The Marathon des Sables
Well after training for nearly two years on the April 15th, 2013 I fulfilled the greatest achievement of my life – I completed the 28th Marathon des Sables (MdS) in the Moroccan Sahara and it was absolutely incredible. The whole journey from 'Under Dog to Ultra Marathon Runner' is something I never thought I could never achieve but with a little bit of Spirit, Determination and Neuromol anything is possible.....and I even completed the Virgin London Marathon a week later!!
Me & My Medal!!
The 28th MdS was a 6 day race covering a distance of 223.8km (134 miles). There were 1127 entrants from across the globe and 970 finishers.
We were required to cover the following distance per day within a cut of time or risked disqualification from the race:-
- Day 1 - 37.2km cut off time 10 hours
- Day 2 - 30.7km cut off time 10 hours
- Day 3 - 38.0km cut off time 10 hours
- Day 4/- 5 75.7km cut off time 34 hours
- Day 6 - 42.2km cut off time 12 hours
The 28th Marathon des Sables was not only one only one of the toughest but one of the hottest with mercury rising to 54 degrees centigrade on the hottest day – no amount of Bikram Yoga prepares you for that!
The terrain varied from jebels, dunes, sand, hills (more like a mountain), rocks and stony ground. The views were absolutely stunning and even during the toughest times it was hard not to appreciate the desert. I have great admiration for everyone that took apart in this event but especially the French team that pushed children around on a specially adapted wheel chair the the event, Didier a blind runner and his guide Gules, Mohammed with one leg and a blade - these are the incredible people I had the pleasure on meeting on this adventure.
Didier with his Guide Gulles
French team with modified wheelchair
One of the rules of the MdS is it is a self sufficiency race – consequently we are required to carry our own kit. On day one my pack weighed in at 8kg - this was 1kg heavier than I would have liked but I decided to pack my power monkey, camera and a jacket after the first night in the desert was really cold. The race was tough enough as it was and my theory was as long as I ate well, slept well and looked after my feet I had a fighting chance of finishing.
What else made my MdS? - It had to be my brilliant tent mates in tent 110. Whilst learning to run I have made some genuinely lovely friends and that includes my tent mates Paul Burrows, Pete Wright, Andy MacDonald, Guy Pitcher, Sally Camm, Tom Carey and Gordon Marshall.
Let me introduce you to the marvellous tent 110 L- R
Gordon, Pete, Andy, Guy, Sally, Joey, Tom & Paul
We were of mixed ability and had some real machines in the tent and then a tortoise like me, unlike the story I didn't beat the hares in my tent :0)
We all looked after one another and we constantly had a laugh that was really important to keep spirits up especially if we were having a bad day. I must say on the longest day when I woke up at CP 5 it was absolutely awesome to see Tom walk towards me whilst being interviewed by a camera man and to finish day 5 with Tom and Sally was great! I would also recommend having a vet in the the tent if you can find one - thank you Guy for the MASH moments!!!
Preparation for the MdS
Whilst preparing for the MdS I lost 12kg in body fat through training as follows:-
- Participating in running events but not limited to Marathons and Ultra events
- Training programme with Rory Coleman & Jen Salter
- Bikram Yoga
- Gym work
- Climbing the 3 peaks
- Long distance walking
A combination of the above worked really well for all over fitness - unless you are a super runner it's tough to the run the whole MdS. Unfortunately, after day one I was scuppered and forced to walk due to my blister requiring totally different muscle groups my legs so it is good to do a combination of running and walking whilst training. Neil and Anna at XNRG taught me to run for 25 minutes and walk for 5 minutes and I use the technique for all Ultra events now. Two weeks of solid Bikram Yoga certainly helped me with acclimatisation especially as we had such a cold spring prior to flying out.
The Marathon des Sables was incredible and I now understand why people do it again. The event should not be under estimated it is brutal in places but with disciplined training, an understanding husband, spirit, determination and a couple of nuromol an underdog completed the 28th Marathon des Sables.
Many people have asked me whether I was on my own during the event - I guess the answer to that would be yes and no. During the event other competitors were always visible in front of you, they might have been a long way away, but you never felt lonely. Even during the longest day whilst travelling during the night torches and glow sticks were always visible. At times the terrain was brutal especially day two but at no stage did I ever think I wasn’t going to complete the event and when things did get tough I thought amount the wonderful charity I support and the money being raised whilst in the desert and how life changing it is for members of Blind Veterans UK.
Me returning back to my tent after the longest day
Finally it is important to note that the MdS also supports a fantastic charity called Solidarite.The charity was founded in 2010 by Patrick Bauer and his wife Marie to help fight the poverty trap that Moroccan children and their families fall into. The mothers of these children are also taught how to read and write and to adopt best practice with regards to hygiene and healthcare. The charity is heavily supported by an army as well qualified volunteers (and some world class athletes). Every penny raised goes directly to the charity with no donations going towards fundraising, admin or marketing.