It has been a long journey, and here you are, 14-days to the start of the Marathon des Sables.
DO NOT PANIC!
You – 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 changed the moment you paid the deposit, the transformation process had already begun. Embrace the journey ahead and apply yourself. But keep perspective, the MDS journey is an enhancement of you as a person. It’s easy to become too obsessed. Ultimately the majority of runners at MDS are enthusiasts, if you keep that in mind the journey will be a complete one.
Pack – Minimum pack weight is 6.5kg plus water (8kg,) get as close to this as you can. Additional weight is additional stress and just makes the journey harder.
Friends – 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 and create a support network. Now, with 14-days to go is the perfect time to do this, if you haven’t already done so.
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.
Mental Game – The legs, lungs, heart and feet will only get you so far. The mind is what will get you to the finish. Broken individuals with bodies in tatters but mentally strong can make the finish. 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.
Laugh – 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.
Heat – In the final 14-days, make sure you get some heat acclimation, bikram yoga, sauna, heat chamber, hot batch, whatever it may be, get 6-8 sessions before the race. You have signed up for a race in the Sahara, no point in complaining it is ‘too hot!’ This is the challenge you signed up for. Dehydration is one of the main causes for NOT finishing the race.
TOP TIPS BEFORE THE RACE STARTS
- 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.
- The journey from the airport to bivouac 1 is now typically 1-hour or less, this helps considerably with fatigue and tiredness.
- Night 1 and night 2 in bivouac are NOT self-sufficient so take extras such as an inflatable bed, food and luxuries. Don’t use them? Give them away to the berbers. May as well have 2 comfortable nights and a comfortable day before the racing starts.
- Food before the race starts is by Moroccan caterers. It is excellent food BUT for some, may be too challenging for the stomach. Take options to be self-sufficient should you need to make the choice.
- Admin day is slick and streamlined now, but, you may be in the sun for over 1-hour. Wear a hat, take shade (an umbrella) and have water and snacks.
- 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 of finish time. 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.
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.
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