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.
Time will tell …
Words by Niandi Carmont for the Marathon des Sables media team ©marathondessables
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.
Read a 2016 race summary HERE