Episode 219 – 35th Marathon des Sables Special Podcast

Episode 219 of Talk Ultra is co-hosted by two times MDS champion, Elisabet Barnes. We discuss the 35th 2021 race with expert discussion on heat from Dr Jodie Moss. We also have eight interviews with 2021 participants: Emma Burton, Gower Tan, John Murray, Kim Hutt, Mags McHardy, Martina Taylor, Paul Been and Pierre Meslet.

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Episode 219 is a Marathon des Sables special. After 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 2021. 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.

You can read a summary of the 2021 MDS HERE

You can view a full imagery gallery of the 2021 race HERE

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.

Below daily race summaries which were published from the Sahara during the 2021 race.

Day 1, 32.2km race summary HERE 

Day 2 32.5km race summary HERE

Day 3 37.1km race summary HERE 

Day 4 82.5km race summary HERE 

Day 6 42.2km race summary HERE 

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

PODCAST

Elisabet Barnes, 2x Marathon des Sables champion co-hosts the show to provide expert opinion as we discuss the 35th edition.

00:43:19 Dr Jodie Moss provides expert analysis on heat and acclimation.

01:22:20 We have 8 interviews with 2021 MDS participants who provide varied perspective and opinions of the 35th edition. Running order is as follows:

01:22:21 Emma Burton

01:42:16 Gower Tan

02:00:14 John Murray

02:19:35 Kim Hutt

02:38:30 Mags McHardy

02:55:30 Martina Taylor

03:11:50 Paul Been

03:28:52 Pierre Meslet

This is a long show, running length 4-hours 11-minutes.

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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.

The below was released by MDS on October 28th. Approximately two weeks after this post was written.

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.

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Marathon des Sables 2021 #MDS – Stage 5 

The 35th Marathon des Sables drew to a conclusion today with stage 5, the last official timed stage of the 2021 race. Tomorrow is the compulsory charity stage which is not taking in to consideration for overall ranking.

It’s a classic marathon stage and as such has become a tradition of the MDS. Just 351 runners started the day, 50% of the original line-up that started day-1.

The 35th edition was always going to be memorable after three postponements, and while many thought this edition would be about handling a safe race around Covid, the reality was far from this. Covid has arguably not been mentioned or discussed since the start of stage-1. Instead, intense heat has been a major consideration, the death of a runner on day 2 and diarrhea and vomiting spreading through camp like a fire. The combination of self-sufficiency, rationed water and food, heat and sickness has all been too much for many and this is reflected in the finishing numbers. People were exhausted. Currently the exact cause of sickness is unknown or confirmed, it could be hyperthermia, bacteria, a bug, virus or maybe a combination of elements?

Starting in two waves, 0700 and 0830, runners had 12-hours to complete the course. The men’s race came down to a furious sprint with Mohamed El Morabity pipping a revived Mathieu Blanchard to the line.

Young sensation, Aziz Yachou placed 3rd and the boss, Rachid El Morabity placed 4th and in the process won his 8th Marathon des Sables.

The ever smiling and happy Tomomi Bitoh won the ladies race with a strong run. She was full of emotion and tears at the finish. The realisation of an intense week coming to a dream ending.

Aziza Raji finished 17-minutes later but her overall victory was secure and finally, a Moroccan female top-slot on the podium was a reality, the last occasion being 2008/ 2009 with Touda Didi.

Aicha Omrani had a tough day finishing down the field and although she retained a podium place, the strong run bt Tomomi elevated her to 2nd and placed Aicha 3rd overall.

Needless to say, it was an emotional day as the 351 starters streamed in. Every and any finish at MDS is coveted, but this 35th 2021 edition may well just be the most coveted. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for all concerned. Considerable highs and lows have taken its toll and the elation of the marathon day finish line and the sight of a medal is a pleasure for all.

For now, it’s time to celebrate the race and finishers. Send our love to the fallen and his family and remind all those who this year who were forced to withdraw, that they were in the arena.

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. 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 and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the 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 he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” – Roosevelt

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

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

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Marathon des Sables 2021 #MDS – Stage 4 (The Long Day)

The long day. The description and course distance for the toughest day of Marathon des Sables had been ket secret until the end of day-3. This in itself mentally challenged each and every runner. It played with the mind and of course, many asked questions of what the day would entail. In the end, the distance was a classic 82.5km with the unique challenge of climbing Jebel El Oftal during the night, except for the top and fast runners.

The mood of day 4 was mixed, there are two starts, the masses departing at 0815, the top-50 departing later at 1115.

Unfortunately, the devastation of heat and sickness and once again took its toll during day 3, during the night and in the morning of day 4. The exact drop out rate to be confirmed but certainly, statistics are showing that it is highly likely that less than 50% of the field will finish the 35th edition of this iconic race.

The illness and sickness has not only impacted on runners but also staff, logistical and medical teams making the race, at times, almost feel like a war zone.

However, the race goes on and with it, for some, a very well and hard earned medal at the finish.

Stage 4.

With over 20km’s of soft sand and dunes, the climb and descent of Jebel El Oftal, intense heat and balancing hydration and sickness, stage 4 of MDS was never going to be easy for anyone. This became apparent early on with many struggling to reach CP1.

The plan for most was to keep control and reduce stress during the day and then make the most of the cool night to gain time and ground.

Few were running. It was all about marching, one foot ahead of the other and survive.

Of course, the elite wave was slightly different with the top men and women still setting a relentless and excellent pace.

Aziza Raji for the women showed local knowledge and an understanding of the heat, the terrain and the race to excel on the 82.5km stage and take a convincing win. Aichi Omrani had showed great intention on day-1 of the race but has learnt as the race progressed that sometime less, is more. This was the case for the long day. She paced herself with Aziza but then settled at her own speed to maintain  a 6th place finish but her overall podium standing remaining 2nd. Race revelation, Tomomi Bitoh from Japan has run consistently well all race and on the long day she excelled finishing 3rd, always with an amazing smile and happiness. Severine Gaillez started in the early race start but set a great place to finish 2nd on the stage.

For the men, the expected challenge from French duo Mathieu Blanchard and Mérile Robert started well but sickness ruined Mathieu’s chances and while Mérile tagged Rachid El Morabity for a good percentage of the race, in the end, the Moroccan’s dominance and experience was just too great. Rachid took over the reigns at the front and ran a superb race.

Mohamed El Morabity once again finished 2nd behind his brother and Mériile finished 3rd.

Now the runners are fighting through another day for a coveted long day finish and the opportunity to tow the line of stage 5 and receive a 2021 35th edition medal from Patrick Bauer. The allocated time is 32-hours to complete stage 4’s 82.5km.

The elation of crossing the line is a special one.

Day 4 results (provisional):

  • Rachid El Morabity 8:46:16
  • Mohamed El Morabity 9:00:25
  • Mérile Robert 9:44:26

  • Aziza Raji 12:22:26
  • Severine Gaillez 14:45:57
  • Tomomi Bitoh 15:17:50

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.

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Episode 191 – Dr Jodie Moss

Episode 191Marathon des Sables discussion with Steve Diederich who co-hosts and Dr Jodie Moss tells us how to prepare for the heat!
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Talk Ultra is now on Tunein – just another way to make the show available for those who prefer not to use iTunes – HERE  You can download the Tunein APP HERE
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We have set up a Patreon page and we are offering some great benefits for Patrons… you can even join us on the show! This is the easiest way to support Talk Ultra and help us continue to create! 
Many thanks to our Patrons who have helped via PATREON
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*****
NEWS
Doyle Carpenter set a new WR for the M80-84 age group running 144.56 miles at Merrill’s Mile, USA.
James Stewart set a new FKT on the John Muir Way 130-miles 21:53:22
Mike Wardian ran the length of Delaware – 26:19:43 for approx 130-miles
Jo Meek set two FKT’s – Dartmoor 600 Challenge in 3:12 and Cornish Skyline in 2:55
Tofol Castanyer ran 54 peaks of 1000m+ in Spain in under 30 hours
Joey Campbell did the Nolans 14 in 41-hours
Damian Carr a Doble Ridgeway
David Riley ran a FKT for a Double and Triple Yorkshire 3 Peaks…
Xavier Thevenard is attempting the GR20, but it looks like he will not beat Francois D’Haene’s 31:06
Sabrina Verjee has started The Wainwrights in the UK. The record by Paul Tierney will take some breaking, tracking here
Erik Clavery will attempt the GR10 (current record 12 days 8 hours)
Rhys Jenkins to attempt Wales coast Path (870 miles)
Josh Pulattie currently on Oregon Coast Trail
To Start:
Jessica Pekari – PCT
Avery Collins – Nolans 14
Logan Williams – Tahoe Rim Trail
Aurelien Sanchez – GR10
Carla Molinaro – JOGLE
Alex Wright – Colorado Trail
Bexky Rogers – PCT
In other news…
Asif Amirat in the UK is creating a stir with his 100-marathons in 100-days. Many have been questioning his runs and becoming very vocal on social media. I have reached out to Asif for an interview.
RACES THAT WILL HAPPEN (tbc)
Montreux Trail Running Festival – Switzerland
Speedgoat 50k – USA
Fjallmaraton – Sweden
Rondane 100 – Norway
Pyrenees Stage Run – Spain
Marathon des Sables – Morocco
*****
INTERVIEW : DR JODIE MOSS
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The Coastal Challenge #TCC2020 – Stage 3 47.5km

The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica’s number one multi-day race moved to stage 3 and it conformed that there are no guarantees when it comes to racing. It was a day of drama and problems as the ‘Expedition’ runners travelled 47.5km to Playa Ballena.

The iconic Nauyaca Waterfall welcomed the runners after 12km but first a technical run through a river bed was the first challenge. Local runner and past TCC participant, Erick Agüero used his local knowledge and experience to take a lead over the Scott Athletes, Cody Lind and Andy Symonds. Race leader, Mauricio Mendez followed closely behind. We were seeing the Costa Rican runner take the race on by the horns.

Equally, the women’s race had Natalia López Arrieta taking a lead over race leader, Kaytlyn Gerbin.

Behind, 3rd on GC, Abelone Lyng followed just behind Manu Vilaseca who seemed to be having a better day in adapting to the heat. Unfortunately, at the waterfall, disaster struck for Vilaseca with a broken lace system on her ‘BOA’ shoes. Luckily, one of the race team offered their own shoes as a replacement… Vilaseca could race on.

Agüero was running hard today and by checkpoint 2 he had a 6-minute lead over Lind, Symonds and Mendoza who were pursuing together. It soon became clear that Mendoza had issues by the expression on his face.

Lind and Symonds cooled over with a water pipe and left. Mendoza by contrast, sat on the ground, removed his shoes and grimaced with pain. It turned out after the race he had Tendonitis.

Arrieta and Gerbin charged ahead at the front of the women’s race but behind, course sabotage sent Vilaseca and Lyng off course for approximately 4km on very tough terrain. It was the kind of disaster that can lose a runner 45-minutes. Later, the impact was clear to see as Lyng, who would have finished 3rd woman on the stage, eventually finished a little farther back losing a chunk of unnecessary time and effort.

At Hermosa Beach and all the way to the finish line, Agüero hello off the Scott athlete charge and won the stage for a great Costa Rican victory, the result providing him the overall lead of TCC2020 by less than one minute, his overall time 11:47:50.

Lind and Symonds finished together and they now 2nd and 3rd on the overall GC with a time of 11:48:39 and 11:51:08 respectively. Unfortunately, Mendez lost a chunk of time and the overall race lead a currently a podium place. It was a disastrous day for the young Mexican runner.

“I had some discomfort in my feet from day 2 but I thought it was just tiredness, however, in the first 3-miles of stage 3 I knew my foot was not good,” Mendez said at the finish line. “I was chasing Erick with Andy and Cody but the pain was terrible. I took time out at CP2 to cool off my foot and massage it but the damage was done. Not finishing was not an option so I pushed on and finished the stage. I have spoken with the medics and I have tendonitis… So, I am unsure what stage 4 will bring?”

For the women, Gerbin caught Arrieta and applied the pressure, once again she pulled away for a third stage win in three days, she now has an overall time of 13:53:26.

Arrieta ran a strong race and finished the stage 3 with an accumulated time of 14:38:53.

Lyng, despite the run off-course still occupies the 3rd podium place with an accumulated time 16:48:21 but finished 4th on the stage (7:39:11) behind Viviana Piedra Solano.

Stage 4 tomorrow is a tough day as the runners start the day with a tough climb, they then stay high and finish the day with a descent to Palmar Sur, the distance 36.2km. The Adventure race will cover 16.5km.

Ranking:

Men:

Erick Agüero 4:59:39 – Leader on GC

Andy Symonds/ Cody Lind 5:03:14

Mauricio Mendez 5:42:36

Women:

Kaytlyn Gerbin 6:01:21 – Leader on GC

Natalia López Arrieta 6:22:18

Vivian Piedra Solano 7:17:03

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.

The Coastal Challenge 2018 #TCC2018 – Registration

The 2018 The Coastal Challenge finally got underway today in San Jose, Costa Rica, as over 100 runners from all over the world came to packet pick up and registration for the 14th edition of the race.

As always, it was a mixture of nerves and excitement. The journey ahead, a stunning 6-days running along the coast of Costa Rica from Quepos to the iconic Drake Bay. Flanked on the right by the Pacific and to the left, the amazing Talamanca mountain range. 

The 2018 edition of the race has all the makings of a classic. The men’s field is arguably the best ever with Michael Wardian, Hayden Hawks, Tom Evans, Marcus Scotney and Timothy Olson.

Michael Wardian, TCC champion and previous course record holder.

Hayden Hawks 2017 CCC champion.

Tom Evans 3rd at MDS Morocco 2017 and 4th at CCC and the Eiger Ultra Trail.

Marcus Scotney winner of the Dragons Back Race and Cape Wrath Ultra.

The ladies’ race is equally impressive with past winner Ester Alves returning joined by Ragna Debats, Inge Nijkamp and Josephine Adams.

Ester Alves 2016 The Coastal Challenge champion.

Ragna Debats Skyrunner World Series champion 2017.

Inge Nijkamp 11th at MDS Morocco 2017.

Josephine Adams 6th at MDS Peru 2017.

Full preview HERE

Tomorrow, Sunday 11th, runners depart for San Jose at 0400 for the 4-hour journey to the coast.

It’s a tough day as the race will start at 0900, the sun will already be high in the sky and the heat intense. It’s a day when patience can prevail.

Follow the action as the race unfolds #TCC2018

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Tom Owens to race The Coastal Challenge 2017 #TCC2017

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Tom Owens is without doubt one of the most inspiring runners from the UK who performs consistently on the world stage. Fell runner, ultra runner and Skyrunner, Tom has pushed the world best.

Back in the day, Tom forged a reputation for himself with Andy Symonds at the Transalpine run where the duo were a formidable force. In recent years, Tom has mixed fell running and Skyrunning. In 2012, Tom placed 2nd behind Kilian Jornet at the iconic Trofeo Kima, he looked set to dominate the Skyrunning circuit but injury hit. Time away and keeping fit doing cyclocross, it was 2014 when the Glasgow based runner finally re-emerged at Transvulcania.

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Transvulcania was a surprise return… renowned for running shorter races, Tom stepped up to 70+km – an unknown commodity. Class shone through and he placed 6th. A 3rd at Ice Trail Tarentaise and then 4th at Trofeo Kima and we all knew – Tom was back.

2015 started really well with a win overseas at the Buffalo Stampede in Australia, 6th at Matterhorn Ultraks and arguably his best result came with 4th in the IAU Trail World Championships in Annecy.

©iancorless.com_Tromso2016-8577

Roll on to 2016 and Tom focused on the Skyrunning Extreme Series that combined all the elements that make Tom, the great runner that he is. Technical trails, altitude, distance and an ability to adapt to an ever-changing landscape. Victory at Tromso SkyRace and 5th at Trofeo Kima set Tom up for a potential overall title.

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Going into the Glencoe Skyline, a head-to-head being Tom and Jon Albon whet everyones appetites. On the day, Albon excelled and it was 2nd for the Scot.

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As 2016 comes to a close, Tom is looking ahead to 2017. Not known for his ability to handle heat and humidity, I wondered why Costa Rica?

“It looks beautiful, exciting and warm! I always like to escape the Scottish Winter for a week big volume warm weather running in January or February –  it seems to set me up well for the rest of the year.”

And what about the heat and humidity?

“The heat and humidity will be massively challenging. I’ve not worked out how to run well in these conditions. It will be my first big block of running in 2017 and so interesting to see how the body holds up. I also find running in sand really tough…”

Costa Rica may well prove to be much more of a test of running. We all know Tom can handle the rough and technical stuff – the river and bouldering sections will put the fell/ Skyrunner in the terrain that he loves. But Costa Rica will have sand too, albeit not soft sand. It may well be a whole new learning curve.

“It’s going to be  real challenge for sure but that is what makes it interesting! I will be at a disadvantage against pure multi-day runners but I will embrace it. Running day-after day is not really a problem, I love the technical stuff but it’s the heat and humidity that will really test me as I have already mentioned. I have really suffered in such races with cramps (I’m a big sweater) such as at Transvulcania, Buffalo Stampede and the recent World Trail Champs.”

Scotland and the UK is not going to be the ideal place train for a Costa Rican race in February, I wondered if Tom had any specific training plans to be prepared?

“I’m looking forward to trying some different strategies to cope with the heat – I hope the TCC will help me with the some of the other objectives that will take place in remainder of the year. In regard to training, I will aim to get back into regular running mid/late December or early January and build up some endurance. Beyond Coastal Challenge I have no 2017 plans yet. I only ended the 2016 season a couple of days ago – it was a really long (from Feb till end October) and fun season but now i’m enjoying a break and not doing any planning at the moment.” 

Competition in the men’s race will be fierce, the recent announcement of Sondre Amdahl’s participation will no doubt focus the mind of Tom and the other male competitors. But a physical and mental rest is required before thinking about 2017. One thing is for sure, Tom always races to win and he will be prepared come February.

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-3069

About the race:

The Coastal Challenge is a multi-day race over 6-days starting in the southern coastal town of Quepos, Costa Rica and finishing at the stunning Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, The Coastal Challenge is an ultimate multi-day running experience.

Intense heat, high humidity, ever-changing terrain, stunning views, Costa Rican charm, exceptional organisation; the race encompasses Pura Vida! Unlike races such as the Marathon des Sables, ‘TCC’ is not self-sufficient, but don’t be fooled, MDS veterans confirm the race is considerably harder and more challenging than the Saharan adventure.

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-2993

Hugging the coastline, the race travels in and out of the stunning Talamanca mountain range via dense forest trails, river crossings, waterfalls, long stretches of golden beaches backed by palm trees, dusty access roads, high ridges and open expansive plains. At times technical, the combination of so many challenging elements are only intensified by heat and high humidity that slowly but surely reduces even the strongest competitors to exhausted shells by the arrival of the finish line.

The Coastal Challenge which will take place Feb 10th – 19th, 2017.

All images ©iancorless.com – all rights reserved

ENTRIES ARE STILL AVAILABLE FOR THE 2017 EDITION

Email: HERE

Website: HERE

Facebook: HERE

Twitter: @tcccostarica

More information:

Read the full 2016 race story HERE

View and purchase images for the 2016 race HERE

Follow #TCC2017

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-1567

Anna Comet to run The Coastal Challenge 2017

©iancorless.com_AnnaComet (1 of 1)

The Coastal Challenge are pleased to announce that Anna Comet (Spain), two times winner of the Everest Trail Race will participate in the 2017 edition of the race.

A multi-day race over 6-days starting in the southern coastal town of Quepos, Costa Rica and finishing at the stunning Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, The Coastal Challenge is an ultimate multi-day running experience.

Intense heat, high humidity, ever-changing terrain, stunning views, Costa Rican charm, exceptional organisation; the race encompasses Pura Vida! Unlike races such as the Marathon des Sables, ‘TCC’ is not self-sufficient, but don’t be fooled, MDS veterans confirm the race is considerably harder and more challenging than the Saharan adventure.

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-0873

Hugging the coastline, the race travels in and out of the stunning Talamanca mountain range via dense forest trails, river crossings, waterfalls, long stretches of golden beaches backed by palm trees, dusty access roads, high ridges and open expansive plains. At times technical, the combination of so many challenging elements are only intensified by heat and high humidity that slowly but surely reduces even the strongest competitors to exhausted shells by the arrival of the finish line.

2017 will signify the ‘lucky for some’ 13th edition and building on the success of the 2016 edition, Central America’s most important multi-day race looks set to elevate itself to new heights with this first of six announcements about the elite field who will undertake the race next year.

©iancorless.com_AnnaComet (7 of 1)

Anna Comet in recent years has shot to fame as a trail and mountain runner after a very successful career as an Alpine skier and ski mountaineer. Her 2014 victory at the Everest Trail Race (also a multi-day race) paved the way for a strong and consistent Skyrunning year in 2015.

Born in Girona, the mountain has always been a passion for Anna. A 4-year stint living in the French Alps at 14-years old and 2-years in Andorra laid the foundations for selection for the Spanish National Team for Alpine Skiing. A 6-year career saw Anna race many European Cups and the FIS World Cup Races.

Injury unfortunately removed Anna from competitive sport for 4-years and when she returned, trail running and ski mountaineering were her chosen disciplines.

Although my heart says to me that I have to keep pushing on ski mountaineering competition, common sense and my mind are pushing me to focus all my efforts to one goal; trail running. I feel that this is what I have to do! – Anna Comet

Despite placing 6th on two occasions at Pierramenta, 2nd at Patrouille des glaciers and many top 10-places on the World Cup races, during the 2014 season Anna slowly moved purely to trail and mountain running. Victory at the 2014 Everest Trail Race confirmed she had made a wise decision.

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You have raced multi-day races twice before, the Everest Trail Race, on both occasions you won. What do you like about multi-day racing?

EN: I think there are two big special things: 1. there is more race strategy than in other races and 2. the contact and the experience with the rest of the racers is very special.

SP: Creo que hay dos cosas muy especiales: 1. hay más estrategia que en otro tipo de carreras y 2. el contacto y la convivencia con el resto de corredores es muy especial.

The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica will be very different to Nepal, what is the attraction?

EN: The biggest attraction is that it will be very different to Nepal and to all the other races I have done before; the terrain, the heat, the sea, etc.

SP: La mayor atracción es esto, será muy distinto que Nepal y que el resto de carreras que he hecho antes, el terreno, el calor, el mar, etc.

©iancorless.com_AnnaComet (2 of 1)

Like ETR, TCC is not self-sufficient, you dont need to carry all your equipment like MDS, is that more appealing? You are free to run!

EN: Of course yes! I like running free, you can run faster and one of the things that I like most of running is to run as fast as I can.

SP: Por supuesto! Me gusta correr libre, se puede correr más rápido y una de las cosas que más me gusta de correr es hacerlo tan rápido como pueda.

High heat and intense humidity makes the TCC an extreme challenge, will you prepare specifically for this?

EN: I would like to, but I think it will be impossible. In Catalonia where I live it is cold from November, so I will have to get used to the heat and humidity during my stay in Costa Rica.

SP: Me encantaría pero creo que será imposible. En Cataluña, donde vivo, hace frío a partir de noviembre… así que tendré que acostumbrarme cuando llegue a Costa Rica

©iancorless.com_AnnaComet (8 of 1)

You have excelled at Skyrunning in recent years, will the combination of technical trails, water crossings, climbing etc, of Costa Rica appeal to you?

EN: I’m sure of it! I am really looking forward to going and running there!

SP: Estoy segura que si! Tengo muchas ganas de ir y correr allí!

TCC is almost 1-year away and you have a busy year ahead, what does your race calendar look like for 2016?

EN: This year I’m going to participate in all the races of the Skyrunner World Series. I am going to start in may with Transvulcania, then USM (Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira) in Madeira in June, Ultra Trail Vanoise (formerly Ice Trail) in Val d’sere in July, The Rut, USA in September and Ultra Pirineu, Spain in September again.

SP: Este año volveré a participar en las carreras del Ultra World Tour de la ISF: Empezaré en mayo en Transvulcania, después Madeira en junio, Val d’isère en julio, USA en setiembre y UP también en setiembre.

What are your long term goals with running?

EN: My goals for this season is to be the best that I can be in the Skyrunner World Series and of course, enjoy what I do!

SP: Mis objetivos para esta temporada es probar de volver a quedar entre las mejores de las world series y, por supuesto, disfrutar de lo que hago.

Do you have a dream race other than The Coastal Challenge?

EN: There are a lot of races around the world and a lot of nice places to go. I like to go step-by-step, I’ve been twice to Nepal and now I really want to go to Cost Rica.

SP: Hay muchas carreras y muchos lugares bonitos en el mundo. Me gusta ir paso a paso, he estado dos años en Nepal y ahora me apetece mucho ir a Costa Rica.

Ester Alves won the TCC in 2016, you have raced against her in Skyrunning races, should she return to Costa Rica to defend her crown, would you embrace the challenge?

EN: Of course! I like to compete against strong competition. I think it’s a chance to grow as athlete and to become better. And of course I will be happy to meet Ester in competition and then relax later in the camp chatting.

SP: Por supuesto! Me gusta competir con buenas corredoras. Creo que es la forma de crecer como atleta y mejorar día a día. Y por supuesto me encantará conocerla en competición y después en el campamento tranquilamente.

Anna, any final thoughts

EN: Since I decided to go to TCC next year I can’t stop watching videos and photos from there! I’m excited!

SP: Desde que he decidido ir a TCC el próximo año no puedo parar de mirar videos y fotos! Estoy emocionada!

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In a very short space of time, Anna has elevated her status as one of the worlds best female Skyrunner’s as reflected in her 2015 results.

  • 2nd Transvulcania Ultramarathon, La Palma, Spain
  • 5th European Skyrunning Championships, Ice Trail Tarentaise, Val D’Isere, France.
  • 2nd Mont-Blanc 80km, Chamonix, France.
  • 4th Matterhorn Ultraks, Zermatt, Switzerland.
  • 1st Everest Trail Race, Nepal – new course record
  • Ranked 3rd lady overall in the ISF Skyrunning World Series 2015.

A full 2016 calendar lies ahead but rest assured, Anna will be firing on all cylinders for the 2017 edition of The Coastal Challenge which will take place Feb 10th – 19th, 2017.

All images ©iancorless.com – all rights reserved

Contact Information

Email: HERE

Website: HERE

Facebook: HERE

Twitter: @tcccostarica

Global Contacts: HERE

Follow #TCC2017

More information:

Read the full 2016 race story HERE

View and purchase images for the 2016 race HERE

You can read daily reports from the 2016 edition HERE

TCC_2017_JoinUs?

Beat The Heat ( Part One) – Marc Laithwaite

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This week we’re starting a series of articles titled ‘environmental physiology’. We’re going to open with a 2 part series relating to exercise in the heat (I say 2 parts, but who knows what could happen by next week). Following that, we’ll take a look at altitude training and potential benefits.

But before we go on, why not catch up on our seven part series of posts on RACE DAY NUTRITION HERE

Too Hot? Call The Police & Fireman…

Exercise in the heat can place a lot of strain upon your body, if you’re used to cooler climates. For this reason, many elite athletes will spend time acclimatising to the higher temperature. Acclimatisation can require up to 14 days, so what if you’re an amateur athlete travelling abroad for an endurance event, who can’t afford to travel 3 weeks before the event? Well this blog is quite timely for me, as I’m off to Lanzarote in less than 4 weeks for the Ironman triathlon and potentially, it could be very hot. There’s probably quite a few people reading this blog who are traveling abroad this year to take part in triathlon or running events in hot places. The purpose of this blog is to explain simple ways, which you can acclimate your body beforehand and explain the physiological changes, which take place to improve your performance.

Too hot? You Make A Dragon Want To Retire Man…

In a nutshell, when you exercise in hot climates, your core temperature rises and your performance suffers. If your core temperature rises too much, it could potentially be lethal, so your brain is pretty quick to try and stop that happening, by persuading you to stop!

How do we reduce core temperature?

There 2 main ways, the first is ‘convection’ and the second is ‘sweat evaporation’.

Convection

Think about a car radiator, it’s positioned right at the front of the car as that’s where the wind hits it when you’re driving. Heat is generated in the engine, this in turn heats the water which is then pumped to the radiator. The wind hits the radiator, cools the water and the cool water goes back into the engine to pick up more heat. This cycle continues, to keep removing heat from the engine, which is why it’s important to keep the fluid topped up or your car will overheat! The human body works the same way, heat is generated in the engine and your blood then picks up the heat. The blood is pumped to the coolest part of the body (the skin), where the wind hits it and cools the blood. It then returns back into the engine to pick up more heat and the cycle continues.

If the wind is blowing against your skin whilst you exercise, convection may well be enough to keep you cool and maintain a normal body temperature. It’s easier to do this when cycling, compared to running, as your speed is generally higher, so the wind chill is greater. Runners will notice that treadmill running leads to more sweating than running outside as the air temperature is generally warmer, but also you’re not moving, so there’s no air flow past the skin and therefore no wind chill or convection. The same can be said about indoor cycling or using a turbo trainer, especially if you don’t have a fan blowing.

Let’s use the treadmill running or turbo cycling scenarios as an example. If there’s no air flow past your skin to cool the blood, then in effect, you pump hot blood to the skin surface, it doesn’t get cooled, so the hot blood goes back into the engine / core. That’s a sure fire way to overheat. This is the same as leaving your car engine running on a hot day, whilst stuck in a traffic jam. If you’re not moving, there’s no wind hitting the radiator, so convection cooling can’t happen.

Sweating

Sweating is based on ‘evaporation’. Water from your body cells makes it’s way to the skin and as the hot blood arrives, the heat is passed from the blood into the water droplets (leaving the blood cool). The heated water on your skin, evaporates into the air like water from a boiling pan and takes the heat with it. If you’re running on a treadmill and there’s no convection, you need another method of getting rid of heat, so the sweating and evaporation will kick in.

It’s important to recognise that ‘evaporation’ removes the heat, so any sweat on your skin, clothing or floor, serves no purpose other than to lead to dehydration. 

Convection and sweating don’t compliment each other too well

If you’re racing in hot weather, convection isn’t enough so you’ll also sweat to keep your temperature down. As you sweat, you lose fluid from your body and this leads to a drop in blood plasma (plasma is the fluid/water component of blood). The problem is that you need a lot of blood for convection to work well. When you’re exercising, blood is pumped to the exercising muscles and what’s left is pumped to the vital organs. So what happens when you then need to pump extra blood to the skin to cool down? Do you reduce blood flow to the muscles and vital organs? It sounds like a great idea to keep you cool, but where is this extra blood coming from? As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re now sweating and the amount of blood you have is dropping. So not only do you have to supply muscles, organs and the skin, you’ve got less and less blood available as sweating continues.

Blood is made up of plasma (fluid) and cells (red/white/platelets). When you sweat, you lose plasma, but not cells. This means that the total amount of blood is reduced and it also gets thicker (same number of cells but less fluid). 

What does this mean in terms of performance?

As you’ve probably guessed already, this isn’t good for performance. Heart rate is generally higher for any level of exercise. This is due to the fact that you’re trying to pump blood to all areas of your body and your total blood volume is dropping. Your cardiovascular system is therefore working overtime, trying to match the demand with a struggling supply. Due to fluid and salt losses, your body becomes dehydrated and cells cannot function correctly. We’ve mentioned previously that salt is required for transporting fluid throughout the body and as high amount of salt can be lost in sweating, this mechanism is impaired.

Something of great importance, which is less frequently discussed, is the change in substrate utilisation. Whilst the exact mechanism is still under question, it’s pretty clear that you use more carbohydrates and therefore empty your glycogen stores more quickly when exercising in the heat. The simple explanation is that that there’s a lack of ‘spare blood’ going to the muscles, due to the fact it’s going to the skin for cooling. Fat metabolism requires more oxygen than carbohydrate metabolism so there’s a switch from fat to carbohydrate. This may also be explained by a switch from ‘slow twitch’ to ‘fast twitch’ fibres, which use less oxygen.

All in all, this isn’t looking too good. We’ve got an ever-decreasing blood volume, which is being pulled in several different directions. We’ve got decreasing salt levels and an onset of dehydration. We’ve got a heart rate which is significantly higher than it should be for the intensity we’re exercising at and to cap it all off, we’re running out of carbohydrates at a faster rate than normal.

Don’t worry help is at hand. Next week we’ll discuss how acclimatisation helps you to deal with the issues and explain the physiological changes responsible.

Until then, stay cool.

– Marc

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

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