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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Suffering in the Sahara
Rhino runner
The eight-person team took turns wearing the costume
Two weeks ago we featured a rhino-suited British runner preparing for the 220 km Marathon des Sables. The race has now finished and here team member David Stirling reflects on the seven-day dash across the Moroccan Sahara.

It was the first time a costume has completed the Marathon des Sables in its 17-year history.

Day one: 16 miles (26 km)
Before setting off we were obviously apprehensive, none of us having run this sort of distance before. It was quite windy but the joy was that it was behind us - that really helped boost the costume along.

Running for charity
The team finished about 520th and raised 200,000 for Save the Rhino
Unfortunately two of our team got bad blisters - very bad luck. That evening at camp, there was a long line outside the medical team's tent. They have a fairly archaic way of dealing with your feet - slice the blister off, throw iodine on it and bind it - so there was a lot of screaming and wailing coming from that tent.

Day two: 22 miles (36 km)
This day we turned into the wind, and for the next four or five days we had to run into it.

Oasis in the desert
Runners wending their way through an oasis
At one point the rhino got momentarily lost; it went up the wrong riverbed and did an extra 2km.

As we had to carry everything but our tent - food, stove, sleeping bags - on days one and two our rucksacks averaged about 12kg. That's quite a weight on your back, not to mention the costume...

Day three: 19 miles (31 km)
This distance gave us a bit of respite before the double marathon the next day. It was a bit of walk in the desert - that's easy to say in hindsight - but we knocked it out of the way pretty quickly.

It must have been demoralising being passed by a rhino

We finished in a pretty good position with lots of runners behind us, which must have been pretty demoralising for them being passed by a rhino.

But I realised I'd made the stupid mistake of buying a cheap sleeping bag to keep the weight down. I'd wake at four every morning and because I was so cold I never got back to sleep.

Days four and five: 44 miles (70 km)
We had 35 hours to complete 70km, and did it in 26 hours including sleeping.

Marathon des Sables
A lone runner crossing the dunes
About 20km was over high dunes. The rhino would get to the top of the dune, having been in the lee of the wind, and this high wind would just knock it backwards with sand everywhere.

Day six: 26 miles (42 km)
Marathon day. A few of us had done marathons before and you treat them with a lot of respect. This time we weren't disrespectful, but certainly were reasonably carefree about it.

Nick Baker, of the BBC's Really Wild Show, who was running with us was really suffering. Blisters. Blisters on blisters. Feet that were becoming infected and swollen. He'd gone to some very dark and lonely places yet still he managed to get through it.

Day seven: 13 miles (21 km)
We decided to all run together and that slowed our time down immensely as we were chivvying Nick along.

Rhino runners
Others ran the London Marathon last Sunday
Crossing the finishing line, I felt huge elation, relief and a great sense of camaraderie. They gave us two oranges which we ate greedily having not eaten anything like that for a week.

Would I do it again? Ask me that in a month's time. We forget pain so who knows? I feel pretty good - not stiff but rather as if someone has beaten my feet with a baseball bat.

Rhino runner David Stirling
"You had your own personal sandstorm inside the costume"
See also:

07 Apr 02 | Africa
Runners take on African desert
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