Marathon des Sables 2021 35th Edition Summary and Thoughts

The 2021, 35th edition of the Marathon des Sables concluded early October after a 2.5-year hiatus due to the ongoing Covid pandemic issues worldwide. 

Three postponements, the first in April 2020, a second cancellation late 2020 and then a 3rd cancellation in April 2021 finally saw the race take place in October. October was selected due to climatic conditions typically being very similar to those of April. Little did we know that October would see freakish high temperatures that would impact on the race.

VIEW THE IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

I have worked on 7 MDS, 2021 was special! I provide this summary as an assessment as I saw the race unfold and how I experienced the conditions in the Sahara.

The 2021 race had relatively low start numbers, particularly in contrast to ‘normal’ MDS years, with approximately 700+/- toeing the line. It’s easy to understand why numbers would be low: 

  1. Repeated postponements caused apathy and a lack of focus and therefore refunds were requested.
  2. The October 2021 date was the 4th scheduling of the event, and many wondered ‘if’ it would go ahead and therefore moved entries to a safer and more predictable MDS in April 2022.
  3. Ongoing PCR requirements, Antigen tests and restricted border crossings and travel meant for many, October was just not possible.

One thing is for sure, Patrick Bauer and the MDS team were excited and motivated to resume proceedings in the Sahara and of course, Patrick wanted the event to be memorable for multiple reasons… It was the 35th edition and the first event post Covid.

2021 ROUTE

Stats show that 353 completed the event, Rachid El Morabity running the whole event in 21-hours, 17-minutes, and 32-seconds. Christine Taieb was 353rd in 72-hours, 41-minutes, 31-seconds.

From the 353 finishers, 91 were from the UK, Patrick Kennedy the fastest in 25:16:14 and placing in the top-10 with Martina Taylor the 91st in 44:06:16.

HEAT

Arriving in Errachidia and Erfoud several days before the runners, it was soon very clear to me that temperatures were high. On the first day, I ran in the desert starting at 11am and temperatures were already over 40 degrees. In the evening, for a second run starting at 1800hrs, temperatures were 36 degrees. The following morning, a run starting at 0700 and temperatures were already 34 degrees. No doubt about it, the 35th MDS was going to be a hot one. Chatting with locals and my driver Said, they all confirmed, ‘These temperatures are not normal for October!’

On social media I provided a ‘heads-up’ to all those travelling to Morocco of the heat situation, and yes, I understand that with just a few days before the race, there is little people could do, however, they could re-think clothing, sleeping bags and make allowances in packing for the ‘option’ to race lighter than originally planned.

Arrival at bivouac 1 early afternoon and the heat inside the tents was stifling, shade protected from the direct sun but not the heat. It was impossible to escape that.

Admin day was extremely hot, and this is notably important, no matter how slick or fast admin day is, runners will almost certainly be standing out in direct sun with no shade for a prolonged time. Here is a first top tip – Take an umbrella in your luggage that you can use when standing in the admin line. It will protect you from the direct sun and keep you cooler. Also, make sure you have water and snacks. Admin can take 30-mins if lucky, but it is possible to be out there for 60/90 or even 120-minutes.

The race started in oppressive heat, on day 1 this was recorded at 42 degrees and the forecast for the week predicted temperatures would go cooler. Those cooler temperatures did come BUT they were still extremely high and hotter than a ‘typical’ MDS and a ‘typical’ April or October month.

In my opinion, the Marathon des Sables is an extreme event that takes place in the Sahara. The nature of the event is self-management both physically and mentally to endure the challenge, survive and reach the finish line. The weather (heat) is one of those variables and in the 35-years of MDS there have been many hot years and many cool years. Nothing is guaranteed and surviving the weather is integral to the nature of the event. In my editions of MDS, 2021 was the hottest event from beginning to end. However, I have experienced equally hot days in past years, they were more in isolation though.

The impact of the heat for the 2021 race was substantial and hyperthermia was a very real risk and without question, countless runners succumbed to the rising mercury.

HEAT and SICKNESS

Heat is a brutal beast to manage and quite simply keeping core temperature lower, particularly when running can be difficult. It was very clear that many runners, maybe far more than usual were running considerably less and walking became the norm except for the front of the race, the top men and women were running as usual but at a reduced speed. It’s important to clarify here that walking is essential at MDS and many walk far more than they anticipate, even in a normal year. Heat and a pack add considerable strain and why many think pre-race they will run 80% and walk 20%, the reality is they will walk 80% and maybe run 20%. For 2021, walking was the norm.

MDS is a self-sufficient race with rationed water that echoes Patrick Bauer’s original journey. It was apparent after day 1 that water rations would need to be increased to compensate for the heat. An additional 1 x 1.5ltr bottle was added to each checkpoint (typically every 10km) for every runner and water allowance was increased at the end of the stage.

Additional water was required by all; however, this added an additional problem for many runners… Typically, runners use 2 x 750ml bottles on their chest or they use a 1.5ltr water bottle added on top of a front pack – the Moroccan runners prefer this method. The problem comes when you need to carry an additional 1.5ltr – there is nowhere to put it (typically) other than carry in one’s hand. Not only does this add another 1.5kg to overall weight but it can also alter running gait, and this can cause potential injury or stress.

In a normal year, the excessive heat would have without doubt impacted on the race and the number of runners who completed. However, I strongly believe that the DNF (did not finish) rates would probably have been more around the 10% mark or maybe 15%.

The main reason for DNF in 2021 was sickness (Diarrhoea and Vomiting) and the ongoing knock-on effects. The jury is out on the causes of this sickness and hopefully, in time, we may receive clarification of this from Doc Trotters and the MDS organisation. Of course, there are many rumours, however, here are a couple of my thoughts (I am no expert, so don’t shoot me down):

  1. Food poisoning – The only shared food came on day 1 and 2 before the race got underway. If there was a problem with the food provided by the race, everyone would have been impacted immediately and not over multiple days and the 7-days of the race. During the race, everyone is self-sufficient, so, food poisoning on a mass scale is not possible.
  2. Noro virus – A stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea which spreads rapidly and typically lasts no longer than 2-days. This sounds very similar to what MDS runners and staff experienced with most stating the ‘bug’ lasted just 24-hours.
  3. Bacteria – One or two (maybe more) were sick before the race, therefore, a form of bacteria (equally Noro virus) could have been brought in to camp and quickly spread from person-to-person and tent-to-tent.
  4. Hyperthermia – Increased heat and exposure to heat causes a failure to regulate mechanisms within the body that is extremely dangerous that can result in vomiting and diarrhoea and other symptoms.

Ultimately, the sickness at the 2021 MDS may well have been a combination of several of the above.

One thing is for sure, the sickness when it came was brutal and debilitating. I know, I had it! I got it on the evening of day 3 at 2000hrs and without going in to too much detail was losing fluids from both ends for 6-7 hours. By the following morning I was over the worst but struggled to drink and ate nothing for 24-hours. I had little to no energy for day 4 of MDS.

The above was a typical story for many a runner and quite simply, if you are losing fluids and energy as in the scenario above, combined with intense heat and trying to cover 32 to 82.5km’s a day, it is no wonder that so many DNF’d.

Many a runner proclaimed that they were fit, strong, well trained and prepared for the MDS only to have the race ‘robbed’ from them by a situation that was beyond their control. I fully understand this thought process and can only sympathise. I strongly believe that had it not been for the sickness, many more would have finished the race.

The impact of Covid and the Pandemic may well have impacted on every runner’s immunity and ability to fight bugs and bacteria? For most of us, we have isolated, social distanced and constantly washed our hands for 18+ months. Suddenly, we were all thrown in close proximity with less-than-ideal hygiene… I wonder if this resulted in some problems.

Multiple questions were asked by runners:

  • Race distances should be made shorter – As I have mentioned previously, the MDS is an extreme event that takes place in the Sahara. There are many variables of terrain and heat, and this is the challenge. The race is how runners manage this challenge and in 2021, 50% did this.
  • The race should be cancelled – Ask the 50% that finished should the race be cancelled; you would get a resounding no. I also spoke with many DNF runners who also confirmed that the race should have continued. Ultimately, MDS will assess the 2021 race and may well sit down and lay out a new set of protocols moving forward that make allowances for extreme conditions that are outside the normal extreme conditions of the race. For example, this could be early start times, longer cut-off times, the option to shorten stages or maybe a combination of elements. BUT would this take away from the ‘toughest foot-race’ tagline?
  • The race was compromised – The extreme heat and the sickness compromised the race experience for the runners and yes, it impacted on the MDS organisation with demand on 4×4 vehicles, doctors, helicopter rescues and so on at an all-time high. Typically, there are 400 staff on MDS, and in 2021 700 participants. Doc Trotters team was as large as usual, despite less competitors, therefore the ratio of doctors to runners was high. However, I described Doc Trotters as the NHS and the runners as Covid during the race. Quite simply, the 2021 MDS had a perfect storm of events that put all under pressure. It is important post-race that an assessment is done so lessons can be learnt. There are always lessons to be learnt.

DEATH

The death of a runner on day 2 due to cardiac arrest was announced to all the runners and MDS staff publicly by Patrick Bauer in bivouac on the evening of day 2. The situation was clearly explained to all. It was a sad day and first and foremost it is important to pass on our love and thoughts to all those concerned.

For many, the death was a wakeup call and it suddenly brought home the real risk and danger of participating in extreme event. It changed viewpoints and it may well have influenced 2021 participants to ‘play safe!’ afterwards. Prior to the incident, the urge to push on and fight for a finish was a priority, however, for the start of day 3 and moving forward, I personally encountered runners making decisions based around the day 2 death and their own personal assessment of risk and what risks, they personally were prepared to take. It does not matter if those ‘risks’ were real or perceived (from an outside perspective), from the individuals’ perspective they were real.

On a personal note, I have been involved in extreme events for many years and unfortunately, I have experienced multiple deaths, I have been involved in multiple rescues and I have had to make the decision of when and when not to carry on personally. Just this year at the TDS, part of the UTMB week of races, a runner died during the night – I was there. It may sound blasé, but extreme events are not without risk, danger or death. After all, for many, it is ‘the risk’ that makes the event desirable. MDS, as a prime example, has used the tag of ‘toughest foot-race in the world’ for many years and those who sign up, quote this as a reason for participation. Prior to 2021, the race had experienced 2 deaths. The MDS is not without risk and these risks exist despite rigorous health checks before toeing the line on day 1 and incredible medical support and a huge logistical team. As J K Rowling said, ‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all…’

Risk at MDS is actually very low. The medical team and support in conjunction with live Spot tracking, countless 4×4 vehicles and 2 helicopters means that should an incident take place, you will normally be looked after within 20-minutes.

With all the above considered, the death of a runner had an impact.

THE RACE

The 35th MDS took place over 7-days with 5 timed stages and 1 charity stage. Days 1, 2 and 3 were 32 – 38km. Day 4 and 5 was the long day with an allocated 32-hours to complete 82.5km. Day 6 was the classic marathon stage where medals were awarded at the end and officially, this was the conclusion of the timed race with overall ranking positions awarded. Day 7 was a compulsory charity stage of 8.5km and the timing was not taken into consideration.

Day 1, 32.2km race summary HERE – On paper, was an ‘easy’ day with little challenging terrain. However, the 46-degree temperatures in the shade changed that. It turned out to be a very tough day, especially with the race operating on ‘normal’ water rations. The DNF rate after day 1 was modest. I personally anticipated the numbers to be much higher. The organisation assessed the heat and feedback from the race route and increased water rations.

Day 2 32.5km race summary HERE – Was a similar distance to day 1 BUT included a long and lengthy stretch of the Merzouga (Erg Chebbi) dunes. These dunes last 13km +/- and ran from CP1 to CP2. They are the highest dunes in Morocco and would be feared in any ‘normal’ year. For 2021, they were a formidable challenge. Top runners could pass through them in less than 2-hours but for most, they could anticipate 3, 4, 5 or maybe even 6-hours to cross. This is without any shade or additional aid stations. CP1 resembled a medical tent from a war zone with countless runners taking shade and on IV drips. The severity of the heat was soon apparent to all and while some had the ‘sickness,’ it was probably fair to assume at this point in the race many were suffering from hyperthermia. It was the evening of day 2 when bivouac and the MDS staff ere notified en-mass of the death of a runner.

Day 3 37.1km race summary HERE – Had a sombre start with silence and the whole race departing with a walk and clapping. The distance ahead longer than the previous two days and the death from day 2 lingering on many people’s mind. The ‘sickness’ within camp was now considerably more obvious, with many runners complaining of D+V and I personally witnessed countless situations of runners vomiting before me. The route was generally easier but there was a considerable amount of soft sand. The day was tough one with many withdrawing, the heat, sickness, and the death all playing instrumental in how individuals assessed their own personal risk assessment of the challenge ahead.

Day 4 82.5km race summary HERE – Was the long day with two starts, most of the race starting at 0800 and the top runners originally departing at 1100 but this time was brought forward. Importantly, the distance of the long day was not notified to the runners until the completion of day 3. This was one of the ‘surprises’ of the 35th edition. However, this no doubt contributed to the anxiety and worry for the 2021 participants. I know from experience, the first thing runners do when they receive the ‘road book’ for the edition in which they will participate, is that they look at what distance the long day will be. To not know this leaves question marks and worry. For the 2021 edition, with so much heat and sickness, this was one additional worry they did not need. As it turned out, the distance was normal 82.5km, however, it did include the infamous Jebel Oftal that for most, would be climbed at night. With less than 10km covered and before CP1, the long day was proving too much for many. I personally put 9 people in vehicles who were suffering from sickness, heat or a combination of both. CP1 was full of runners who would withdraw and who were already on IV drips. It was going to be a very long day, night and following day. Many headed advice taking the day as steady as possible looking to gain time during the cooler temperatures of the night.

Day 5 – Was the conclusion of the long day for those who needed it, or a great opportunity to sleep, relax, hydrate, eat and look after personal admin.

Day 6 42.2km race summary HERE – The marathon day and now approximately 50% of the race had DNF’d. For those who started the marathon day a medal waited at the end, and it was fair to assume that all those who started would run, walk and crawl to get that medal. All who started finished.

Day 7 was the charity stage, a compulsory 8.5km to help raise funds for charity and facilitate the departure from the desert and back to civilisation.

The race was won by Rachid El Morabity, his 8th victory and finally, Aziza Raji stood atop of the MDS podium for Morocco.

RESULTS

  • Rachid El Morabity 21:17:32
  • Mohamed El Morabity 21:32:12
  • Mérile Robert 22:39:02
  • Aziza Raji 30:30:24
  • Tomomi Bitoh 34:39:17
  • Aicha Omrani 35:47:48

NOTES ON THE RACE

I said previously that in my opinion, MDS and races like MDS are about management of the physical, mental and equipment to achieve a goal. After all, it’s a self-sufficient race in the Sahara. THIS IS the challenge. The route changes year-on-year, the terrain changes year-on-year and the heat and other conditions are not guaranteed.

What sets 2021 apart is the sickness that ripped through bivouac, not only for runners but also staff.

Without doubt, why so many DNF’d. 

A self-sufficient race is about personal management and I have always said to friends, participants and coaching clients, there are two things that cannot be controlled: 

  1. Injury.
  2. 2. Sickness.

The sickness the ripped through bivouac left runners drained, empty, void of calories and energy, despite the will and desire to push on, so many were left with empty shells that had to succumb to physical conditions. The physical conditions of course were only made worse by the oppressive and damaging heat.

2021 and the 35th MDS had a set of ‘perfect storm’ conditions that resulted in the highest DNF rate in the races long history.

It’s pointless to compare MDS to other races and state stats and figures. Some races have regularly few finishers due to the severity of route and the time allowance. Other races have a high DNF rate due to the terrain and weather. In most scenarios, runners when entering will research the race and understand the chances of completion. For MDS, stats show that typically less than 10% DNF. Therefore, any runner toeing the start line of the 35th edition will have had this in mind and will have hoped not to be in that relatively small percentage. The fact that 50% did DNF shows that the 2021 was an extreme race, but the major DNF factor was the sickness which cannot be planned for.

TOP TIPS

  • Understand the event, research it, train accordingly and prepare meticulously.
  • Heat acclimation pre the MDS will increase the chances of a successful completion, this should be done in the 7-10 days before the race. The best option is to travel to Morocco and be in the environment that the races take place in. Of course, this is not possible for most. Therefore, heat chambers, saunas, bikram yoga or even taking hot baths will all help.
  • Start slow and ease into the race.
  • The minimum requirement of a runners MDS pack is 6.5kg. You really need to get your pack as close to this weight as possible. Any additional weight is just a burden that adds to fatigue and stress. Test all your kit and fine tune it.
  • Prior to admin day, you have your luggage with you in the desert. Take options of kit so that you can fine tune kit selection based on climatic and other conditions. For example, 2021 was so hot a lighter sleeping bag was certainly possible and the need for a down jacket minimal.
  • When you arrive in bivouac you have dinner, breakfast, lunch, and dinner provided by the race before self-sufficiency begins. You could plan to be self-sufficient for food in this scenario and therefore reduce the risk of any potential stomach issues from unknown food.
  • Admin day as mentioned above can take a while, take an umbrella to provide shelter, take liquid and snacks.
  • Food options for the race are key, particularly when fatigue and heat take its toll. Look to eat well early in the race as food can become less appealing as the race progresses. Think high calorie and low weight. Balance sweet and savoury and understand that sweet is less inviting in intense heat and later in the race (for most people.)
  • Taping shoulders, lower back, and other potential friction points in advance of the race can be a great idea if you know from training this is a potential problem area. Tensoplast is perfect for this.
  • Get the correct shoes with the correct fit. A thumb nail of space above the longest toe is ideal. Do not go too big with shoes. A shoe that is too large allows the foot to move. A moving foot causes friction. Friction equals blisters. A shoe with a wider toe box can be a good idea as it allows toes to splay. Road shoes can work but the desert is harsh with lots of rocks, a trail shoe usually has better toe protection and an outsole that offers more durability.
  • Keep hydrated and take salt tablets as provided by the race.
  • Keep luxuries to a minimum. Always think about weight and ask, ‘can I eat it?’ MDS quite simply comes down to three simple things: Running, sleeping, and eating/drinking.
  • Take a mat, it provides comfort when relaxing and gives a better night’s sleep.
  • Personal hygiene is important – be careful. You will be in close proximity with many people with less-than-ideal hygiene conditions.
  • The long day is always feared but you have loads of time. Take the first day easy, controlling pace, reducing stress and if extremely hot, take more rest and shade. As the day comes to an end, look to maximise the night when cooler temperatures will facilitate a faster pace with less effort. If possible, look to get the long day done before the sunrise the next day… If you can avoid another day of heat, it is well worth it.

CONCLUSION

The oppressive heat of 2021 is a possibility that can appear in ‘any’ MDS and while the 35th edition was extreme, the heat has been experienced before, albeit not for a sustained period. One needs to be prepared to adapt and self-manage to achieve a finishers medal. This is Morocco. This is the Sahara and this is the nature of the event. With global warming and climatic conditions changing worldwide, hotter temperatures in the Sahara may well become the norm, plan accordingly.

The sickness that ripped through bivouac is an uncontrollable variable that cannot be mitigated against, and I can fully appreciate that many feel that a finishers medal was stolen from them. I would not disagree. However, this is nobody’s fault, just darn bad luck. Just like an injury, to coin a phrase, ‘shit happens!’

50% of runners managed to navigate the conditions, implement an effective race strategy, and finish the race. I am sure that many of the 50% avoided the sickness but not all did, I am aware of countless stories of runners who got ill, battled and somehow came out the other side.

The 2021 and 35th MDS was always going to be memorable, now the race is over, we can all confirm that it will never be forgotten. It will be talked about and discussed in many, many years to come.

There are lessons to be learnt from the 2021 race, for runners and the MDS organisation.

I for one experienced first-hand, day-to-day, on the course the challenge that everyone undertook and I can hand on heart say that I saw runners fight to the bitter end to hopefully achieve a lifetime goal and I equally saw MDS staff work 16+ hour days helping to facilitate that.

If you are entered for 2022 or 2023, don’t be worried. Respect the event and look at the extreme 2021 event as an opportunity to learn and plan.

The 2022 event will take place 25th March to April 4th.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

Marathon des Sables 2021 #MDS – GALLERY SLIDESHOW

The 35th edition of the MARATHON DES SABLES will go down in the history of the race as one of, if not the toughest edition.

Due to the Covid pandemic, the April 2020 edition was postponed three times to finally take place in October 2021.

Heat and conditions in October for the Sahara and Morocco are usually very similar to April, however, this year, the race had intense heat from beginning to end. Add to the mix sickness, and only 50% of the race completed the 250km journey. Rachid El Morabity won his 8th edition and Aziza Raji her 1st. A final race day summary is here.

Enjoy this highlight gallery of the race.

All images are © protected and must not be copied, saved or shared. If required, you can can view purchase options both in high-resolution and web resolution.

Images are available to purchase HERE.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

Marathon des Sables 2021 #MDS – Stage 1

The 35th Marathon des Sables finally got underway today after three postponements.

It was a very special moment to see over 700 runners from 40 nationalities depart under the sound of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell.’ 

And what a highway to hell the 1st stage of 32.2km’s was!

The heatwave from the previous days did not disappear despite strong winds and sand storms throughout the previous night and race day turned out to be a scorching 45deg in the shade in the mid afternoon heat. As I write, there are currently 25 dropouts and and many runners required medical help from Doc Trotters out on the course.

The route, billed as an easy day was beautiful one with a little of everything, hard rocky plateau, villages with many children and soft sand and small dunettes to conclude the day.

The heat though and lack of any shade turned out to be the beast of the day and it reduced nearly the whole field to a slower pace and for most, that means walking!

Even the desert king, Rachid El Morabity, although wining easily ahead of his brother, looked tired and a little more exhausted from his 2h 36m run.

Aziza Raji from Morocco started the day at an easier pace and eventually took the lead ahead of the UK’s Anna Brown, however, just like Rachid, in the final km’s she looked ready to be over with the day.

The intense heat has now impacted on day 2 with the organisation bringing start time 30-minutes forward, 0800 instead of 0830. In addition, 1 extra bottle of water will be provided for each runner and CP1 and CP2.

The stage is another 32km day, BUT, many of those km’s take place in the relentless dunes of Merzouga (Erg Chebbi), the highest in Morocco.

Day 1 standings:

  • Rachid El Morabity
  • Mhoamed El Morabity
  • Aziz Yachou

  • Aziza Raji
  • Anna Brown
  • Aicha Omrani

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

INSTINCT XX 20L Multi-Day/ Stage Racing Pack – REVIEW

The INSTINCT XX 20L pack is a new addition to the stage/ multi-day racing scene and finally, dare I say, this pack begins to address many of the failures experienced in other packs.

It is in summary, the best pack we have used.

To clarify, this pack was provided free to test and this is not a paid review or advertisement. You can read and view some initial videos here.

The only way to test any pack like this is in a ‘real’ scenario for male and female. So, Abelone Lyng and myself set off for a 3-day fastpack covering 65km carrying all we required.

Our 65km route.

We both carried a pack, and the INSTINCT had more than required for one person. You can see in the photo above the majority of contents but in addition to the above was a 2-person tent, merino top and leg base layer, down jacket, hat and gloves. Also, 3 Firepot meals and additional snacks. Total weight, inc the pack was approx 6.5kg with 800g water.

See a time-lapse of packing below:

HERE are the pack contents itemised with weights and links.

There are several key features to the instinct and depending on the adventure you are undertaking, you would pack the bag differently. For our 3-day trip we needed a tent, but as an example, if doing a race like Marathon des Sables, you would have no need for a tent and this would free up considerable space for the food requirement of six or seven days.

The pack has a maximum capacity of 24L and compresses to 18L by rolling down the top of the pack and compressing it. We recommend you view the videos here. This is extremely useful in self-sufficient races when you basically ‘eat’ the contents of the pack and therefore the pack reduces in size, weight and volume.

Here is a review video which gives a real-time review of the INSTINCT XX 20L.

Both Abelone and myself found the pack arguably the most comfortable we have used and tested and it stands out in several areas:

  • Flexibility and adaptability.
  • The ability to reduce the pack size as per requirements.
  • The ability to segregate items in different areas – top pocket, main pocket, two mesh pockets, zipper pockets.
  • The front of the pack is the best we have tried not only for two hard bottles but the ability to use four bottles or use two bottles and use the other pockets for storage.
  • The fit is excellent and while extremes of size, both large and small cannot be accounted for, in general, we feel that the pack will work with most body sizes and shapes.
  • Movement while running is minimal but not zero. It is the best we have used.
  • There are many small features – zipper pockets, elastics, the external carabiner fitting and so on that make the pack a pleasure to use.

With full weight (8kg) you soon realise if you have the Instinct packed incorrectly and it is worthwhile playing and spending time with different configurations. What works for one, may not work for another, so, find what what works for you. Certainly, what I personally thought would work for me initially, did not work and I had too much movement in the top pocket. When I re-packed, the improvement was considerable.

The one size fits all and elastic side does provide incredible flexibility and comfort and both Abelone or myself found no hot spots or irritation.

Packed correctly, the ability to access what you need, on the go, is superb. Ultimately, fine-tuning the pack to an individuals need is part of the process of what makes fastpacking fun. However, the crossover of fit, packing and individual needs between Abelone and myself was seamless and we could easily swap and change at any time with just an adjustment to the chest and elastic side straps making for a perfect fit.

How to fit the pack?

Notably, there are features to the pack that we did not use or mention:

  1. Large zipper pocket that will take a 2 to 3ltr bladder that will occupy the length of the pack between the back pad and the main compartment. This pocket could also be used to segregate clothes, for example, clean and dirty.
  2. Removable top pouch that we did not use that can also be used to secure a helmet if required – useful for snow/ climbing adventures.
  3. Three different areas to secure poles.
  4. Ice axe and shovel friendly with attachment points.

Specs:

The XX allows : 
– 2 x 750ml+ bottles/softflasks in front
– 2 XL vertical front zip pockets
– 2 zipped shoulder pockets
– 2 XL mesh front pockets
– 3 fixing options for poles (front/back)
– Ice pick on back
– Shovel fixture
– Easy backside carrying of sleeping mat or other objects (ex: tent)
– Independent 3L water bladder pocket
– X-Large 2-in-1 overlapping stretch mesh pockets on lower backside

KEY FEATURES : – Large back door = instant access to main compartment and easy viewing of internal items
– Independent roll-top pocket for increased storage
– Removeable top pouch carries smaller items (first aid kit, knife, etc). A stretch mesh pocket over the top allows instant access to jacket storage or a solar battery panel

COMFORT  & PROTECTION : 
– Entirely made of Cordura© Nylon 6.6 ripstop
– 3mm perforated EVA padding in back panel
– 3D mesh shoulder straps/back panel for ideal sweat dissipation

Is the INSTINCT perfect? No, it’s not, but it comes pretty darn close… I guess the question that I have is the zipper on the main compartment? If that fails, this would cause huge problems, however, it is a special zip, reinforced and extremely durable, I have no reason to think this would fail. The pack may be compromised on fit with small men or women, however, in general, based on myself and Abelone, we can see it fitting most body shapes.

Ultimately, for both of us, the INSTINCT XX 20L is the most complete and flexible pack we have used. It’s great to look at, it is really well thought out, it provides multiple options and flexibility and without doubt, has the best bottle holding and capacity of any pack I have used. The option to compress the pack to 18L means it can also be used for long single-day races, such as UTMB, when the need for mandatory kit is high.

Quite simply – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Website HERE

Price 225 euro

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

How to deal with Race Postponement

This article is geared toward Marathon des Sables but is valid for any race with some adjustments and specific changes appropriate to the type of race and distance.

Marathon des Sables, once again, has been postponed. Originally scheduled for April 2020, the race was moved to September 2020 amidst growing worries and concerns over Coronavirus. As September approached, the writing was already on the wall and the decision was made to focus on April 2021 – everything will be fine then, won’t it!?

December 2020 soon came and with it, increased infection rates, new variants and despite the optimism of a vaccine, the world once again crumbled under the cloud of an ever-spreading pandemic. Christmas was cancelled and the new year unfortunately had nothing ‘new’ about it, it carried far too much of the old year.

January has been a disaster and the long-term view is not good. The world once again has been in a lockdown, some far worse than others. One thing is for sure, we are all a long way from ‘normal!’ So, it came as no surprise as events were cancelled all over the world.

Patrick Bauer.

MDS race director, Patrick Bauer, travelled to Morocco to assess the situation and on January 22nd, the MDS was once again postponed to another time; October 1-11, 2021.

All is good… the race WILL come!

I think it’s important to clarify, here and now, that at the end of the day, when people are dying globally, for a race to be postponed, is no big deal… I think once you accept that, dealing with race cancellation, disappointments and postponements becomes so much easier. It´s only a race! And we are fortunate to be able to race. It’s a luxury. But equally, livelihoods are struggling, RD´s are losing work, all the businesses associated with races are losing work, travel companies are losing customers, hotels, restaurants, design agencies, photographers, videographers and the list goes on, are all losing their livelihoods to an ongoing escalating pandemic. So while it is only a race, have a consideration for all involved and maybe, a little understanding for the very difficult challenges everyone is facing at the moment.

The locals need MDS, our tourism and our regular trips to Morocco.

Taking MDS as an example, 2020 participants will have entered in 2019 and some may well have entered in 2018. Typically, a MDS participant will prepare for 1-year. While the initial postponement was not great, it was easy to focus on September. 

Then September was cancelled… Already, many were struggling to re-focus, but April would be it, one last push and we are good to go! 

Now, with another postponement, MDS runners are left in a void, the race is 8-months away. They are all asking, what do I do now?

Gemma Game has been on the podium of MDS multiple times. She is a busy professional with a family.

Firstly…

When things change, adjust. Don´t kick-off against what has changed. Accept what is not in your control and control what you can. Adapt, move on (with running shoes) and train differently for a while; focus on different aspects of your running, weaknesses in particular. Look at the opportunities – focus on speed, work on hill strength, build a good core, do drills, stretch, maybe try yoga? A change of focus will give a physical and mental break and will help your performance. When the time is right, resume an appropriate training plan for your chosen race. I guarantee, you will be stronger, better prepared and ready for the challenge ahead. You are lucky and fortunate that you are able to even contemplate a race like MDS.

Uncertainty is a virus in itself, it can eat away at you. Quite simply, remove negativity and question marks. The current dates for MDS are 1-11 October. Do not consider the event will not happen, plan and train accordingly.

The reality is you are already in a good place. You have been training for a great deal of time already, just imagine how much better you will be when October comes.

Training in Lanzarote on a specific Multi-Day Training Camp HERE

Importantly though, it would be fool hardy to carry on with current training levels for an October race. You run the risk of injury and/ or getting peak fitness too early. Take a break!

“One of the mistakes I see most with runners is jumping from one race specific cycle to the next, without either giving themselves enough time between races or not “focusing” on training during the time between race and “taking a break”.

– runnersconnect

Kick back, take some time off from any structured plan and do a week/ two weeks (or even a little longer) of ´how you feel´ training. In this period, take time (with a piece of paper) to assess personal strengths and weaknesses. From this list, you can use February and March to address these weaknesses while ´maintaining´ fitness. Back off any intensity, maintain some decent mileage/ hours and keep sessions moderate.

Tom Evans placed 3rd at MDS and works on strength and core to enhance his running.

Importantly, get a running MOT from an experienced physio. Address any problems now and use that ‘extra’ time for therapy, strength, stretching and core. Find any underlying problems that may cause injury.

Work on admin – food for the MDS (article HERE), pack, sleeping bag (article HERE) sleeping mat and finalise equipment choices optimising weight, size and cost. Do everything you can to make your pack 6.5kg (plus water) for the start line on October 3rd. Read a guide HERE.

Do you need a 12-week and/ or 24-week Multi-Day Training Plan perfect for a multi-day adventure or a race like Marathon des Sables? They are designed to provide you with a structured weekly plan culminating in a target event.  

View a sample week HERE from the 12-week plan. Purchase HERE.  

View a sample week HERE from the 24-week plan. Purchase HERE.  

*****

The arrival of April will give you 6-months to race date. Now is the time to re-focus. Did you have races planned? If so (and they happen) maybe now they change focus and become preparation for MDS?

Use 3-months (April, May and June) to build on the weaknesses that you have worked on in February and March and lay the foundations for the key phase, July, August and September.

“One of the most common reasons runners hit a plateau is that they don’t work on their weaknesses between races, by focusing on your weaknesses now, you’re able to make progress long-term, even without training as hard.”

– runnersconnect
Do some specific training, here Sondre Amdahl at the Lanzarote Training Camp HERE

July should be the start of a very specific MDS phase (12-weeks) where you fine-hone all the relevant skills to make the 35th MDS not only successful but awesome.

It is easy to feel deflated with another disappointment and postponement but look at this cloud with a silver lining!

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Articles:

Choosing a sleeping bag for an adventure HERE

Fuelling for a Multi-Day like MDS HERE

Multi-Day Racing – It´s Not Complicated HERE

The Ultimate Equipment Guide to Desert Multi-Day Racing HERE

Top Tips to Better Multi-Day Running HERE

References Runners World and runnersconnect

*****

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

Tips for the Trail – Sea To Summit Ultra Light Sleeping Mat (Extra Small)

A good nights sleep is essential when racing a multi-day adventure if out fastpacking. Without sleep, our ability to recover is compromised and eventually, sleep deprivation will impact on performance, mental strength and even one’s appetite.

Carrying a sleeping mat is essential, however, the weight of the mat is crucial. In most scenarios, we want the lightest possible that is suitable for the conditions that we are running and also provides excellent comfort.

There are many options available on the market and recently I have been testing the Sea To Summit Ultra Light Mat (extra small) which has impressed me in several key areas:

  1. Easy to inflate and default.
  2. Small pack size.
  3. Very lightweight.
  4. Extremely comfortable.
  5. Durable.

Finding a sleeping mat that provides this level of comfort in such a small pack size and weight has been a revelation. I was initially concerned that an extra small mat would be too small… Not the case, this mat has exceeded my expectations.

Under 300g in weight made with 400 TPU Nylon, the mat is durable and hardy to all conditions. The 132 Air Sprung Cells react as one would hope to body weight and provide a supremely comfortable night. In simple terms, the cells don not flatten out under hipbones or shoulders.The addition of a stuff sack and an Air Stream is a nice touch but comes with an additional weight penalty of 40-45g.

Read more Tips for the Trail HERE

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

Ultra Mirage© El Djerid #UMED 2018 Race Summary and Images

Backed by the space port of Mos Espa (Star Wars Episode 1) the 2nd edition of UMED ( Ultra Mirage© El Djerid) got underway with the morning glow of a strong orange sun after it had tipped over the summits of the surrounding high dunes.  

Over 130 runners from 23 nations stepped forward to undertake a circular 100km route through the Tunisian desert. Heat, sand, mixed terrain, palm groves, oasis all providing a stunning backdrop to an ultimate running challenge. The calm and quiet of the Sahara broken only by the sound of birds. 

Any running journey can be a lonely one, but the desert really does provide isolation, only a snake or a camel providing any company. Of course, the sun only leaves the runner with darkness and as the rest from intense heat may be welcome, the complete darkness of the desert provides its own challenges as the runners navigate via reflective strips all the way back to where they started, the lunar landscape of Mos Espa and the bulbous film set village made famous by Star Wars.

The 2017 champion, Mohamed El Morabity had returned to defend his title, however, the desert king (Mohamed’s elder brother) Rachid El Morabity was also on the start line looking to upset the 2017 champions dreams. In the women’s field, two-time MDS champion, Elisabet Barnes was returning to racing after an almost year-long hiatus – what would the day hold for all of them? 

On the stroke of 0700 the runners were released. They had 20-hours to complete the desert journey via marked route and 5 checkpoints placed at 20km, 35km, 50km, 65km, 80km and the finish providing an end to an epic journey.

With no wind, the 30-degree temperatures seemed intense. From the start, the experienced runners reigned in their pace but at the front, Marwen Kahil from Tunisia dictated the pace followed by fellow Tunisian, Mohamed Mnsari – the duo no doubt wanting to put on a good show on home ground. All the main contenders followed some way back, they were in no rush to push the pace and Rachid, Mohamed and Sondre Amdahl maintained a close eye on each other.

In the women’s race, Elisabet Barnes dictated the pace, shadowed by Tunisian, Shefia Hendaoui. Behind, Orianne Dujardin from France followed looking relaxed and in control.

At 20km, the positions had hardly changed. However, Elisabet had broken away from her shadow and was now dictating the pace at the front. With 80km to go, it was a brave move, but she looked strong and in control. For the men, there was little but the front of the race was starting to fragment with runners either forming small groups or running alone seconds and minutes apart.

By CP2, it was all change. The desert king Rachid had gently pressed on his accelerator pedal and in doing so he had split the men’s race apart. The early protagonists were left to struggle with the only runners able to follow the Moroccan’s pace coming from his brother, Mohamed and Tunisian, Emir Grairi. The duo looked strong and in control and then minutes later it was the arrival of Sondre Amdahl.

For the women, Elisabet was now pulling away from Shefia and Oriane and her pace was starting to impact on the men’s race with the Swedish runner placing well in the top 10.

With 50% of the race covered and the arrival of the first Oasis the race was taking shape. Rachid and Elisabet had opened huge gaps and were looking strong for victory, but behind them both the race was changing.

The 2nd male to arrive was the Tunisian Emir looking strong. Then Sondre arrived. What had happened to the 2017 champion Mohamed? He finally arrived walking, looking broken and explaining that he had hurt his ankle. He looked set to drop out but at the 3rd CP he pushed on.

 For the women, the early pace had impacted on Shefia and now Oriane was running in 2nd. It was all to fight for though, the duo was only separated by minutes!

50-65km were the most challenging of the race with relentless soft sand that slowed the front runners to a walk at times. Behind, this section would eventually take its toll with over 30% of the UMED field not progressing past this section. Rachid and Elisabet took it in their stride but the impact on Emir was noticeable and he relinquished 2nd place to an in-form Sondre. Mohamed was somehow rejuvenated, and he now ran with the Tunisian, the duo looking for the final podium place. 

Rachid arrived at the 80km checkpoint looking tired and exhausted. The day was taking its toll. He searched for food and drink, but the fatigue was obviously confusing him, he was undecided what he needed. Sitting down he consumed two cartons of juice only to vomit them back up. He left for arguably the toughest 20km’s he would ever run. The gap Rachid had accumulated was crumbling and Sondre arrived just 3-minutes later. The fight was on!

 Sondre hunted the Moroccan down slowly pursuing but Rachid despite chronic fatigue never gave in, he arrived at the finish broken. He crossed the line and collapsed into the arms of the RD, Amir Ben Gacem. Moments later he was in the medic’s hands with an IV in his arm. Sondre finished a stunning 2nd just 6-minutes later. It had been an epic battle. The fight for 3rd came to an easy conclusion for the 2017 champion Mohamed when Emir dropped from the race with severe cramps just 5/6km from the line.

 Elisabet was the next to arrive, the new female champion and 4th overall – she was back! This was a stunning world-class performance and her time was just 9-minutes slower than the 2017 champion, Mohamed. 

“UMED was a really great experience. It was good to be back in a desert race after a break this year. I enjoyed the varying terrain, the heat, and the perfect mix of friendly atmosphere and hard racing.” – Elisabet Barnes

Behind, Oriane secured her 2nd place ahead of the local woman, Shefia.

With the arrival of darkness, the race took on a new challenge as the participants battled the terrain, darkness and the 0300 cut-off. As with all races, the dream of medals evaporated like water in a Mirage. Blisters, fatigue, dehydration, missing cut-off times, each runner had a story to tell.

“I did not dream of medal. I wanted to run strong and run well. That was my UMED goal. At half way I felt very unwell and I knew it was the beginning of heatstroke. I also had damaged feet with blisters… We had been advised that gaiters were not necessary, they were! I was mentally and emotionally strong, but I knew it was time to be kind to myself and I allowed myself to call it quits. I had done what I set out to do, I had run well, I had run strong, and that was for 50km. Next year’s goal will be to run well, run strong and get that medal.” – Sue Ding from Malaysia who had completed the 2018 Marathon des Sables.


As Roosevelt rightly said:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 Racing does not give guarantees. It is why we test ourselves. Pain eases, memories fade, skin heals and soon, often the next day, the desire to return and put the demons to rest is what motivates everyone. The desert is magic and leaves only one desire: to come back and tame it! 

Post-race, RD Amir Ben Gacem was proud of the race, “Last year, we had just 60 runners, this year we had over 130 and I am proud to say, over 30 women. That is stunning. The race will evolve, and we learnt some lessons this year that will be applied for 2019 only to make the UMED bigger and better!”

“Wow, I am really happy with that,” Sondre exclaimed. “I am the first ‘human’ – to place 2nd behind the desert king Rachid and to have his brother behind me is a true honour.”

 RESULTS

  1. Elisabet Barnes 10:26:06
  2. Oriane Dujardin 12:58:57
  3. Shefia Hendaoui 13:35:57

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 9:11:47
  2. Sondre Amdahl 9:18:12
  3. Mohamed El Morabity 10:17:33

ALL IMAGES AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE HERE

UMED RACE WEBSITE

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

Marathon des Sables 2015 #MDS2015 – Race Images

©iancorless.com_MDS2015Day7-2789

The 30th edition of the iconic Marathon des Sables is over! What a race… we all knew that race director, Patrick Bauer would create something special and he did not disappoint.

Tough stages and the longest days had runners tackling 92km’s, the longest stage ever in the 30 year history of the race.

Rachid El Morabity (20:21:39) won the men’s race once again in true style and Elisabet Barnes (26:42:13) showed pure class in winning every stage of the ladies race. A race summary will follow.

Below is a selected portfolio that encompasses the 30th edition of the race. A full image gallery will be uploaded to iancorless.phtoshelter.com in due course.

All images ©iancorless.com