April 2017. The Sahara Desert. Nightfall. I’ve been running for nine hours straight. By myself. Over desert mountains. Behind me are hundreds of other runners, also doing their best to get to the finish line.
I’m taking part in the world’s toughest foot race, called the Marathon Des Sables in Morocco. And having run through the baking 50-degree Celsius (130-degree Fahrenheit) heat of the daytime, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s beginning to drop. So too is my ability to keep going, which is beginning to sap.
It’s a horrible feeling. Having spent the past 18 months dragging myself out of the depths of stress-induced excessive drinking and an unhealthy lifestyle, I can’t understand why I’m beginning to flag. I’d started to control the drinking. I’d moved from the UK to Amsterdam to start again in a new job role. I’d done all the training to get here. I should be in fine physical shape.
Yet I’m not. My legs are getting heavier and heavier. How? I’d just been trained by an elite running coach. I’d been in the shape of my life. Through running, I’d overcome potentiality life-wrecking professional wounds, personal wounds following a divorce from my ex-wife. More importantly, I’d survived a heart attack and come back stronger.
I’d died while out running. By the time the ambulance had arrived, I’d stopped breathing. I’d died, yet I’d come back to life. I’d mended a broken heart in more ways than one. But now, here I am in The Sahara, plagued by the knowledge that if I were to die during this race, I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to do so.
Others had perished trying to finish this race over the years. Yet on the heart-rate monitor on my watch, my heartbeat seems perfectly regular. So what on Earth is happening to me?
I grind to a walk and begin to vomit. Hmm. That’s interesting. When was the last time I actually ate? I can’t remember. I try to drink some water that I’m carrying with me, but I can’t keep it down now. I can’t stop retching.
Before long, I’ve made it to an aid station along the route in the desert, manned by the event’s doctors. I lie down in a heap. I’m thinking of my two beautiful daughters now. Kirstin, my soon-to-be-wife. Thoughts of my mum, who I’d become closer with again, closer than ever, in fact. I’d promised them I wouldn’t die, that I’d make it, that I’d survive against their better judgement.
Countless people who knew the real Craig were worried about how this event would play out for me. Until I’d started training for the Marathon Des Sables, drinking too much coupled with an unhealthy lifestyle had dominated my life. In my late teens, I’d often drunk far too much, ending up in police cells. I’d say things like, “Who cares if I die - I’ve already lived the life of two men!”