The Marathon des Sables
The Marathon des Sables is a gruelling, multi-stage adventure through the Sahara desert. Over 1000 participants from across the globe cover 150 miles of running, walking and trekking over 6 days in the Sahara desert of Morocco. That’s the same as five and a half marathons! It is an experience of extreme conditions in 120 degrees Fahrenheit while carrying everything you need to be self-sufficient including food, clothing and medical supplies. It is an unforgettable experience.
I completed the Marathon Des Sables in 2015 and what a fantastic event it is. I had an amazing time and it made all of the long hours of preparation worthwhile. Here is a quick review of my time in the desert.
Each day had its own challenges, be them dunes, jebels, blisters, the ground or heat. I pushed it as hard as I could over the obstacles that each day brought though and was happy with the what I put in. My training schedule worked as well as it could I think, and I struck a good balance between endurance and cross training. It is easy to over do it, no matter what your fitness levels are going into it and I made sure that I worked hard in training but got plenty of rest. I didn’t just run long distances, but mixed my training with pilates, OCRs, cycling and walking.
I had aimed to carry as little as possible and achieved this without ever going hungry or being overly uncomfortable, although the cold meals and cold sleeping bag got a bit boring after a few days. Saying that there is little I would change in terms of kit selection and everything I took had a purpose and was used. A lot of people were throwing kit and food out from day one, but it is a learning process. I did improve my running strategy from the first day however and became more effective as the week progressed, mainly by carrying less water between checkpoints (I was even overhydrated at some points) and also by maintaining a steadier, more consistent pace rather than going fast, slow, fast, slow. The compression gear I wore on my calves and quads really did seem to helo during the day and I also slept in the same kit to recover during the night (yes – I did stink!)
I benefitted from being in a brilliant tent for the race as well. Chris, Martin, Kate, Barry, Brett, Stuart and David were all fantastic company, easy to live with and we all worked for each other. This made the week easier as down time was more fun and there was less to worry about. I was very impressed with the robustness of people in general on the race – some people had an horrendous time with feet, bad backs, injuries or just the heat. Hats off to those who had to spend a lot longer out on the course each day as well. We were a real team and bonded over the shared challenges that such an event brings.
The terrain we ran over was varied and beautiful (despite the discomfort and often pain being endured at the time). Like any race this made the whole thing more bearable, especially given the amount of time running each day. It varied from sand dunes, to dirt tracks, rocky outcrops and the long day (+50 miles) even had a small mountain in the middle (thank you organisers for that….)