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.
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Marathon des Sables pioneered the multi-day racing format and as such is often a key starting point when discussing a fuelling strategy for a weeklong adventure. For those who do not know, MDS was created by Patrick Bauer after he crossed the Algerian Sahara in a self-sufficient manner in 1984. He carried everything required with the exception of water which was supplied by his brother. The 350km journey took 12-days.
Multi-day adventures require fuelling and how one obtains food can vary greatly. In principle, there are several keyways:
For many, self-sufficiency poses the greater question marks and worries as there are multiple factors to consider:
How many days?
Balance of nutrients and calories?
Hot or cold food (or both)?
Access to water?
Runners are required to carry all they need to survive in a multi-day like MDS. Fuelling is essential to survive and the balance of calories v weight is a prime concern. The only things that are provided are a shelter (bivouac) which is shared with 7 other runners and water which is rationed. Since its creation in the mid 80’s, the MDS format has been copied and used as a template for other races all over the world.
Weight is the enemy of a multi-day runner or fastpacker and therefore balancing equipment, food and water is an art form in itself. Read an article HERE about the equipment required for a race like MDS.
Food will take up most of the weight on any adventure when being self-sufficient. MDS, for example, has a minimum food requirement of 2000 calories per day, a minimum pack weight of 6.5kg and then one must add water, typically a minimum 1.5 litres (1.5kg) which makes the starting pack weight a minimum 8kg.
Do you need a 12-week and/ or 24-week Multi-Day Training Plan perfect for a multi-day adventure or a race like Marathon des Sables? They are designed to provide you with a structured weekly plan culminating in a target event.
View a sample week HEREfrom the 12-week plan. Purchase HERE.
View a sample week HERE from the 24-week plan. Purchase HERE.
Quite simply, running or walking, covering 250km over 7-days will leave the runner in a calorie deficit. Therefore, it is essential to optimise the food one takes.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
How fast one goes does greatly impact on food choice and how calories are not only consumed but chosen. The macronutrient choices will change based on the balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat. In simple terms, a runner will burn more carbohydrates and a walker will burn more fat. Humans store enough fat to survive many days and even weeks. However, carbohydrate stores deplete quickly and need to be replenished.
Body weight, age, individual needs and males may well require more calories than a woman.
Main meals will usually come either freeze dried or dehydrated. Both processes involve removing the water from food to preserve it. Freeze-drying involves freezing the food to a very low temperature and drying it in a vacuum to remove moisture. Dehydration involves passing warm air over the surface of the food to remove moisture. Dehydration creates food that tastes like it should, with plenty of texture and flavour. It is an altogether slower and gentler process than freeze-drying. Please note though, that hydration times take considerably longer with cold water and taste can change. Test meals in advance using hot or cold water.
Carbohydrate, Fat and Protein are essential for balance and freeze-dried foods are usually balanced specifically for the needs of an active individual. Typically, 55% carbs, 30% fats and 15% protein are considered balanced. As an indicator in regard to calories, carbohydrates have 4 calories for 1 gram, fat has 9 calories for 1 gram and protein 4 calories for 1 gram.
Remember, we are all individual and although any recommendations here provide a guide and a template, you the individual need to answer very specific questions and ultimately, you may need to seek the advice of a nutrition expert to fine tune a fuelling plan for a multi-day adventure.
As a rough guide, BMR is the number of calories a person burns in normal day-to-day activity.
Example for a 37-year-old, 6ft tall, 170-pound man.
(66+(6.2 x 170) + (12.7 x 72) – (6.76 x 37) x 1.55 = 2663 calories
How to use the equation: (66+(6.2 x weight) + (12.7 x height) – (6.76 x age) x 1.55 = 2663 calories
Fat adapted athletes will have specific requirements and the nutritional plan will be different.
Answer the following questions:
Male or female?
Am I typically a hungry person?
Am I more hungry or less hungry with exercise?
Will I use hot water or cold water?
A TYPICAL DAY
Breakfast – Ideally slow-release carbohydrate, some fat and quality protein.
Running Food – This will vary on the length of the stage, up to 6-hours and you may prefer easily absorbed carbohydrates, bars and or energy in drink form. For longer stages, the addition of real food, savoury and some protein would be wise. For a very long day, for example, the long day at MDS, you may even need a freeze-dried meal?
Post run food (immediate) – A shake is a great way to start the recovery period as it is easily absorbed, and this should have carbohydrate and protein.
Dinner – A dehydrated meal will form the basis for dinner and think about some small treats for each day, these will give you something to look forward to and help keep your palette fresh.
FOOD PLANNING AND IDEAS
A freeze-dried breakfast is a good way to start the day. Top tip: Add the water to your breakfast at sleep time (especially if using cold water) as it will rehydrate during the night and be ready for eating in the morning. Of course, make sure it can’t be knocked over, get contaminated or damaged – that would be a disaster! An empty water bottle works, and the lid keeps it all safe. Example: Firepot Baked Apple Porridge is 125g with 500 calories.
Muesli is popular and provides energy and fibre, it can easily be combined with a freeze-dried dairy product.
An energy bar for some works, but they often are heavy in proportion to the calories provided. However, for some, they are a perfect start to the day.
Top tip: Consider an evening meal as an alternative to breakfast. Sweet tasting food can become boring and sickly, the option to have something savoury with some spice can be a life saver.
During the run:
Runners will need typically more carbohydrate in an easy form so that they can maintain pace. By contrast, walkers will move slower, have more time to eat and easier time digesting, therefore real foods are possible. The balance is always weight v energy. Don’t rely completely on liquids, some solid food and chewing is good for the body and mind.
Example: Gels are around 32g each. Let’s say you took 1 gel per hour. Rachid El Morabity won the 2019 MDS in 18:31. So, 19 gels would weigh 608 grams. By contrast, if the race takes you 60-hours, 60 gels would be 1920g! Not only is the weight not feasible but also the volume size would just not work.
Powders (energy drinks) that one can add to water are an easy way to get calories and nutrients. They are also considerably lighter.
Nuts such as almonds are rich in fat and calories.
A recovery drink is the quickest way to get balanced calories immediately in the body to start replenishing the body. Have this shake as soon as possible. Then do personal admin such as feet, clothes, bed, etc. One hour post the run, consider a snack like tabbouleh as this is easily hydrated with cold water and add some protein to it – dried meat a good option.
A dehydrated meal will make up the main calories. Depending on the person, the need for more or less calories will vary. Some companies, Firepot a good example, provide meals in two sizes: 135g with 485 calories or 200g with 730 calories for Vegan Chilli Non Carne and Rice.
A post-dinner treat is a good idea, this could be another freeze-dried option or a low-weight and high calorie option. A sweet such as a Lemon Sherbet is a simple way to add some freshness to your mouth and palette and although has little calories, it can be a nice treat.
Try everything out before any race or event. You need to know what works for you when tired and fatigued. Try to simulate race situations so you have a good understanding of your palette and your body. Test for taste, stomach and brain.
Just because you love Spaghetti Bolognese, don’t be tempted to take 7 for a 7-day race. You and your palette become bored quickly.
Be careful with spices and anything that may irritate or aggravate a digestive system that will already be under stress.
The choice of having hot water can be a deal breaker. For some, a hot coffee or tea is just essential! In addition, food is typically more pleasurable when hot and hydrates quicker with hot water. You cannot use any gas stoves at MDS so you must use fuel tablets and a small stove. However, here are some alternative ideas: 1. If you finish early in the day, leave a bottle in the sun and let it warm naturally. 2. Often, there are lots of shrubs, twigs and branches around bivouac, it is possible to make a fire, but you will still need a pot.
Water at the race is provided in 1.5 litre bottles. A bottle cut in half is a perfect bowl for rehydrating food.
Consider repackaging all your food to make the volume and weight less, if you do this, be sure to include the nutrition label in your new packaging.
Take extra food and options. When in the Sahara, you can make some final food choices when you know the length of the stages from the road book. For example, the long day maybe 70km, equally, it could be closer to 90km – big difference for calories.
The ‘Long day’ and following ‘Rest Day’ will require different fuelling strategies, take this into consideration.
Rules – Race rules dictate you have a minimum 2000 calories per day, that you have nutrition labels for the food that you take and that on the morning of the last day that you have 2000 calories remaining.
Get used to reduced calories when training.
Water is the only item provided at a race such as MDS and this is rationed. You are provided water for ‘in’ camp and then this is replenished while running; usually 3 litres every 10km (check the race rule book). When you finish the stage, you are then allocated water to last through the night and the following morning. NOTE: This water will need to last till CP1 on the next day’s stage, so make sure you leave enough to run with.
Water is obviously used to hydrate but you also need it for your food and if you wish to wash.
Remember you need to replace salts that are lost through sweating. The race provides salt tablets on admin day and they recommend how to use and take them. Follow the advice. The two main reasons for a DNF are feet and dehydration.
Create a spreadsheet so that you can see daily food items, how many calories and what the weight is. Not only is this invaluable for personal admin, but it is also a requirement for the race when at admin check.
Top Tip: Lay a day’s food out on the floor and look at it and analyse (visually) does this look enough for 1-day.
Getting fuelling right for any multi-day is really important, so, do the research and test everything. Have a contingency plan and anticipate the need for sweet v savoury will change.
If possible, repackage food to save weight and use clear packaging and relabel adding the name of the food, what day it is for and how many calories are inside.
Make sure you have some treats and something to look forward to.
Real food is good for the brain and the chewing motion helps satisfy our natural human desire to eat and be happy.
Remember, multi-days are only about three things: running/ walking, eating and sleeping, so, make sure you are prepared for each element accordingly.
In this article, we have looked at food for a typical desert race like Marathon des Sables that lasts for 7-days. many races follow the same format. However, different race conditions may well dictate food choices, for example, a race in snow/ ice with sub-zero temperatures will require a different strategy and the balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat can be different.
Some races or multi-day are semi-supported, some are supported. In these scenarios, your own food may be carried for you or, it may even be provided for you? Think ahead and plan for what you may need so that you can perform as you wish with the calories you need. Especially important for vegan, vegetarian or those on specific diets. The big advantages of semi or fully supported is the not needing to carry additional weight and in most scenarios, there will be no restriction on quantity or calories. Everest Trail Race and The Coastal Challenge are two perfect examples of semi and fully-supported races,
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
2. On the long day it was dark, I was walking through large sand dunes and I was listening to Craig Armstrong music, I looked up to the sky and saw thousands of stars… I was lost in my mind and thoughts and it was truly magical.
3. I had low points throughout the race, times of despair and worries if I could push on through. They were my lowest moments but each time they became the most memorable – you would always arrive, just at the right time.
4. I got some really bad blisters which needed medical treatment and caused great pain – I had to continue on, ignore the negative and fight each day to achieve my goals.
How did you manage the conditions – heat, survival, rationed food etc?
In all honesty, I was expecting the worst and the reality was not as bad. We had cold nights, sand storms and hot days but I managed. I wore the same clothes for ten days with no showering or proper washing, it was unpleasant but I survived. I craved fresh food and had to eat dehydrated food.
I wanted so much a different drink other than water but water is the only thing available. I keep saying it but this is MDS. It is meant to test you mentally as much as physically and you need to embrace it. If you fight it, your week will be miserable. It’s best to laugh and soak up the experience.
A Coke after the long day was so magical – simple pleasure! Going to the toilet is also somewhat an experience… you will need to use your imagination for that one!
What went through your mind during the race?
Ha! What didn’t I think about…? I put the world to rights, thought about my past, thought about my future. I concentrated on one foot ahead of the other and I escaped with music.
You have a great deal of time to think and I think this is why, for many, MDS has such an impact. You suddenly realise what is important. I have realised it. Experiences and memories are far greater than things and possessions – the Sahara and the MDS made me feel truly alive, pushed me to the limit and beyond.
Did you doubt yourself at any time, elaborate?
I had huge doubts and anxiety before the race but did as much specific preparation as possible and I listened to you and Elisabet Barnes, you both told me I could do it. I was so nervous on day 1 and of course on day 2 I was extremely worried.
However, as the race progressed the stronger mentally I became. I was more tired, my body ached, my feet hurt but my mind was strong, there was no way I was giving up or not finishing – I had to prove all the doubters before the race wrong.
One lady had said, ‘If you finish the race, I will eat my hat!’ Guess what? I bought a hat in Morocco after the race…
What was crossing the finish line like?
On the marathon stage I had a moment early on when I cried but I got over it and pushed on despite the pain.
The miles ticked by and then as the finish line came, you were waiting as were all my tent 95 teammates.
I had no more tears left, just smiles and gratitude. I was flying the Malaysian flag, I kissed my cross which was around my neck and I gave thanks for the opportunity to complete a truly magical, life changing journey.
What are the biggest takeaways from the race?
We are too protected, too comfortable in the world and we shy away from tough times. A little tough, some challenge, some hardship and some pain makes you realise you are truly alive.
I went to so many low points during the race and overcame them, I made new friends and I triumphed over arguably the toughest challenge I have ever undertaken.
I now feel invincible, I feel alive!
If you did MDS again, what would you change in preparation and why?
Well, I would definitely try not to get a stress fracture just 8 weeks before the race. In general though, I feel everything clicked into place. I would make sure my shoes did not give me blisters, I made a mistake there going with a shoe size too large.
What advice would you give to future MDS runners?
Prepare the mind and the legs and lungs will follow. I also had a ‘special’ bag with me ‘Not Gonna Happen’ it contained daily inspiration to keep me going… It was invaluable.
MDS is described as the toughest race on earth, on a scale of 1-10 give it a rating and explain why?
Tough question as I have done nothing like it to compare, so, for me it would be a 8, or 9. But the daily cut off times are generous and it is possible to complete the race walking, so, like I said previously, get the mind right and anything is possible.
Certainly, no change of clothes, carrying everything one needs on ones back and having rationed food and water takes things to another level and therefore it’s a combination of all those elements that makes the race so tough.
MDS is not cheap, can you elaborate on how much the whole process cost?
I don’t really want to think about it… The race costs so much more than just the entry fee. For example, entry fee, flights and hotels around £4000. But I started to prepare 12 moths in advance. I did training races, I did the Lanzarote training camp, I purchased all my equipment and then changed my equipment. I added some extras such as staying in Morocco afterwards. I have not tallied up the total cost but it would easily be £10.000.
You are the first Malaysian woman to complete the race, how does that make you feel?
I am proud to be Malaysian and cross the line flying the flag – it is a real honour.
You ran for charities, Make A Wish Malaysia and Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better, how much did you raise?
The total goes up daily as donations come in, but currently it is over £25.000.
“We all have our stories, we got together, encouraged each other, were there for each other, we went on a 250km MDS journey together… We are friends forever Tent 95! I was also privileged to have the additional support of a truly dear friend who documented our journey. Friendship and love completed the journey.”
What a day! The 2018 Marathon des Sables concluded today on the edge of the Mezouga dunes on what will bee remembered as one of the toughest marathon stages in the races history.
The day started at 0700 with the majority of the field departing in strong winds and sand storms. The top 200 departed 90-minutes later also in sand storms.
The winds never eased and for the duration of the day, the runners encountered a full-on headwind all the way to the line.
The course was in comparison to other stages of this years race, a relatively easy one despite some large dunes in the final third. However, the combination of cooler temperatures, relentless wind, and drifting sand made for a tough day.
In reality, the race was over yesterday for the podium places and Rachid El Morabity and Magdalena Boulet were crowned 2018 Marathon des Sables champions. On the day, Magdalena won the final stage in 4:19:39 and Rachid placed 4th in 3:31:41.
The overall men’s final podium stands as:
Rachid El Morabity 19:35:49
Mohamed El Morabity 20:01:28
Merile Robert 20:41:00
Abdelkader El Mouaziz 20:51:59
Gediminas Grinius 21:31:23
Gemma Game from the UK followed up a solid and consistent week placing 2nd on the final stage. 4:29:31 to Magdalena’s 4:19:39. Bouchra Eriksen placed 3rd in 4:30:58 and without doubt has been a revelation this year. Natalia Sedykh won the first three stages, gained a 1-hour time penalty, had very sore knees and stomach issues to have a very tough week in the Sarah. Today she placed 4th in 4:39:25 ahead of the USA’s Jacqueline Mariash in 4:40:22.
The overall female final podium stands as:
Magdalena Boulet 25:11:19
Bouchra Erksen 26:36:00
Gemma Game 27:00:23
Natalia Sedykh 28:26:56
Anna Marie Watson 29:04:43
Of course, the final day is all about emotion and runner’s of all abilities a lifetime goal and achievement. Many a tear is shed on the finish line as Patrick Bauer embraces each and every runner, kisses them on the cheek and places a medal around their necks.
MDS is more than a running race. It is a life changing adventure of 250 km’s with intense highs and lows, elation and pain, laughter and crying. The bonds created in the Sahara are not forgotten. The pain and the joy will be remembered.
Tomorrow, a short stage of 7.7km transitions the runners from the Sahara and back to buses for the journey back to civilisation – a shower, some food, drinks, a bed and clean white sheets. Believe me, everyone has earned it!
The long day! It’s the day that makes the Marathon des Sables and it is the one most feared by the runners. The 86.4km’s of stage 4 are classic MDS and yes, they are beautiful km’s combining many of the elements that make the Sahara and Morocco so unique. However, soft sand and dunes are not the friend of the long distance runner, particularly when trying to cover distance as quickly as possible.
It was an epic day!
Intense heat during the day with strong winds as sunset came and then a very cold night making most runners wear down jackets to keep warm – it was a tough day for all, Rachid finished in 8:12:05 for the men and Magda 10:29:58 for the women. As I write this, 27-hours have elapsed and runners are still out on the course trying to finish ahead of the 35-hour cut off.
Camp life is key to the MDS – being self-sufficient, carrying everything you need, the only provisions are rationed water and a bivouac (tent) shared with 7 others.
The day started at 08:30 for the masses and 11:30 for the top 50.
Rachid El Morabity and Natalia Sedykh as expected dictated the pace at the front. Rachid consolidating his lead and showing the rest of the elite men who is the boss! It’s quite simple, when it comes to the desert, Rachid is the king. He glides over the terrain, almost floating – he is beautiful to watch. He dictated the day and won with a 20+-minute margin.
For the ladies, Natalia was always going to push and see if she could claw back the 1-hour penalty time and regain the overall lead. By CP1 she had 3-minutes, by CP2 Magda was catching the Russian and then after CP4 it was all over… Natalia broke with the pressure and was forced to ease up eventually finishing 6th on the stage.
For the men, Rachid’s brother, Mohamed, followed in the footsteps of teacher and once again placed 2nd, 8:33:52 to Rachid’s 8:12:05. France’s Merile Robert excelled finishing 3rd 8:43:35 and Lithuanian Gediminas Grinius finishing 4th. The ever-present Abdelkader El Mouaziz had a tough day finishing 5th in 9:19:09.
Magdalena Boulet from the USA showed her strength at long distances and dominated the stage running a clever race firstly behind Natalia and then passing her and running strong all the way to the line in 10:29:58.
With Natalia’s explosion, it was all to fight for for the ladies podium and Bouchra Eriksen once again showed real consistency finishing 3rd ahead of the UK’s Gemma Game, their times 11:22:36 and 11:29:00 respectively. The UK’s Anna Marie Watson had a bad day with stomach issues and finished 9th. This opened the door for The USA’s Emily Kratz and Jacqueline Mariash to finish 4th and 5th in 12:08:49 and 12:24:15.
With the marathon stage tomorrow, the podium looks set with Rachid and Magda the 2018 Marathon des Sables champions.
The long day though is really so much more than discussing the elites who seem to run with ease over the harsh terrain. The day is about all the runners, the mid-packers, the slow, the runner out of their comfort zone, the runner looking for a lifetime achievement, the runner looking for adventure, the runner with a mid-life crisis – the long day changes people and it changes me as I experience their journeys. The lows of a withdrawal at a CP or the highs of a hard fought finish.
THIS IS THE MDS!
It brings a tear to me eye as I document the journey from early in the day, through the night and into a 2nd day.
I have heard ultra runners say that the MDS is easy. It is not! Trust me, it is not… The cut-off times are generous but ask yourself, running or walking, would you like to be out there for 35-hours?
I am honoured to document this race and I salute all those who tried this year and failed. It is not a failure… trust me! You put yourself on the start line and risked a great deal. You will be back.
For those who fought sleep deprivation, hunger, blisters, the cold, the heat, tired aching muscles and so much more – congratulations. You have achieved something quite incredible this long day. With ‘just’ a marathon to go. The 2018 MDS is on paper, ‘in the bag!’
One could be forgiven in thinking that today, the two fastest runners in the 2018 Marathon des Sables, Rachid El Morabity and Natalia Sedykh had an easier day… They both won again, for Rachid that is two stage victories and for Natalia it is 3 out of 3. But the winning margin was just a handful of minutes for the duo. I think they are saving something for tomorrow’s long day of 86.2km.
Today’s stage by MDS standards was an epic one that combined a multitude of terrain. Soft sand, dunes, gorges, stoney climbs, exposed ridges, the technical climb and descent of Jebel El Oftal and then an easy and relatively flat fast run in to the finish.
Rachid and Natalia dictated the day but Mohamed El Morabity and Magdalena Boulet was never far behind. It was a controlled day. In the end, Rachid finished the 31.6km in 2:36:20. Mohamed followed just over 1-minute later in 2:37:32 and then ever present Abdelkader El Mouaziz was 3rd in 2:40:43. Peru’s Remigio Huaman had a good day today with 4th ahead of Aziz El Akad.
Despite the 1-hour time penalty, Russia’s Natalia Sedykh continues to push at the front. Today she finished 1st again just over 5-minutes ahead of Magdalena, 3:28:27 to 3:33:45. Magdalena leads the race overall but Natalia claws back the 1-hour time penalty little by little. I can’t help but think we may see an all out effort on the long day to bring things equal. It could be a risky strategy but what has Natalia to lose? Bouchra Eriksen once again was 3rd ahead of the UK’s Anna Marie Watson and Gemma Game who placed 4th and 5th respectively.
Despite some strong winds and sand storms in the night, day 3 of the MDS was calm with little wind, clear skies and relentless heat. It’s amazing to watch runners of all abilities fight their demons, particularly on the climb of the Jebel – it brings out some serious inner strength.
The key now is recovery. The long stage of the MDS is tomorrow and they have 35h to complete the 86.2km distance. Bodies and minds are now tired – everyone will need to dig deep!
Today, the king and queen of the desert set out their stalls! For Rachid El Morabity, it was a day of showing the rest of the field a clean pair of heals as he slowly but surely pulled away from the field finally finishing almost 10-minutes ahead of his brother and day 1 champion, Mohamed.
For the ladies, 2016 champion Natalia Sedykh was no doubt frustrated and angry after winning stage 1 only to be penalised 1-hour for failing to have a whistle at a kit check post day-1. A penalty was applied and now Natalia must run and race hard each day to make up the time. Today, she gained over 8-minutes on the ladies overall leader, American, Magdalena Boulet.
Day 2 was a tough day for all with relentless soft-sand which made moving tiresome. Throw in a stony and steep climb up Jebel El Otfal and then the fast and sandy descent to the final CP, and it was only really the final 4km’s that was stony, flat and faster.
Day 1 had no drop outs but day 2 was taking it’s toll. Some runners were fighting demons to get to the line but there was some real grit and MDS spirit out there as participants dug in to achieve a lifetime goal.
At the front of the race Mohamed El Morabity trailed his brother to finish 2nd just 45-seconds ahead of Abdelkader El Mouaziz. Aziz Ell Akad finished 4th and Merile Robert 5th.
The USA’s Magdalena Boulet once again placed 2nd on the stage and looks at home in the sand, Bouchra Eriksen was 3rd ahead of the UK’s Gemma Game and Anna Marie Watson in 5th.
Rachid El Morabity 3:04:01
Mohamed El Morabity 3:14:36
Abdelkader El Mouaziz 3:15:16
Aziz El Akad 3:18:34
Merile Robert 3:18:34
Natali Sedykh 3:56:08
Magdalena Boulet 4:04:48
Bouchra Eriksen 4:16:08
Gemma Game 4:19:48
Anna Marie Watson 4:19:48
Tomorrow’s stage is 31.6km’s and starts at 0830 with a 10h 30m cut 0ff.