. She also
bought gaiters. We thought the bags looked very flimsy,
made of really thin and light material. DT opted to
use the Lafuma backpack he bought locally but combined
with the front pouch bought from Paris. I studied the
backpack and asked the neighbourhood cobbler to reinforce
it in several places, in particular the joint between
the strap and the pack.
The gaiters bought by DT's wife was more for normal
trekking. They did not enclose the whole shoes as was
required in the desert. DT had some instruction to make
the gaiters for the Sahara ourselves. I had some green
parachute materials which I salvaged previously and
DT had a pair made. We tested what he made and felt
they were suitable. These gaiters covered the entire
shoes and were secured at the bottom to the sides of
the sole of the shoes by using Velcro strips. I also
made a pair following the same design. We tested them
on training runs. Then in January, I received an email
from the organizer saying that as a new year present,
they were sending a pair of specially designed gaiters
to all participants. I received mine in early February.
These were made by New Balance and are made of elastic
materials, fitting snuggly around the ankle and enclosing
the whole shoe. Unfortunately DT never received his
pair. So I used the New Balance gaiters and DT used
the home made ones in the Sahara. I brought the home
made pair as back up.
Through the months, I also felt that I should put on
some weight. I had to allow for about 2 to 3 kg weight
loss in the Sahara. I did not want to risk the organizer
rejecting my participation due to my weight being too
light. Since I do not take meat normally, DT told me
to eat up to 10 eggs daily (minus the yolk) in order
to gain weight. I followed his instruction and by the
time I left for the Sahara, I have managed to increased
my weight to 64 kg.
Immediately after the Chinese New Year break, on the seventh
day of the lunar calendar, I participated in the Langkawi
ironman on 23/2/2007. This is exactly one month before
MDS. Beside taking it as part of my warm up for MDS, the
Langkawi Ironman was another focus of mine since I decide
to start my triathlons in August 2006. I managed to complete
the Langkawai Ironman in 14 hr 49 min. I took it easy,
putting in about 80%, bearing in mind not to sustain any
injury at all. My main focus was on MDS one month later.
In December 2006 I did the Singapore Marathon with the
trekking poles and the 15 kg backpack. Dr. Tan did the
Singapore Marathon without the backpack. (He said shy
lah!). I did it in 7h 14m. I was happy with the comfortable
finish. I felt very confident about the MDS then.
After coming back from Langkawi Ironman, I immediately
restarted training with the backpack daily as I want
to be able to recover daily from the distance that I
need to cover in the Sahara. I felt I was ready for
We flew out of KLIA just before midnight. My thought
went out to the runners who would be up to do the KL
International Marathon early the next morning when we
were in our flight to Paris.
We spend 5 days in Paris. We basically walked around
a lot beside taking the subway and the train. This serves
two purposes: to be able to walk in interesting places
and also to keep our conditioning for the MDS. We walked
long hours in the Louvre, the hugh palatial garden in
Versailles, climbed the stairs up the Eiffel Tower.
The weather was very cold and windy throughout. In fact,
when we were in Paris it snowed one morning. On the
second day in Paris I suddenly felt a sharp pain on
the upper left back, like I have torn a muscle. It was
painful when I take deep breath. I felt it must have
been the soft bed which gave me the problem and I slept
on the floor for the rest of the nights in Paris. DT
also gave me pain killers. I was a bit concerned about
the pain and whether it would go away in time for the
On 23/32007 we checked out of the hotel in Paris at
about 4.45am and went to Charles De Gaulle airport.
We had earlier received email instruction from the organisers
on the meeting point at the airport. We were the earliest
at the airport. Later we were joined by a UK participant
Julian and the 9 members of the Japanese team. A lot
of the French participants showed up later. The organiser's
staff in their khaki uniform showed up around 6.00 am.
We were taken to the check in counter. We then boarded
the chartered flight of Royal Moroccan Airline to fly
to Quarzasate Airport. This airport is in the interior
of southern part of Morocco, near to the Sahara. It
was a pleasant 3 hours flight. As our plane made the
landing approach, we could see the immense red desert
shimmering in the sun juxtaposed against huge dark mountains,
some of which have snow peaks.
We landed in Quarzazate around noon local time. It
was a small airport. Ours was the only plane there.
As we disembark, we felt the desert air for the first
time. While it was sunny there was cool breeze. While
at the airport, two other participants Philip and Gyjs
from Holland came up to us and shook our hand and said
they read about our participation in aid of Hospis Malaysia
on the organiser's web site. Friendly English speaking
After we went through the immigration and customs we
came out to see the row of buses waiting to take us
the base camp in the Sahara. The base camp or bivouac
site no. 1 is the race secretariat and the start line.
There would be about 120 bivouacs at the site and each
bivouac house 8 participants/officials. .We were told
our bivouac number as we board the buses at the airport.
Our bivouac no. is 103. After everyone had cleared the
airport onto the buses, we moved off in a convoy. It
would be a 6 hour bus ride to the bivouac site no. 1.
An hour of bus ride across some really scenic uninhabited
mountain roads, our bus stopped and were given our lunch
packs. It was lunch time and toilet stop. Well toilet
stop in the desert meant doing it in the wild, in the
open space, men or women. (There were 100 Female participants).
We went further up the mountains and then across many
wide plains. We crossed many small towns and farm land.
At about 7.00pm our buses stopped, we took our luggage
and climbed onto some army trucks in the dark. It was
very cold and windy. The army trucks rocked their way
off the road into the desert. We finally reached bivouac
site about half an hour later, and looked for bivouac
no 103. The bivouacs are those black ground hugging
tents set up by the nomads in the desert. We crawled
into the bivouac and found that we are sharing the bivouac
with 5 Koreans and one Hong Kong participants. All male
After leaving our luggage in the bivouac, we joined
the long queue at the kitchen tent to get our dinner.
It was really cold and windy standing in the queue in
the desert at night. We were so happy with the warm
soup and coffee and the warm food. Everything went down
in a flash and we huddled into the bivouac and into
our sleeping bags as fast as we could.
The inflatable mattress and the warm sleeping bag we
brought let us have comfortable sleep on the stony desert
ground in the windy cold nights.
The morning of 24/3/2007 was the first morning we woke
up in the Sahara. We looked around the bivouac site
which is on a wide plain. It was sunny and windy. The
wind was surprisingly pleasant even though we get sand
blown all over the place. We could look beyond to the
dark mountains surrounding the plain. After breakfast,
we rechecked all the contents in the backpacks one more
time. We had to be very sure all things intended to
be carried with us for the next 7days were all packed
in the backpack and not left in the luggage. We had
to hand over the luggage to the officials and we would
only see it again at the hotel after we finish the race
7 days later. After we were sure that we had packed
all items in the backpack did we hand over the luggage
to the officials..
We then took our turn and went to the race secretariat
to submit our medical certificate and finalise all administrative
details. After the medical team cleared us, we were
given salt tablets, the race number, the emergency flare
and the road book. The road book contained details of
the route including topography maps and compass bearings.
We also had a chance to weigh our backpack at the check
in . I was surprised that my backpack (including the
emergency flare) weighed 16kg without water!! I intended
it to be only 15 kg including 3 litres of water. It
was a serious situation and I went back to the bivouac
to figure out what to get rid off. Doctor Tan and Eric
(a French participant who had a friend in KL I knew)
were there laughing at my problem. Both of them told
me to get rid of food and extra equipments. Doctor Tan's
backpack weighed about 11 kg and Eric said his weighed
only 8 kg.
My situation was due to my habit of always having
back up. This habit came from my work habit as
a lawyer. I am uncomfortable with important documents
not having back up copies. Also being dependent
on computers for all my work, I developed the
habit of backing up all data. So in my backpack
for Sahara, I had spare cooking pot, spare lighter,
spare blade, spare compass, spare scissors (proper
decent sized, not the swiss army knife kind),
spare plaster, spare medication, strings and rubber
band. I ended up with a load of 16 kg plus before
adding the 3 litres of water I have to carry.
I even had a spare watch (the digital one can
develop problem in the cold so I had an analogue
watch on my other wrist). To reduce weight I put
out from the backpack 3 packets of instant noodles
my black rubber shoes and 3 packets of energy
powder. My pack was then down to about 15kg without
water according to my original plan. DT in his
eagerness to get rid of the excess weigh in his
backpack would run out of food on the last night
in the desert.
While Eric and DT laughed at my overweight backpack
then, it turned out that my big scissors were
always in demand in the bivouac during the race.
Everyone wanted it to cut the plasters.
My back pain had eased and I only felt it when
I took real deep breathe. I was happy with the
Malaysian flag flying of the first time at the
For the MDS, Dr. Tan bought the latest model digital
camera which was water-proof and had high megapixel.
It could store 5000 photographs. However both of us
forgot about charging its battery in Paris. 5 days in
Paris and we took a lot of pictures with his camera.
On 24/3/2007, after we have submitted our medical certificate
and done the other administrative work at the race secretariat
in the desert, we decided to go the start line nearby
and take some photographs. It would be difficult to
take pictures the following morning, being day 1 of
the race. We took one photograph and the battery went
flat. We were lucky that the Japanese the Koreans and
our Hong Kong friend had few cameras and took many pictures
After lunch we did the final preparation for the race
including pinning the numbers to our tee shirt and backpack
in the bivouac. Around 5 pm loud music was being played
by the organizer in the ground at the center of the
bivouac site. All the participants gathered at the center.
Some participants were dancing at the center of the
ring and I took the Malaysian flag and joined them.
After a while the race director Patrick Bauer gave his
welcome speech. We learnt that there were a total of
over 700 participants from over 30 nations. He spoke
in French and there was an English translator. He also
asked an official to demonstrate the deployment of the
We then proceed to queue for dinner at the camp kitchen.
Again it was cold and windy. Everyone savoured the dinner
as it would be the last decent meal for the next 7 days.
We then speedily retired into our bivouac. We chit chat
for a while, getting to know everyone in our bivouac
before getting into our sleeping bags. .
25/3/2007, Day 1 (Distance 29.3km).
We were up in our bivouac by 5.30am to put on the running
attire and plasters on our feet. .At 6 am the local
workers who were the Berbers tribemen came punctually
to remove the bivouac.. We collected our first water
rations of the day. We were earlier given a plastic
card on which was printed a grid of boxes, each box
correspond to the water rations to be given over the
next 7 days. We hung around our neck and the official
used a puncher to mark the relevant box when we collect
the water rations. We then cooked our first breakfast
in the desert. I used up the extra noodles and shared
with other participants. After breakfast, we cleaned
up the cooking pots and packed everything into the backpack.
We then collected the water ration and were ready to
start. Everyone proceeded to the start line. A helicopter
carrying the photo-journalist hovered over us to do
the photo-shoot for media. Loud music was being played
. All were raring to go. The race director and the translator
gave a rather long briefing in French and English. We
were flagged off shortly after 9am. The helicopter swept
low over us to do the photo-shoot of the start.
Starting out from the camp site, we crossed the stony
plain and some small hills. DT and myself were the last
two out of the start line. We wanted to do slow and
easy for the first 3 days in order to gear ourselves
up for the long leg on the 4th day. After a while I
started to overtake people and went ahead of DT. At
12km mark we passed the first check point (CP) and then
for the first time we came across sand dunes. The dunes
stretched for 4 km. They were breathtaking. Even though
the dunes were mostly bare, at certain stretches, we
encountered carpet of yellow and lavender-coloured flowers
at the base of the dunes. The sky was brilliant blue.
Though the sun was glaring down on us, the dry air and
cool breeze make the condition much more comfortable
than running at home in the humid condition.
After CP 2 at the 20km mark, we went through a pass
between some dark mountains, we crossed some bigger
dunes and then we could see the finish line from very
far away. I was pacing with the UK competitor Julian
at that point. Even we could see the finish line, it
would be almost an hour later before we actually crossed
it around 4 pm.
Back at the bivouac, I was surprised that only the
top Korean was back before me. I rested a while and
then went out to collect firewood and set up fire to
cook dinner. Shortly after that the rest of the participants
in our bivouac came back one by one. I had a satisfying
meal of soup and instant noodles.
26/3/2007 Day 2 (Distance 35 km)
We were up before 6 am to get ready for the race.Caught
up in the cooking of breakfast and packing the backpack,
I was 15 minutes late to collect the water at the camp
site. I was told I might be given 1 hour penalty. (The
organizer subsequently confirmed that I was only given
a warning with no time penalty).
After the morning briefing by the race director and
his translator, we were flagged off. Again the helicopter
hovered to photo-shoot the start. After crossing the
stony ground and dried river bed at the 4km mark we
started to climb and reached the summit at 5km. Then
we descended on uneven ground and sand dunes. We passed
CP 2 after another climb and then descend to cross a
dried river bed.. At CP 3 and 29Km, we were suddenly
looking a steep black slope 300 m high with sand piled
up against it almost all the way to the top. I thought
I was going to turn off and follow the foothill until
I saw the competitors in front snaking up the rocky
slope like ants. We have to climb over that big hill.
As I struggle up the rocky slope I looked down and saw
the trail of competitors stretched out below me. Half
way up the slope, a competitor was lying at the side
and given drip by the medical team. The helicopter was
parked at a flat spot nearby. The race director was
there, giving encouragement to all the competitors as
we struggle up the steep slope. For part of the ascend,
we had to walk a narrow ledge on the side of a rally
steep sand slope. Due to weight of my backpack, I had
difficulty getting up a big rocky step of about 3 feet
high. Someone behind gave me a push to get over it.
For the final stretch of the steep ascend, the organizer
had fixed rope to the side of the rock face. Holding
on the rope, we negotiated the narrow ledge and finally
made the summit. Finally on top and looking back down
at the competitors coming up behind I was so relieved
to make it up the steep climb. I began to think about
Dr. Tan having to do the same behind me. After that
I descend the hill on the other side by a narrow rocky
valley with almost vertical sides with huge rocks threatening
to fall at any time. In the valley, there were many
plants flowering. The blossoms were tall and big. I
was very cautious and slow in the descend, At the bottom
of the hill I looked back and was happy to DT coming
down the slope. The last 2 km were up and down sand
dunes and I reached the bivouac site at 5.30 pm. It
was a hard day, considering the many steep slopes that
we had to climb.
One of the many big hills we had to climb.
As the sun was setting we quickly prepared to cook
dinner. There was some difficulty getting the fire going
because of the strong wind but eventually we managed.
I went to the email tent and sent an email to my wife
and asked her to forward to friends to inform of our
That night, the wind was very strong and sand was flying
in the bivouac. One of the bivouac in front of ours
collapsed during the night.
27/3/2007 Day 3 (Distance 32.3 km)
We were getting used to the routine. At 6am, the Berbers
would come to dismantle the bivouac. We would have got
ready our feet for the race before then, putting plaster
wherever necessary. We then cook and eat our breakfast
and get ready for the start. After the routine pre-race
briefing by the race director, we were flagged off.
All Asians (Japanese, Koreans, Hong Kong and Malaysians)
We started with climbing some small hills and then
a long 10k trek across a stony plain. I saw some small
spiraling column of sand which appeared and dispersed
at random as we approach noon. The plain was surrounded
by dark imposing hills all around. I was following some
competitors from the RAF team. I saw a grave without
any marking near the trek . After crossing the big plain,
we passed through a rocky pass and came to a small pump
in a small settlement. This was CP 1 for the day. This
would be the only settlement we pass through throughout
the entire duration of the race. There were some date
palms and goats. The local people cheered us on . After
that we crossed some very stony ground and a really
wide dried river bed overgrown with tall camel grass.
At this point I met up with a swiss competitior and
we chat as we paced each other. Then we came to a series
of climb and descend. I then caught up with Shogo from
Japan. He would be the person who took most of my photographs
in the desert. . We crossed CP2 together and then did
a big climb average 18%. After that we descend to stony
ground and I finish around 4pm.
By now we have picked up some French. We learnt to
answer "oui ca va" (I am fine) at every check
point in response to the "ca va?" (How are
you?) question by the race marshals at the check points.
Some blisters had formed around the sides of both my
feet. Fortunately they were quite small compared to
the big nasty ones on the other competitors' feet I
witnessed in the medical tent. Participants were hobbling
around in the bivouac site.
In the late afternoon, we were called to the the center.
The organizers were distributing a can of cold Pepsi
for each competitor. What an unexpected treat!
At night, while getting ready to sleep I felt throbbing
pain at both my big toe nails. DT gave me painkiller.
28/3/2007 and 29/3/2007 Day 4 & 5 (Distance 70.5km)
This was the day we all prepared for. This was the
day for us to do the long leg of 70.5 km. The night
before we had packed our things such that the food we
need would be easily accessible over the next 15-20
We were up early preparing our feet for the long day
and night. I also cooked more food breakfast than normal
in anticipation of the big day.
There was an extra long briefing in the morning. In
particular the race director stressed on the importance
of the safety during the night while the participants
crossed the desert to the next bivouac site 70.5 km
away. The qualifying time was 34 hours. Based on my
timing of 7 to 8 hours for the 30km legs, I estimated
to finish about 14 to 15 hours.
DT and myself had already decided to continue through
the night so that we would the whole of next day to
rest. DT said we should do the night stretch together.
I agreed with him.
My main concern was the windy and cold night of below
10 every night. I had carried a thick windbreaker, one
extra long sleeve tee shirt and shortsleeve tee in my
backpack. Dr. Tan had only his thin windbreaker.
My aim was to reach CP 4 at KM42 before dark and before
the temperature plummeted below 10 degree C. I want
to be able to be at that check point to put on three
extra layers of clothing.. The t-shirt with no. was
to be worn as the outer most layer.
For this particular leg, while we started just after
9 am, the elite competitors started only at noon. This
would be the only time when we get to see the elite
in action when they overtake us. At 22 km around 2pm
the lead runners started to lap us. It was amazing to
see them running fast in the soft sand. At that point
I had so much soft sand in my shoes but there were no
rocks on the vast river bed for me to sit down to remove
the gaiter and shoes to poor out the sand jam packed
in my shoes. This aggravated my toe nail conditions.
I reached CP 4 at 42km just before 7pm. I took my time
to put on my extra layer of clothings, had my dinner
of dried fruits and nuts and energy drink while waiting
for DT to come in. I was given a light stick to be tied
to the backpack for safety reason. In case we got lost,
it would be easier for the marshals to locate us in
the desert in the dark. By the time I was ready, it
was already dark and about 7.30 pm. DT did not show
up. So I decided to move on to CP5 located at 52km to
wait for him.
Moving out of CP 4 in the dark, it was a new experience
of walking in the dark in the desert. I had a LED headlamp
which illuminated the path to take. I could also see
the laser beam in the sky originating from CP 5. The
competitors were really spread out. I saw the light
sticks far and few. I looked for the light stick markers
at 500m apart and they are no so visible in the dune
areas as one went up and down the dunes. I followed
the footprints and the laser. The 10 km felt like never
ending. There were many dunes and sand was blasted at
my face. I covered my face with the buff to shield from
the cold and the sand.
CP 5 at KM 52 is a like a camp site where three bivouacs
were set up for those who want to rest or spend the
night and also for the medical team to deal with problems
of the competitors. I reached about 9.30 pm. It was
very cold and windy. My feet were sore after battling
the desert ground for the last 12 hours. Looking at
the competitors resting and sleeping at CP5, it was
tempting for me to do the same. But I decided to stick
to plan to continue. I had some dried fruits and nuts
and rested a while to wait for DT. I spend some time
chit chatting with a really friendly French lady manning
the check point.. After half and hour, a lone competitor
came in. It was DT. I called out to him. He was so happy
to see me. He took out his emergency blanket because
he had only 2 layers of clothings which were not sufficient
to keep him warm. I had 4 layers. DT said he saw a French
competitor lying on the trek between CP 4 and CP5, obviously
too weak to continue. DT and another competitor helped
to set off his flare to request evacuation for him.
We were hoping we do not have to set off our flare that
night. It was after 10 pm as we left CP5 and we still
had a long night ahead!
We trudged on through the night to CP6 which is 12
km away. The terrain is generally flat and stony. We
could see the trail left by earlier competitors. We
were on our own most of the way. We met some competitors
who wrapped their sleeping bags around their upper body
while carrying on walking in the cold and windy night.
Sometime about mid night, some race marshals in a 4WD
passed us and shouted "what is your race number?"
We shouted in reply our race numbers. DT said this is
to test whether we were disorientated or not. If we
could reply to such question, the race marshals could
stop us from continuing through the night.
Dr Tan had no food left, except some really spicy snack
which he could not stomach. I had some pizza biscuits
and a fruit bar which I passed to him. At around 1.00
am DT was unusually quiet and unresponsive to my chit
chat. So I started singing "Amazing Grace"
and "How Great Thou Art". Some other competitors
passing us joined in singing. That in a way wake up
DT. He started singing "500 miles away from home".
I laughed at it. There were really really few competitors
now. Those faster ones would have gone ahead and those
slower ones would have stayed at the CP 4 or CP5 to
rest for the night.
We finally reached CP6 after 2 am and it would be just
another 6km to the bivouac site. We were both tired,
cold and hungry. The 6 km home stretch covered mostly
sand dunes. It was tough to walk and difficult to find
the markers in the dark. We used our compass to check
our direction now and then. We then saw a bright star
over the horizon which seem to coincide with the direction
we were supposed to head. That star helped to guide
us. The last 6km would take us another 2 and half hours.
After 4am, we suddenly saw light of the bivouac site
just beyond the dunes. But then we must had crossed
another 20 dunes before reaching the bivouac site another
½ hour later. How deceiving!!!
What an elation I felt as I was greeted by the two
lonely marshals at the finish line. DT and I crossed
the finish line almost together after 19 ½ hours.
By the time we collected our water ration and crawl
into our bivouac, the horizon already began to brighten.
I could have gone ahead and finished a little earlier
but if I have done that without waiting for DT, it would
have been really really miserable and lonely night for
both of us. Not to mention that if we were each on our
own, either of us might have lost our way in the dark
and be disqualified.
As we completed the 70.5 km through the night, 29/3/2007
became a rest day for DT and I. It was a hot sunny day
in the bivouac. We did not get up until lunch time to
cook some food. I went to medical tent to take care
of my feet. In the late afternoon we were called for
special announcement at the centre of the bivouac site.
The race director Patrick Bauer announced that in the
early morning a French competitor died at 5.35 am is
his bivouac. informs you of the death of Bernard Julé
from France, N°53, today 29.03.07 at 06H35. Bernard
Julé had run a good course from the beginning.
He had sought no medical aid and his medical file showed
no risk factor. A minute's silence was held on the bivouac.
Competitors who opted to rest or sleep at CP 4 or 5
came in one by one throughout the day.
30/3/2007 Day 6 (Distance 42.2km)
With the friendly Dutch team
After a full day's rest, everyone in our bivouac were
feeling strong. And day 6 was for a full marathon. I
looked forward to this day. After walking most of the
race so far, I could not wait to do some running. Most
of the food have been eaten and my backpack was probably
down to less than 10 kg. I knew I would be able to have
a nice steady run. The organizer had planned the day's
course in gentle terrain which permitted those who want
to run to be able to do so. And this was the second
last day. So I need not worry about injuries which can
put me out of the race. The next day was just to run
11.7 km! I could afford to be a bit reckless, I thought
The race director clearly reflected this sentiment
in his speech. He knew that all who have come so far
would be able to complete the marathon and the short
leg the next day.
The course was mostly on undulating and gentle terrain,
sandy in some part and stony in other part. I enjoyed
the run, inspite the pain in my big toe nails. With
the backpack lighter and the gentle terrain, I could
run all the way at a slow steady pace. There were 3
check points on the way where we collected our water
At the last 2 km, we crossed a plain strewed with black
stones, which from far makes the plain looks black and
looming beyond were pink coloured sand dunes (almost
like strawberry ice-cream)!! At the last 500 meters
I pulled out the Malaysian flag, tied to the trekking
pole and held it up high to cross the finish line. Everyone
was cheering at the finish line.I had a good marathon
finishing in 6 hours 58 minutes. (That was 15 minutes
faster than my marathon in Singapore which I did with
the backpack). I was really happy.
I was back earlier than I expected before 4 pm and
so took my time at medical tent to take care of the
blisters and toe nails. I also queued to sent an email
to Simon Cross in reply to his email and to thank him
for the tips and pointers which made the race so much
DT came back some time later. The young 23 year old
Japanese competitor Sakayasu came in very late after
Dr. Tan. He was covering his face with his hands and
weeping loudly as he limped towards his bivouac. DT
said he passed the boy who was obviously in great pain,
whimpering and struggling every step of his way.
I collected some firewood and cooked dinner and I finish
my last pack of noodle. Dr. Tan ran out of food and
as he put it he was down to salt and pepper soup. Koreans
and Japanese gave some food. I went and checked out
the Dutch at their bivouac. They all did excellent time
in the race. I managed to obtain 2 packets of chocolate
mousse from the Dutch and went back to my bivouac. I
made the mousse and everyone in the bivouac shared it.
That night, the organizer flew in an opera group from
Paris to entertain the competitors at the bivouac site.
Before retiring for the night, we exchanged email addresses
with those we got to know during the race.
31/3/2007 Day 7 (Distance 11.7 km)
For the first time since the last seven mornings, no
Berbers came to bring down the bivouac at 6 am!! Everyone
took their time to get up and to get ready for the last
short run. It was obvious that everyone at the bivouac
was in extremely high spirit. The stewards and marshals
went around the camp site blaring the horns in the 4WDs.
Everyone cheered at them. The Korean TV crew came to
interview me and DT and asked how we felt about the
event. For my part I told them I found it an enriching
experience in that we got to meet like minded competitors
from so many nations and form the camaraderie. I told
them also that I was so enthralled by the pristine environment
in the Sahara, untouched by human activity.
During the daily speech by the race director during
which he announced that about 30 had retired from the
race thus far, the competitors from NZ entertained everyone
at the start line with the Maori.dance. After that we
were flagged off and everyone started off with great
enthusiam. It was a straight course, half of which were
stony ground and the other half sand dunes. It was really
pleasant slow and steady run for me. I was kind of missing
the desert already so I took my time.
At about 11 am, I was nearing the finish line running
on the orangy pink coloured sand dunes. There were tourists
on camels led by Berbers. The finish line is at a small
tourist town Merzouga. The locals and families of competitors
lined up the last few hundred meters to cheer us to
About 100 meters from the finish line, I took out an
empty water bottle from my backpack and squat down to
scoop the orangy pink desert sand into it. Many other
competitors were doing the same. All want to bring back
the desert sand as a momento. I then crossed the finish
line together with a short but stout 67 year old French
competitor with upturned moustaches. He gave me a bear
hug and 4 pecks on my two cheeks!! That is the French
way. At the finish line the medal was hung on us and
the lunch pack and finishing t-shirt handed out to us.
We were than directed to the row of buses waiting for
the competitors. The buses leave separately as each
were filled up. It would be another 6 hour ride to the
hotels at Quazazite.
We ate our lunch pack on the bus. We had a few toilet
stops. Everyone was all tired and therefore did not
bother to walk very far from the bus to answer nature's
call. Guys just did it standing while the ladies squat.
The air conditioning on our bus broke down on the way.
The vent cover on top of bus refused to open even though
many people tried to force it open. I flattened an empty
mineral water bottle and managed to jam it in between
the vent cover to let in some cool air from outside
to the cheer of all on the bus. Our bus reached the
hotel. I was the first to check into the room which
was to be shared by 4 competitors. I had a long soak
in the long bath, the first bath after 9 days!!
In the evening, we had dinner at the hotel provided
by the organizer. First real meal after 7 days!!. Everyone
must had 2 to 3 rounds.
For the statistics, there were 727 competitors who
finished. 29 others started but did not finish and one
participant died. For me my two big toe nails turned
back and are now gone. The overall result for DT and
I are as follows:
Total time taken Position overall Position in male
veteran 50-59 years
Ngae Koh Hieng 50 h 40 m 571/727 77/104
Dr. Tan 55 h 01 m 627/727 89/104
On 1/4/2007 we were back in civilization. Breakfast
was provided by the hotel. After that we went to one
of the hotels where the control centrer was set up to
return the flare. We also bought some event souvenirs.
We met up with the many competitors we got to know during
the race. After that DT, myself, John from Hong Kong
and Seiji from Japan went around the small town of Quazazate.
Seiji participated in the MDS in 2006 and was familiar
with the place. We had a sumptuous "targine"
lunch. "Targines" are meat and vegetable cooked
in shallow clay pot with a clay top hat cover. DT bought
some local oranges. These were like the Sunkist navel
oranges but were more like the size of small pomelo.
Real sweet and juicy.
Dinner was provided by the hotel and as arranged by
the organizer, we depart the hotel by 5.30am early next
morning by bus to the airport to take the chartered
flight back to Paris.. We overnighted at Paris and then
flew to London to spend a few days with DT's friends
and daughter. We flew back to Malaysia on 6/4/2007 and
reached KL Sentral on the evening of 7/4/2007 to be
welcomed home by friends and family.
To bring a close to this long report, I must include the
following observations about the event.
Welcome back at KL Sentral
· The organization was flawless. Interestingly,
the race director was in the thick of action all the
· The participants were well disciplined. No
littering at all at the camp site and on the trail.
I was in the 500 plus position and I did not see any
wrappers on the trail throughout the seven days in the
· In the desert and back to nature and down
to the basics, all competitors learnt that many things
deemed essential living in the city were really quite
unnecessary. After days of being so physically and mentally
challenged, everyone treated each other with equal respect.
The most interesting observation I made was about answering
calls of nature. During the first one or two days, the
competitors (especially the women) would walk quite
some distance out from the bivoac site or off the trek
to answer such calls. After a while everyone were not
bothered so much about walking a long distance away.
Afterall what is the difference of baring our butts
to others ten feet away or one hundred feet away?
I must also record my thanks to the following people:
· my wife and children for supporting me in
· Mr and Mrs. John Tan of Foto-zzoom (M) Sdn
Bhd who funded my participation in the MDS and made
my participation possible. They had consistently supported
me in my charity events over these years.
· the friends in Pacesetters and Hospis Malaysia
who saw us off, accompany us all the way in spirit and
welcome us home. Reading the encouraging emails while
we were in Paris and also while we were in the desert
really made a big difference.
· DT for his idea of doing the MDS in the first
place which influenced me into doing it
· Simon Cross for his encouragement and his invaluable
Last but not least, I thank God for the wonderful injury
free experience DT and I had in the MDS 2007 and for
us to be able to do something for Hospis Malaysia.
Ngae Koh Hieng