Goal Setting for a MULTI-DAY Adventure or RACE

Before you start a multi-day, be that a race or a personal challenge, one thing is for sure, NOW is the time to set a goal and focus, fine-tune everything, including training, so that you can be at the start in the best shape possible.

First and foremost, have a complete understanding of the task ahead and set a goal or target. This is key not only in the physical adaptations that are required, but also the mental adaptations. There is a huge difference in doing something supported and in doing something self-sufficient. Marathon des Sables a prime example, understand the nature of the event and set a realistic but challenging goal.

MDS 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 challenges and surviving the weather is integral to the nature of the event. As is the ‘self-sufficient’ nature. Other than rationed water and a bivouac, be prepared to endure and complete this event with no outside assistance. Of course, help is at hand, but that help is and should be a safety element that is required in emergency. Equally, if undertaking a solo multi-day experience, do the research, plan routes, look at back-up options, can you re-supply with food, is water available?

Plan and prepare.

TRAINING

We are all unique and individual. Some of us are faster, some are mentally tough, some have a capacity to go for hours and hours and even days and yes, some runners combine all those elements.

Therefore, a multi-day training plan must be used as a template and framework to provide a structure for you, the individual, to achieve your goal.

Be sensible and adjust training plans so that they fit your ability, aspirations, training history and time available.

Think about when you place rest days, when you do long runs and when you work on hills and faster running. A training plan is like a jigsaw puzzle and managing the pieces and adding them together sensibly is how you make a successful and complete picture.

Any training plan is designed to progressively build strength, endurance, and confidence with gradual load increases. Rest is an important element of any training plan, so, rest with the same intensity that you train. Ultimately, you have decided to undertake this adventure, so, enjoy the process and make it fun.

Be specific. Make sure the training terrain, as much as possible, simulates your target event.

Always focus on the goal. Training plans for me start with the goal date and I then count back in time to a start point. That start point for you may well be before the 12-weeks but once you start the plan, focus on the target, and always make every session is as specific to the goal as possible.

For example, if participating in Marathon des Sables, you already know some key and important information:

  1. It will be hot.
  2. You will need to deal with hard and rocky plateaus, but you will also need to deal
    with soft sand and dunes.
  3. You will be on rationed food/ calories.
  4. You will only be supplied water to drink, and this is *rationed. In extreme weather such as the October 2021 edition, water rations were increased.
  5. Everything (not the tent) will be carried in a pack, on day 1 this will be at a minimum weight of *8kg. (*Minimum pack weight is 6.5kg but you must carry 1.5 liters of water which equates to 1.5kg.)
  6. You will sleep in an open tent, on the floor using a mat and sleeping bag.
  7. The long day comes on day 4 after approximately 90-100km of running, so, you
    need to be able to run for consecutive days and manage your pace and effort.
  8. The long day is (typically) between 70 and 90km and you have one full day, one night and most of the next day to complete it.
  9. After the ‘rest day’ is a marathon.
  10. You can complete the race by covering just 3km’s per hour.
  11. In 2019, the MDS was won by Rachid El Morabity and Ragna Debats in 18:31:24 and 22:33:36 respectively. The last runner was Ka Chun Chan from China in 69:29:16. For perspective, Rachid could have run the race nearly four times in 69:29! We are all individual.
     

Key elements each runner needs for a multi-day like MDS.

  1. You need to be mentally tough.
  2. Physically strong to endure multiple days of back-to-back exercise.
  3. Strong enough to carry a loaded pack and still move at a good pace.
  4. Adapted to function on restricted calories and food choices.
  5. Able to drink only water.
  6. Adapted to perform and function in heat.
  7. You need to be able to walk.
  8. You need to be able to handle un-planned situations.
  9. Have A, B and C goals.
  10. Be self-sufficient.

Multi-day racing and multi-day adventures are unique and particularly self-sufficient ones when you must carry all you need for the duration of the event. In a race, you will carry clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, essential items and food for the duration of the event. At MDS minimum weight is 6.5kg plus water. Just as you prepare physically and mentally, also be meticulous with equipment and food preparation. You ideally need your pack to be 6.5kg and no more… Additional weight is additional stress.

If fastpacking, you may possibly be as above, but you will need to carry your own tent and you will need to re-supply with water en-route either using natural water supplies or utilizing retail outlets.

Be specific and understand the demands of the event you are undertaking and plan accordingly.
 

WHAT SHOULD A TRAINING PLAN LOOK LIKE?

All plans need to be progressive and geared towards the end goal of a multi-day like Marathon des Sables or a fast-packing adventure.

Remember, we are all individual, so while a generic plan may provide a guide and structure from which to work from, it’s important to adapt and tweak to individual needs. For example, the training plan for someone who is trying to be top 100 at a race will vary greatly to someone who hopes to complete and not compete.

Each week will typically have one or two rest days.

A simple strength training structure that can be done at home or in a gym.

Hill sessions and speed sessions (tempo/ intervals/ fartlek) have a place in any training plan, but the quantity and duration will depend on what type of runner you are and what your aspirations are.

Long sessions are essential and most certainly, an element of back-to-back sessions will help adapt the mind and body for the challenge ahead. However, injury risk goes up with any block like this, so, it needs to be placed carefully with adequate rest and recovery.

Learn to walk. There is a huge difference walking with purpose and pace to ‘just’ walking. Except for the top runners, walking is an integral element to a successful completion of a multi-day race or adventure. Many only realise during the event. Get walking dialed in training.

Do some specific work with a pack and weight BUT be careful as it is easy to get injured.

Think of training as blocks of 4-weeks, build for 3-weeks and then rest/ take it easier on the 4th. An example could be as below.

The final phase of a training plan should taper to allow you to be strong and fresh when the start comes, typically this 2 or 3-weeks long. This a perfect time to add specific race adaptations such as heat training, preparing for humidity, preparing for a cold environment and of course fine-tuning equipment and packing.

CONCLUSION

Multi-day running or racing is exciting and adds many more elements to think about than ‘just’ running. Taking time to plan training and working to a goal is a worthwhile and constructive – it gives you something to aim for!

Further reading:

  • MDS 2021 Summary HERE
    The Ultimate Guide to Desert Multi-Day HERE
  • Fuelling for a Multi-Day HERE
  • How to find your Running Shoe size and fit HERE
  • Sleeping Bag for an Adventure HERE
    Ten Top Tips for Multi-Day HERE
  • Top Tips to better Multi-Day Running HERE
  • Multi-Day Running in a Rainforest HERE
  • Fastpacking – A Guide HERE
  • Fastpacking Light – HERE
  • Fastpacking and Camping in Winter HERE
  • Fastpacking in Nepal HERE
  • Poles for Running and Walking HERE
  • Sleeping bags – PHD, Sea to Summit and Rab HERE


Recommended Races:

  • Marathon des Sables, Morocco (self-sufficient)
  • The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica (supported)
  • Everest Trail Race, Nepal (semi self-sufficient)

JOIN OUR MULTI-DAY TRAINING CAMP IN JANUARY – INFO HERE

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Rab Mythic Ultra 180 v Sea to Summit SP1 v PHD Minimus K – Which Sleeping Bag for Summer Adventures?

©iancorless

Choosing a sleeping bag for an adventure can be tedious, especially when the costs are so high. Never fear, this article will answer all the questions you may have re a sleeping bag for a multi-day desert/summer adventure or similar.

First and foremost I recommend you read THIS in-depth article on ‘How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for an Adventure.’

In this article, I will look at three down filled sleeping bags:

Rab Mythic Ultra 180

Sea to Summit SP1

PHD Minimus K

SP1 v Mythic Ultra 180 v Minimus K ©iancorless

WHY DOWN?

Down as a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than synthetic fill. In simple terms, a down bag can achieve the same warmth (or be warmer) than a synthetic bag for less weight. A key consideration when weight is crucial.

Is down warmer? If synthetic insulation was the same weight as the down, down nearly always will be warmer. Down traps warm air, while synthetic fibers pack densely to reduce heat loss. Both offer great warmth, especially when you use high quality products.

Is down always best? No, not always. Down cannot get wet. If it does, the feathers clump together, and all insulating power is lost. Synthetic retains heat, even when wet. So, if you are using a sleeping bag in a wet and humid environment, synthetic will probably be the best choice… BUT, many brands now do hydrophobic down which is treated to be efficient in wet conditions.

Size is extremely important in any adventure and quite simply down compresses considerably more than synthetic.

Cost is always a key consideration and typically, down will be more expensive than synthetic.

SLEEPING BAG KEY QUESTIONS

First and foremost, consider several key things before choosing a bag.

  • Where are you going?
  • Will it be dry and what are the risks of rain?
  • Do I sleep cold or warm?
  • Am I tall or small (sleeping bag length is crucial for comfort)?
  • Do I have wide shoulders?
  • Do I need a zip, if so, half zip or full zip?
  • How light does it need to be?
  • What temperatures can I expect at night?

Quite simply, a sleeping bag needs to be as light as possible without compromising the above if you are carrying it.

Also consider that it is often a wise choice to choose a sleeping bag that has less warmth and lower weight if you are also carrying top/ bottom base layers and a down jacket. These clothing items can be used to layer and add warmth.

Layering adds warmth

WEIGHTS AND PRICE

Rab Mythic Ultra 180 retails at £550.00 and weighs 400g (900 fill down)

Sea to Summit SP1 Retails at £260.00 and weighs 350g (850 fill down)

PHD Minimus K Retails at £484.00 and weighs 330g (this bag has no zip but has 1000 fill down)

KEY CONSIDERATIONS

Rab

©iancorless

The Mythic Ultra utilizes breakthrough technology with TILT (Thermo Ionic Lining) which in simple terms works a little like a space blanket offering exceptional warmth. The down is hydrophobic treated and therefore can be used in wet/ damp conditions. It is offered in regular and long. It has a ⅛ zip by YKK on the left, an excellent hood with baffles and is provided with a dry bag and a drawstring storage bag.

Storage bag ©iancorless
©iancorless
©iancorless

Sea To Summit

©iancorless

The SP1 is tiny and provided in a zipper storage bag and a small compression sack is provided. Using ‘ultra-dry’ 850 fill down, the bag has excellent water repellent property and warmth. It has a YKK zipper, available in regular and long with excellent hood and baffles.

©iancorless
©iancorless
©iancorless

PHD

©iancorless

PHD are unique in that they make all the products in their factory in the UK. Therefore, it is possible to purchase any bag ‘off-the-shelf’ as a standard product OR you can order and have a product custom made. For example, you can specify, no zip, half zip or full zip. You can ask for wider shoulders, longer length, warmer toe box and so on. All of this comes at a price, so if bespoke is for you, PHD is the place to go. You can see options HERE.

The Minimus bag has a Drishell outer, no zip, standard length, standard width and 900 fill. Should you require the bag a different length, the price varies, short is no extra charge, long adds 8% and extra-long adds 14%. Equally, if you require extra width, slim is no extra charge, wide is plus 11% and extra-wide adds 20%. Need a zip? Short is £25 extra and full is £41.00 extra.

Quite simply, PHD are the Tesla of the sleeping bag world. Great comfort, weight and warmth. It has a mesh bag for storage and comes with a nylon stuff sack*

*stuff sack replaced with dry bag.

©iancorless
©iancorless
©iancorless

HOW THEY COMPARE

First and foremost, weight is a key consideration, and these three bags are so close in weight, it is hard to say one is better than the other. The Sea to Summit wins though, a full 100g lighter than the PHD.

On my scales:

Rab 397g Rab has a tiny eighth zip.

Sea to Summit 344g *Sea to Summit a half zip.

PHD 445g **The PHD has a full-length zip.

When one considers the PHD has a full zip, the weight is impressive. A full zip offers more flexibility and on a hot night, the bag can be used more like a blanket. Not an option with the other two.

Size can be as crucial as weight and the Sea to Summit is a standout packing to an incredibly small size with the compression sack provided – 38g.

The Rab is supplied with a dry bag and I should point out it would be possible to use a smaller bag and compress the Mythic Ultra 180 smaller – 34g

For the PHD I used a generic 4L dry bag – 31g

It’s worth noting though, often when fast packing, it’s better not to store the sleeping bag in a storage bag as it makes for an odd, sausage like shape that does not utilise the space available.

WARMTH

Remember, a sleeping mat is an essential accessory not only for comfort but warmth. I recommend a Sea to Summit ultra light.

The three bags are very similar in weight, fill and design. However, each brand describes their bags warmth differently. The Comfort Rating indicates the minimum temperature where an individual can sleep in a relaxed position and get a good night’s sleep.

Rab – Sleep limit 0 deg

Sea to Summit – 9 deg comfort

PHD – 5 deg typical.

Based on the above if we take Rab 0 deg minimum rating, Sea to Summits 9 deg comfort and PHD’s 5 deg typical rating, it’s fair to assume that all are good for around 5 deg as a good sleeping temperature. In theory, the Sea to Summit should be the one that ‘may’ struggle at 5 deg but that is not the reality after testing. It is a warm bag and certainly trades blows the Rab and PHD. All three perform exceptionally well at 5 degrees or above.

The Limit of Comfort Rating is the temperature range where an individual sleeping in a curled position and fighting against the cold can still sleep through the night – 0 degrees would apply here. I had several summer nights with temperatures dropping and all three bags performed exceptionally well with the addition of Merino top and bottom layers, a pair of socks and the use of a Buff or hat.

COMFORT and FEEL

All three bags win out on feel and comfort. Each have their own attributes. The PHD wins on full comfort as it has a full zip. The Rab though has the best hood of all three bags and a superb baffle to keep out drafts. The SP1 has a half zip, good hood and no baffle.

All are silky smooth to the touch and comfortable.

The Rab with black outer, silver logos and silver TILT lining feels and looks premium. Equally, the SP1 has a superb look of grey/ yellow and excellent logos/ branding. The PHD is a no fuss bag. If the other too are Tesla and Porsche, the PHD is a Land Rover but you know it will get the job done.

VALUE FOR MONEY

These are three excellent sleeping bags offering the best option in their class. Quite simply, you cannot go wrong with any of them. They have all been used and tested in similar environments, conditions and temperatures whilst camping. However, when looking at weight, pack size, warmth and price, we have a clear winner.

The standout is the Sea to Summit SP1 which offers an unbeatable package of low-weight, small packing size, incredible warmth, and a low price. It is half the price of the competition and does not compromise on any features. It’s a winner. More info HERE.

The Rab is a great bag, which offers a little more warmth, larger pack size and just a fraction more weight. The black colour is a plus for me and the hood/ baffles are the best of the three. The zip is of no real use and for me I would prefer either no zip to save on weight or prefer the additional weight and half a zip that offers more practical use. The treated down offers incredible flexibility and certainly if I planned on using one bag for different conditions and environments, the Mythic Ultra 180 would be a great choice. More info HERE.

PHD are always a winner, and they make incredible products. But ‘off-the-shelf’ it’s difficult to justify the cost in comparison to the excellent Sea to Summit SP1. However, long, tall, short, wide, large, small, zip or no zip, PHD will make a bag just for you and it will be perfect. That comes at a price though and it will be arguably, the best sleeping bag you have ever had. More info HERE

The winner – Sea to Summit SP1.

©iancorless

Other to consider: Nordisk (was Yeti) Passion One

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Episode 223 – A 36th Marathon des Sables Special

Episode 223 of Talk Ultra is a 36th MDS special co-hosted by Steve Diederich (MDS UK) and guest interviews with, James Hazeldene, Liz Anderson, Patrick Kennedy, Richard Bysouth and Tamsin Dobson.

Rachid El Morabity leads Aziz and Mohamed.

The 36th Marathon des Sables came just 6-months after the 35th edition which was re-scheduled to October 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic situation. The two races could not have been more different. The 35th edition had intense heat and D&V which swept through the camp. A summary of the experience is HERE. There is also a 35th edition special podcast, HERE.

This special podcast is a follow on from the 35th and provides an insight from the MDS UK agent, Steve Diederich.

We also speak with James Hazeldene, Liz Anderson, Patrick Kennedy, Richard Bysouth and Tamsin Dobson.

You can follow the 36th edition daily summaries below.

Stage 1 HERE

Stage 2 HERE

Stage 3 HERE

Stage 4 (part one) HERE

Stage 4 (part two) HERE

Stage 5 HERE

SUMMARY HERE

PHOTO GALLERY HERE

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE

Share us on Facebook – Talk Ultra FB HERE

Tweet us on Twitter – Talk Ultra on Twitter HERE

Instagram – HERE

Please support Talk Ultra by becoming a Patreon at www.patreon.com/talkultra and THANKS to all our Patrons who support us. Rand Haley and Simon Darmody get a mention on the show here for ‘Becoming 100k Runners’ with a high-tier Patronage. 

Spotify HERE

ITunes HERE

Stitcher You can listen on iOS HERE, Android HERE or via a web player HERE

Libsyn – HERE 

Tunein – HERE 

Website – talkultra.com

Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 PHOTO GALLERY

The 2022 Marathon des Sables was memorable. Then again, it always is! There is something very unique about the Sahara, the sand, the desert, the dunes and the movement of some 1400-people on a journey. 2022 was my 9th year on the race and while B&W images appear in my galleries, for this 36th edition I wanted to produce a specific B&W gallery and portfolio.

Of course, MDS is a very colourful race, so, to strip it back to tones and shades from white to black is for me, something quite special.

There is a grit and rawness to B&W imagery, particularly in the close-up portraits which really convey the tough journey undertaken.

YOU CAN VIEW THE SLIDESHOW HERE

Sand storms, intense winds, bivouac life. It is all there to see.

Back to basics, one tent, 8-people, one bag per person; rationed food, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mandatory equipment and rationed water – multi-day experiences come no better. Stripped back from connection and technology, this week in the Sahara really is one of the ultimate raw experiences in this crazy modern and connected world.

MDS is a wonderful, magical, moving road show that is difficult to understand and appreciate until you are in the Sahara. A small city moves seamlessly and like clockwork day-by-day, it is mind-blowing; a magical Saharan experience that really is one of the greatest experiences in running. 

HERE IS A HIGHLIGHT

YOU CAN VIEW THE SLIDESHOW HERE

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – SUMMARY

The impressive Marathon des Sables start

The 2022 and 36th edition of the Marathon des Sables concluded in the iconic Merzouga dunes (Erg Chebbi) on April 1st. Coming just 5-months after the 2021 race, re-scheduled from April 2021 to October due to the ongoing complications with the Coronavirus pandemic, the two races could not have been more different.

Merzouga dunes in the 35th edition

October 2021 was plagued by a Norovirus that debilitated many of the staff and runner’s, also, some of the most sustained and intensive heat that the race has experienced. It was a perfect storm that resulted in nearly 50% not completing the race. An in-depth article is HERE.

Patrick Bauer at his daily race briefing

The 36th edition by contrast was the opposite, only confirming that extreme endurance challenges can bring anything and being prepared and adapting is key and integral for successful completion. Starting in March, a cooler MDS was anticipated and this is what we got.

Cold temperatures and some runner’s really wrapped up

Early evening, nights and mornings were cool and some would say cold, requiring additional layers and the use of a down jacket became essential for many, if not all participants. For those who raced too light, evenings were a somewhat miserable affair that wasted valuable energy trying to remain warm instead of recovering.

Most days had an epic sunrise start

Daytime temperatures were on average mid 20’s, at least 20-degrees cooler than those experienced in 2021. One particular day did see a 10-degree rise in temperature in just 1-hour, even then, the temperatures never came close to 40-degrees. However, the race was marked by two days of storms that saw wind increase from early morning and become stronger as the day progressed bringing with it harsh and brutal sand storms. Day 2 in particular was very tough and on this day, over 60-participants did not complete the stage – A high number in any year!

Aziz Yachou running down Jebel Otfal just before the sandstorms arrived.

Despite the storms, and occasional rain shower that appeared a couple of times on the ‘long day,’ the 2022 edition may well have had some of the cooler and easiest weather conditions that the MDS has ever experienced. Coming after October, that was no doubt a welcome contrast.

Manu Vilaseca on day 3 running the second ridge.

From an organizational stand point, the race was slick, streamlined and a pleasure to experience. No doubt some lessons were learnt in October and changes were made. With those lessons, those changes, the 2022 race gained praise from staff and runners. The mood was one of joy, positivity, laughter. Throughout the race and post-race three comments could be heard everywhere: ‘Best experience of my life… Super organisation… Faultless…’

The organisation at MDS in impeccable

From a racing perspective, 801 people completed the race with a dropout race of 11% (tbc) – exact figures will be confirmed in the coming days. Notably, over 50-people did not make the start line due to positive PCR checks in the 48-hour before departure for Morocco, a cruel blow coming so close to the race.

Covid and the pandemic was not a consideration during the race. 

Rachid was controlled and impeccable in his execution of the race

As with all races we have winners and as per usual, the 2022 race was eagerly anticipated with Rachid El Morabity going for his 9th victory and the potential of Aziz Yachou spoiling his winning streak. One thing was clear to me pre-race was Rachid looked more toned, a little lighter and focused.

Rachid, Mohamed and Aziz – It was all tactics.

On day 1, Rachid attacked from the start, he never does this, he always comes from behind and takes victory. This to me only confirmed that he feared Aziz and he wanted to set his stall out from the start. He won day 1 from the front but only by a slender margin. He had a race on his hands… From day 2 a strategy came in to play that was fascinating to watch and experience. Rachid, with his brother formulated a plan to fool Aziz that Rachid was not in the best shape. On stage 2 and 3 Rachid once again attacked from the front but on both days he gave up his lead and lost time. Aziz was positioned to lead the race and defend and by the time the ‘long day’ came, Rachis was in 3rd with 9-minutes to gain.

Mohamed ran a stunning race

Come the long day, Rachid stamped his authority and put the plan in to action. By 10km he had 2-minutes lead, 4-minutes at 20km, 6-minutes at 30km and at 50-km he had 10-minutes – Rachid had gained the deficit and taken the race lead on the trail. By the finish he had gained almost 15-minutes on Aziz, a stunning and impressive run that was off-the-scale.

However, the tactics did not stop there. Behind, Mohamed marked Aziz all the way to 50km, noticing Aziz starting to slow, he made his move clawing back the 4-minutes he needed and at the finish line, he was crowned overall leader of the race with his brother, Rachid 37-seconds back.

Mohamed watching Aziz on the long day

Anticipation was high for the final marathon stage, would Mohamed win? Of course not! This plan had been formulated from day 2 and quite simply, Rachid and Mohamed would police Aziz on the last day and as the stage came to conclusion, Mohamed would slow allowing his brother to gain the required time and in the process his 9th victory. It was a masterpiece of tactics that worked perfectly. It was a pleasure to experience.

Rachid on the marathon stage – victory would be his!

The women’s race was far less dramatic with Anna Comet Pascua winning each stage with a superlative performance of domination. Stage 1 started slowly as Anna eased in the race, but as the stages progressed, the Spanish runner felt comfortable and continually opened gaps to win by a convincing margin and place very close to the top-10 on general classification.

Anna Comet Pascua – Queen of the Sahara

Sylvaine Cussot from France was always a contender and throughout the week ran a strong and consistent race, her 2nd place was one that was never in doubt, however, the gap to Anna was far too great for victory ever to be a possibility.

Anna on stage 3

Azia Elamrany represented Morocco along with the 2021 female champion, Aziza Raji. Although not in 3rd place in the early part of the race, her consistency shone through and by the conclusion of the race her podium slot was secured ahead of her fellow Moroccan.

Sylvaine and Anna on stage 4

Outside of the top-3 in each category, there was countless string performances with Merile Robert once again showing his experience in the race, the return of Julien Chorier and the rise of the American, Jordan @@@@@@@. Patrick Kennedy placed 7th in 2021 and once again achieved a top-10 with 9th in 2022.

Julien Chorier on Jebel Otfal

For the women, Aziza Raji will no doubt be disappointed with 4th after victory in 2021. Beth Rainbow and Amelia Culshaw from the UK both had top-10 placings, Beth placing 6th – a great result. We also saw the return of multi MDS champion, Laurence Klein who ran a solid race despite contracting Covid in the final build up to the race.

The long day

All Marathon des Sables are memorable. There is never a dull race. Personally, 2022 will be remembered for the stunning men’s race and the tactics used to ensure a 9th victory for Rachid. It was a masterpiece to see unfold and one that required supreme mental and physical confidence from Rachid. It’s all very well formulating a plan, pulling it off is the game changer… Imagine going in to an 85km stage with a 9-minute deficit knowing that you need to pull that back and in addition gain more time to provide a buffer so that victory can be secured! It was stunning. It’s important to mention the dedication, skill and ability of Mohamed El Morabity, he sacrifices personal glory for the greater good of his brother. It’s pointless asking the question, ‘Could Mohamed win the race?’ The simple answer is, as long as Rachid is in with a chance of a 10th and maybe 11th victory, no.

Always a new perspective

Anna Comet Pascua confirmed her ability as a versatile and adaptable runner. Known for trail, mountain and skyrunning with a victory at the multi-stage Everest Trail Race, her MDS victory confirms her as one of the top female trail runner’s in the world. Sylvaine Cussot has also confirmed herself as a one-to-watch for the future, I have this feeling she will be back at MDS very soon.

The heat came but it was much cooler than October 2021

The 2022 route is arguably one of the most beautiful, last used in 2018. It has variety, stunning views, ridges, climbs, soft sand, two crossings of Jebel Otfal, salt flats and oasis. The long day, while not the longest (92km in 2009) is significant with an abundance of soft sand.  

The magic of daylight leaving on the 85km long day

Finally, MDS is a wonderful, magical, moving road show that is difficult to understand and appreciate until you are in the Sahara. A small city moves seamlessly and like clockwork day-by-day, it is mind-blowing; a magical Saharan experience that really is one of the greatest experiences in running. 

Bivouac at sunrise

Back to basics, one tent, 8-people, one bag per person; rationed food, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mandatory equipment and rationed water – multi-day experiences come no better. Stripped back from connection and technology, this week in the Sahara really is one of the ultimate raw experiences in this crazy modern and connected world.

The route book, it is the bible of MDS

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 5 42.2km

The 2022 and 36th Marathon des Sables concluded today on the edge of the Merzouga dunes after the classic ‘marathon’ stage.

Everyone watching each other

It was a hotly anticipated stage with the top-3 men being so close, however, it soon became apparent that Aziz was not going to try a heroic effort to gain back his 4-minute plus deficit for 2nd place or victory. In all honesty, who can blame him, the El Morabity brothers of Rachid and Mohamed would never have allowed it.

M’Fis and Rachid made a move

It was in the last 5km that Rachid started to open a gap with bivouac off in the distance. Aziz chased and Mohamed policed it but the writing was on the wall.

Rachid started to open a gap

Rachid ran in the final straight with a Moroccan flag waving, Aziz finished 2nd on the stage and importantly Mohamed finished 3rd losing more than the 37-second advantage he had going in to the stage and therefore crowning Rachid champion with his 9th victory.

Aziz chasing

We could argue all day asking the question, ‘Could Mohamed have won?’

Victory

The simple answer is, this race was built around an El Morabity plan and that plan came together to perfection granting Rachid that all important 9th crown. You need to look at the men’s race from a cycling perspective and quite simply, Mohamed worked as a domestique to facilitate a beautiful 1st and 2nd. Rachid will now be thinking of an all important 10th victory in 2023.

1 and 2 for the El Morabity brothers
Aziz 3rd

The women’s race went to format with Anna Comet Pascua winning the stage and confirming overall victory by a substantial margin.

Anna Comet Pascua
2022 Champion

Sylvaine and Aziza rounded the overall general classification placing 2nd and 3rd.

Sylvaine

Tomorrow, the runner’s must do a 7.9km charity stage to complete the 2022 MDS but the timing does not rank.

In the coming days I will write more with a full summary but is important to say, this edition has been seamless with stunning and impeccable organisation. The weather has brought challenges with two days of storms, wind and even some rain. The heat has been mild and although on occasion temperatures have rose, in comparison to other years, it has never been really hot.

For now, it’s time to celebrate a wonderful race. 

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 4 85.8km – Part Two

Anna Comet Pascua

The 36th Marathon des Sables ‘long day’ of 85.8km continued in to the night with runners pushing through darkness and in to a second day to complete in the allocated 35-hours.

The men’s race was fast and furious, read HERE

Sylvaine and Anna

The women’s race may not have had the nail biting action of the mens race, nonetheless, it started with Sylvain Cussot and Anna Comet Pascua running together to Cp1 and beyond. Anna, no doubt running with reserves and safety ensuring that she did nothing to put at risk her overall lead on the general classification.

Before Cp1

As the race progressed, Anna eventually moved away from Sylvaine and increased her lead to cross the finish line in 9:43:19 – an incredible time and one that brings her ranked highly on the GC overall. It’s yet to be confirmed but she may well be in the top-10?

Sylvaine always smiling

Sylvaine has embraced the MDS and has revelled in the conditions, always smiling, always happy. She crossed in 10:10:53 and now her 2nd overall is secured.

Aziza Elamrany once again ran a brilliant day and her 3rd place on the stage in 10:23:20 ahead of the 2021 chapion, Aziza Raji in 11:17:12, now places her 3rd on GC.

Aiziza Elamrany
Aziza Raji

Notably, Beth Rainbow from the UK had a great day and finished 5th in 11:34:19.

The long day is feared for many reasons, the distance, the weather, the night, the unexpected… As in every edition, there are demons to be fought and mental battles to be won. Conditions were, in general, kind, with less heat, some cloud, the odd rain shower and a cooler night. As I write, some are still battling to achieve a finish, the main priority is to keep ahead of the camels!

The camels mark the end of the race, you must keep ahead of them.

Tomorrow, stage 5 is marathon distance and the 2022 champions will be crowned. The women’s race, barring a disaster will be a formaility with Anna, Sylvaine and Aziza placing 1, 2 and 3.

Rachid looking for a 9th victory

The men’s race will be a nail biter. Early in the week I disclosed that I was convinced that the El Morabity brothers had a plan and strategy, that came to fruition yesterday. Now with the marathon stage to go, the duo will mark Aziz and make sure he is kept under control so that 1st place and 2nd is secure. At some point, Mohamed will allow his brother Rachid, to take over the front of the race and gain the 37-second deficit that currently places him 2nd and therefore will allow him his 9th MDS victory. Can Aziz mess up this plan?

Aziz has a battle ahead

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 4 85.8km – Part One

Rachid setting the early pace

It may well have been one of the most exciting days in the history of the Marathon des Sables… It was the feared long day of 85.8km. A long one for the 36th edition but the longest came in 2009 with 92km!

As I write, the top men have finished and the first woman is to cross the line, so, I will update on the men and follow up on the MDS ‘rest day’ with a report on the women’s race.

Aziz chasing with 9km covered
Mohamed watching Aziz

Today was all to fight for. Aziz Yachou was in 1st place, Mohamed El Morabity in 2nd and surprisingly, 8x MDS champion, Rachid El Morabity was in 3rd – 9-minutes behind the leader.

Rachid biding his time and energy

Some had said Rachid was not in form. I doubted this… To me, all along, Rachid had respected and feared the ability of Aziz and he had to race smart.

with 25% of the race covered, the lead was 4-minutes

Rachid started day 1 from the front to build time over Aziz, he won the stage but his time gain was minimal. He therefore had to rethink and place doubts in Aziz’s mind about his fitness and strength. He set out on day 2, once again from the front but relinquished the lead and lost time. On day 3 he ran for over an hour in the lead and was then caught and passed, once again losing time. His brother however raced strong.

Aziz was going nowhere without Mohamed

Come the long day, my thoughts were Rachid would play his ace and his brother would defend and block helping facilitate his brothers 9th victory. Of course, this plan was risky. It required superb form and confidence from Rachid. It also required Aziz not to be a strong.

10 minutes lead and counting

It was a masterpiece day. By 10km Rachid had 2-minutes, at 20km 4-minutes, then 6, 8 and at 50km the lead was over 10-minutes. It was incredible to watch.

Behind, Mohamed marked Aziz but sensing Aziz fading at the 50km mark, Mohamed also made a move and pulled away from his fellow Moroccan. Now bridging the gap to his brother.

Mohamed made his own move to leave Aziz and gain time

Racing comes no better than this. Chess in running.

Rachid on his way to victory

After a stunning day of racing, King Rachid crossed the line in 7:27:04. Mohamed crossed in 7:30:46 gaining a great deal of time on his brother from the 50km to 85.8km finish. Finally, Aziz crossed 7:39:48.

Of course, everyone was keen to know the overall classification? With 15:25:26 elapsed, Mohamed El Morabity leads the 36th MDS. Rachid is in 2nd just 37-seconds behind and now Aziz is 3rd 4:34 behind Mohamed.

One thing is for sure, the ‘marathon’ stage is going to be a nail biter as the El Morabity brothers put their final phase of their plan in to action.

Wow, what a day!

Now the race continues for the many hundreds who will see darkness disappear and they enjoy a journey through the night. The allocated time to complete is 35-hours.

By MDS standards, today was not a hot day. Cloud moved in and out, once or twice it rained and as the sun disappeared, the wind started to increase. It may well be a cold night for many!

A Runner prepares for a long night

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 3 32.1km

Anna Comet Pascua

The relentless wind and sand storms eased during the night to reveal a clear day that was considerably Warmer than those that had gone before. Another windy day was forecast and of course sand would be blown about, hopefully the full-on no visibility conditions of the previous day would not reappear – everyone hoped! As afternoon came the wind constantly increased making conditions challenging!

Julien Chorier climbing to the second ridge

Stage 3 at 32km is a beautiful stage with two exposed ridges split by Cp1, a flat plateaux crossing, the climb of Jebel El Otfal from the normal side and the descent using the gully which the runners climbed on stage 2. At the bottom, a small section of dunes and then flat terrain all the way to the finish. For some, me included, one of THE best stages in all of MDS history. The two ridges and Otfal provide more climb, exposure and challenge and if you like the mountains and vertical, this is a Sahara dream.

Vertical and technical terrain – a dream
Rachid leading from the start

Rachid, once again, went off from the front and set the pace. Three days in a row he has done this – most unusual. I chatted with him in camp before the stage. He was having breakfast with his brother. I asked how he was, his reply simple, he winked and said, “I am very good my friend!”

A brotherly shared breakfast

I am convinced he and his brother have a plan!

Rachid controlled the front of the race for an hour or more and then relinquished the lead to Mohamed and Aziz. The duo pulled away and crossed the line together in 2:36:43.

Aziz behind Julien in the opening km’s

Rachid, once again for the 2nd day finished 3rd and lost more time, his finish coming in 2:38:21.

Rachid formulating a plan

For those in the know, Rachid never concedes time and does not not finish 1st often. To allow his brother and Aziz to pull away only confirms for me that he has a big plan ready for the long day… It’s risky, he is now nearly 9-minutes behind the race leader, Aziz. My thoughts are that he wants Aziz to believe that he is not in good form, that he is struggling and then on the long day, he will unleash a ferocious pace, take back the lost time and gain time to take the lead. Of course, Mohamed will be used as a distraction and a game maker to make this happen. It’s exciting to see how this will play out.

Mohamed El Morabity

Of course, the other scenario is that Rachid really is tired and not on form? I don’t believe that.

Anna Comet Pascua

Anna Comet Pascua once again delivered a solid performance and with her skyrunning background, I am sure she will have revelled on the ridges and climbs. She won the stage in 3:26:49 ahead of Sylvaine Cussot in 3:35:51. A smaller margin than yesterday but no doubt Anna was conserving energy for the 85km long day.

Sylvaine Clussot

Aziza Elamrany once again finished 3rd in 3:49:11 ensuring that the Moroccan home ground will be happy with a podium ranking.

Aziza Elamrany

Tomorrow is the long day and as always it will be a key day that will dictate the potential outcome of the 36th MDS. Nothing is guaranteed, anything can happen on a day of this length and in these conditions. Each runner will need their ‘A’ game to run to their potential and dreams.

Stage 3 of the 36th Marathon des Sables has Anna Comet Pasciu and Aziz Yachou secure their leads ahead of the stage 4 long day.
Mds ants heading to Jebel El Oftal

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 2 38.5km

Anna Comet Pascua

Rachid went off like a shot again… Pushing the pace and behind everyone pursued. Then suddenly, in the space of a couple of km’s he relinquished the lead and hovered somewhere around 10th. I am not sure if there had been a ‘natural break’ requirement or if this had been an intentional move? Certainly it wasn’t blowing up!

Rachid leading early on

His brother, Mohamed took over the lead and on a climb before Cp1 was pushing the pace with Aziz following.

Mohamed El Morabity
Aziz Yachou

Rachid was now further back. It all made sense, in my opinion, the brothers were playing a tactical game on Aziz. I guess my cycling background is at work and my conclusion is Rachid has sent Mohamed out as a decoy, to allow Aziz to take over the lead in the race and placing Mohamed in second. This is a great move potentially. It would take pressure of Rachid to defend and force Aziz and Mohamed to control the front of the race and thus allowing Rachid to pounce… Rachid will need to feel very confident for this move, if not, his 9th victory may not happen!

Rachid moved back in the field

After Cp2 and climbing the stoney side of Jebel Otfal, Mohamed descended first and he continually looked over his shoulder for Aziz. Aziz followed not long later, within 60-seconds. It was however 4-minutes before Rachid appeared, now in 3rd. Was Rachid tired, or was he playing the tactic as mentioned above?

Aziz descending Jebel Otfal to take 2nd on the stage and overall lead

At the line, Mohamed crossed in 3:07:40, Aziz in 3:08:52 and Rachid 3:16:22 for the 38.5km stage. You don’t usually see a result like this in the early stages of MDS for Rachid!

The overall placing Aziz in first, Mohamed in 2nd and Rachid in 3rd, 5:13:29, 5:17:56 and 5:20:38 respectively.

The 36th Marathon des Sables is now Aziz’s to defend and the brothers to pursue. What an exciting 36th edition this is going to be.

Anna controlled from the front

The women’s race was strung out with Anna Comet Pascua dictating from the front with an incredibly strong performance. I said yesterday, she came her to win and this is being proven with her result in stage 2, crossing the line in 4:06:17.

Anna on Oftal

Sylvaine Cussot as on stage 1 pursued and always with a smile, she finished a strong and convincing second in 4:18:46.

Sylvaine Cussot

Aziza Elamrany had showed promise on stage 1 for a podium place and today that came true finishing ahead of the 2021 MDS champion and fellow Moroccan, Aziza Raji, her time 4:39:38.

Aziza Elamrany
Aziza Raji

The overall podium after 2 stages placing Anna and Sylvaine 1 and 2 ahead of Aziza Raji in 3rd, 6:58:37, 7:15:11 and 7:45:03 respectively.

It’s all to fight for on stage 3!

Stage 2 was marked by extremely strong wind and sandstorms that battered the runners. There was also an increase in temperatures recorded at cp2 of +10deg in 1 hour. At the time of writing there have been 49 drop outs today.

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