Heat Acclimation – Dr Jodie Moss

Heat is often debilitating for a runner. Heat cramp, heat exhaustion, dehydration, heat stroke, headaches and the desire just to stop are all very real problems.

As the summer season approaches, running in a hot climate is sometimes unavoidable, however, racing in a hot climate is relatively controllable as you will understand in advance the race, the environment and the expected temperatures one can expect.

Understanding the conditions of ones running and racing environment is crucial to make the best of all the hard training you have done. So, one needs to adapt and plan.

Heat acclimatisation takes place in a natural environment where one can specifically prepare in advance of a chosen race or project, ideally for 7-14 days before the event. For most of us though, the luxury of travelling for 14-days and having an acclimatisation holiday is not a realistic proposition.

This is where Heat Acclimation comes in. In simple terms, this is about providing heat stress in a controlled environment, typically a heat chamber, over a set period of time and sessions.

Dr Jodie Moss has specialised in heat acclimation and in the process, put her learning to real time use at the 2019 Marathon des Sables where she placed 8th woman.

Jodie at MDS

With Marathon des Sables approaching, it is timely to re-visit and gain a full understanding of what is required to acclimate to heat with an interview with Dr Jodie from July 2020.

Podcast HERE.

What is it about heat that makes running so difficult?

You are imposed upon by a different challenge. What happens is you create this metabolic heat by contracting your muscles. When one runs, you use muscle mass and this generates heat. When you then exercise in a hot environment, particularly if it is greater than skin temperature, then this makes it very difficult to get rid of heat. Humans are not the most efficient mechanically, so this energy from contracting muscles, potentially around 20 to 30% of the mechanical energy being made is converted to chemical energy, that means 70%, maybe even more, needs to be eradicated in the environment. If the environment is hot, for example, the Sahara, a challenge is imposed to eradicate the heat and what often happens is is that the heat is stored and one feels hotter and this then has a cascade effect of issues and problems, physiologically and perceptually.

Physiologically:

An increase in skin temperature is likely the one which is noticed first as it is directly impacted upon by the environment. There will be an increased demand for blood flow that needs to go to muscle to provide it with oxygen/ energy to run, but also there is a competition for blood flow to the skin. In order to thermo regulate, blood is competing with muscles and skin and that creates an impact on one’s cardiovascular system. Typically, heart rate will increase due to the increased workload sending blood to muscles and skin.

Body core temperature will increase.

Sweet rate will also increase and therefore the percentage of water loss will increase and the consequence of this is dehydration – a deficit in body water with onward complications.

Perceptually:

We thermally perceive it to be a lot hotter.

You are more uncomfortable.

The feeling of needing to slow down and therefore performance is impacted.

Is heat acclimation as valid for the runner at the front, as well as the runner at the back?

In principal, yes. However, if we take Marathon des Sables as an example and the winner, Rachid El Morabity, he is a Moroccan, he lives in the environment in which the race takes place, therefore he is naturally acclimatising on all his training runs. Therefore, he has no need to acclimate artificially.

Highly trained individuals though, through training, can gain thermal adaptations, irrespective of environment. For example, if you are training everyday, particularly at a high percentage of VO2max, one will create heat this will require a higher sweat rate and therefore adaptation takes place. But, interventions should be in place both acute and chronic, to minimise the effect of environment on performance. Environment, will always have an impact on performance, no matter which athlete.

Acclimate for the heat.

When is a good time to start adapting to heat and how?

It is a consideration for close to competition, typically in a period of 7 to 21-days. Adaptation from exposure diminishes rapidly, so, there is no need to do this too far away from the chosen event. 

Now of course, if one is fortunate with time, the best scenario is to travel to the race location and adapt naturally in the environment of the race. However, very few have such a luxury and this is where acclimating as opposed to acclimatising steps in.

However, budget can be an issue, so it is possible to adapt via some simple home methods. Keep one’s training as planned, say by a coach, and then add layers of clothing while training. Have a hot bath after training. One can also consider Bikram Yoga and say saunas. But, and this is a big but, while some of these interventions will have some benefit, it is not something that can be recommended completely as it is harder to prescribe and measure.

We want heat adaptation and these adaptations only occur when there is sufficient thermal strain.

As an example, one could run for an hour with layers and build heat. Then immediately have a hot bath. Water has a greater density than air and the heat inside the body would be retained and most likely increase, this would stress the system. But, the issues arise with how long does one do this… Ultimately though, this is considerably better than nothing!

By far the best way, is environmental heat chamber.

Environmental Heat Chamber

The jury is still out on what is the optimal sessions for performance gain, however, five sessions would be considered fundamental over a period of 7 to 14-days. This period has shown results of a much more fulfilled adaptation. The pseudo motor function (sweat rate) takes a little longer to occur, but all the other measurements, cardiovascular and lowering core body temp occurs quite rapidly. So, based on sweat rate, a longer period of time provides the best results.

 In regard to the sessions, they could be performed every 2-days, every other day, every day and some even do 2 sessions per day. But obviously time and budget is a huge factor.

It is also important to remember that these sessions take place close to competition, so, monitoring stress and recovery is equally important. 

In regard to session length, 60-minutes is usually adequate and this allows the body to get hot enough.

I get asked about adding a run pack and weight, for example, MDS is a self-sufficient race and a pack is required. On the start line, the minimum weight will be 8kg. But training with this in the heat is not necessary, but some insist as it provides security, comfort and a greater understanding of what the Sahara, as an example, may feel like. But this adds additional stress and the sessions are about heat adaptation.

The Protocol

Isothermic heat acclimation intervention is typical. We get you to exercise so that your core reaches a certain temperature. For this we use a rectal thermistor. This ensures that you meet the thermal stimulus, crucial for sessions like this.  

We measure body weight naked and this allows us to monitor fluid intake and sweat rate. We can test urine to look at hydration status too. This is all about making the client aware of hydration and levels. We also want the client to leave a session re-hydrated!

A treadmill or bicycle is used. Personally, I prefer the bike as it adds less impact to the body. It’s important to remember, these sessions are about heat adaptation, they are not training sessions. A 5-minute check will include hear rate, core temperature, skin temperature, perception of thermal environment, how hot does the client think it is? And finally, I will ask how comfortable the client is. Then, the exercise will begin.

We aim for a core of 38.5 degrees in each session. This is ideal for pseudo motor and thermo functions to be maximised. It ensures that we are always controlling and meeting a fixed criteria. Measuring the thermal strain is key. It usually takes about 30-minutes to get to 38.5 degrees depending on the individual. But external factors do have an impact. 

We typically see improvements by session 3. But it is important to have, say 10-minutes of each session fixed, that way we can monitor improvement and adaptation. We can gain the data here and then report back. Day 5 to day 7 will show the most improvement. So, 7-sessions.

Time can be an issue and some may prefer to squeeze two sessions per day and compress 7-days, say, into 3 or 4. This is possible and literature confirms this. Total exposure is more important than days.

Ideally, the last session would be 1 or 2-days before departure for the chosen race.

What problems can occur without acclimation and how does one mitigate it?

A runner will be faced with a physical and perceptual challenge that will have negative effects. They will be slower, frustrated, dehydrated and have a potential of heat stroke and ultimately they may not finish the race. If any of these elements are experienced, try to cool as much as possible, seek shade at aid stations, rest and allow the core to lower. Hydrate and use spare water to provide a perceptual cooling. Water on face, head, forearms and neck will help a little.  

On a personal note:

I did not have the perfect race and that is what makes me keep signing up to race. My heat protocols were great but I compromised my training and I was surprised with 8th place. I had an amazing support system and I do have chronic heat exposure, I am also very good at getting rid of heat. I also sweat high. But I need to be careful on dehydration. I made a mistake with my pack trying to make it as light as possible but I compromised my pack integrity and this hurt my back. I look forward to going back, I hope in 2021.

Jodie with her medal.

Top 3 tips to get ready in regard to heat and training.

1. Have a heat protocol as outlined above.

2. Test all kit and nutrition, leave nothing to chance.

3. Do not panic. Trust the training you have done. Do not increase mileage and training in the light stages. Do not risk injury or illness. Be healthy.

Seeking shade at the 2021 MDS.

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Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail

A Multi-Day race or a long-distance ultra is a huge undertaking. For many, it’s a 12-month project (or longer) that slowly but surely can consume every available day, hour, minute and second.

I get it, a long-distance race over multiple days in an unfamiliar terrain can leave more questions than answers. However, don’t panic, it’s not that complicated – read HERE.

As your key adventure looms, it’s time to focus the mind, body, and equipment so that you can plan for and anticipate all that may go wrong and right while undertaking this key target.

Quite simply, the old saying, ‘Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail’ does and can ring true.

So, what can be done?

Luck can have a place in any success; however, it should never be relied on. In multi-day events, particularly self-sufficient ones, the need to fine tune everything is a key element.

  • Training.
  • Kit.
  • Mind.

All of the above have very important roles to play in success.

  1. Get the training wrong, you may not have the fitness or an injury that will result in you not achieving the finish line.
  2. Get the kit wrong, be it too heavy, not durable or inappropriate may impact on your ability to achieve your goal.
  3. Many say the mind is a key and an integral part of any success. Often, the body can be willing, but the mind can be weak, get the mind focused and prepared.

You need to be prepared for whatever your multi-day adventure will throw at you.

In the final phase of training, 6-8 weeks before your adventure starts, is a great time to start working on the final phases and plans that will help ensure success.

THE PREPARE PHASE

If we assume that tapering will take 2 to 3-weeks, this key ‘Prepare Phase’ should be in weeks 4, 5, 6 and 7 before D-Day.

Train and prepare specifically.

First and foremost, understand the challenge that you are undertaking. You may feel that you already have a grasp on this, but there is no harm sitting down and going through all they key aspects. Terrain, weather, mandatory kit, distance, and conditions. Look at the October 2021 edition of Marathon des Sables, the race started with a series of protocols to manage Coronavirus. Ultimately, Coronavirus was not a consideration, it was extreme heat, sickness and stomach problems.

Understand the event and challenge.

Walk, WALK, WALK! – Walking will (for most) be an absolute essential skill to complete any multi-day adventure. You may think you will run most of the distance… But experience confirms that walking is a key to success. Walking, and walking with purpose is a skill. Practice. Consider poles, they may enhance your walking experience, if so, practice and use them.

Learn to walk.

Without doubt you will have long days, and some will go in to the night and through the night. Take time and plan and include a session like this in the ‘Prepare Phase!’ Understand here that this is an opportunity to test kit, not only yourself. Is your head torch bright enough, how do temperatures vary, how does my appetite and requirement for fluid change etc. By doing this in training, you do it in a safe environment. If it all goes badly, you can always make a call and get picked up or get a taxi. You can’t do that in your race or event. Darkness and nighttime can play tricks.

Back-to-back runs may well have featured in your training but running/ walking tired is a skill. However, be careful how you plan this in training. You want adapt body and mind, not break them.

Practice makes perfect.

Perform training with rationed water and race/ event food. You need to learn what works and what doesn’t work. It’s all very well going for a long run and then getting home and eating chocolate and drinking Coca Cola – can you do that in your event? Mentally this can be a real tough challenge – be prepared.

Get a pack that fits perfectly and does not bounce.

Your pack will be with you for the duration of your event. It must be as light as possible and also sturdy enough to last the challenge without breaking. Be minimalist on equipment and purchase the lightest equipment possible. Remember though, lightweight can often mean less durable, less warm, less functional and so on… Better to break or damage equipment in training so that you can make changes ready for the important challenge ahead. Modify and adapt.

Be specific!

Be specific. Snow, mountains, altitude, heat, or cold. Understand the demands that will be placed on you in your challenge and plan for a specific phase (typically in the 2-3 weeks before the event) to help acclimate. This could be a heat chamber, it could be arriving early before an event and adjusting to high altitude, it could be some specific cold, ice or snow training.

Try out food for an adventure in training.

Plan an ‘event simulation’ that will require you to run for a specific distance, be self-sufficient overnight, sleep in a similar scenario/ situation to your event and then get up and run the next day. This can be a key element in understanding what does and does not work. Is your sleeping mat comfortable? Is the sleeping bag warm? Did your food taste good? How easy was it to cook? How about snacks, did they work? How was the pack weight and distribution of contents?

Spend a night out in training to find out what does and does not work.

Train with your pack and add weight, however, be careful NOT to do too much training with too much weight. This can result in injury. In addition, learn how to pack your bag so that it sits comfortably with minimal bounce. Understand where to put snacks so that you can access them on the go.

Look after feet – many failures come via poor shoe choice and foot care.

Feet and shoes. Please do not ask. ‘What shoe shall I use for ‘X’ Event?’ Runners are individuals and what works for one does not work for others. Gait, foot shape, foot width, foot length, toe length, run conditions and so on all impact. Read THIS article on how to find the correct run shoe.

Water and hydration is key to success.

Food glorious food. Calories are essential for an event, so is what they weigh. Understand food and its nutritional values and make sound educated choices that balance fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Also understand that taste changes. Sweet may be ok early on but typically savory is better as time passes. Is beef jerky better than nuts? What food rehydrates quickly or with cold/ warm water? Should I take bars? What about protein drinks? So many questions… They need answering!

Shops are not always available.

You only have to do three things at most multi-day events:

  • Run.
  • Eat.
  • Sleep.

All three impact on each other, so, make sure you have all of them dialed.

Finally, remember, we are all individual. What works for one person, will not work for another. It is your responsibility to take ownership of yourself, the challenge you are undertaking and the challenges it will bring. Ultimately, that is why you signed up, no?

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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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I’m Ian Corless and she is Elisabet Barnes Keep running

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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