The Lakes really are a special place any day, anytime, in any weather… well, almost? Today though, the 2016 GL3D was treated to ‘one of those days!’
You know what I mean; you can’t plan them, they just come along, surprise you and then make you thankful all day that you decided to run in the Lakes on a bank holiday weekend in the UK.
Snow and plenty of it covered the tops and although a little sleet, hail and snow chased in during the early hours the day, it all cleared leaving blue skies making a winter wonderland paradise in Spring – go figure?
Don’t get me wrong, participants of the GL3D had to survive a sub zero night under canvas to witness God doing his best work in and around Helvellyn. It was worth it though. It was quite a sight in camp as runners slowly peeped out of frozen tents, dusted off the frost and then instead of neatly fold their tents into bags, they had to almost paper fold them – like putting a letter in an envelope.
The GL3D is a very informal mountain marathon; it’s relaxed, casual, offers multiple levels of difficulty (including walking) and is very much geared to a fun weekend and for many, it provides a very gentle introduction to a navigation event. Although an element of self-sufficiency exists – tents, sleeping bags, clothes, food and all other essentials are transported by the race team and this therefore allows the participants to just run (or walk) without clutter.
Multiple distances and multiple controls allow for an easy or hard race. You decide? It’s why the GL3D has become so popular. As race director Shane Ohly explains, “Our courses are described as Elite, A, B and C, as is usual for mountain marathons. However, it is important to note that the distances at the GL3D™ are greater. This is because our routes are more runnable (we stick to footpaths and tracks for much of the time) and the navigation is easier (generally mountain summits) than at the equivalent mountain marathon courses at the LAMM, OMM etc. We would describe our courses as roughly equivalent in terms of ‘difficulty to finish’ as the same standard mountain marathon course at one of these events.”
Day 1 concluded in Grasmere, a bustling hub within the Lakes.
Elites – 50km*
A – 40km*
B – 32km*
C – 22km*
*- distances are ‘averages.’
Post race, temperatures in the valley had rose and as the runners put up their tents, cooked food, drank beer and ate free cake, it would have been easy to think from the outside looking in, that you were looking at the fall out from a 3-day rock concert and not a running event.
Beams of light penetrated camp 2 and this was accompanied with a soundtrack of laugher, talk of controls and routes and ultimately how amazing the weather and the scenery had been.
Day 1 of the Great Lakeland 3 Day had been a real success!
Images available at iancorless.photoshelter.com HERE
This is Episode 110 of Talk Ultra. This weeks show is a Marathon des Sables special with a load of great content from the Bivouac by Niandi Carmont and then a series of post race interviews with Sondre Amdahl, Elisabet Barnes and Elinor Evans. If that wasn’t enough, we have an interview with Jasmin Paris who has just blasted the Bob Graham Round ladies record to a new level.
It’s a different show this week as we concentrate on Marathon des Sables
Marathon Des Sables
It was a win again for Rachid El Morabity and Russian, Natalia Sedykh dominated the ladies race, times were 21:01:21 and 24:25:46 for the 257km. Full results are HERE
Niandi talk from the Bivouac
00:25:32 INTERVIEW from the Bivouac
A selection of interviews of everyday runners doing extra ordinary things
We discussed this race extensively in a couple of podcasts last year, we spoke with Nikki Kimball and Jeff Browning. Jeff won the race and Nikki decided to withdraw from the race as she felt is was too dangerous. Alarm bells were rung. Unfortunately we have had news of a death at the 2016 edition. We have to be clear here that information is still a little sparse but Ellie Greenwood and Kerrie Bruxvoort have both commented on social media at the races apparent disregard for safety. We will have more information on this as and when possible.
A statement on Facebook from Ultra Fijord said:
The second edition of Ultra Fiord has been a very hard experience, marked by an exceptionally hostile climate and dramatic landscape that formed the backdrop of the race route, that was changed and shortened two days leading to the race to accommodate the impending bad weather. While some runners experienced and embraced the forces of nature, others were beyond their comfort zone. What impacted all of us the most was the loss of 100-mile runner, Arturo Héctor Martínez Rueda. Mr Martínez, 57-year-old from Mexico, had unfortunately passed on at an approximate 65km mark that is about 750m above sea level. Although the likely cause of his death was hypothermia, a confirmation can only be made in the following few days. The unfavourable weather has persisted in this mountain area since Friday, so the rescue team, awaits a favourable weather window to execute the evacuation. The race organiser takes responsibility and apologise for the poor communications to the outside world with regards to this tragic incident, simply because it is a step we could not execute without the confirmation of the status and private communications with Arturo’s family. In this difficult time, the organising team sincerely expresses its condolences to the family and friends of Arturo and ask followers for your cooperation to send peace and respect to them too.
Elisabet Barnes post MDS
Sondre Amdahl post MDS
Elinor Evans post MDS
Jasmin Parishas just elevated the ladies Bob Graham Round record to a new level coming very close to Billy Bland’s benchmark 1982 record
Is the last edition of the Marathon des Sables always the toughest? It would appear so? You always hear as the race concludes, ‘Wow, that was the toughest race ever!’
Of course many variables come into play when one says it’s the toughest. First and foremost, you most certainly need to have done at least one other edition to be able to compare, but in truth, multiple editions or experiences must count to be able to claim any edition of a race as a toughest. Also, age, fitness, condition, state of mind and so many other variables impact on a decision. It’s not always easy to be objective. I have often considered myself to be fit going into a race, only to find that my fitness is not where I thought it was and therefore a race has appeared harder! Truth is, the race was the same, it’s just that I wasn’t up for it. Let’s be clear, I’m not providing excuses, on the contrary, I am trying to provide perspective.
I’ve been at the MDS for the past 4-years, not as a runner (although I have 30-years of experience) but as a photographer and journalist. I like being on this side of the camera, for sure, there are days when I look at the race (or any race) and I wish that were me, once again fighting the terrain and fatigue to achieve a goal. My goals have now changed and as my good friend and photographer (who sadly has passed away) Mark Gillet used to say, ‘I sometimes think it’s harder working on the race than running it! Perspective once again…
I actually don’t agree with Mark, working on the MDS or any multi-day race is hard, stressful and the long 18-20 hour days do have an impact. Yes, I get out on the course and cover the terrain on foot but I get to change my clothes, I get to eat two times a day and although I sleep in a bivouac, it does usually have sides to it which blocks out the wind.
So with the 31st MDS in the bag, I wanted to reflect on the race and provide an objective overview from the outside looking in of what I consider worked and what didn’t work at MDS and provide some key pointers that anyone can take away and apply for a future MDS or other multi-day race. I must stress, these are my thoughts and on some points you will agree and on other points you won’t. That’s ok! It’s called opinion and we are all entitled to one.
First of all though, lets answer that burning question, ‘Was the 2016 Marathon des Sables ever?’
It was a tough one for sure, it ranks with the toughest but I don’t really think anyone can hand on heart say that any one edition is the toughest.
Each year, Patrick Bauer and his team work a little Sahara magic and as many MDS runners who have participated in previous editions will tell you, the race always covers some familiar terrain. It’s the nature of the Sahara and the complex route of access trails dictate where the race can go and where it can’t due to the huge convoy of vehicles that daily move the ‘circus’ from one place to the next. For example, the 2016 route had much of the 2014 route but in a nod to the tough course, the 2014 route was also considered a tough one with a very big drop out rate on day one.
Having said all of the above, the 31st edition was a serious toughie and here is why:
Day 1 kicked of with the huge Mezouga dunes that are tough for any runner, even experienced ones. The day also concluded with a tough section of dunes but to add to the difficulty and complexity, midway during the stage winds increased and increased causing severe sandstorms that hampered navigation, onward progress and resulted with a chunk of DNF’s and those who finished were left exhausted.
At 257km, the race was the longest edition ever making all stages close to marathon distance. This impacts greatly on every runner as recovery time is reduced. The long day was not as long as many anticipated at 84km, especially after the 30th edition 90+km day. However, the long day was a tough one with plenty of climbing and loads of soft sand. The final charity day is usually a jog to the line and a way to exit the Sahara and get back to the buses, this year, the charity stage was 17km – too long!
Sand, sand and more sand. I know it’s the Sahara and therefore one would expect sand to be everywhere but in reality, MDS usually only has around about 30% soft sand. This year it was considerably more and that impacted on everyone.
Wind came and went but it’s impact on the racing and bivouac life was notable.
Temperatures rose just in time for the long day and then stayed very high for the remainder of the race.
Day 2 dropout rate was very high which reflected a tough stage but also the knock-on effects from a very tough day 1.
The overall drop out race once the race concluded was over 10%, a sure sign of a tough edition of the MDS.
There you have it, some solid points on why the 31st edition was a tough one and of the many runners who completed the race, I am sure they could add so many more points to my brief synopsis above.
It’s funny how everyone is now looking to 2017 and the 32nd edition of the race. Questions are being asked – what, how, why, should I, can I, will I and so on…
MDS is not complicated:
Let’s get one thing clear, Marathon des Sables is a simple race that is over complicated by too much information and too many people saying WHAT SHOULD be done. Let’s hark back to Patrick Bauer’s pioneering days and simplify the process of running the MDS. I interviewed and chatted with many runners in bivouac who had done just that, they had applied simple logic and worked out what would work for them. Yes, they had taken advice, looked at websites, processed information but importantly they had found out what worked for them. They realised early on that they were an individual and as such, they needed a personal approach to MDS and not a generic one. When you break the race down, key things are really important:
Pack – must fit, have enough room (but not too much) for all your equipment and provide easy access to fluid and you must make sure that your numbers are visible as per race rules. Sleeping bag – lightweight, packs small and warm enough. I would always recommend a sleeping bag and jacket as opposed to a ‘combi’ as it offers more flexibility, reduced weight and reduced pack size. Popular sleeping bags this year were PHD, Yeti and OMM. There is a review on my website that compares all three. The Raidlight Combi was also popular, certainly with a small selection of the British contingent; it worked well and those who used it were happy – all about what works for you! Clothes – you just need what you will run in. However, a spare pair of socks was commonplace and many runners had one or all of the following: a warm base layer, a lightweight down jacket or waist coat, buff and many had lightweight pants. Sleeping Matt – It’s an optional one but a good nights sleep is important and those who hadn’t taken one were wishing they had in most scenarios. Two options exist – inflatable and roll out solid foam. The choice is yours. The inflatable ones offer more comfort, more flexibility in packing but with poor admin, you do run the risk of a puncture. I’ve used inflatable for the past 4-years with no issue. A solid foam Matt will last the week with no risks of problems but they roll large and need to sit outside the pack.
Shoes and Gaiters – Shoes (more below) are personal, just make sure they have a good fit, appropriate drop for your needs and and suit your run style with enough durability for you. I say ‘you’ because Rachid El Morabity will complete the whole race in 21-hours whereas most people won’t even do just the long day in that time – his shoe shoe choice will and can be very different to what most of us need! Get your Velcro sewn on your shoes and make sure that when you get the shoes back the fit has not been altered. Plan in advance, don’t leave this to the last few weeks.
Food – You need a minimum amount of calories per day specified in the race rules and how those calories are made up are up to you. This for many is a difficult one. It raises many questions and yes, it’s good to find out what other people do and use but ultimately, YOU have to eat it. The decision to use a stove is another question mark but it would appear that most runners like that hot water option. Remember though, you can make a fire from twigs, shrub and branches that surround bivouac. Also note here that food choices and what you eat during running varies greatly depending on how fast you run. For example, the top runners are done and dusted on the marathon stage in 3-4 hours and they are using carbohydrate as a fuel, they therefore can get away with 1-2 gels. If however, a typical day for you will be 6, 7, 8, 9 or even longer, gels are not going to be a good choice. Fat and real food are going to be essential. Understand this now and you can start making the necessary adaptations in training so that food choices will work for you. Training on limited calories and getting fat adapted is a key element for a successful MDS for many runners. Food is also the heaviest and most bulky thing you will carry, think about repacking in smaller packs and making everything as small as possible.
Water and Salt Tablets – These are provided by the race and it’s easy really, take the tablets as recommended and drink the water. Dehydration in 2016 once again was a huge issue.
Feet – Look after them, along with dehydration, blistered and damaged feet are a key reason for failure in any multi-day race.
Extras – Mandatory kit is as one would expect, mandatory! So purchase what is on the list. You can save weight by shopping around. Simple rule; the lighter and smaller, the more expensive it will be! Optional extras are very personal and my advice would be take nothing extra other than a MP3 player and earphones. The Apple iPod Shuffle is super small, super lightweight and holds plenty of music for MDS (you can even take two). They cost about £40 and music may well just pull you through when the going gets tough. Anything else is a waste in my opinion. Embrace the isolation, embrace a simple life and you will find you have a new perspective at the end of the race.
Hints and Tips to make your race better
You signed up for the challenge, you wanted to be on the start line and therefore you are responsible for the outcome. Believe me, the you that leaves the Sahara is not the same you that entered. Arguably, you change the moment you pay the deposit, the transformation process begins. Embrace the journey and apply yourself. Most of us can loose a little weight and believe me, pounds shed in training make the race easier. Pointless striving for a 6.5kg pack and then to be carrying an extra 2, 3, 4 or more kg on your body. But keep perspective, the MDS journey is an enhancement of you as a person. It’s easy to become obsessed, ultimately the majority of runners at MDS are enthusiasts, if you keep that in mind the journey will be a complete one.
Plan ahead, formulate a long term plan and don’t rush. The sooner you start this process, the greater your chance of success and the less chance of injury. Plan stepping stone races and don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to run marathons day-in and day-out. You don’t! Training is about ALL the training you do and not about anyone run.
If we exclude the top 50-100 runners (who also walked) the majority of the 1000 strong field spend a huge amount of time walking. Learn to walk! Believe me, it’s a huge tick in the MDS box and rest assured that if you are able to walk at a good consistent pace (barring injury or dehydration) you will finish MDS. The 31st edition at times (from my perspective) seemed almost like a walking race and this can directly be attributed to more soft sand and longer days. Countless runners I spoke to said, ‘If only I had walked more. I trained to run and now I am here, I am finding that running is a luxury.’
If you are looking to race MDS, figure in the top 100 and are able to run in ‘most’ scenarios, poles will not help your MDS experience. However, once we get out of the top-100 and in particular, once you start to look at the mid to back of the pack, poles may well provide a huge advantage. They provide stability, momentum, drive and in soft sand, they are a little like 4-wheel drive. My recommendation would be try training sessions with and without poles and see what works for you. Don’t get poles 3-4 weeks before a race and think it will be okay… Poles require technique and yes, they will impact on your shoulder, arms and neck. In 31st edition with so much soft sand, poles were a god send for many. They are like Marmite though, some love them, others hate them. For me, they are something I would take. Just make sure you get good ones that are light and that will fold small so that you can pack them when not needed. A good example of this is the big Jebel climb with ropes at the top, some participants struggled up with poles when in reality they needed both hands free for the terrain.
Dare I open this can of worms? Shoes are personal and first and foremost you must consider your own run style – gait, pronation, width, drop and so on. NEVER take advice from anyone online that tells you that ‘X’ is the shoe to wear for MDS unless they know you and your run style. Having said that, certain considerations come into play which help narrow the selection process down. In previous editions of MDS I have seen Hoka One One shoes almost melt with the soft sand, this year, Hoka were one of the most popular shoes and during the race I photographed multiple pairs and saw none of the horror stories from previous year. Brooks have been a popular MDS shoe in recent years and I saw three pairs with horrendous soles that had started to fall apart, however, many runners have commented how well the Cascadia version of Brooks shoes performed. Altra with very low drop and a super wide toe box worked excellently for those who required a minimalist shoe and the re-vamped inov-8 270 (4mm) and 290’s (8mm) had rave reviews from those who used them. Mizuno, adidas and Scott also featured in MDS bivouac amongst others and what was reassuring is how well they all performed. The key here is that runners had found the shoe that worked for them. Make sure you do the same. It’s good to ask for thoughts but ultimately, ask 10-people, you will get 10 view points. Despite all this, there were plenty of foot horror stories. There always will be horror stories and certainly considerable more soft sand added to people’s issues this year. Notably, going back to the walking point, MDS participants often come to MDS prepared to run with shoes that work for running, in some scenarios, these shoes don’t work as well for walking. Think about this and walk in your run shoes! Also shoe size, forget the advice about going up a size or two sizes. It’s a recipe for disaster unless you know that your feet swell? A shoe that is too big will allow your foot to move, a moving for causes friction, friction causes blisters and the rest of the story speaks for itself. General advice is that if you have a ‘thumb nail’ of room at the front of the shoe above the big toe, this generally works. Notice I say ‘generally’ – there are exceptions. One thing that may happen, is your foot may get wider (rarely or never longer) with the heat and additional time on feet, therefore a shoe with a wider toe box often works well for many runners.
Minimum pack weight is 6.5kg plus water, get as close to this as you can. Additional weight is additional stress and just makes the journey harder. Luxuries are ok if they improve the journey and make it easier, music is a good example of an additional extra. I can’t really think of anything else…
You are going to share bivouac with 7 other people and you are going to have some serious highs and lows. These tent mates will pull you through and motivate you. They will become friends for life. Ideally find tent mates before you head out to the Sahara.
The legs, lungs, heart and feet will only get you so far. The mind is what will get you to the finish. On the long day I was at CP5 with 54km covered and 30km to go. I stayed there all night from 9pm till the early hours of the morning when the last person left with the camels. I saw broken individuals with bodies in tatters but mentally strong. It was amazing to watch people leave with a smile, hobbling at a snails pace and then to see them cross the line later in the day. Despite the hardships and pain, they embraced the journey and mentally where superior in strength. It was the mind that got them to the line.
If you laugh, you are having fun. Laugh when you hit rock bottom, why not. Laugh when you are going the toilet in a brown plastic bag and most of all laugh with and at your tent mates and fellow runners. The comradeship of MDS is quite unique, embrace it.
Admin and preparation that you may not think of:
Take essentials on the plane and wear your run apparel and shoes. That way, should a baggage disaster happen your chances of racing improve.
Take food with you for the travel and on the plane. If I were running, I wouldn’t eat plane food!
The journey from the airport to bivouac 1 is always lengthy, MDS will provide a picnic and water but I would still have my own supplies.
Night 1 and night 2 in bivouac are NOT self-sufficient so take extras such as an inflatable bed, food and luxuries that you are happy to give away to the berbers. May as well have 2 comfortable nights and a comfortable day before the racing starts.
Food before the race starts in recent editions has been provided by a French catering team. It has always been excellent. For the 31st edition, Moroccan caterers were used for the first 2 nights to provide an ‘authentic’ Moroccan feel and experience. It was potentially food that could increase the chances of going to the toilet. Personally, I’d take food with me that would at least allow me a ‘safe’ option. This is food in addition to your ‘mandatory’ requirement so it can be as much as you require and it can weigh as much as you like.
Admin day was a lengthy multi-hour experience in previous editions, in the 31st it was slick and streamlined and seemed to take most people 30-45mins which was great. Just make sure you take some water and a little snack food.
Keep sun screen on and keep hydrated. No need to drink vast volumes – drink to thirst before the racing starts.
Have additional items such as a base layer, sleeping bag liner and other items that may be on a ‘question’ list for the race. On night 1 and before you go to admin, you can make final decisions of what to and what not to take. Particularly important if you think you may be cold at night.
Remember that after bag drop and check-in you have no access to any additional items, however, you only become completely self-sufficient when you start the race. With that in mind, you can have additional food and luxuries with you until day 1 kick-off, it’s a useful tip and does mean that you can have additional comfort for a good 12-hours.
Marathon des Sables is a magical and life changing journey as are most if not all multi-day races. It really is a true challenge of mind and body to race over many days, irrespective if you complete the race in just over 20-hours or 60+ hours. It’s a hark back to a more primitive time, a time without clutter and modern technology. Embrace this. Embrace the silence of the surroundings and the simplicity of placing one foot in front of the other, eating, resting and sleeping and then doing it all again.
As I said previously, MDS and other multi-day races are all relatively simple in process, you need a minimum of kit, some food, regular water and a level of fitness to complete the challenge. Yes, it is THAT simple.
Plan ahead, do some research on kit but it’s not rocket science. Just find out what works for you and then pray the the multi-day gods are on your side. Drop out rates are relatively low considering the challenge, however, shit happens that you just can’t plan for.
Ultimately get the mind in the right place and the body will follow. A plan ‘A’ is great but have a plan ‘B’ and ‘C.’
Finally, set yourself a realistic goal (that may just be to finish) so that you manage not only your expectations but pace. Way too many start off too quick and most dropouts come on days 1 and 2.
Join our MULTI-DAY TRAINING CAMP IN LANZAROTE with 2015 Marathon des Sables champion, ELISABET BARNES info HERE
If you need any specialist equipment, Iancorless.com partners and recommends MyRaceKit for expert advice on an multi-day racing equipment requirements.
2016 Skyrunner® World Series launches
– new races, a new partner, all-round rebranding and website, the Series is set to reach new heights.
The Series’ new management company, Geneva based SkyMan SA, is pleased to present a new Main Partner, Migu Xempower, a Chinese exercise and health management platform which also counts a rich experience in organising marathons, city and mountain races for millions of runners.
NEW WEBSITE HERE – http://skyrunnerworldseries.com
SkyMan SA brings a breath of spring air across the Skyrunner® World Series just before the 2016 season kicks off and the 2016 Skyrunner® World Series launches. The series kicks off with Yading Skyrun in China, the course reaches a high point of 4664m in China’s Sichuan Mountains. Followed by a world-class line up at the stunning Transvulcania Ultramarathon, the race calendar expands to stretch across the globe. Six new races and a calendar that features twenty-three races in total, the 2016 Skyrunner® World Series is set to be the best yet, especially with the new Extreme category that combines Tromso, Trofeo Kima and Glen Coe in an adrenaline packed trio of races that hark back to the roots of the sport pioneered by Marino Giacometti. This series is sponsored by Alpina Watches and is joined by the well established Sky, Ultra and Vertical formats.
Skyrunner® World Series is also delighted to count on the continued support of Alpina Watches, together with the three Official Pool Suppliers, Compressport, Salomon and Scott Sports.
Kilian Jornet, the sport’s best known figure and organiser of the Extreme Series’ Tromsø SkyRace® in Norway, comments:
“When I started to run I was inspired by the images of Bruno Brunod, Fabio Meraldi and Marino Giacometti climbing (and descending) technical ridges, passing climbers and alpinists with just a pair of running shoes – and amazing technical skills! I’m very glad that today there’s an Extreme Series with this alpine philosophy and, as an organiser, to share my passion for scrambling and travelling light on big mountains.”
The Skyrunner® World Series is known for attracting the best athletes in the sport at each event. They compete for an end of season prize purse of €36,000, in addition to the prize purse of over €100,000 distributed across all races.
The Skyrunner® World Series is known for attracting the best athletes in the sport at each event. They compete for an end of season prize purse of €36,000, in addition to the prize purse of over €100,000 distributed across all races.
Mike Foote, world class trail runner and organiser of The Rut events in the rugged Montana mountains, adds:
“It’s an honour to be a part of the 2016 Skyrunner World Series. As the organisers of three events here in the United States, it is exciting to host many of the world’s best. I love the ethos of skyrunning. Steep, technical and dramatic courses inspire me as an athlete and it has been such a pleasure to also organize events with these traits here in my backyard.”
Iancorless.com and iancorlessphotography are once again pleased to announce that they will be the official photographer and media partner for 2016 SKYRUNNER® WORLD SERIES.
You can follow through all the usual media channels, in particular Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and make sure you follow all the ‘official’ Skyrunning feeds.
2016 SKYRUNNER® WORLD SERIES
April 30: Yading Skyrun – 29 km, Sichuan – China
May 22: Maratón Alpina Zegama-Aizkorri – 42 km, Zegama – Spain
June 26: Livigno SkyMarathon® – 30 km, Livigno – Italy
July 17: Dolomites SkyRace® – 22 km, Canazei – Italy
July 31: SkyRace® Coma Pedrosa – 22 km, Andorra
August 20: Matterhorn Ultraks 46K – Zermatt – Switzerland
September 3: The Rut 28K – Big Sky Montana – USA
October 15: Limone Extreme SkyRace® – 23 km, Limone sul Garda – Italy
August 7: Tromsø SkyRace® – 50km, Tromsø – Norway
August 28: Kima Trophy – 50 km, Sondrio – Italy
September 18: Salomon Glen Coe Skyline – 53 km, Glen Coe – UK
May 7: Transvulcania Naviera Armas Ultramarathon – 74 km, La Palma – Spain
June 4: Ultra SkyMarathon® Madeira – 55 km, Madeira – Portugal
July 10: High Trail Vanoise – 68 km, Val d’Isère – France
September 4: The Rut 50K – Big Sky, Montana – USA
September 24: Salomon Ultra Pirineu – 110 km, Bagà – Spain
May 5: Kilómetro Vertical Transvulcania Binter- La Palma – Spain
June 24: Santa Caterina Vertical Kilometer® – Sondrio – Italy
July 8: Kilomètre Vertical Face de Bellevarde – Val d’Isère – France
July 15: Dolomites Vertical Kilometer® – Canazei – Italy
August 5: Blamann Vertical – Tromsø – Norway
September 2: Lone Peak Vertical Kilometer® – Big Sky, Montana – USA
October14: Limone Extreme Vertical Kilometer® – Limone sul Garda – Italy
British humour, it’s a wonderful thing! Dry, witty and at times it can be difficult to tell if a joke is really being told… David Loxton personifies this and in all honesty, it’s this humour that got him and his tent mates through the 31st edition of the Marathon des Sables. Niandi Carmont picks up the story from within the bivouac.
Nothing like a touch of humour to help your tent mates get through a challenging event like the MDS. Humour is a natural pain-killer …
David Loxton has just finished the marathon stage and joined the ranks of finishers over the 31 editions of the MARATHON DES SABLES. He is relaxed in his tent, a bit grubby as can be expected but grinning from ear to ear. His tent mates look happy too. And no surprise as they are in good company – David is a laugh and a gaffer too.
So how did it go I ask?
“I’ve got no blisters, I’ve got very tough feet and I’ve been very quick most days, apart from the long day where I wasn’t quite as quick. What else? I hate sand, I hate sunshine …”
His tent mates crack up laughing.
Seriously, I ask if he feels he’s got in enough preparation or was the event tougher than he expected?
“Nobody told me about preparation so I thought I’d just pitch up and do it.” More laughter. “Well I did do a training camp in Lanzarote to train for this in January.”
I ask him if he had any moments of doubt during the event.
“On day 1 actually I did. I thought I can’t do this for the next 5 days. It hurts. Beyond that it was OK. Apart from day 2 and a few moments of day 3 and most of day 4. Day 5 was good apart from the bad bits.”
I ask him if he would do anything differently if he had to do it again.
“I would probably search online for some tent mates. Probably do some more work on the fitness and definitely pack before the Thursday night. We flew to Morocco on Friday.”
I know he’s not serious but he’s funny anyway and his mates seem to be enjoying his self-depracating humour.
“I’d also bring some business cards for the ladies.”
I ask him if he met some interesting people.
“I met some of the people from the training camp in January. I made myself unpopular with the Helpful Heroes tent by accidently stealing some of their water flavours, the French guys have been good and the Japanese guys too. I’ve loved every moment of it but once is maybe enough for me.”
Is he looking forward to getting back to wet, windy and cold UK?”
“No I’m married.”
And has he learnt anything from his experience? Suddenly David takes on a more serious air, this time he’s not joking, he’s more philosophical.
“In terms of fitness it is surprising what you can do, how far you can push yourself. Sometimes your mind can overrule your body. The guys here have got some pretty horrific blisters and they’ve worked through it and they found more within themselves than they expected.”
When you are back in Ouarzazate and back in civilisation, what is the first thing you will treat yourself to?
“Apart from beer? The first thing will be beer, the second thing will be beer, the third thing will be beer …and after that I will phone home.”
And I lift my glass to David who deserves that long-awaited beer after keeping his mates going with his very special priceless sense of humour!
Read Niandi’s interview with ladies 2016 MDS champion HERE
Read a summary and view images of the 31st edition HERE
The names Billy Bland and Nicky Spinks are well and truly cemented in Bob Graham Round cement. Imagine it, covering 66-miles (approx) 27,000ft of climbing and crossing the 42 highest peaks in the English Lakes in under 24-hours.
First completed in 1932 by Bob Graham at the age of 42, the 42 peak round has become the holy grail of the fell running world. Just to complete it in under 24-hours is considered by many to be enough, but to set a FKT (Fastest Known Time) is something else.
How does one break the record?
In 1932 Bob Graham took pacers and company to help him in completing his round. It is an ethical and practical approach that the club encourages, and is committed to continue to require as a criterion for membership.
In light of the above, the criteria for Club membership were set down back in 1972. The criterion regarding having one’s arrival at each summit witnessed remains as valid today as ever.
From the Club’s perspective, solo attempts will, for safety reasons, not be recognised or considered for club membership (this includes partly solo rounds, i.e. a round that is only partly witnessed). One of the Club’s purposes is to encourage attempts. The potential risks to a contender are significantly increased should a contender chose to travel solo for around 24 hours in the Lake District mountains. Having company in the mountains enhances the safety factor.
The risk of losing a contender in the mountains may seem far-fetched but there have been deaths of fell runners during much shorter fell races. It is understandable that there is no desire to repeat that experience in a Bob Graham Club context. Were the Club to recognise solo completions for membership, it’s no great step in the minds of loved ones left behind to see that as an endorsement, nay an encouragement, of solo attempts; and families may feel that the Club (which is an unincorporated body) and therefore its Officers should bear some responsibility for a dreadful turn of events.
One claim made for modern GPS devices is that they can provide both veracity and a form of safety, however there have been fraudulent attempts to secure membership over the years; the advent of modern technology to validate a round neither mitigates the safety issue nor removes the ability to defraud.
Allied to solo attempts are attempts where a form of reciprocal witnessing takes place: contender A witnesses contender B and vice versa. This is acceptable, and there have been several such rounds over the years, but not recommended.
There are many accounts of multi-contender attempts having to split up. The most common reason is simply that most people go through a significant bad patch, often for several hours, and hoping that these coincide is hoping for too much. If contenders do have to separate, safety margins are hugely reduced. Pacts not to separate are all well and good at the Moot Hall before setting off but can unravel under the physical and mental pressures of the day. Again if the party has to separate, then the attempt will effectively be over in terms of obtaining membership of the Club.
In summary, the witnessing rule has always been in the Club’s Guidance Notes, and always will be. It is grounded in safety. Clearly in limiting the only help on the fells to a co-contender (who may be in a pretty poor physical state should problems arise), there is a significant reduction in the safety margins for the individuals. Usually a support team of two persons per leg should be adequate, but the decision on the number of supporters and pacers is of course up to the individual.
– Bob Graham Club
Billy Bland’s time of 13 hours and 53 minutes is a milestone and many have questioned, can that time be bettered?. Despite years of trying nobody has really come close; time has stood still. The ladies record set by Nicky Spinks of 18 hours and 12 minutes was set in 2012. Nicky has long been a pioneer of the Bob Graham Round.
That however all changed just yesterday, Saturday April 23rd.
Jasmin Paris, a respected fell and mountain runner, set a new ladies benchmark of 15 hours and 23 minutes. This time is OFF THE SCALE!
Not only does it obliterate the 2012 time of Nicky Spinks but it comes remarkably close to Billy Bland’s time of 13 hours and 53 minutes.
This is just fell running, a low key sport that takes place in the heart of England. Believe me though, in terms of running, this record is one that should be shouted from the rooftops.
Jasmin is a low-key athlete, who hides away from the spotlight despite incredible performances. She races regularly, almost too much some may say. Her response has always been, I have a job and I run for fun and pleasure.
I’ve been saying it for some time, JASMIN PARIS is one to watch and this year, Jasmin will run on the world stage taking part in many Skyrunning events and UTMB.
Niandi Carmont writes from within the bivouac of the 2016 Marathon des Sables, a series of insightful profiles that brings to life the highs, the lows and the inspiration from the worlds most inspiring multi-day race. Lets kick off these interviews with ‘From Russia with Love’ the 2016 ladies champion, Natalia Sedykh.
The Russian rocket takes us by surprise …
I peep under the bivouac and ask for Natalia SEDYKH. The girl sitting there indicates that it is her. She invites me to sit down. She’s a little distant. She looks calm and composed, not like an athlete who has just completed the long stage of the MARATHON DES SABLES. But then I was expecting that – her race management has been exemplary. She’s paced herself regularly winning every single stage apart from the long one. She’s gained 45 min over her closest rival and is 11th in the overall general.
She relaxes and starts chatting about what got her running and her life in Russia.
“I was in love with a boy when I was 16 and he did 100m hurdles and I wanted to see him every day. So I decided to do track. Initially I couldn’t run consecutive 400m laps because I when I was a child I was told not to run because of my health issues. But I persevered and gradually increased my distance. Since then I’ve trained really hard. If you can dream it, you can do it.”
She initially concentrated on sprint, then longer distances but she admits to being more of a track athlete. Her PB over 10km is 33min54s.
“I don’t like extreme events. Life in Russia is extreme as it is.”
Her big break came 5 years ago when a coach Serguei Popov discovered her potential. At the time she was still a sprinter. After a period of injury, she stopped for 2 years. She set herself the objective of running her first marathon.
“I am not a professional runner. I’m a professional coach so I coached myself.”
Her marathon PB is 2.46 last year. Her half marathon PB was on slippery ice with -25C. Not exactly your typical MDS temperatures! We talk a little about her life, it’s not easy living in Russia, you need determination, commitment, strength and most of all, willpower.
“I am an ordinary woman. I want to travel, keep fit, maybe get married, have a family and cook nice soups. My father is a train driver and my mother a seamstress. The standard of living in Russia is low. I hope to save and help my parents financially. They believe in me – I need to do my best for them.”
So back to the subject of MDS. How did she train?
“I did a lot of preparation for this race. Last year I got a penalty so I decided to come back and settle a score. Last year I didn’t get in a lot of preparation. I was a tourist.” She laughs. “I was living in Russia. It was sub-zero, icy, a lot of snow.”
Needless to say the conditions were not the same.
“In addition to that I was overworked. I was working in a fitness club and worked long days.”
She then goes on to explain that she’s been in Dubai for 2 months and is still coaching – novice runners this time.
I wonder if the past 2 months have allowed her to be heat-adapted?
“In March I missed 2 weeks of peak training as I wasn’t used to the heat. In Dubai you need to get up very early at 5am or 6am to go training because of the humidity.”
I ask her if training in Dubai is complicated?
“Women run with veils. They are very health-conscious. I do my training sessions early or in the desert so I don’t attract attention.”
It’s getting dark and she has to prepare for the next day. I leave her and wonder if this girl who doesn’t like extreme will be back to defend her title in 2017.
Natalia went on to dominate the 2016 Marathon des Sables. It was an outstanding performance. As Niandi questions, will Natalia return in 2017? Part of me things not, but then again, who knows… One thing is for sure, Natalia has set a benchmark for all the other ladies to follow, just as Elisabet Barnes did in 2015 by winning every stage. Natalia is the first lady to make the top-10 overall. A remarkable achievement.
The sands of the Sahara lured me away from the Iznik Ultra this year. A real shame as this race has been a fixture on my calendar all the way back to the 2012 edition when I won the 60km race. Iznik and Turkey are special places and the Iznik Ultra provides a wonderful opportunity to combine running and sightseeing.
The people are magical, the calm tranquility of the lake Iznik is sublime, the surrounding mountains are impressive and the combination of great food, hospitality and a committed and dedicated race team headed by race director Caner, make this experience a ‘must’ for the enthusiastic runner.
Not wanting to miss out on the action, I asked good friend and fellow photographer Jordi Saragossa and adventure journalist/ athlete Tobias Mews to work on behalf of iancorless.com at the 2016 edition of the race.
‘You’re first time in Turkey?’ the old man remarked in surprisingly good English, as I watched the sun behind Lake Iznik, the third largest lake in Turkey. The water was incredibly calm with not a ripple in sight, despite being 32kms long and 10kms wide. It was also mind blowingly beautiful, offering an unparalleled level of peace. I couldn’t help but wish I had a stone to skim along it’s smooth surface.
‘It is,’ I reply, although I was already silently vowing to return. As through thrilled with this fact and despite my protests, he offers me a cup of tea – not a cup of Earl Grey, but one of the Turkish variety. They drink the stuff by the gallon. Sipping away, I mused on the notion that I no idea how stunning this country was or how kind everyone is. Turkey, I would soon discover, is a truly magical place.
I’ve often said that if you’re going to put yourself through any degree of suffering during an ultra, and let’s face it, who doesn’t have a moment where they question their sanity, then you might as well do it somewhere beautiful. It’s a mantra that I’ve held to my core and to date, have not been left disappointed through my travels and races as an adventure journalist.
Rather embarrassingly, and perhaps to my shame, I’d not considered Turkey a running destination, which is perhaps why I’d never visited this ancient cradle of civilization. Too many lasminute.com cheap package holidays, slightly less than positive press, terrorist attacks and an unsettled political climate have not helped Turkey solidify its position in the ‘must visit’ destinations lists. But thanks to the likes of Caner Odabasoglu, the Race Director and founder of the Iznik Ultra, things are changing and running events are becoming more common place.
Indeed, when the Iznik Ultra launched in 2012, it was the second ultra to be established in the country. Now, there are three road three road marathons and seven ultras. It is, as he puts it, ‘booming at the moment’.
Since I first began running competitively, just under a decade ago, I’ve suffered a serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Perhaps due to the fact that I’m stubborn and a sucker for punishment, when faced with a choice of distances, I’ve always picked the furthest/hardest race on offer, especially if the race is named after this distance, such as Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc or Transvulcania. I want to get the full race experience, not just an excerpt. So, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I chose to take part in the 80k option as opposed to the main event.
Besides the main event, there are in fact four other races on offer – 5k, 15k, 50k, 80k – all of which follow parts of the full 130km course around the lake. Considering the course was actually 86kms with 2600m of ascent/descent, it is by no means a distance to be sniffed at and after all, still an ultra!
Keen to show buy support I made my way to the midnight start of the 130k event. After more than 200 races including dozens of ultras, I’m more than familiar with the shit that goes through your head as you toe the start line of a big race, especially one that begins in the middle of the night. But curiously enough on this occasion, I didn’t see the usual thousand-yard stare that you might expect to see from a runner as he or she prepares to run 136kms non-stop (it’s slightly further than the advertised 130k). Instead I saw smiles, laughter, lots of slapping on the back, hugs and the sort of banter you might expect to see at a running club Monday night fixture. The only thing that was missing was a lack of women (only five amongst the relatively small field of 63).
The race favourite, Aykut Çelikbas looked as cool as the proverbial cucumber as he chatted with his fellow Team Salomon Turkey runners, Faruk Kar and Elena Polyakov. Hardly surprising considering Aykut had competed in the previous four editions of the race, coming third last year. He’s also a two-time finisher of Spartathlon, so knows a thing or two about pushing the pain barrier.
And then, as just after the stroke of midnight, they were off, a luminous streak of smiles as a small army of intrepid ultra runners disappeared into the night. Feeling a mixture of sadness and guilt that I wasn’t amongst them, I trotted back to my hotel and went to bed, in preparation for my race, 9 hours later.
After a 45-minute bus ride to Orhangazi, a medium sized town situated in the Bursa province about half way around the lake, and a countdown from 10 in Turkish, we set off in pursuit of our 130k brethren. With a police escort to accompany us, a couple of Turkish competitors went off a little too fast before looking around and realising they were in the lead, sheepishly slowed down. Which left yours truly at the front.
Before the race, people had asked me what my expectations were. But with my wife recently having a child and moving house to the French Pyrenees, my training had temporarily taken a bit of a nose dive for worse. In fact, I’d even told my wife that I was doing the 50k, so she wouldn’t give me grief for doing one of the main events on next to no training.
Seeing that no one was willing to take the lead, I strode out at a 4.30 min/km pace, making the most of the 19kms of flat terrain. It follows a stretch of road out of Orhangazi before meeting the edge of the Lake Iznik and a sandy beach that brought back to me a a few memories of the Marathon des Sables. From the perspective of race tactics, it’s an opportunity to put some distance between you and your opponents. But go out too fast and you’ll later hit an 800-meter-high wall of pain and that later on in the race will come to bite you not just in the arse, but in your quads and calves.
Somewhat conscious that I might be going too fast, for the next 4 hours I steadily overtook around 30 odd runners from the 130km race, exchanging broken pleasantries in Turkish as I went. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt, watching a number of them hobble along in that all too familiar death march. I had come with no expectations of winning the race, but for a while I genuinely thought I had a chance.
However, any thoughts of podiums were far from my mind. I was simply reveling in the scenery as I ran through olive groves, along beaches, charming little villages before going high into the hills surrounding the lake, which offered panoramic views to die for.
But then, for the first time, I heard the the pitter patter of feet of Hasan Öztürk, who unbeknownst to me had been doggedly following me. With my two words of Turkish vocabulary and his non-existent English, conversation was brief as we trotted alongside each other, silently pushing one another slightly harder than we’d have liked.
That’s of course the problem with being out front, and what I imagined Aykut and Faruk were going through. They had decided to run together and hold on to the lead. But lovely though it is to be out front, you simply don’t know how fast your pursuers are going – so you push on harder than might be wise.
Until now, the terrain had been very runnable. But new to 2016, Caner had inserted in a rather technical and simultaneously hilly section smack in the middle of the 80k and about 87k into the main event. Very steep descents which often involved hanging onto tree routes and branches slowed us all down, less for the odd mountain goat. Some might say it was too difficult (it added a minimum of two hours on to most people’s time), but I think it was bloody marvelous, even though I was cursing at the time.
The checkpoints are spaced between 10 and 15k apart – about right for a course of this nature. As to be expected, they were a welcome reprieve and a chance to fill our water bottles, as the warm sun was thirsty work. It was during one of these moments that I noticed third place man, Mehmet Yildirim catching me up.
Cutting short my replen, I hobbled off and spent the next 20kms looking over my shoulder like a man being chased. Just shy of 10kms from the finish, my legs began to object and I regrettably waved Mehmet on with a ‘bravo’. Unbeknown to me, a similar situation had happened several hours early in the main event, where Aykut and Faruk separated. Aykut maintained the lead, finishing in 17hrs 10mins, leaving Mehmet Arslan to claim second place in 17hrs 30 and Faruk third, 18 minutes later.
As I arrived into Iznik I felt like a warrior returning from war. Covered in dust but grinning from ear to ear, I must have looked a strange sight to the Iznik locals who had come to watch the runners roll in. Knowing that I didn’t have long left, I picked up the pace, even though I was way over what the time I estimated it would take me to run 86kms to cross the finish line 3 seconds shy of ten and a half hours and a full 55 minutes behind Hasan who’d I’d not seen again.
After collecting one of the most fabulous medals I’ve ever seen, a locally made ceramic tile, I made my way back to the edge of the lake I had been standing at almost 24hours previously. Digging into my pocket, I picked out a smooth pedal I’d found in a river bed, and with my last remaining energy, skimmed it along the still smooth waters, trying to count how the bounces. The old man, who I’d seen yesterday, was still here and shuffled over to me.
‘What do you think? You like?’ he asked, his eyes sparkling with curiosity.
‘I loved it’ I replied. And that’s the truth!
33 finishers from 58 starters (57% finishers rate)
1st Aykut Çelikbas 17.10:12
2nd Mehmet Arslan 17.30:43
3rd Faruk Kar 17.48:46
Elena Polyakova 22.49:45
Bakiye Duran 24.43:19
65 finishers from 84 starters (77% finishers rate)
Race summaries by Emmanuelle Lamarle for MARATHON DES SABLES
Translations from French to English by Niandi Carmont
The 2016 and 31st edition of the MARATHON DES SABLES concluded in Morocco on Saturday April 16th. It will go down in the history of the race as one of the toughest and most beautiful editions. At 257km long, it was the longest in the races history and although the long stage was 84km, the daily distance were higher and continually hovered around the marathon distance and thus made the multi-day challenge considerably harder. In the early days, particularly day 1, strong winds and sandstorms battered the runners making what was already a very hard day, considerably harder. This was reflected in day 2 with a high drop out rate. Day 3 was a beautiful stage but just an appetiser for the long day. The feared long day lived up to its reputation and although a very tough, relentless and challenging route, it was compensated for with it’s incredible beauty. Day 5, the classic marathon day, was for many a walk in the park after the long day, this was reflected in the emotions on the finish line when 5 days of effort were released. Day 6, the compulsory charity day concluded the race and with it, each runner received a medal on the line from race director and race creator, Patrick Bauer.
The Sahara, Morocco and the MARATHON DES SABLES never disappoints, 2016 though was a special one – tough, relentless and beautiful. the desert, the multi-day experience and the challenge really does make everyone look inward. The Sahara has a way of stripping you bare, down to your core and the looks of emotion, relief and celebration are moments to savour and all those who completed the journey will be changed forever.
Below is a brief summary of the race week with images to provide some perspective to what has been an incredible 31st edition of the ‘MDS!’