PYRAMID TRAINING for Marathon des Sables

Marathon des Sables has just finished and now, runners from all over the world are looking ahead to April and the next edition of the race.

It’s daunting and it can be intimidating.

Planning is key. All runner’s need to periodise training so that you get the most from it.

This ‘planning’ often comes in the form of a PYRAMID. The ‘classic’ pyramid training method is well established.

BUT, in this article I want us to look at this pyramid in two ways by looking at two different runners.

Runner 1– Runs regularly but MDS is a new target and pushes the boundaries of what they thought possible.

Runner 2– Has completed MDS and wants to go back and improve.

First of all, both runners need to count back. Let’s assume that training will start in June.

  1. April – MDS race.
  2. March
  3. February
  4. January
  5. December
  6. November
  7. October
  8. September
  9. August
  10. July
  11. June

Counting back, it’s easy to look at the objective in real terms and understand what one needs to achieve.

Depending on experience, how this plan is put together is very much dependent on the individual. However, certain key elements should be present in any training plan and this article is intended to provide the basics from which you can develop a strategy that works for you. I must stress, for you!

RUNNER 1

As stated, runner 1 “Runs regularly but MDS is a new target and pushes the boundaries of what they thought possible.”Therefore, a classic pyramid will be ideal.

See below:

Decide on objectives for the year, decide onCand targets, obviously, the ultimate A is MDS. Put them in a diary and ideally have a wall planner so that you have an overview of the year. It’s easy to see how a year looks on a planner. C should be something that one trains through, can be more challenging and have a taper for, A is very specific such as a training camp.

For example:

  1. April – MDS race – A RACE
  2. March
  3. February
  4. January – A
  5. December
  6. November – B
  7. October
  8. September
  9. August – C
  10. July
  11. June

MDS is a long way, typically 250km sobase training and getting the miles in is key. I have allocated 12 weeks for this in the plan below. Hours of easy miles progressively building up to a target, let’s say a marathon. It is always good to have a goal and a target to aim for. The is a training race/ event and will have no taper, you would race through it as a training long run.

Progressing through the season, this will be ‘the build phase’ so it’s a good idea to place a objective, in this case, November.  The B will allow you to progress to the objective and then the ultimate goal.

You can’t perform well at every event and this is why C,and targets are important. Ultimately, MDS is the one in which you must perform.

As in any plan, flexibility is needed. Nothing is fixed and one must be flexible and listen to one’s body. I recommend building for 3 weeks, recovering on the 4thweek and then building again (see the pyramid above)

  • 12 weeks of base – June/ July/ August
  • 8 weeks – September/ October
  • 6 weeks – November/ December
  • 4 weeks – December
  • 3 weeks – January
  • 3 weeks – Specific phase – February/ March
  • 3 weeks – Preparation phase – March
  • 3 weeks – Taper to event – March/ April
  • RACE

BE SPECIFIC

Marathon des Sables will need you to be specific. For example:

  • You will be carrying a pack that on day-1 of the race will weight at minimum, 8kg.
  • You will be racing in hot conditions.
  • You will be self-sufficient.
  • You will be compromised on calories.
  • You will almost certainly walk more than you anticipate.

The above list goes on and on and as training progresses, you should refer the list and asses importance. For now, I would place the above list in the following priority: walk!

No need to worry about the pack and the self-sufficient element now, the priority is on training.

As training progresses asses, one’s strengths and weaknesses and then adjust the plan.

  • Do you need to work on strength and core?
  • If you have poles, do you know how to use them?
  • Are you recovering?
  • How is your diet?
  • What is my resting heart rate, is it fluctuating?
  • Am I being specific and thinking of the race terrain and simulating it?

And so, on and so on. The above questions are a starting point. Read through the list and add your own questions to appraise what type of runner you are.

As the time progresses, not only will you feel more confident, you will be able to understand what needs to be done to achieve your goal.

RUNNER 2

As stated, runner 2 “Has completed MDS and wants to go back and improve.”

You may say, well, the above pyramid for runner 1 applies here.

Yes and no?

I want to throw a curve ball in here and suggest reversing the pyramid.

For runner 1, the emphasis is building a base and then slowly but surely progressing up the pyramid to the pinnacle, MDS. Speedwork and faster sessions are not as important as building the endurance for the event, speed will form a very small element of training.

But we know that runner 2 already has a good base of fitness. How do we know? Well, they have already completed MDS…

So, if they are going back to the race, almost certainly, they will be looking to progress. So, before planning training, the following should be asked:

  • Did they lack endurance?
  • Did they lack speed?
  • Was strength and core weak?
  • Were they mentally strong?

With answers to the following, one can look at the pyramid in a new way, turn it upside down and instead of putting a priority on long steady sessions early on, they can place a priority on:

  • Strength and core
  • Speedwork
  • The mental approach

Speed training is usually used to add the finishing touches to a solid block of training. But as stated, as an MDS finisher, they already have endurance, so, working on speed now is a great use of time.

  • June, July and August can be used to get faster and stronger with a C target, something like a fast(er) half-marathon or marathon.
  • September and October can be used to add endurance to the speed so that longer sessions can also be faster and at the end, a B target.
  • November, December and January can then be used to add speed to the endurance to complete the event and importantly, the long day. This period can can have an A objective.
  • February is about adding the finishing touches.
  • March about being specific and the tapering.

If you are someone looking to perform and improve, you need to be more self-critical. Plan your training and periodise your training so that you are able to (hopefully) predict good form on 1 or multiple Arace days in a year. This is not easy.

Remember you can only hold form for a limited length of time and if you want to peak, you need to make sure that this planning stage is done early so that you understand what you are trying to achieve. It’s all about stepping stones. And make sure you consider the terrain that the race will take place on.

Finally…

This article is not a hard and fast plan, it’s a guide for you to go away, look at your targets having assessed past targets and hopefully it makes you think about future objectives so that you can plan for a successful, injury free year of running and racing.

Are you runner 1 or runner 2?

There are many more questions to ask and points to consider when planning but these should come after getting the training plan and schedule prepared.

  • Preparing for heat. (Heat chamber)
  • Planning equipment.
  • Working on food for the race.

Fancy an early season multi-day TRAINING CAMP? Join us in Lanzarote with 2x Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes HERE

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Long Term Goal Setting and Planning for Ultra Running

The Long Term Goal

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Recently I have produced several articles that have been created to help runners formulate a plan for a new year of racing and training. The articles have been as follows:

  • Planning a Running and Racing Year HERE
  • To Base Train or not to Base Train HERE
  • Base Training HERE
  • How long should the long run be? HERE
  • In addition, I wrote several articles on walking and how important it is to practice this for:
  • Ultra running HERE
  • Walking with poles HERE
  • Walking efficiency when climbing HERE

Recently I was involved in a series of discussions about the Marathon des Sables. One thing that became very clear is the panic and apprehension many runners feel about a goal that may well be a ‘one-off’ or lifetime goal.

Experienced runners will know how to goal set, they will know how to periodise and plan their training so that they hopefully arrive at a target event in peak form. This was discussed in Planning a Running and Racing Year (HERE). However, goals that go beyond one macrocycle (one year) require a much greater perspective and overview. If you are new to running, well, it can be just terrifying.

A great deal of advice can be extremely counter productive as it makes many runners feel inadequate, inexperienced, lacking confidence and in the worse scenarios even questioning if they should even go ahead with the race.

Let’s be clear. Everyone is an individual, I have yet to find two runners who need the same training plan or structure. However, certain scenarios work for all and it is with this in mind that I am writing this post.

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Why not join our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote with 2x MDS Champion, Elisabet Barnes? Information HERE

Why set a long term goal?

Long term goals provide incredible motivation to step out of the door and to train. You will have heard the saying, ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it!’

To that end, iconic races such as UTMB and Marathon des Sables, are races that for many are the ultimate race, they are races to be built up to and therefore a macrocycle is not enough time to prepare; hence long term goal setting.

Irrespective of experience, two key words come in to play when setting a long term plan: Structured and Progressive.

In this scenario, I am using goal setting for Marathon des Sables.

STRUCTURE

A macrocycle is one training year and this is broken down into mesocycles. It may sound like a fancy word but a mesocycle is a series of blocks of training that make up one macrocycle. For purposes of explanation, let’s assume that you are running the Marathon des Sables which takes place in April 2020.

I always recommend getting a year planner so that you get a big picture of what lies ahead. Fourteen months may seem like a long way off, it is, no need to panic, but also don’t become complacent. What’s important here is experience. I am therefore going to have two runners.

Please Note – This guide below is geared towards someone who aims to run as much as possible at MDS. Very few run all of MDS and most walk considerably more than they think. For me, walking is a key element to a very successful training plan. The structure below still applies, the sessions would adjust accordingly.

Runner A has run a marathon, runs to keep fit and has set the lifetime goal of Marathon des Sables. Priority is completion.

Runner B has been running for years, eats marathons for breakfast, races ultra races regularly and is going to Marathon des Sables as a challenge, to test him or herself and plans to compete over complete.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that runner A and runner B need completely different training plans and strategies. Keeping in mind that A has less experience, more insecurities and a great deal of anxiety about the big target, I will talk through the possible planning cycle for A.

Let’s break down the macrocycle. As I said, we have twelve months (+/-) to play with, so a schedule may look like this:

Phase 1: Apr, May with C race objective (half-marathon).

Phase 2: June, July, Aug with B race objective (marathon to 50km).

Phase 3: Sep, Oct, Nov with A race objective (multi-day race)

Phase 4: Dec, Jan with B race objective and/ or specific warm weather training camp.

Phase 5: Feb, Mar.

Phase 6: Apr – A race.

Phase 1

Is all about consistent and regular running based on available time, ability and commitments. Set yourself a C race target for the end of this period. It could be a half marathon. It’s always good to have intermediate targets to work to and we often use C and  B races as stepping stones to an A race, in this scenario, Marathon des Sables.

Be realistic here, it’s important. Ask yourself a couple of key questions:

How many days can I train?

How many hours a week can I train?

We are going to assume that running three/four days is possible every week with a fourth/ fifth day for cross training and strength work. A microcycle (week) in phase 1 may well look like:

  • Tuesday – key day
  • Thursday – key day
  • Saturday – Cross training
  • Sunday – key day

In phase 1 we want to just walk, run or walk/ run and build a base of fitness from which to build. No need to rush in and panic. Be sensible and progressive. A safe way to do this is build for three weeks and on the fourth week rest and recover, Yes, rest and recovery is just as important as running.

Use the 10-20% rule and never add more time than this to each run. An example for the first month may look like:

screenshot_93

Over this phase, you would eventually cap the length of time for the Tuesday and Thursday runs at 60 to 90-minutes and the Sunday run would progress to 3-hours 30-minutes as follows:

screenshot_94

Use this system in phase 1 building week on week over four months to lay a great foundation of progressive miles and time on feet. If you have built progressively, your Sunday long run will have progressed to over three hours which puts you in a great place for a C run target.

A marathon would be a good C target at the end of phase 1. You wouldn’t taper for a race like this, it would be a training run that would be added to your plan.

Phase 2

You have phase 1 under your belt and the confidence of completing a C target. Phase 2 now builds and at the end of this phase you will have a B race target as a goal. This race should be challenging but not so challenging that it becomes intimidating or breaks you. If you ran a half marathon as a C race, then your B race could be a marathon. If your C race was a marathon, then your B race may be a marathon or 50km race if you feel that training is going very well?

It’s also important now to think ahead to Phase 3 and an intermediate A race target that will motivate you and boost your confidence for phase 4, 5 and 6.

Also think about planning and booking heat chamber sessions or equivalent for the final build up phase just before the race; this usually takes place in the final 2-3 weeks and sessions go quickly.

In the UK, a race takes place in November called the Druids. It’s a three day race where runners take on a marathon for three consecutive days. It’s a perfect ‘mini’ Marathon des Sables scenario and a great opportunity to test clothing, pack, fitness and build confidence.

Assuming that four days training are still possible and that you have had no injury issues or problems, we can now progress training building on endurance in the long runs and adding some faster/ strength sessions during the week.

A week may look like this:

  • Tuesday – Hills.
  • Thursday – Speed
  • Saturday – Cross training and strength.
  • Sunday – Long run.

As in phase 1, progression is really important and the plan would actually change and evolve over this period with each month looking different.

screenshot_95

The above plan is a guide and this is where a run coach can step in and provide structure and remove the guess work away from how the plan is put together. It’s all about placing the right emphasis at the right place and at the right time.

You will see how month 3 changes from months 1 and 2 so that it is specific to the B target at the end of this mesocycle.

Phase 3

You have just completed your longest run in a B race, be that 50k, 50m or somewhere in-between and your confidence is sky high. You now have an A race on the horizon (November) that involves three back-to back marathons and suddenly your appreciation of what is required is much clearer. You respect the Marathon des Sables target but now it is less intimidating as you have moved your way up through logical and incremental steps.

Another three month phase of training that allows is to fine tune and hone in on the racing skills required.

As you may expect, phase 3 starts with recovery from your B race target. You will need to cross train or just run easy for 3-4 days. By the time the weekend comes around, you will feel as though recovery is well on the way, don’t rush. Take your time and the following week run easy Tuesday and Thursday for up to 60-minutes and then do 60 and a 90-minute run on Saturday and build on the Sunday run. An example of phase 3 is below. Please remember, YOU are an individual with specific needs and what I provide below is a possible structure leading to an A race in November.

screenshot_96

The A race at the end of November provides a significant marker in your training. The experience will allow you an opportunity to find out what worked, what didn’t work, how your kit worked, what was good, what was bad and so on.

December is now upon you and Phase 4 is an opportunity to look at weaknesses and work on them so that you are in great shape to take on Phase 5 which is the final period before your key race.

1. If you lacked endurance in your November A race, keep working on consistency and build endurance with time on feet.

2. If you lacked speed and want to run faster, December is a perfect opportunity to cut back on distance and long runs and add some speed work.

3. Due to the demands of running with a pack, running long and all the associated fatigue, make sure that you incorporate a strength and core routine to make you a stronger runner. It’s easy to say here, ‘I don’t have the time!” You do, cut down your run time on a Tuesday and Thursday and free up time for strength and core. Maybe you can even find an extra day in your week (Wednesday) to allow you to work on this. Alternatively, work on strength and core at home maybe while watching television? The time is there, you just need to find it and be creative.

4. Practice walking. Effective and fast walking is a key weapon to a successful race in any long ultra or multi-day race.

With a new year coming, April and the heat of the Sahara looms on the horizon. January provides a perfect opportunity for a warm weather training camp just as the weather is wet, miserable and cold in Europe.

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In conjunction with 2015 ladies Marathon des Sables champion Elisabet BARNES, we run a week long camp in Lanzarote that provides the perfect opportunity to test everything in a real situation. We even provide a bivouac experience. You can ready daily posts and view images from the 2016 camp HERE and you can listen to client feedback below:

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Phase 5 is the last phase and ultimately you have 6 weeks to get prepared and ready for your key race. If you attended a training camp you will now have a full appreciation of everything that you need to do. That may be changing kit, more time on feet, looking at nutrition or even a combination of all elements

Now is the time to make sure you have all your admin sorted – insurance, medical, compulsory kit and so on.

Don’t leave anything to chance now. If in doubt about equipment, contact MyRaceKit, they are able to provide expert advice in regard to everything that you will need.

Think about heat and how you will adapt. With luck, back in phase 2 or 3 you will have thought ahead and booked time in a heat chamber. Ideally this will take place in the final 2-3 weeks before the race. No sessions booked? Train in a gym with additional layers, take a sauna, do Bikram Yoga etc

Again, consistency is key here. You have been training for this long term goal for sometime, don’t do anything silly, don’t do a long run that is really long; you up your chances of injury risk. Remember, training is about ALL the sessions you have done and not just one session

Pack weight is a consideration and get it as close to 6.5kg as possible. On day-1, when you add water it will be 8kg. BE CAREFUL training with too much weight, it is a guaranteed route to injury. For sure, do some sessions with weight, be progressive and slowly build up. Just do one session per week in the final phase and only do 1 or 2 sessions with pack at 8kg and do not go too long.

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Phase 6 is race time.

Be organised, be prepared, think of everything and have the race of your life.

It’s in this final phase when you are so close that little things can go wrong. Be prepared as best as you can. You can’t account for the unexpected but reduce chances of anything going wrong by taking no risks.

The information provided above is designed to provide an outline and a guide on how to plan for a long term goal. Although you may be able to take this plan away and use it, please be sensible and assess your own experience, fitness and goals. Importantly, the scenario provided is with a multi-day race in mind, you would need to tweak and adjust this for a single stage race or a mountain ultra for example.

I can’t emphasise enough that we are all individual, so you need to find out what works for you.

Good luck.

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Marathon des Sables 2019 #MDS #MDS2019 – Stage 5 42.2km

Rachid El Morabity and Ragna Debats are the 2019 champions of the iconic Marathon des Sables.

Today. stage 5, ‘The Marathon Stage’ concluded just a short distance away from Tafraout. It was a day that started with cool temperatures as runners climbed the infamous, Djebel Oftal after a 3km warm up.

As the minutes ticked by, the sky cleared, the weather warmed up and the runners were treated to a classic MDS day and a truly beautiful course that provided the best of the Sahara.

Dunes, rocky plateau, salt flats, the oasis of El Maharch, gentle climbs, soft-sand descents and then a run in to the finish backed by a mountain range.

Despite early attacks in the men’s race including his brother Mohamed, Rachid El Morabity once again won the final stage and became the 2019 champion of the MDS once again. He really is the desert king. Mohamed El Morabity placed 2nd overall with Abdelaziz Baghazza completing the podium.

For the women, it may come as no surprise that Ragna Debats made 5 stage wins out of 5 and completely dominated the women’s race.

Credit must go to local runner, Aziza Raji who battled throughout the week to secure a very solid 2nd place for Morocco. Also, Gemma Game from the UK had a tough day-1 but battled and moved her way through the field throughout the week and once again rounded out the podium with 3rd place.

The MDS is all about every single runner and the finish line really does focus and release the emotions as tears flows, cries of joy are heard and the embraces of Patrick Bauer, the race creator, are received. The MDS is truly a magical journey and experience. It is a life -changer for many and I personally have experienced the transformation the desert and this race brings.

The 2019 edition certainly gained additional notoriety from a wonderful dog called Cactus. he joined us on day-2 and went on to complete day-3, 4 and today, day-5. This little dog has captured the hearts and minds of the world, not only in the media. There is a lesson to be learned from Cactus – to live life free and completely. He embraced the true spirit of what MDS stands for without realising it. And, in doing so, he has reconfirmed to all of us that life is for the living. I for one, am truly blessed to have experienced Cactus and all the 800+ plus runners on a truly magical 34th edition of the iconic ~Marathon de Sables.

Marathon des Sables 2019 #MDS #MDS2019 – Stage 4B Rest Day

The face of the Marathon des Sables after stage-4, ‘The Long Day’

 the 2019 edition of this iconic, self-sufficient multi-day race.

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Marathon des Sables 2019 #MDS #MDS2019 – Stage 4 76.3km

Day-4, the feared and loved ‘long day’ of the MDS. A brutal 76.3km route that for many, personifies what the Marathon des Sables is. A journey of survival, through the varied terrain that the Sahara has to offer.

For most people, it is all about survival and getting through the day, the night and maybe the next day as easy as possible.

The day started at 0815 for the majority of the filed and the top-50 and top-5 women started at 1115 with the prospect of chasing the whole field down.

The day started to cool and cloudy and it looked like the conditions would play in to the runners hands, allowing a comfortable journey throughout the day. Not so. By 10am, the heat of the day came and it stayed that way, just a gentle breeze helping to provide some illusion of cooler temperatures.

The elite race as in previous day’s was all about two people or maybe three if we include Cactus the MDS dog.

Ragna Debats was once again on fire, For sure, she respected the long day and started at a more relaxed pace, but her speed and ability is so far ahead of the rest of the women, that she almost cruised to the line. In all honesty, Ragna’s biggest threat is possibly herself! She is chasing a top-10 ranking overall and that does come with some risk. To push in the Sahara needs a fine balance, get it wrong and dehydration could prove to be the end of an adventure. Ragna is managing everything well and looks incredible.

The real story of the long day was the rise of the UK’s Gemma Game. She looked incredible all day, ran an amazing and controlled race and she moved up the field to now make 3rd on the women’s podium. Aziza Raji ran a solid day and is still 2nd overall, approximately 36-minutes ahead of Gemma. Past winner, Meghan Hicks from the USA had a tough day of sickness and finished well down the field allowing Lauren Woodwiss to move to 4th overall.

In the men’s race, many tried to attack the boss, Rachid El Morabity, but the king of the desert is too smart. He really is a joy to watch in this terrain. He holds back, paces himself, runs within a group and at all times watches what the other runners are doing. He does not panic, he manages his effort and then all of a sudden, he moves to another gear and accelerates away to take the lead and win.

This year’s long day was no different. Attacks came from Julien Chorier, Rob Pope and even Mohamed El Morabity, but the boss watched them and then made his move. Taking another stage victory, once again ahead of his brother, Mohamed. The duo now 1st and 2nd on the overall ranking with Abdelaziz Baghazza 3rd.

The long day will be remembered for a sand-storm that cam in around 5pm. It was quite incredible as the wind brought in a blanket of grating mist that covered all the runners and bivouac making visibility impossible. Runner’s halted in their tracks not able to see a hand place ahead of them. Luckily it was a storm that lasted less than 30-minutes but the carnage was visible to see.

Covering 76.3km’s is no easy task and while the top men and women can make it look easy, the real story is about the 800+ runners who look to survive and endure the conditions to earn a respected MDS medal.

This is the MDS, the human story of fighting conditions, hunger, dehydration and pain to achieve the glory of the finish line.

As darkness came, runner’s pushed in to the void with just the glow of a headlamp and the stars for company. For many, they will also see dawn and travel through another day. MDS is truly a life changing journey.

And finally, Cactus the MDS dog. What a story. The dog joined us on day-2, ran the whole of day-3 and yes folks, he ran the long day. He has become a mascot of the 34th edition. A heart warming story that has travelled the world. Many have worried about the dogs health and his ability to run long distances.

Rest assured, this fella is a true free spirit, a true nomad, a perfectly adapted animal for the terrain. He was checked by a vet and was given the all-clear. Calls for the dog to be ‘rescued’ and taken out of Morocco are well intended but wrong in my opinion. Cactus is in his home, doing what he loves. He should be allowed that freedom. And yes, he has an owner, a hotelier in Merzouga who has confirmed Cactus’ true nomadic spirit.

Tomorrow, the marathon day and the confirmation of the 2019 MDS male and female champions.

Overall Ranking

  1. Rachid El Morabity 15:23:31
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 15:29:12
  3. Abdelaziz Baghazza 16:08:27

 

  1. Ragna Debats 18:46:11
  2. Aziza Raji 20:54:23
  3. Gemma Game 21:29:11

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Marathon des Sables 2019 #MDS #MDS2019 – Stage 3 37.1km

It was a warmer night in camp and the winds that had increased during the afternoon made for a comfortable night in bivouac. The tough stage 2 had left a real positive mood in camp, ‘If we can complete day-2, we stand a good chance of completing this MDS!’ seemed to be the general consensus. Many had loved the tough day, embracing the dunes. Others had found it a struggle. It is the MDS, so, it is to be expected. Of course, the day took its toll and for some, the 34th edition of the MDS ended.

Day 3 at 37.1km in comparison to day-2 would be an ‘easy’ day. Little tough terrain with lots of hard packed ground, stones and some soft sand and dunes. It turned out to be a hot day though, maybe the hottest day so far.

For the first 10km it was hard packed ground and the pace at the front was hard and fast with Rachid El Morabity dictating the the tempo with Julien Chorier – an unusual tactic the MDS champ. Behind a group of 10 followed including lead lady, Ragna Debats.

At 8km. a section of dunes lasted 3km to cp1 and then dunes followed  to 16km. Rachid continued to push the pace and now his brother, Mohamed was closing the gap to join them. For the women, Ragna was in a race on her own, to be honest, she is pushing the men and overall top-10 classification.

Aziza Raji continued to chase Ragna as in all the previous day’s, but she just does not have the pace. Today, Gemma Game finally found her stride and started to look at home in the desert running ahead of the chasing women that included Meghan Hicks.

The push from cp2 the finish offered a little of everything in regards to terrain, the heat probably the most troublesome issue. The old village of Taouz provided a stunning and varied backdrop along with the Kfiroun.

As on day-1, Rachid finally put the foot down to gain a slender lead over Mohamed and Abdelaziz Baghazza who finished just seconds apart in 2nd and 3rd.

Ragna once again finished almost 30-minutes ahead of the 2nd women, Aziza, but notably Gemma closed to within a handful of minutes for 3rd.

Tomorrow is the feared long-day! The battle will be very interesting for the 2nd and 3rd women’s podium – can Gemma push ahead of the Moroccan? It would now take a disaster for Ragna to lose this race.

Rachid normally secures his victory on the long-day and one has to assume this will be his plan tomorrow. He will run steady early on and then push making the others follow his relentless pace. The top-3 are close though, anything can happen!

Results

1. Ragna DEBATS 3:35:54
2. Aziza RAJI 4:03:37
3. Gemma GAME 4:11:56

Male:
1. Rachid EL MORABITY 2:58:45
2. Mohamed EL MORABITY 3:00:01
3. Abdelaziz BAGHAZZA 3:00:06

Dog:
1. Cactus the MDS dog 🐕

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Marathon des Sables 2019 #MDS #MDS2019 – Stage 2 32.5km

The mood in camp was one of happiness with day-1 completed, however, the thought of day-2 terrified most. For many year’s, Merzouga Dunes (the highest in Morocco) have often been used for the charity stage as a way to finish the race. In 2016, the dunes were used on stage 1, a sandstorm hit and it was carnage. So, the dunes demand respect.

This year, stage 2 would have the runners leave bivouac and have a relatively easy first 13km that would involve rocky plateau, small dunettes and pass through the village of Tisserdimine.

From cp1, the runners would enter the dunes and then stay there for another 13km – that is a long and tough journey, for anyone, even the best. So, it was with some anxiety that runners awoke to day-2.

The plus side coming that after the dunes, it was an easy and flat run in to the finish.

Ragna Debats after winning stage 1 looked happy in bivouac. Using a liquid only strategy for calories had no impact on day-1 and her enthusiasm for day-2 did not waver. ‘I hd a good day-1, rested well and I am now ready for day-2.’

 

 

Ragna departed with the leading men and over the early km’s was ahead of the Desert King, Rachid El Morabity. Her stride long, her form perfect and her posture with the pack, excellent. She was flying leaving all the other women in her wake. She once again obliterated the stage crossing the line in 3:14:22 and giving her 10th overall on the stage – wow!

Aziza Raji who placed 2nd on day-1 once again had a good day looking strong on home terrain. She finished 3rd in 4:05:32.

It was past MDS winner, Megan Hicks, who ran better today moving up the field to finish 2nd in 3:59:00 – a remarkable 45-minutes behind Ragna! Notably, Gemma Game who made the podium last-year had a much better day-2 and finished 4th ahead of Lauren Woodwiss.

The men’s race had many protagonists taking on the reigns of the race from the front, including Julien Chorier, Robert Merile, Abdelkader El Mouaziz, Robert Pope and so many more… But the experienced, Mohamed and Rachid El Morabity hung back allowing the first 13km to pass without incident. As the dunes arrived, the brothers unleashed ‘dune power’ and the rest of the men just had to suffer and follow in their desert prowess.

Mohamed and Rachid ran together and at the line, today, it was the younger brother Mohamed who crossed first, 6-seconds ahead of the MDS master. Their times, 2:52:30 and 2:52:36.

Behind, it was survival, with many of the early protagonists suffering in the terrain and heat.  Abdelkader El Mouaziz finished 3rd ahead of Antonio Alongi and Robert Mrile, their times 2:56:14, 3:01:14 and 3:04:02.

For the other 800 + runners it was a day of survival. But the MDS is all about taking on the challenge and finding the strength to push on. Each and every person out there is an inspiration, but look at Faris from the USA with a prosthetic – he personifies the courage of the MDS.

Results Day-2

Mohamed El Morabity

Rachid El Morabity

Abdelkader El Mouaziz

 

Ragna Debats

Megan Hicks

Aziz Raji

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Marathon des Sables 2019 #MDS #MDS2019 – Stage 1 32.2km

The 34th edition of the iconic Marathon des Sables got underway today. A race of 32.2km heading south through the mixed and wonderful terrain that Morocco has to offer.

As per usual, camp was full of nerves and tension after a somewhat cold night left some runners wishing they had packed more clothes. Breakfasts were cooked, bags were packed and the pre-race anticipation was tangible.

The race was underway at 0900 after Patrick Bauer, the race creator, provided his usual morning briefing two the assembled runners who totalled more than 800.

With the buzz of the helicopter and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, the race was unleashed.

In MDS terms, day-1 was considered an ‘easy’ day – a nice introduction to the Sahara. The wind was almost non-existent the heat gradually built throughout the day as the 800+ had to cross mini dunes, soft sand and rocky plateaus.

It may come as no surprise that the El Morabity brothers of Rachid and Mohamed dictated the day, pushing ahead together. It was only in the closing km or so, that Rachid, the six times champion forged ahead to win in 2:19:00 exactly, 1min 28secs quicker than his brother. Abdelaziz Baghazza arrived 90-seconds later to round out the day’s podium.

The ladies race was dominated by IAU World Trail Champion and Skyrunning World Champion, Ragna Debats, running hers first ‘MDS!’ Ragna is a past winner of The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, also a multi-stage race but importantly, not self-sufficient! Today she ran like an experienced multi-day runner, her pack causing her little issues. Her time of 2:42:24 quite incredible providing a top-20 place overall.

Moroccan Aziz Kaji will have made the home crowd happy placing 2nd in 3:07:58 and in the 3rd, the Queen of ‘MDS,’ Laurence Klein from France who has won the race on many occasions in past years.

It is only day-1 but the race is already taking shape. Day-2 at 32.5km is already obtaining much talk as it include 13km’s of the infamous Merzouga Dunes, the highest and the most challenging dunes in Morocco.

Results Top 3:

  1. Rachid El Morabity 2:19:00
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 2:20:28
  3. Abdelaziz Baghazza 2:22:58

 

  1. Ragna Debats 2:42:24
  2. Aziz Raji 3:07:58
  3. Laurence Klein 3:12:56

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Marathon des Sables 2019 #MDS #MDS2019 – Day 1 Administration

Runners from all over the world assembled in Morocco for the start of the 34th of the iconic Marathon des Sables, created by Patrick Bauer, 34 years ago!

With a total of 226km’s ahead, the heat of the desert was not the only pressure the participants felt as bivouac 1 was erected in the heart of southern Morocco, close to Erfoud, after a 6-hour journey from Ourzazate.

Day-1 in camp is all about admin as all participants go through a series of checks to ensure their safety on the epic Saharan journey. Running in a self-sufficient manner for 6-days, through intense heat with only water and a tent cover supplied provides a very unique challenge on every runner. It is the reason why, ‘MDS’ as it is known, has pioneered the growth of multi-day racing worldwide.

Since 1986, the statistics show that just over 20.000 runners have participated – That is less than a ‘typical’ year at London Marathon!

To toe the line is a truly unique and life-changing journey.

This years race is a truly unique race with a seriously beautiful course laid out that will show the best of this region. Heading south from Erfoud, the runners will pass through Merzouga Dunes, and on day-5 climb the infamous Jebel Oftal.

For now though, the runners are under bivouac cover, admin day completed and with a hearty welcome from Patrick Bauer.

Tomorrow, the 34th edition starts at 0900, with a relatively easy day of 32.2km.

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Sue Ding and the 2018 Marathon des Sables #MDS2018

Marathon des Sables is an iconic race. For over 30-years it has been the leading example of multi-day racing all over the world. It has often been copied, but never bettered. In its incredible history, runners from all over the world have toed the line for the experience of a lifetime.

In 2018, for the first time ever, a Malaysian lady toed the line in the hope to be the first Malaysian lady ever to complete the race.

Sue Ding has been living in the UK for over 20-years. She came from Kuala Lumpur to study law at Liverpool University and then stayed successfully building her own legal practice in London. She is an entrepreneur, business woman and is extremely successful.

Running became an escape from the everyday stress of work. Like many, Sue built to the marathon distance and has successfully completed London, Berlin and Tokyo. But Marathon des Sables was something very different – a new challenge.

I first met Sue when she joined our Lanzarote Training Camp (HERE) in January 2018.

I was fortunate to follow her journey as she prepared for the 2018 MDS, both in training and then day-by-day throughout the race.

It turned out to be quite a story and shows that the mental aspect of ultra-running is often far more important than fitness.

You can listen to a full and in-depth interview with Sue on Talk Ultra podcast HERE

What initially made you decide to take part in MDS?

I had heard about the Marathon des Sables from friends and I had seen images on Instagram. It enticed me, I was looking for a new challenge and although I thought the race was beyond my ability I took the plunge and entered. I told nobody for two weeks as I couldn’t decide if I had done the right thing. When I did finally disclose my intentions, some friends and relatives were negative saying I was crazy and that I couldn’t do it… I needed no better motivation to prove them wrong!

You have run several marathons such as London and Tokyo. How does the MDS compare?

Other than running or walking, there is no comparison really. A road marathon is a challenge but it is safe, you have aid stations, there is always help at hand. MDS is just so much more than just running. It brings in elements of survival, it plays games with your mind and it pushes the individual to depths that they maybe never even realised they could reach.  MDS is truly a transformational experience and although I will always remember my first road marathon, I now think, ‘it is only a marathon!’

What was your training and preparation like for the MDS? What are the differences in comparison to a road marathon?

In all honesty, marathon training is actually good preparation for MDS as the individual stages are marathon distance or below. Of course, the exception is the ‘long day’ which in 2018 was 86.4km (around 53 miles, so two marathons). Marathon training works well but of course one needs to build up strength and stamina for the challenge ahead. Therefore, most people allow 12-months to get ready for MDS. Time on feet is important and also including some specific ‘training’ races that provide a similar scenario to MDS. For example. Several races in the UK last 2 or 3 days therefore providing a mini MDS scenario.

I also signed up for a specific desert training camp in Lanzarote, 3-months ahead of the race. This proved to be essential as I met other competitions, we trained on terrain specific and comparable to Morocco and I was able to test equipment. We even spent one night sleeping inside a volcano to simulate camp conditions in the Sahara.

Training Camp information HERE 

Finally, two points. 1. Many runners think they will run MDS – the reality is that they will not! Walking is an essential and integral part of completing MDS for most participants and I can’t stress enough to walk, walk and walk in training. 2. Prepare the mind for the challenge. If you get the mind in the right place it will take the body to the line.

What was the biggest challenges out in the Sahara?

The challenges change daily. For example, just starting on day 1 seemed like a huge challenge as I was so anxious and nervous.

Then on day 2 I was silly and neglected taking my salt tablets, this impacted on my hydration and caused me to be dizzy. It was touch and go but I rallied and achieved the finish line.

That night we were hit by a sand storm which wiped out our tent and reduced sleep to a minimum. So, as you see, the challenges change daily, by the hour or even by the minute at times. This is what makes MDS so special, it is how you adapt both physically and more importantly, mentally at times.

How did you cope with the challenges, did you feel prepared?

One can only prepare so much. I really dedicated myself to the task and prepared methodically for the challenge. But after Tokyo Marathon I picked up a stress fracture.

Photo ©sueding

This resulted in no running for three weeks and then a slow return to training. Ironically, my final preparation to MDS was terrible and that worried me. Friends were always positive, they told me, ‘You can do this!’ I trusted them and despite my reservations, I achieved the start line.

Equipment is equipment but it is essential. I took advice from the training camp and honed my equipment for my needs. I made last minute changes to the pack I would use and I also changed my down jacket. It all worked well. During the race you must be flexible and adapt to conditions – tiredness, dehydration, sore legs, snoring tent mates, sharing a space with 7 others – you can’t really prepare for that, it is this that makes MDS such an experience, it is a journey into the unknown.

What did you enjoy most about the whole experience?

I was so anxious before the race but I feel like I blossomed as the race progressed. I embraced the challenge and got the race done – I did that and nobody can take that away. But my tent mates, Tent 95 were incredible and they will be friends for life. You were also at the race and shared my journey, that was so special and something that I will never forget. The race is a life changer, I was told this before I went to Morocco, it’s only now, afterwards, that I realised that this is true.

What were some of the most memorable or unforgettable moments for you, explain why?

1. Tent 95 – Gary, Daniel, Mark, James, Brian, Taka and Denise were just the best. We laughed, we shared our stories in the morning and the evening and we rallied and encouraged each other. We all finished – what an experience!