- Premiership referee Nigel Carrick took part in the gruelling Marathon des Sables
- The event is known as the hardest foot race on earth
- The Game of our Lives: Tell us what rugby means to you here
Nigel Carrick remembers his lowest moment as an assistant referee.
And despite now being into his eighth season in the Aviva Premiership and having officiated in a World Cup semi-final, dealing with difficult decisions remains just as hard.
“I made a bad call in a match and phoned the head coaches after the game to apologise,” explains Carrick. “That isn’t a good feeling but as a referee it is crucial in those moments to compartmentalise the mistake and try to move on.”
“Whenever I have those low moments now I think back to waking up in the Sahara desert before dawn with hundreds of kilometres of desert ahead of me to run across.
“You’re thinking, ‘I can’t do this,’ but then you break it down and literally take things one step at a time.”
That isn’t an experience most people can relate to because, unlike Carrick, most people haven’t run over 250 kilometres (156 miles)across the hottest desert on earth. Twice.
Pushing the boundaries
Having spent much of his life leading expeditions to remote jungles in Asia, Carrick has always been one to test his limits.
But even for him, deciding to take part in the Marathon des Sables was slightly extreme.
Taking place over six days, competitors have to run the equivalent of a marathon each day.
In the build up to the event he was balancing running up to 70 miles a week with his day job of teaching PE and refereeing every weekend.
“I’d never even run a marathon before. But I wanted to raise money for the Matt Hampson Foundation so in 2013 I signed up,” says Carrick.
Four years after completing it the first time, Carrick was back again in 2017 at the age of 53.
“Temperatures can get to over 50 degrees and nothing can really prepare you for that but it is an incredible experience.
“Getting through it is all about breaking it down into small parts. The pain, the heat, the exhaustion – you have to test yourself mentally to overcome all of those things.”
Staying in front of the camel
Looking back on the experience, Carrick says it taught him some valuable lessons.
“There was a camel at the back of the race and if it overtook you then you were eliminated.
“There was a group of women, all over 60, who were doing the event together. Every day they worked together to stay in front of that camel.
“They were the last to finish each stage which meant they had the least amount of time to get ready for the next day but their attitude was incredible and they all finished together.
“When you take yourself to the limit physically, you have to use your mental strength and the people around you to keep going.
“There is no hiding place in an event like that and it’s the same in rugby. You have to be honest with yourself and others and to succeed you have to work together. That’s why rugby is the greatest team sport on earth.”
When asked if he has any plans to do any more extraordinary challenges, there is no hesitation.
“Oh of course, yes. You only have one life. Make use of every single day, whatever it is you do.”