The Archie Cruickshank Foundation

Henry & Paul and the Marathon des Sables 2021, for the Archie Cruickshank Foundation

Henry and Paul took on (ultimately unsuccessfully) the Marathon des Sables "the toughest footrace on Earth" in October 2021, to raise funds for the Archie Cruickshank Foundation. Paul will return for another attempt in April 2023.
raised of £10,000 target
RCN 1178889


Update from Henry & Paul - Marathon des Sables (#35), 2021

With such significant and generous support for the Archie Cruickshank Foundation in the back of our minds at all times, Henry and Paul went to Morocco on 1st October to take part in MDS 35. With an extended period of nearly 2 years (due to Covid-19) in which to prepare, we both arrived feeling positive about the challenges ahead, encapsulated by the need to complete approximately 6 marathon-length stages over 7 days. MDS has a reputation for being the toughest footrace on Earth. During its previous 34 years of operation, however, it has experienced a dropout rate of 5 - 8%, with only two fatalities.

After the preparatory phase (settling in, administration checks and inspections), the event started with Stage 1 on Sunday 3rd October. We undertook this 32 kms stage carrying all our kit and water, with packs weighing 14 kgs. During this stage, an alarming number of people literally fell by the wayside, in what turned out to be an MDS record temperature for a Stage 1 day - 51 Celsius. By the time we reached Check Point (CP) 2, Henry has become very ill, regularly vomiting and losing all his fluids. He should have stopped there and then, but with gritty determination, he insisted we reach the day's finish line together - which we did, after a grueling 7 hours 40 minutes. Henry needed immediate medical assistance, including having 2.5 litres intravenously pumped into his severely dehydrated body. Regular, aggressive vomiting meant he no longer had essential fluids in his body, and his stomach was empty of the high calorific food we had prepared for this unique event. Unable to eat supper that night, nor breakfast the following day, Henry, supported by Paul, was left with no other option than to withdraw from the event on the grounds of physical safety. Henry was one of nearly fifty people who had to withdraw that day, a drop-out rate never before seen on MDS.

Paul continued with Stage 2 on 4th October, along with his sister and her son. Stage 2 (32 kms) involves the infamous sand dunes leg (13 kms across non-stop dunes). Prior to reaching CP 1, Paul had started to vomit. During the dunes leg, with the temperature peaking at a record-breaking 59 Celsius, more and more competitors were collapsing, the main cause seemingly being vomiting. Shortly prior to CP 2 (the end of the dunes), three experienced ultra-event competitors had collapsed and were having CPR applied by fellow competitors. Paul completed Stage 2 in 9 hours 47 minutes, but was also now unable to eat and drink. After serious vomiting through the night, and unable to eat or drink at breakfast on the morning of Stage 3, Paul also took the decision, extremely reluctantly, to withdraw on the grounds of physical safety. It transpired later that 117 people had to withdraw at this relatively early stage of the event for the same reason. Paul's sister and nephew decided to attempt Stage 3 on 5th October but both withdrew at CP 1 as they, too, had started vomiting.

The official withdrawal figures for MDS 35 currently show as 321. This represents 48% of competitors, a dropout rate never seen before in the event's 35-year history. Almost the entire bivouac was afflicted by a vomiting and diarrhoea infection, causing so many to withdraw. Even 25% of the MDS organisation staff were inflicted, and the events medical system even ran out of IV fluid by the end of Stage 3, so overwhelmed were they by this turn of events.

Most significantly and tragically, a total of three competitors (of which at least one was an experienced ultra-eventer) ended up losing their lives during Stage 2. One in the dunes themselves, the other two later, once they had finally been air-lifted to hospital. Thus, two deaths in 34 years, and then a staggering 3 deaths in two days of MDS 35.

Henry and Paul have now returned safely to the UK and have recovered from the vomiting. It will take time for both to overcome the shock of premature departure from this event, and to deal with the emotions associated with this situation, including the acceptance that we failed to meet the expectations of our wide and generous support base. We both genuinely believe that had it not been for the vomiting infection which ran rampant through the bivouac from the earliest moments, the end result would have been very different.

Marathon des Sables (#37). In the hope of doing justice to all the amazing donations, from so many, and on behalf of Henry, Paul will return to Morocco and will attmept Marathon des Sables (#37) in April 2023. Here's hoping the unique temperatures will not be repeated, and there will be no rampant sickness issues in the bivouac.

On behalf of Archie, we thank so much all of you who have so generously supported the Archie Cruickshank Foundation, and assure you all donations will, in due course, be used to enhance the lives of animals most in need.

For a more detailed summary of the event and our experiences, you can read Paul's first-hand account via this link:

About the charity

This charity's purpose is to improve animal welfare around the world, as well as enhance the lives of young people who, like Archie in previous times, may have faced unwanted challenges, by offering them chances to interact with, care for, and ultimately enjoy the company of animals.

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