Episode 224 – Shane Ohly from Ourea Events

Episode 224 of Talk Ultra brings you an in-depth chat with Shane Ohly from Ourea Events and Speedgoat Karl co-hosts.

RECENT ARTICLES

VJ Sport XTRM2 Shoe Review Here

Matterhorn Skyrunning Workshop Here

Episode 223 – Marathon des Sables Special Here

Scarpa Golden Gate Kima Shoe Review Here

Episode 222 – Tom Evans, Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel Here

MDS Photo Gallery Here

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VJ Sport XTRM2 Shoe Review

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A new VJ Sport shoe is always exciting, this time, the XTRM2, which I guess is not really a new shoe but a re-working of a VJ classic. The XTRM has been a popular shoe in the trail, fell and mountain running world for a very long time, sitting in the middle ground of the aggressive iRock and the MAXx.

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The key to any VJ shoe is the outsole and the incredible grip that this outsole provides. The XTRM had 4mm lugs, the same as the MAXx but not as long as the iRock and therefore it was the ideal shoe for say skyrunning.

However, two things were often heard when fellow runners discussed the XTRM:

  1. I just wish there was a little more cushioning.
  2. I wish they could be just a little wider.

Well, the XTRM2 addresses both these issues and brings a couple of newer developments.

THE SHOE

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You should never judge a shoe by how it looks, and yes, some of you may love the look of the new XTRM2, I do not! Red is always great and when combined with black, superb. Look at the VJ Sport iRock HERE – now that is a nice-looking shoe! But this XTRM2 looks like someone had a little too much alcohol and dope in Hawaii and then designed the shoe. It’s a ‘me’ thing. Sorry.

Gladly, I can get past the looks because I know that a VJ Sport shoe will do all that I want and do it well.

As mentioned, the XTRM2 is designed to fit between the iRock, which is a short distance and soft-ground shoe and the MAXx which is a longer distance trail/ mountain shoe. Of course, there is now the ULTRA too. That is for the long stuff.

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Quite simply, if you loved the XTRM, the XTRM2 is going to make you smile. I had no issues with the original version, however, straight out of the box I welcomed the extra cushioning and the slightly rounder, more spacious toe box.

Drop is 4mm with 10mm cushioning at the front and 14mm at the rear. For perspective, the iRock has 8/14mm and the MAXx 12/18mm.

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With a reshaped last, CMEVA cushioning and a rock plate, the XTRM2 is the perfect mountain/ skyrunning shoe.

Pulling the shoe on there is a notable difference with the tongue, it is fastened on both sides. One of the issues in the previous XTRM and MAXx for that matter, was the tongue would move when running – often moving to the left or the right. This has now been addressed and in all my test runs so far, the tongue has remained in place and secure.

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Fitlock is a VJ Sport secret weapon and is one of the USP’s of the VJ brand. Once you have put your foot in the shoe, as you tighten the laces, the Fitlock grabs hold of the instep/ arch and holds it tight and secure – exactly what is required in mountainous and technical terrain when you need the shoe to be precise. With the more spacious XTRM2 toe box, this new Fitlock is even more welcome. I was initially worried if I would lose some of the precise feel at the front end, not so, the Fitlock compensates.

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The lacing is classic with 6 eyelets and the addition of a 7th eyelet on both sides should you require to lock lace or similar. There is reinforcement here ensuring that the laces can be pulled tight without causing any issue to the upper.

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The upper is Swiss Schoeller Keprotec® which is more durable than previous incarnations of the XTRM and it is also more pliable, allowing it to fit the foot better. Look at the old XTRM HERE – I reviewed this shoe back in 2018. Notably look how different the upper is… The original XTRM had many reinforced panels on the upper with a solid extension from the toe box and heel area. It’s a major change. I wondered, by contrast, if the new XTRM2 would feel less secure and sloppy – no. Foot hold has been excellent. The upper is excellent and repels moisture, water and mud.

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The heel area is slightly padded but not excessively, importantly it holds the foot and there is no slipping when climbing.

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Toe protection is adequate but could maybe be a little more? Certainly, in a skyrunning scenario when rocks, boulders and hard mixed terrain will be encountered.

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The outsole is a notable difference, the previous XTRM had 4mm lugs, they have now been increased to 6mm and in doing so, they now match the iRock. This is a key and notable change. For me, I would now only need an XTRM2 and MAXx (which has 4mm lugs). I do appreciate though, that the narrower and more precision fit of the iRock would be preferable for some.

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The outsole pattern is newly designed to optimize grip on all terrains and with the 6mm lugs, you now have an outsole that can handle softer ground. There is little to say about the grip of the outsole, VJ have the tagline ‘bestgripontheplanet’ and it is. No outsole from any other brand matches the grip, wet or dry, of a VJ outsole. However, be warned, that grip comes from a wonderful soft and grippy superior contact – it will not last and last and if you run too much road, that longevity will be reduced greatly. You cannot have amazing outsole grip and long life.

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There is a torsional rigidity in the shoe that is very noticeable when running on uneven and rocky terrain. If you have the Fitlock laced up and tight, the XTRM2 gives superb precision.

Flex and life are superb, and the propulsive phase is superb. There is a real ping behind the metatarsals when pushing off.

Weight is incredible, VJ list 250g for a UK8. My UK10 is 289g.

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I am always a UK9.5 in test shoes, however, I have noticed with extended use in VJ that I have often wished I had gone a half-size larger, so, with the XTRM2 and SPARK (review to follow) I decided to go to UK10. It was a good choice; I have found that extra space welcome. So, you may want to check this when purchasing.

CONCLUSION

Fitlock and a VJ outsole and you have a perfect shoe when precision and grip are required. The XTRM2 with a new upper, a new last, more cushioning and lugs increased to 6mm, and you now have the perfect trail/mountain and skyrunning shoe for short to middle distance. There are few shoes out there that can compete with VJ when this combination of elements is required. It is highly recommended.

Are there any negatives? I found prolonged running on hard surfaces (gravel road a good example) eventually tiring, but that is no real surprise. The outsole is soft and sticky and if you use on the wrong terrain, it will not last. I really dislike the look of the shoe, which is a petty thing to say, but the ‘look’ could put some people off before ever having the chance to run in the shoe and then find out how good it is. However, I may be alone in finding the look displeasing?

Ultimately, the XTRM2 is a superb shoe with incredible fit and grip.

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Matterhorn Skyrunning Workshop, Cervinia, June 17-22, 2022.

William Boffelli and Franco Colle, Monte Rosa Skymarathon

This first ever workshop will immerse participants in a unique full-on skyrunning experience in an iconic location, Cervinia, just below the stunning Matterhorn (4478m).

Franco Collé in Sardinia

Hosted by Mr skyrunning, Marino Giacometti, the workshop will have Franco Collé and William Boffelli, two of the best skyrunner’s in the world. Collé and Boffelli teamed up for the iconic, ‘return to roots’ Monte Rosa Skymarathon which they dominated. Boffelli has gone on to win the event three times. Collé also set an FKT (fastest known time) to the summit of Monte Rosa from Gressoney.

Marino Giacometti – Fast and Light.

Also joining the party is the legend of skyrunning, Bruno Brunod. Brunod is ‘the’ original skyrunner, along with Giacometti, who paved the way for this iconic sport and inspired runners such as Marco De Gasperi, Kilian Jornet, Emelie Forsberg and so many more to follow in the footsteps of these pioneers who set the footprints to the summits all over the world… Footprints that many have followed in.

Brunod and Giacometti

On and around the Matterhorn, participants will get expert advice – at altitude, on steep uphillssnow, and even steeper descents. The use of polescrampons and harnesses will also be taught, this is a full-on, hands-on experience with the best coaches.

Marino Giacometti on his ‘home’ slopes.

Joining the camp will be yours truly, Ian Corless, capturing the action real-time, on the slopes, through the lens of his camera.

Ian Corless ‘working’ at the summit of Monte Rosa

On hand, will be Norwegian mountain runner, Abelone Lyng who will have raced at Livignio Skymarathon just days before and then will follow on with participation in Monte Rosa Skymarathon in Alagna.

Abelone in the final meters to the summit of Slogen, Norway.

The agenda includes outdoor runs on the original Vertical Kilometer® course from Cervinia up to the Oriondé Refuge at 2,802m and will touch on the Theodul Pass at 3,295m with spectacular views of the Matterhorn and across the glacier down to Zermatt.

Indoors, the workshop continues daily with lectures, presentations, videosand relaxing activities such as physiotherapy, yoga, a spa and appetising meals based on the local Aosta Valley cuisine in the host hotel, Les Neiges d’Antan.

The Matterhorn Skyrunning Workshop is an Israeli-Italian initiative, founded and managed by two passionate mountain runners, Yaniv Shoshan, Workshop director and Ludvico Bich, the hotel owner and a Cervinia native.

The initiative is also open to participants’ partners who may not be aspirant skyrunners, but who want to share this unique experience enjoying all the facilities, indoors and out.

INTERESTED IN JOINING? THERE ARE JUST A FEW PLACES LEFT! HERE

Lauri van Houten and Marino Giacometti, Cervinia.

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Episode 223 – A 36th Marathon des Sables Special

Episode 223 of Talk Ultra is a 36th MDS special co-hosted by Steve Diederich (MDS UK) and guest interviews with, James Hazeldene, Liz Anderson, Patrick Kennedy, Richard Bysouth and Tamsin Dobson.

Rachid El Morabity leads Aziz and Mohamed.

The 36th Marathon des Sables came just 6-months after the 35th edition which was re-scheduled to October 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic situation. The two races could not have been more different. The 35th edition had intense heat and D&V which swept through the camp. A summary of the experience is HERE. There is also a 35th edition special podcast, HERE.

This special podcast is a follow on from the 35th and provides an insight from the MDS UK agent, Steve Diederich.

We also speak with James Hazeldene, Liz Anderson, Patrick Kennedy, Richard Bysouth and Tamsin Dobson.

You can follow the 36th edition daily summaries below.

Stage 1 HERE

Stage 2 HERE

Stage 3 HERE

Stage 4 (part one) HERE

Stage 4 (part two) HERE

Stage 5 HERE

SUMMARY HERE

PHOTO GALLERY HERE

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE

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Episode 222 – Tom Evans, Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel

WE ARE BACK!

Episode 222 brings you and in-depth chat with adidas Terrex athlete Tom Evans about his comeback to racing and victory after surgery and rehabilitation. We also talk to to Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel about an epic journey around Lesotho.

It almost feels like a new beginning for Talk Ultra and in a way, I suppose it is. We have just had the longest period ever without producing a show, but we are now back with some new fire.

Importantly, Karl and myself THANK YOU all for the support, messages and encouragement. It really does make producing the show worthwhile.

I personally had questioned if Talk Ultra should stop in this downtime period. It’s been a great run, 12-years, hours, hours and hours of audio and it was actually only when I looked back and realised that we have created and documented the history of the sport since 2010 that I can’t let that stop… Your support and encouragement and very kind words also was significant.

So, here we are, Episode 222 – Enjoy!

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And use good old word mouth. 

Importantly, go to iTunes and subscribe so that you automatically get our show when it’s released we are also available on Stitcher for iOS, Android and Web Player and now Tunein. We are also on Spotify too. 

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Please support Talk Ultra by becoming a Patreon at www.patreon.com/talkultra and THANKS to all our Patrons who support us. Rand Haley and Simon Darmody get a mention on the show here for ‘Becoming 100k Runners’ with a high-tier Patronage. 

I’m Ian Corless and he is Speedgoat Karl

Keep running

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Scarpa Golden Gate Kima RT – Shoe Review

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Ask any experienced mountain or skyrunner, what is the ‘best’ race and route, more often than not, the answer will be ‘Kima!’

Trofeo Kima in Italy has long been the dream of many a runner who loves a challenge at the max level. Taking place every other year, the race really gained notoriety when UTMB was hit by bad weather and a certain Kilian Jornet decided to take a fast exit out of France and stand on the start line of Kima the next day.

History was made, Kilian has returned again and again and, in his words, it is one of ‘the’ best races in the world that mixes running and alpinism – skyrunning!

Therefore, any shoe that is named after this iconic route had better be good!

Enter, the Scarpa Golden Gate Kima RT.

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Let me just say, from the start, this may well be ‘one of’ the best mountain running shoes I have ever tried. I place it up there with the best that VJ Sport offers in terms of fit, comfort and grip. Trust me, if you read my shoe reviews, you know I regard VJ as the Holy Grail when it comes to perfect shoes. It also matches the best from La Sportiva.

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Scarpa in recent years have gone from strength to strength with shoes and design. A huge contributing factor was the arrival of legendary WMRA and skyrunning champion, Marco de Gasperi. Marco was there on the slopes of Alagna, aged just 16 when skyrunning was born. There are few that know the sport better!

And as for the Trofeo Kima route, he has raced it and in recent years set the FKT (7:53:41) for the completion of the course.

“…mountain lovers who face this technical and very hard route take three days, sleeping two nights in the refuges: a journey that is completed by dancing from rock to rock along with eight alpine passes above 2,500 meters (Barbacan, Camerozzo, Qualido, Averta, Torrone, Cameraccio, Bocchetta Roma and Corni Bruciati) before jumping headlong towards the finish line.”

All of the above can be felt in this remarkable shoe.

I could stop here and just say, go buy them! But at £190.00 a pair, you may take a little more convincing.

The Shoe

Out of the box, a great looking shoe, a mix of black/blue/grey which Scarpa list as Grey-Azure. The women’s version is light grey/ aruba blue here. They are light, especially for such a robust looking shoe. Noticeable is the toe bumper, the cushioning/ outsole and the high heel area that is designed to protect and support the achilles.

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With a 6mm drop, they fit that wonderful middle ground between a 4 and 8mm that will suit most people.

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Cushioning is 22mm at the rear, 16mm (women’s 21mm/ 15mm) at the front and the addition of an enclosed carbon plate only makes the 290g (UK8) weight even more unbelievable.

Carbon plate visible in the middle.

When I saw the carbon plate, I flinched a little. My experience so far with carbon plates in trail shoes has not been good – often it has added weight and made for a lifeless feel with little or no flex. Not here in the Golden Gate Kima, on the contrary, I was not aware of the plate until I ran and then two key things were noticeable: 1. There is a return in energy and comfort, particularly on hard, technical trail/ rock. 2. The plate act as a rock-plate offering increased protection. Quite simply, this is the best shoe I have tried with a plate and in all honesty, I am putting it out there now and saying that the Golden Gate Kima is arguably the best mountain shoe I have ever used… A bold statement!

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There are so many aspects to this shoe that are so right, that the moment you slip them on, you smile. The fit is just amazing. It has a ‘sock-like’ internal construction which when laced up just holds the foot secure, reassured and comfortable. Everything I want in a mountain shoe. Amazingly, even when laced tight, they manage to avoid hot spots or pressure points.

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The heel area is superbly padded and goes high offering the ultimate comfort and protection – a level I have not experienced before in any shoe.

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At the front, the shoe opens up in to a wide toe box, which on a scale of 1-5 (1 being narrow) sits at a 4. This is quite unusual for a shoe that is so obviously designed for technical and challenging running. But it works. There is room for those with wider feet and for those with narrower feet, you get toe splay. Normally this would not work for me in a mountain shoe, I like my foot to feel held, secure and un-moveable, this only confirms how good the middle of the shoe is and how the lacing and sock-like fit gives you all the security you need.

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The upper has a double construction with structure coming from microfibre and anti-abrasion mesh which adds durability but still allows for breathability.

Toe box is superb with arguably one of the most protected front ends I have found in a run shoe.

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The outsole is Scarpa’s own Presa which I must be honest and say in past Scarpa shoes has left me perplexed. Not here in the Golden Gate Kima. There has been a significant re-working and the ‘SuperGum’ 4mm lugs are a dream on rock offering stunning grip. However, on wet UK Lakeland rock they were less secure.

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Cushioning is unusual. They are neither cushioned or firm but sit somewhere beautifully in the middle offering a superb feel for the ground without being harsh. The cushioning allows for comfort but without being squidgy. The combination of elements, which has double density foam wrapped around a 1mm carbon fiber plate gives an amazingly precise, lightweight, cushioned and reassured ride that adds energy to the run. I don’t know how Scarpa have managed it, but they have! This shoe has ground feel, precision, comfort and energy rebound in a package that feels light and fast. Flex behind the metatarsals is superb, so, the propulsive phase is not compromised. It’s difficult to believe a plate is in the midsole, but it is, you can see it.

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In Use

Women’s shoe with 100’s of KM’s and the 65km Transgrancanaria race in them.

It’s one of the best mountain/ skyrunning shoes I have used. The Golden Gate Kima goes head-to-head with VJ Sports XTRM and MAXx and dare I say it, equals them! The VJ’s are the go-to choice for many based on the stunning outsole and superb foot hold. However, many say that VJ are too narrow and are not cushioned/ protective enough. The Golden Gate Kima addresses all those issues and summary provides:

  1. Cushioned comfort without a loss for ground feel or control.
  2. Incredible foot hold with a superb sock-like fit and lacing.
  3. Superb heel protection.
  4. Wider toe box.
  5. Caron plate which adds protection and rebound without compromising ground feel and control.
  6. Lightweight.
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I could go on about how great these shoes are. Out of the box and straight in to a 25km run and I was smiling and a little amazed at how Scarpa have upped their game in the shoe world. There was much talk about the Ribelle Run but for me, this Golden Gate Kima places Scarpa at a whole new level.

Hard trail, rock and even some road, the shoes just perform. The compromises coming on muddy ground, the outsole lugs are not long enough and some types of wet rock. This is a mountain shoe designed for hard trail and rocks, be that wet or dry and they perform.

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Comfort is superb, energy return excellent and importantly precision and control is top-notch. It’s a shoe that can eat time and miles and most certainly, 6-hours in a shoe like this would not be a problem. Of course, this is personal. If you like Hoka-like squidge, bounce, roll and lack of control, this is not a shoe for you. How long could you run in them? It’s so personal it is hard to say, for me a good mountain day out maxing at 12-hours would be a limit.

Although neutral, there does feel to be a little additional support in the arch of the foot. It is noticeable, but not unpleasant. This is no doubt due to the combination of sock-like fit, dual cushioning and carbon plate.

Conclusion

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Buy them! It’s as simple as that… If you are heading to the mountains, running technical trails and want a combination of superb features all wrapped up in a lightweight good-looking shoe, you can’t go wrong with the Golden Gate Kima RT.

I have found it difficult to find fault in the shoe. For some, maybe the cushioning is not enough? But remember, the balance between ground feel, control, precision, and comfort is delicate – these are the best out there that I have found along with VJ. In prolonged runs I got some toe rubbing (2nd toe from the right) on my right foot (only the right) – It is where the toe bumper stops and the upper mesh starts. It may be unique to me, my foot shape etc, but worth noting.

The name ‘Golden Gate’ I find confusing. Scarpa make a shoe called Golden Gate ATR which is highly cushioned and a world away from this Kima RT model. The Golden Gate reference initially made me think it was a development of the ATR model.

It looks as though sizing is whole sizes, EU 40, 41, 42 and so on. This may make a compromise for some. I use EU 44 and they were perfect, true to size for me.

At £190.00 they are not cheap, blame Brexit! Much cheaper in Europe. However, based on how darn good they are, for me, they are worth it.

As always, there are other shoes that offer options and VJ with XTRM or MAXx are definite rivals which maybe get the nod due to the outsole. Also, La Sportiva Akasha are a more robust and cushioned shoe and if I was going longer, wanted more security and more long-term comfort, they would win out. The Goldengate Kima RT is without doubt a shoe that will regularly appear in my shoe rotation.

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 PHOTO GALLERY

The 2022 Marathon des Sables was memorable. Then again, it always is! There is something very unique about the Sahara, the sand, the desert, the dunes and the movement of some 1400-people on a journey. 2022 was my 9th year on the race and while B&W images appear in my galleries, for this 36th edition I wanted to produce a specific B&W gallery and portfolio.

Of course, MDS is a very colourful race, so, to strip it back to tones and shades from white to black is for me, something quite special.

There is a grit and rawness to B&W imagery, particularly in the close-up portraits which really convey the tough journey undertaken.

YOU CAN VIEW THE SLIDESHOW HERE

Sand storms, intense winds, bivouac life. It is all there to see.

Back to basics, one tent, 8-people, one bag per person; rationed food, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mandatory equipment and rationed water – multi-day experiences come no better. Stripped back from connection and technology, this week in the Sahara really is one of the ultimate raw experiences in this crazy modern and connected world.

MDS is a wonderful, magical, moving road show that is difficult to understand and appreciate until you are in the Sahara. A small city moves seamlessly and like clockwork day-by-day, it is mind-blowing; a magical Saharan experience that really is one of the greatest experiences in running. 

HERE IS A HIGHLIGHT

YOU CAN VIEW THE SLIDESHOW HERE

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – SUMMARY

The impressive Marathon des Sables start

The 2022 and 36th edition of the Marathon des Sables concluded in the iconic Merzouga dunes (Erg Chebbi) on April 1st. Coming just 5-months after the 2021 race, re-scheduled from April 2021 to October due to the ongoing complications with the Coronavirus pandemic, the two races could not have been more different.

Merzouga dunes in the 35th edition

October 2021 was plagued by a Norovirus that debilitated many of the staff and runner’s, also, some of the most sustained and intensive heat that the race has experienced. It was a perfect storm that resulted in nearly 50% not completing the race. An in-depth article is HERE.

Patrick Bauer at his daily race briefing

The 36th edition by contrast was the opposite, only confirming that extreme endurance challenges can bring anything and being prepared and adapting is key and integral for successful completion. Starting in March, a cooler MDS was anticipated and this is what we got.

Cold temperatures and some runner’s really wrapped up

Early evening, nights and mornings were cool and some would say cold, requiring additional layers and the use of a down jacket became essential for many, if not all participants. For those who raced too light, evenings were a somewhat miserable affair that wasted valuable energy trying to remain warm instead of recovering.

Most days had an epic sunrise start

Daytime temperatures were on average mid 20’s, at least 20-degrees cooler than those experienced in 2021. One particular day did see a 10-degree rise in temperature in just 1-hour, even then, the temperatures never came close to 40-degrees. However, the race was marked by two days of storms that saw wind increase from early morning and become stronger as the day progressed bringing with it harsh and brutal sand storms. Day 2 in particular was very tough and on this day, over 60-participants did not complete the stage – A high number in any year!

Aziz Yachou running down Jebel Otfal just before the sandstorms arrived.

Despite the storms, and occasional rain shower that appeared a couple of times on the ‘long day,’ the 2022 edition may well have had some of the cooler and easiest weather conditions that the MDS has ever experienced. Coming after October, that was no doubt a welcome contrast.

Manu Vilaseca on day 3 running the second ridge.

From an organizational stand point, the race was slick, streamlined and a pleasure to experience. No doubt some lessons were learnt in October and changes were made. With those lessons, those changes, the 2022 race gained praise from staff and runners. The mood was one of joy, positivity, laughter. Throughout the race and post-race three comments could be heard everywhere: ‘Best experience of my life… Super organisation… Faultless…’

The organisation at MDS in impeccable

From a racing perspective, 801 people completed the race with a dropout race of 11% (tbc) – exact figures will be confirmed in the coming days. Notably, over 50-people did not make the start line due to positive PCR checks in the 48-hour before departure for Morocco, a cruel blow coming so close to the race.

Covid and the pandemic was not a consideration during the race. 

Rachid was controlled and impeccable in his execution of the race

As with all races we have winners and as per usual, the 2022 race was eagerly anticipated with Rachid El Morabity going for his 9th victory and the potential of Aziz Yachou spoiling his winning streak. One thing was clear to me pre-race was Rachid looked more toned, a little lighter and focused.

Rachid, Mohamed and Aziz – It was all tactics.

On day 1, Rachid attacked from the start, he never does this, he always comes from behind and takes victory. This to me only confirmed that he feared Aziz and he wanted to set his stall out from the start. He won day 1 from the front but only by a slender margin. He had a race on his hands… From day 2 a strategy came in to play that was fascinating to watch and experience. Rachid, with his brother formulated a plan to fool Aziz that Rachid was not in the best shape. On stage 2 and 3 Rachid once again attacked from the front but on both days he gave up his lead and lost time. Aziz was positioned to lead the race and defend and by the time the ‘long day’ came, Rachis was in 3rd with 9-minutes to gain.

Mohamed ran a stunning race

Come the long day, Rachid stamped his authority and put the plan in to action. By 10km he had 2-minutes lead, 4-minutes at 20km, 6-minutes at 30km and at 50-km he had 10-minutes – Rachid had gained the deficit and taken the race lead on the trail. By the finish he had gained almost 15-minutes on Aziz, a stunning and impressive run that was off-the-scale.

However, the tactics did not stop there. Behind, Mohamed marked Aziz all the way to 50km, noticing Aziz starting to slow, he made his move clawing back the 4-minutes he needed and at the finish line, he was crowned overall leader of the race with his brother, Rachid 37-seconds back.

Mohamed watching Aziz on the long day

Anticipation was high for the final marathon stage, would Mohamed win? Of course not! This plan had been formulated from day 2 and quite simply, Rachid and Mohamed would police Aziz on the last day and as the stage came to conclusion, Mohamed would slow allowing his brother to gain the required time and in the process his 9th victory. It was a masterpiece of tactics that worked perfectly. It was a pleasure to experience.

Rachid on the marathon stage – victory would be his!

The women’s race was far less dramatic with Anna Comet Pascua winning each stage with a superlative performance of domination. Stage 1 started slowly as Anna eased in the race, but as the stages progressed, the Spanish runner felt comfortable and continually opened gaps to win by a convincing margin and place very close to the top-10 on general classification.

Anna Comet Pascua – Queen of the Sahara

Sylvaine Cussot from France was always a contender and throughout the week ran a strong and consistent race, her 2nd place was one that was never in doubt, however, the gap to Anna was far too great for victory ever to be a possibility.

Anna on stage 3

Azia Elamrany represented Morocco along with the 2021 female champion, Aziza Raji. Although not in 3rd place in the early part of the race, her consistency shone through and by the conclusion of the race her podium slot was secured ahead of her fellow Moroccan.

Sylvaine and Anna on stage 4

Outside of the top-3 in each category, there was countless string performances with Merile Robert once again showing his experience in the race, the return of Julien Chorier and the rise of the American, Jordan @@@@@@@. Patrick Kennedy placed 7th in 2021 and once again achieved a top-10 with 9th in 2022.

Julien Chorier on Jebel Otfal

For the women, Aziza Raji will no doubt be disappointed with 4th after victory in 2021. Beth Rainbow and Amelia Culshaw from the UK both had top-10 placings, Beth placing 6th – a great result. We also saw the return of multi MDS champion, Laurence Klein who ran a solid race despite contracting Covid in the final build up to the race.

The long day

All Marathon des Sables are memorable. There is never a dull race. Personally, 2022 will be remembered for the stunning men’s race and the tactics used to ensure a 9th victory for Rachid. It was a masterpiece to see unfold and one that required supreme mental and physical confidence from Rachid. It’s all very well formulating a plan, pulling it off is the game changer… Imagine going in to an 85km stage with a 9-minute deficit knowing that you need to pull that back and in addition gain more time to provide a buffer so that victory can be secured! It was stunning. It’s important to mention the dedication, skill and ability of Mohamed El Morabity, he sacrifices personal glory for the greater good of his brother. It’s pointless asking the question, ‘Could Mohamed win the race?’ The simple answer is, as long as Rachid is in with a chance of a 10th and maybe 11th victory, no.

Always a new perspective

Anna Comet Pascua confirmed her ability as a versatile and adaptable runner. Known for trail, mountain and skyrunning with a victory at the multi-stage Everest Trail Race, her MDS victory confirms her as one of the top female trail runner’s in the world. Sylvaine Cussot has also confirmed herself as a one-to-watch for the future, I have this feeling she will be back at MDS very soon.

The heat came but it was much cooler than October 2021

The 2022 route is arguably one of the most beautiful, last used in 2018. It has variety, stunning views, ridges, climbs, soft sand, two crossings of Jebel Otfal, salt flats and oasis. The long day, while not the longest (92km in 2009) is significant with an abundance of soft sand.  

The magic of daylight leaving on the 85km long day

Finally, MDS is a wonderful, magical, moving road show that is difficult to understand and appreciate until you are in the Sahara. A small city moves seamlessly and like clockwork day-by-day, it is mind-blowing; a magical Saharan experience that really is one of the greatest experiences in running. 

Bivouac at sunrise

Back to basics, one tent, 8-people, one bag per person; rationed food, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mandatory equipment and rationed water – multi-day experiences come no better. Stripped back from connection and technology, this week in the Sahara really is one of the ultimate raw experiences in this crazy modern and connected world.

The route book, it is the bible of MDS

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 5 42.2km

The 2022 and 36th Marathon des Sables concluded today on the edge of the Merzouga dunes after the classic ‘marathon’ stage.

Everyone watching each other

It was a hotly anticipated stage with the top-3 men being so close, however, it soon became apparent that Aziz was not going to try a heroic effort to gain back his 4-minute plus deficit for 2nd place or victory. In all honesty, who can blame him, the El Morabity brothers of Rachid and Mohamed would never have allowed it.

M’Fis and Rachid made a move

It was in the last 5km that Rachid started to open a gap with bivouac off in the distance. Aziz chased and Mohamed policed it but the writing was on the wall.

Rachid started to open a gap

Rachid ran in the final straight with a Moroccan flag waving, Aziz finished 2nd on the stage and importantly Mohamed finished 3rd losing more than the 37-second advantage he had going in to the stage and therefore crowning Rachid champion with his 9th victory.

Aziz chasing

We could argue all day asking the question, ‘Could Mohamed have won?’

Victory

The simple answer is, this race was built around an El Morabity plan and that plan came together to perfection granting Rachid that all important 9th crown. You need to look at the men’s race from a cycling perspective and quite simply, Mohamed worked as a domestique to facilitate a beautiful 1st and 2nd. Rachid will now be thinking of an all important 10th victory in 2023.

1 and 2 for the El Morabity brothers
Aziz 3rd

The women’s race went to format with Anna Comet Pascua winning the stage and confirming overall victory by a substantial margin.

Anna Comet Pascua
2022 Champion

Sylvaine and Aziza rounded the overall general classification placing 2nd and 3rd.

Sylvaine

Tomorrow, the runner’s must do a 7.9km charity stage to complete the 2022 MDS but the timing does not rank.

In the coming days I will write more with a full summary but is important to say, this edition has been seamless with stunning and impeccable organisation. The weather has brought challenges with two days of storms, wind and even some rain. The heat has been mild and although on occasion temperatures have rose, in comparison to other years, it has never been really hot.

For now, it’s time to celebrate a wonderful race. 

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 4 85.8km – Part Two

Anna Comet Pascua

The 36th Marathon des Sables ‘long day’ of 85.8km continued in to the night with runners pushing through darkness and in to a second day to complete in the allocated 35-hours.

The men’s race was fast and furious, read HERE

Sylvaine and Anna

The women’s race may not have had the nail biting action of the mens race, nonetheless, it started with Sylvain Cussot and Anna Comet Pascua running together to Cp1 and beyond. Anna, no doubt running with reserves and safety ensuring that she did nothing to put at risk her overall lead on the general classification.

Before Cp1

As the race progressed, Anna eventually moved away from Sylvaine and increased her lead to cross the finish line in 9:43:19 – an incredible time and one that brings her ranked highly on the GC overall. It’s yet to be confirmed but she may well be in the top-10?

Sylvaine always smiling

Sylvaine has embraced the MDS and has revelled in the conditions, always smiling, always happy. She crossed in 10:10:53 and now her 2nd overall is secured.

Aziza Elamrany once again ran a brilliant day and her 3rd place on the stage in 10:23:20 ahead of the 2021 chapion, Aziza Raji in 11:17:12, now places her 3rd on GC.

Aiziza Elamrany
Aziza Raji

Notably, Beth Rainbow from the UK had a great day and finished 5th in 11:34:19.

The long day is feared for many reasons, the distance, the weather, the night, the unexpected… As in every edition, there are demons to be fought and mental battles to be won. Conditions were, in general, kind, with less heat, some cloud, the odd rain shower and a cooler night. As I write, some are still battling to achieve a finish, the main priority is to keep ahead of the camels!

The camels mark the end of the race, you must keep ahead of them.

Tomorrow, stage 5 is marathon distance and the 2022 champions will be crowned. The women’s race, barring a disaster will be a formaility with Anna, Sylvaine and Aziza placing 1, 2 and 3.

Rachid looking for a 9th victory

The men’s race will be a nail biter. Early in the week I disclosed that I was convinced that the El Morabity brothers had a plan and strategy, that came to fruition yesterday. Now with the marathon stage to go, the duo will mark Aziz and make sure he is kept under control so that 1st place and 2nd is secure. At some point, Mohamed will allow his brother Rachid, to take over the front of the race and gain the 37-second deficit that currently places him 2nd and therefore will allow him his 9th MDS victory. Can Aziz mess up this plan?

Aziz has a battle ahead

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