The Ultimate Equipment Guide to Desert Multi-Day Racing – Hints ‘n’ Tips Updated

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Desert running brings many challenges and running in a desert for multiple days brings a whole new set of challenges. Over 30-years ago (1984), Patrick Bauer, filled up a pack with food and water and trekked off alone into the Algerian Sahara to cover 350km’s on foot in a self-sufficient manner. Little did he know at the time, but this journey was the start of something incredible, the Marathon des Sables.

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Also read

Fuelling for a Multi-Day HERE

How to choose a Sleeping Bag HERE

Top Tips to better Multi-Day Running HERE

Fastpacking Guide HERE

Winter Fastpacking HERE

MDS as it is affectionately known paved the way not only for multi-day desert racing but ‘all’ multi-day racing, be that in snow, ice, rainforest, jungle or the mountains. If multi-day racing was the mafia, MDS would be the Corleone family and Patrick Bauer would be the Godfather – Don Vito Corleone.

All multi-day races have followed and tried to replicate the MDS format, however, the reality is, I have yet to experience a race that matches the size, the scale, the organisation and awe-inspiring splendor of what Bauer and his team have created in the Sahara. Ask anyone, despite experience, despite achievement, MDS is usually ‘on the bucket list!’ It’s fair to say, that MDS is directly attributable for many new ultra-runners. You see, MDS offers more than just running, it offers a challenge, it offers something quite unique – the Sahara and the MDS strips the runner back to basics and deprives them of all luxuries so that they are stripped raw. Runners find themselves in the desert.

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 HERE from the 12-week planPurchase HERE.

View a sample week HERE from the 24-week planPurchase HERE.

*****

If you have entered MDS or another self-sufficient multi-day race or adventure, you will be asking, “What equipment do I need?”

This question is the same for many other desert races but I need to be clear, not all races are the same. For example, MDS requires the runner to be completely self-sufficient. This harks back to Bauer’s pioneering expedition in 1984. The runner must carry ‘all’ they need for the duration of the event, the only exception being:

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Bivouac – A simple tent cover is provided at the end of each day and this tent must be shared with 7 other runners.

Water – Water is provided in bivouac and out on the course but is rationed.

Anything else the runner needs must be carried – pack, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, food, snacks, luxuries etc.…

The above format is very similar for races such as the Grand to Grand in the USA, Racing the Planet races such as Atacama, Gobi and so on.

So, items discussed in this post directly relate to a ‘self-sufficient’ race in the MDS style. To clarify, races such as The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, Big Red Run in Australia and The Namibian Crossing in South Africa are ‘semi’ self-sufficient races and therefore runners can carry far less items and often bags are transported each day and therefore the runner can run light and fast. However, please keep in mind that many of the kit items and needs directly relate and are transferable.

Do you need a Coach or Training Plan? HERE

The Detail

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Let’s be clear, it is important to note that equipment will not make you complete any race. What it can do is make the process easier and more comfortable. Equipment is something we all must take to any race and finding out what works and doing the research is part of the fun.

If you want to increase your chances of completing your chosen race, commit to the training required, get your head in the correct place and then finish off with the appropriate equipment for the job. Far too many stress about what equipment they need and neglect the appropriate training.

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Multi-day racing in its purest form should be very simple. However, over the year’s deciding what equipment to take has become increasingly more complicated.

It shouldn’t be complicated and in all honesty, it isn’t!

Here is just a list of absolute essentials, one could say that this list is mandatory:

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Buff
  • Jacket (usually down)
  • T-Shirt
  • Shorts/ Skort
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Gaiters
  • Rucksack
  • Sleeping Mat (optional)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Head Torch
  • Flip-flops or similar
  • Toilet paper
  • Personal medical kit (feet etc.)
  • Spot Tracker (supplied at MDS, optional at other races)
  • Road Book (supplied)
  • Salt Tablets (supplied)
  • *Food for the required days
  • **Mandatory kit
  • ***Water

Optional items:

  • Warm jacket (usually down that packs small and light) – I consider this essential and not optional
  • Stove and Esbit fuel blocks
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Spare socks
  • Walking Poles
  • Goggles
  • Spare clothes (?)

Luxuries:

  • Mp3 player
  • Phone
  • Solar charger
  • Kitchen sink…

Perspective:

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Any multi-day race has (arguably) five types of participant:

  1. The elite races who will contest the high-ranking positions.
  2. Top age groupers who will look to race for a high place and test themselves overall.
  3. Competitive runners looking for a challenge.
  4. Those who wish to complete and not compete.
  5. Newbies who are out of their comfort zone looking to finish at all costs.

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When one looks at kit and requirements, it’s easy to think that the needs of the top elites in group 1 will vary from those in group 5. I would arguably say no! All the runners need the same things; they all must carry the same mandatory kit and they all must carry the same minimum food requirement.

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I think the differences come with experience. Novices and newbies will more than likely prepare for the unknown, the ‘just in case’ scenario. Whereas top runners will be on a minimum, the absolute minimum. Groups 2- 4 are a mix of groups 1 and 5 and they fall somewhere between.

So, for me, groups 2, 3, 4 and 5 should (where possible) aim to be like group 1. The only key difference comes with shoe choice. Runners who will spend much longer on their feet and out on the course will most definitely need a shoe that can withstand that pressure and the shoe must also be good for walking. Groups 2-5 never fully appreciate (often until it’s too late) how much they will walk in a desert race.

EQUIPMENT IN DETAIL

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When looking at equipment, I am going to provide a brief synopsis and then some recommendations. I will then supply ‘my’ equipment list.

I strongly advice using a tool such as LIGHTERPACK which is a great tool. Here is an example of one of my personal fastpack lists.

Hat – A hat is essential to keep the sun off your head; options exist that have a neck cover built in to avoid that delicate area that will almost certainly be in the sun all day.

Sunglasses – So many choice, but you need a good pair that has ideally a large lens to protect the eye. Some desert specific sunglasses include a brow pad that helps stop sweat dripping in your eye. Do you need prescription? If so, I use prescription Oakley and they are excellent. Do you need goggles? Yes and no. If you have good sunglasses with good coverage, then no. However, should a sand storm hit, it can be uncomfortable. Goggles guarantee no sand in the eyes.

Buff – A buff or even two are essential. One around the neck helps keep the sun off and you can also wet it to help reduce core temperature. In wind and sand storms, the Buff is lifted and protects mouth, nose and sometimes eyes. A spare Buff is a luxury but worth considering.

Jacket – Jacket choice will depend on sleeping bag choice. If you are using a light bag, a lightweight down jacket is an essential item. Häglofs Essens at 160g is the best I have ever used.

T-Shirt – It’s not rocket science, you will have been running in a shirt already, if it works, why change it? I read countless arguments about should it be black or white – you know what, it doesn’t matter. Look at the elite runners, they are often sponsored and have little or no choice on colour. Comfort however is key.

Shorts/ Skort – Same answer as T-Shirt.

Socks – Getting the correct socks are key for any race and like I have said for shirt and shorts, if you have socks that work, why change? So many options exist but for me I am a firm believer in Injinji toe socks.

Shoes – Read HERE – Shoes are personal and must be suited to you, the individual. Consider your gait (neutral, supinate or pronate), consider time on feet, consider your weight, consider how much you will walk (and then double it) also consider shoe drop and how much cushioning you need. It’s impossible to recommend any one shoe because of these variables. You will see top runners using a lighter shoe, remember, these shoes only need to last 20-30 hours. However, you may well need a shoe for 40, 50 or 60-hours. Do you need a trail shoe? No, you don’t need a trail shoe but I would say that many trail shoes are more durable as they are designed for the rough and tumble of variable terrain. Do you need an aggressive outsole? No, you don’t, but I do think some grip is better than none and therefore I would use a trail shoe over road. Protection? Toe box protection is a good idea as deserts include lots or rocks, far more than you may think. Do I need a size bigger? Shoe sizing does depend on what is ‘normal’ for you. I always recommend a thumb nail of space above the big toe, you don’t need any more than this. Recommendations of going a size is bigger is bad advice in my opinion. A shoe that is too large allows your foot to move, a moving foot causes friction, friction causes blisters and the rest is the same old story that I see at desert races all over the world. However, I would recommend a shoe with a little more width in the toe box, this will allow for some comfort as the days progress. If you are prone to feet swelling, discomfort, blisters and so on, get a strategy sorted before you head out to your chosen race.

Gaiters – Are essential and they should be sewn and glued on to the shoe to guarantee that no sand can enter. Raidlight and MyRaceKit are both recommended.

Rucksack – A rucksack is one of the most essential items for the race as it will hold on your kit for the duration of the event. Many versions exist and the type of pack you choose depends on many things: Male/ Female, Small/ Large, Tall/ Short and so on. Some packs just don’t work for some people. You also need to consider if you need a front pack to hold essential items. How will you drink on the go? How much do you plan to run in comparison to walk? I have some simple advice:

  • Keep the pack as small as possible, if you have a bigger pack you will just fill it.
  • Keep the pack simple – far too many packs are over complicated and messy
  • Keep the pack light
  • Make sure that drinks are accessible, easy to use and don’t bounce
  • See how the pack feels full with all food and then see how the pack feels with 5-days food missing.
  • Make sure you can access ‘on the go’ essentials.

Raidlight used to be ‘the’ pack for a multi-day race but that has changed in recent years. For sure, Raidlight are still one of the main options, however, the Ultimate Direction Fastpack is slowly but surely becoming a favourite. New entries to the market are coming from Salomon, Montane and OMM have been making packs for multi-day adventures for years.

Sleeping Mat (optional) – Inflatable, Foam or no mat. I’m a firm believer in taking a mat, the weight v comfort is a no brainer. I would also choose an inflatable mat even though it does run a risk of puncture. However, with good admin, good care, and years of using inflatable I have never had an issue. A foam mat is guaranteed to last the race but for me is large and cumbersome. OMM make a very thin foam mat that they use as the back padding for their packs – this may be a god option for the real minimalist runner. Look at products from Thermarest, Sea to Summit, Klymvit and OMM.

Sleeping bag – Like the pack, a sleeping bag is a key item is it is likely to be the largest and heaviest item (except food and water) that you will carry. A sleeping bag is important as a good night’s rest is key for day-to-day running. I will always go with a sleeping bag and down jacket scenario is this for me provides less weight, less packed size, more flexibility and the option to get warmer at night by wearing the jacket inside the bag. Problem is, this comes at a price. Also, consider your size, shoulder width, height and so on. Some bags are very small whereas bags such as PHD and Yeti can be purchased in small, medium or large. Recommended bags are PHD (custom or off-the peg), Yeti, Western Mountaineering, Häglofs, RAB, OMM (not down) and Raidlight. Read HERE

Head Torch – Don’t compromise, you need a good head-torch that provides enough light for running in a black desert at night. Don’t use rechargeable or a torch with gizmos. You just ideally need variable power, a red-light option so you don’t disturb others at night and it will either take AA or AAA batteries. Recommendations are Black Diamond, Petzl, Silva or LED Lenser.

Flip-flops – Free slippers that hotels give away are popular as they are small, fold and are lightweight. However, they don’t stay on and they don’t protect from thorns or stones. Cheap, lightweight plastic or rubber flip flops work for me. I have seen some improvised flip-flops made from run shoe insoles and some string. It’s that group 1 to group 5 scenario again!

Personal medical kit (feet etc.) – Foot care is essential and although many races have a medical team on hand to look after you and your feet, understanding how to do this yourself is key. learn foot care and treatment and understand how to tape your feet. Ready-made foot care kits are available such as this at MyRaceKit here

Spot Tracker (supplied at MDS, optional at other races)

Road Book (supplied)

*Food for the required days – (see clarification below). Food is very personal and it’s imperative you find out what works for you based on your size, gender, calorie burn and speed of running. The front runners will use carbohydrate and fat as fuel as they will run at a faster pace and therefore they will potentially fuel ‘during’ each stage with carbs. However, as you move through the pack going into groups 2-5 the need for fat as a fuel is more important and therefore ALL runners before heading out to any multi-stage race should ideally have taught their bodies to use fat – we have an unlimited supply of this fuel! Post run it’s important to repair, we need protein for this and re-stock energy supplies, we need carbs for this. Dehydrated meals for many runners form the basis of a morning meal and evening meal. Many options are available, some people can eat anything, others are very particular. Keep in mind allergies such as gluten intolerance and decide in advance will you go hot or cold food. For me, the additional weight of a Titanium stove and fuel is worth it for hot food and a drink. We sampled some dehydrated food in 2015 HERE. In 2015 I worked hard to reduce pack weight to the minimum with a coaching client and we made sure we dialled food choices in to provide desired calorie needs but also keep weight low.

Recommended meals FIREPOT

As an example:

  • Dehydrated Meals x6 672g
  • Dried Mango 93g x 4 372g
  • Porridge 59g x 7 413g
  • Coffee 1g x 10 10g
  • Peanut Butter 33g x 5 165g
  • Honey 21g x 8 168g
  • Mini Salami 10g x 10 100g
  • Tropical Mix Bag 194g
  • Sesame Bites 27g x 6 162g
  • Dried Banana Block 270g
  • Mixed Nuts 200g x 2 400g
  • Macademia Nuts Bag 153g
  • Cranberries Bag 175g
  • Pitta Wraps 296g

Total Weight 3550g

**Mandatory kit – see clarification

***Water – see clarification

EQUIPMENT LIST as an example

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It’s important to note that equipment must be specific to the race you are doing and race conditions. The list below is an example of equipment for Marathon des Sables. However, if I was going to Atacama or the Grand to Grand (both self-sufficient) I would be looking at a heavier and warmer sleeping bag and a warmer jacket. Temperatures at night get much colder than the Sahara. The Grand to Grand can also have rain, so that would need consideration.

It’s important to note that equipment will not make you complete any race. What it can do is make the process easier and more comfortable. If you were looking for a one-stop solution, I would say that if you went away and purchased the equipment list below, you would have a comfortable and successful race. The exceptions come with shoes, that is personal and food. Food choices below are personal but a good example, you must find what works for you.

Also, note that minimum pack weight (on day one) at MDS is 6.5kg. So, you can keep purchasing lighter and lighter and then find that you are too light. I have done this. The plus side of this, is that lighter equipment allows you to take more food and/ or more options – again a good thing. For example, in my equipment list, I could go with a slightly lighter jacket, I could not take poles and I could leave the iPods at home and that would allow me 2 or 3 more dehydrated meals. However, I would prefer the equipment I want and am happy with and add 2,3,4 or 500g for the first day. Remember, the pack gets lighter as the day’s pass.

WEARING:

Hat: A good hat that will keep the sun off your head, the option to have neck coverage is a good idea and ideally make sure the inside of the peak is black. It reduces flare from the sand.

inov-8-hat

Shirt: A good t-shirt that provides coverage for the shoulders, is light and breathable.

inov-8-atc-t-shirt

Shorts: Lightweight shorts that cause no irritation or friction.

inov-8-atc-trail-short

Socks: Injinji Trail Midweight or Injinji Outdoor 2.0 (which is Merino wool)

injinji-midweight

Shoes: Ultimately a shoe must fit you and fit well. There is no need to go larger, on the contrary, a shoe that is too large allows ones foot to move, a moving foot creates friction and friction creates blisters! However, a wider toe box can be a good option, depending on individual foot shape. Read HERE about how a shoe should fit. Consider how long you will be on your feet, the demands on a shoe are very different for someone who will finish in 20-hours in comparison to someone who will take 60-hours. Consider body weight too; a heavier individual may well need a more substantial shoe. For a race like MDS, a trail shoe is not essential, but for most preferable. Good shoe options for ‘neutral’ runners: Nike Wildhorse, inov-8 Trail Talon, Hoka One One are very popular and for zero-drop enthusiasts, Altra and inov-8 Terraultra G270. Gaiters are essential and typically Raidlight or MyRaceKit are the most popular. You can glue them on (with care and ideally some experience) but most people have them sewn on via Kevin Bradley at Alex Shoe Repairs.

Watch: Coros Vertix  – The Coros range of watches have made a huge difference in the ultra world. The Vertix will last the whole of a race like Marathon des Sables on one charge. Here

Buff: Any

Glasses: Oakley Prescription – Prizm Trail Flak 2.0 has interchangeable lenses so I can switch from clear and smoke

oakley-flak-20-xl-matte-black-black-iridium

IN THE PACK:

*Ultimate Direction Fastpack 25 555g – It’s a simple pack that is light, fits to the torso well, comes in S/M or M/L, holds two large bottles comfortably against the torso and importantly they don’t bounce and it has 3 external stretch pockets. The main compartment has a roll-top closure, so, as pack contents get less, you can roll the pack smaller to reduce any problems with contents moving around. *This pack has had some upgrades and changes. Here

Worth considering now are new packs from Montane such as the Trailblazer 30 (no bottle up at the front) and the OMM Phantom 25 (the OMM has had some criticism on durability).

ultimate-direction-fastpack-20

Häglofs Essens 160g – is super light jacket with treated down suitable for a multitude of conditions – here

PHD Minimus K Sleeping Bag 380g – PHD work for me, you can have them custom made with or without zips and they are excellent. Yeti make a bag that is more than 100g lighter but I prefer the warmth and comfort of the PHD. Here

phd-minim-ultra-k

Thermarest Prolite Small 310g – Small, comfortable and you can double up and use it as padding in your pack OR Sea to Summit (here)

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Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles 290g – Lightweight and folding that provide 4-wheel drive when walking.

black-diamond-carbon-z-pole

Black Diamond Spot Headtorch w/ batteries and spares 120g – Powerful (200 lumens), lightweight with many varied settings.

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Esbit Stove 11g – Small, lightweight and simple.

esbit-stove

Esbit Titanium Pot 106g – Small, lightweight and durable.

esbit-pot 

Esbit Fuel 168g

esbit-fuel

iPod Shuffle x2 64g – Life saver

Spare Socks 91g – Injinji Trail Midweight or Injinji Outdoor 2.0 (which is Merino wool) 

Flip-Flops 150g – But Xero True Feel are good.

 sandals

Total Weight 2406g If I was looking to be very minimalist and as light as possible, I would not take the stove, pot and fuel and the poles, total 1831g. But, I would probably prefer the option for hot food/ drinks and work around no poles, so total weight would be 2116g.

EXTRAS:

  • Compeed 22g
  • Sportshield 8g
  • Corn Wraps 8g
  • Spork 10g
  • Pen Knife 22g
  • Compass 32g
  • Matches 20g
  • Savlon Antiseptic 18g
  • Toothpaste 36g
  • Tooth Brush 15g
  • Superglue 3g
  • Space Blanket 60g
  • Hand Gel 59g
  • Wipes 85g
  • Toilet Paper 36g
  • Safety Pins 5g
  • Ear Plugs 2g
  • Venom Pump 28g
  • Blindfold 15g
  • Sun Cream 80g
  • Whistle 15g
  • Signal Mirror 12g
  • SPOT Tracker 113g

Total Weight 806g

TOTALS:

Pack and Main Kit Contents: 2406g

Extras: 806g

Food: 3550g

Total 6762g

This pack weight includes poles and cooking utensils plus luxuries like Mp3

 (water would be added to this weight)

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IN SUMMARY

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I enjoy the process of looking at kit, looking at the options available and working out what is best for me and my situation. In some respects, I am lucky as I can test many items out in the market place and decide what I do and what I don’t like. However, trust me, products these days are so good that you can’t go wrong with almost any of the choices. Yeti, PHD, Haglofs etc. all make great sleeping bags, they will all work. Mountain Hardwear, Yeti, Mont-Bell etc. down jackets are all excellent, they all work. I could go on, but you get the picture. Like I said at the beginning, multi-day and desert racing is not complicated, don’t make it so. The only item you need to be sure on is shoes, make sure you get that right. But then again, I am sure you were running before you entered your multi-day race? You were using run shoes, be them road or trail and one must assume that they gave you no problems? If the answer is yes – why change them!

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Finally, we all love equipment and gadgets, it’s fun to go shopping and get new items. However, being physically fit and mentally strong is what will get you to the finish line – equipment is just part of the process, remember that.

Good luck!

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Clarification:

*Food (As required at Marathon des Sables)

He/she must select the type of food best suited to his/her personal needs, health, weather conditions, weight and backpack conditions. We remind you that airlines strictly forbid the carrying of gas (for cooking) on board either as hand luggage or otherwise. Each competitor must have 14 000 k/calories, that is to say a minimum of 2,000 k/calories per day, otherwise he/she will be penalized (see ART. 27 and 28). Any food out of its original packaging must be equipped, legibly, of the nutrition label shown on the product concerned. Any food out its original packaging must be equipped, legibly, of the nutrition label shown on the product concerned. 

**Mandatory Kit (as specified at Marathon des Sables)

  • 10 safety pins
  • Compass 1deg precision
  • Whistle
  • Knife
  • Disinfectant
  • Venom pump
  • Signal mirror
  • Survival blanket
  • Sun cream
  • 200-euro note
  • Passport
  • Medical certificate

***Water (as specified for Marathon des Sables)

Liaison stage: 10.5 liters per person per day

  • 1.5 liters before the start each morning,
  • 2 or 3 x 1.5 liters during the race, at check points,
  • 4.5 liters at arrival post.

Marathon stage: 12 liters per person per day:

  • 1.5 litre before the start in the morning,
  • 1.5 liters at check-points 1 and 3,
  • 3 liters at check-point 2,
  • 4.5 liters at arrival post. 

Non-stop stage: 22.5 liters per person over 2 days:

  • 1.5 liters before the start of the race in the morning,
  • 1.5 liters at check-points 1, 3, 6,
  • 1.5 or 3 liters at check-points 2, 4 and 5,
  • 4.5 liters at arrival post,
  • 4.5 liters at the bivouac.

Why not join our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote. The camp takes place in January each year.

Information HERE

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How to deal with Race Postponement

This article is geared toward Marathon des Sables but is valid for any race with some adjustments and specific changes appropriate to the type of race and distance.

Marathon des Sables, once again, has been postponed. Originally scheduled for April 2020, the race was moved to September 2020 amidst growing worries and concerns over Coronavirus. As September approached, the writing was already on the wall and the decision was made to focus on April 2021 – everything will be fine then, won’t it!?

December 2020 soon came and with it, increased infection rates, new variants and despite the optimism of a vaccine, the world once again crumbled under the cloud of an ever-spreading pandemic. Christmas was cancelled and the new year unfortunately had nothing ‘new’ about it, it carried far too much of the old year.

January has been a disaster and the long-term view is not good. The world once again has been in a lockdown, some far worse than others. One thing is for sure, we are all a long way from ‘normal!’ So, it came as no surprise as events were cancelled all over the world.

Patrick Bauer.

MDS race director, Patrick Bauer, travelled to Morocco to assess the situation and on January 22nd, the MDS was once again postponed to another time; October 1-11, 2021.

All is good… the race WILL come!

I think it’s important to clarify, here and now, that at the end of the day, when people are dying globally, for a race to be postponed, is no big deal… I think once you accept that, dealing with race cancellation, disappointments and postponements becomes so much easier. It´s only a race! And we are fortunate to be able to race. It’s a luxury. But equally, livelihoods are struggling, RD´s are losing work, all the businesses associated with races are losing work, travel companies are losing customers, hotels, restaurants, design agencies, photographers, videographers and the list goes on, are all losing their livelihoods to an ongoing escalating pandemic. So while it is only a race, have a consideration for all involved and maybe, a little understanding for the very difficult challenges everyone is facing at the moment.

The locals need MDS, our tourism and our regular trips to Morocco.

Taking MDS as an example, 2020 participants will have entered in 2019 and some may well have entered in 2018. Typically, a MDS participant will prepare for 1-year. While the initial postponement was not great, it was easy to focus on September. 

Then September was cancelled… Already, many were struggling to re-focus, but April would be it, one last push and we are good to go! 

Now, with another postponement, MDS runners are left in a void, the race is 8-months away. They are all asking, what do I do now?

Gemma Game has been on the podium of MDS multiple times. She is a busy professional with a family.

Firstly…

When things change, adjust. Don´t kick-off against what has changed. Accept what is not in your control and control what you can. Adapt, move on (with running shoes) and train differently for a while; focus on different aspects of your running, weaknesses in particular. Look at the opportunities – focus on speed, work on hill strength, build a good core, do drills, stretch, maybe try yoga? A change of focus will give a physical and mental break and will help your performance. When the time is right, resume an appropriate training plan for your chosen race. I guarantee, you will be stronger, better prepared and ready for the challenge ahead. You are lucky and fortunate that you are able to even contemplate a race like MDS.

Uncertainty is a virus in itself, it can eat away at you. Quite simply, remove negativity and question marks. The current dates for MDS are 1-11 October. Do not consider the event will not happen, plan and train accordingly.

The reality is you are already in a good place. You have been training for a great deal of time already, just imagine how much better you will be when October comes.

Training in Lanzarote on a specific Multi-Day Training Camp HERE

Importantly though, it would be fool hardy to carry on with current training levels for an October race. You run the risk of injury and/ or getting peak fitness too early. Take a break!

“One of the mistakes I see most with runners is jumping from one race specific cycle to the next, without either giving themselves enough time between races or not “focusing” on training during the time between race and “taking a break”.

– runnersconnect

Kick back, take some time off from any structured plan and do a week/ two weeks (or even a little longer) of ´how you feel´ training. In this period, take time (with a piece of paper) to assess personal strengths and weaknesses. From this list, you can use February and March to address these weaknesses while ´maintaining´ fitness. Back off any intensity, maintain some decent mileage/ hours and keep sessions moderate.

Tom Evans placed 3rd at MDS and works on strength and core to enhance his running.

Importantly, get a running MOT from an experienced physio. Address any problems now and use that ‘extra’ time for therapy, strength, stretching and core. Find any underlying problems that may cause injury.

Work on admin – food for the MDS (article HERE), pack, sleeping bag (article HERE) sleeping mat and finalise equipment choices optimising weight, size and cost. Do everything you can to make your pack 6.5kg (plus water) for the start line on October 3rd. Read a guide HERE.

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 HERE from the 12-week plan. Purchase HERE.  

View a sample week HERE from the 24-week plan. Purchase HERE.  

*****

The arrival of April will give you 6-months to race date. Now is the time to re-focus. Did you have races planned? If so (and they happen) maybe now they change focus and become preparation for MDS?

Use 3-months (April, May and June) to build on the weaknesses that you have worked on in February and March and lay the foundations for the key phase, July, August and September.

“One of the most common reasons runners hit a plateau is that they don’t work on their weaknesses between races, by focusing on your weaknesses now, you’re able to make progress long-term, even without training as hard.”

– runnersconnect
Do some specific training, here Sondre Amdahl at the Lanzarote Training Camp HERE

July should be the start of a very specific MDS phase (12-weeks) where you fine-hone all the relevant skills to make the 35th MDS not only successful but awesome.

It is easy to feel deflated with another disappointment and postponement but look at this cloud with a silver lining!

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Articles:

Choosing a sleeping bag for an adventure HERE

Fuelling for a Multi-Day like MDS HERE

Multi-Day Racing – It´s Not Complicated HERE

The Ultimate Equipment Guide to Desert Multi-Day Racing HERE

Top Tips to Better Multi-Day Running HERE

References Runners World and runnersconnect

*****

Follow on:

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Episode 191 – Dr Jodie Moss

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

One Sees Clearly Only With The Heart

One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Water splashed over the large brimmed hat. Gilles poured and poured on Didier’s head to help reduce his temperature. Droplets floated in the air like stars in space and as they made contact they exploded with dramatic effect.

Dry and crusty salt on cheeks and lips disappeared with the release of the water but moments later re-appeared as the searing 50+ degree temperatures evaporated the water that continued to pour.

It was midday. Gilles and Didier had only dented the 80km distance that needed to be covered before the 34-hour cut off would be imposed on the longest day of the iconic Marathon des Sables.

Moving onward, Didier embraced Gilles arm for stability. A very sore and enflamed right knee could give way at any moment resulting with a fall. Gilles as ever was faithful to the cause and provided the support and self-sacrifice to ensure that Didier’s journey to the line was safe and as trouble free as possible.

Darkness approached and with it some food and rest. With a new lease of life, the two continued into 13 km of relentless dunes that reached two to three meters in height. In the distance a green laser showed the direction to follow. It was a beacon of hope, slowly but surely getting closer. Two become one and as the sunrises and the heat returns, victory and the opportunity to fight another day seems possible.

From the finish line two shadows on the horizon appear. It is 4pm in the afternoon. The warriors have been on the trail for 32 hours. Tired, weary and emotional they approach the line.

I see a tattoo glisten in the scorching light on the arm of Didier; an MDS logo on his arm with nine stars around it, a star for every completed MDS. Next to the 9th star a space, would he obtain that 10th star at this edition of the race?

In the final meters to the line you can hear the shouts from MDS staff, “Bravo Gilles”, a marshal shouts “Allez Didier” and then the clapping and whoop whooping starts. It’s done, they cross the line an incredible 75.7 km’s completed over some of the most demanding conditions possible.

Didier falls into the arms of Gilles in an embrace similar to a small child who has just found a lost mother.

Tears stream down his face as he sobs uncontrollably. Gilles, all smiles, pulls away and kisses him on each cheek with a passion seldom seen. It’s a moment to savour! They are the last two runners on the course and the moment epitomizes all that the Marathon des Sables represents. It shows a bond between two people and confirms all that is good and pure in human nature and ultra-running.

You see this is no ordinary achievement.

Gilles is a guide and Didier is blind.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

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     Article was first published in 2013 and later for Runultra

Mount Toubkal and the Atlas Mountains in Winter

Located just 75-minutes’ drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the Toubkal National Park and Jebel Toubkal(4167m) is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.

 Toubkal has two-seasons, Winter and Summer. In winter, summiting the peak brings new challenges as it is completely covered in snow. Winter mountain skills are required, and the use of crampons is essential.

I wrote an in-depth article about visiting Toubkal in summer months HERE and some of the information from that article is repeated below.

PRACTICALITIES

The gateway to Toubkal is Marrakech which is less than a 90-minute journey away from Imlil via taxi or private car. Imlil is the starting point for any adventure in the Atlas Mountains with a small village of restaurants, shops and hotels.

Flights to Marrakech are abundant and many budget airlines offer great prices, particularly if one can travel on a weekday.

If you have not been to Morocco before, I strongly recommend staying in Marrakech for several days before and after any trip to the Atlas. Even now, after multiple trips to the region, I still enjoy a pre/post stay in a Riad (local traditional hotel) to help provide some luxury and RnR either side of a strenuous hiking/ climbing period. There are many Riads in Marrakech all offering something unique and prices vary considerably, my favourite is the Dixneuf La Ksour which has only 6 rooms.

If you have been to the region before and want to maximize time, it is of course possible to land in Marrakech, get a taxi at the airport and be in Imlil within 2-hours. Riads in Imlil are very inexpensive and I have stayed at the ‘Riad Atlas Prestige’ on all my trips – it is inexpensive and offers great food.

A taxi to Imlil will be approximately 40 euro and a private car, usually arranged by your Riad will be 80 euro. 

TOUBKAL and the ATLAS MOUNTAINS

If you have not been to the region before, it would make sense that you visit the area in the non-winter months when hiking/ climbing is much easier and very predictable.

Please note! You now MUST have a guide for any treks/ climbs in the region. This was a rule imposed in late 2018. There are currently three passport checkpoints on the way to the refuge. This in time will change with one new police checkpoint that is currently being constructed just before the entrance to the National Park.

Our guide, Mustafa

The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to plan a booking as you are able to arrange a guide and a bed at the refuge all in one email. Hamid is my contact who is always helpful.

refugetoubkal@gmail.com – Liaise with Hamid.

Refuge Tariffs (Jan 2020):

  • 34.5 euro per person per night full board (Dinner, breakfast and lunch)
  • 29.5 euro per person per night half board (Dinner and breakfast)
  • 19.5 euros per person per night (without meals) 

The refuge can also arrange the following for you:

  • Transport from and back to Marrakech
  • Accommodation in Imlil
  • Mountain Guide 

A guide will be approximately 50-80 euro per day and is payable in Euro (cash only).

CLIMBING and TREKKING

Toubkal is considered an entry level 4000m peak and as such it is a great place for training and gaining experience, particularly in summer.

In winter, it is still considered an entry level 4000m peak, however, far more equipment is required and some exposure to harsh winter environments would be strongly recommended.

In summer one can usually wear shorts and t-shirts during the day but it is essential to have trekking pants, a warm upper layer, waterproof jacket/ trousers, hat and gloves at a minimum for any summit treks. Poles are for many an essential item too!

Winter is completely different, and the environment can be very harsh and dangerous. One needs to be prepared for conditions that can be below -20 with very strong winds, thick snow and a great deal of ice.

At a minimum you will need:

  • Merino base layer, top and bottom.
  • Trekking pants.
  • Mid-layer thermal top.
  • Down or Primaloft upper insulation.
  • Gore-Tex or equivalent out layer, top and bottom.
  • Very warm gloves. Probably with inner Merino layer.
  • Very warm socks, usually two pairs made up from inner Merino and outer mountain sock.
  • Climbing boots suitable for harsh winter than can take a mountain crampon – La Sportiva G5 as an example.
  • Crampons.
  • Ice Axe.
  • Poles.
  • Pack.

Sleeping bag (the refuge is usually quite warm (in the sleeping dorm), so, with a merino base layer, a bag with comfort to -5 should be ok). 

ROUTE TO THE REFUGE

 Imlil to the refuge is designed to introduce you to the terrain and slowly adapt you to the altitude. Imlil is at 1800m and the ‘Les Mouflons’ refuge is at 3207m. Depending on experience and adaptation, Imlil to the refuge can take 3-6 hours.

Leaving Imlil, you have a narrow trail that rises quickly to a road and then the village of Aroumd. Here you will meet the first passport control and then you cross a floodplain before starting the climb to the refuge. The terrain is rocky and rough but not dangerous. Chamharouch is the next passport control and here you will see a large white rock that is a Muslim Shrine. Here it is possible to by water, food if required and soft drinks such as coke.

Depending on the time of year and how harsh the winter has been, snow may already be present on the trail. Usually, just wearing trekking shoes or boots is fine to the refuge, however, it can be possible to need to add crampons in a harsh year, so, make sure they are easily accessible from your pack when you leave Imlil.

Passport check point

The path now climbs steeply and gently reaches upwards, once again the terrain is rocky. You will arrive at two disused building that now sell drinks and here is the 3rd and final passport check. Before you know it, you will arrive at the refuge located at 3207m.

Depending on what you have arranged with your guide, you will have a meal at the refuge and then you will stay in a shared dorm with all the other climbers. These dorms are often unisex, so be prepared. You also need to be self-sufficient in terms of sleeping bag, additional clothes and warm layers. Everyone usually sleeps by 8/9pm. Bring wet wipes/ toilet roll as this is not provided at the Refuge.

Dinner is typically served at 1830 and offers soup, bread, a carb rich main meal with protein, fruit dessert and tea. A shop is available to purchase soft drinks, water, chocolate and other items.

Breakfast is bread, mixed jams/ honey, soft cheese and a selection of drinks. Depending on one’s plans, breakfast is often served from 0400 through to 0900.

Lunch is served on request.

ROUTE OPTIONS

TOUBKAL

The standard Toubkal summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0810 (+/-) in winter, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m and arrive at the correct time to experience sunrise.

Note – It is dark for pretty much all the climb and very, very cold. How cold depends on many factors but be prepared! Ambient temperature may be -10 but in the wind chill this can easily be beyond -20.

The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. The snow and ice can be unpredictable, and crampons are essential. The use of poles is highly recommended and the carrying an ice axe is in my opinion compulsory. You may very well not need it, but better to have one just in case.

 Once at the saddle, the trail goes left and right. Here you go left for a final push to the summit. On a clear day, the views are magnificent and if you time it correctly, the sunrise can be truly magical. The terrain here is not as steep but depending on route options, it can be a little more technical.

Most arrive at the summit between 0745 and 0900 to experience the winter sunrise. Depending on the day, hanging around is usually not an option; it is too cold. Of course, you may want to take a photo? Be careful! Removing gloves at the summit in -20 is not a good idea. Be sensible.

 Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. Rely on your crampons on the descent, they provide great security and often, depending on conditions, it is possible to take a more direct line. Let the guide dictate, they know all the route options and will keep you safe.

Once back at the refuge, many take a break for lunch and they will look to descend back to Imlil in the afternoon via the exact same route they went up the previous day.

The above scenario is the classic Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil mini-trek that is ideal to do over a weekend, Friday to Sunday or as a mid-week adventure. If possible, I always recommend mid-week, far less people!

FAST OPTION:

If you are experienced or want a challenge. Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil can be done in one day. I have done this twice now, once in Winter and once in Summer. Depending on one’s speed and ability, it is possible to leave Marrakech at 0530, meet a guide at 0700 in Imlil, summit at midday/ early afternoon and then be back in Imlil before dark.

The above is not for everyone, but for me, it was an ideal opportunity to fit an action-packed day between holiday days, before and after in Marrakech.

ALTERNATIVE OPTION:

Once you have summited Toubkal it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very lose scree and lots of technical rocks in summer. In winter, you would need an experienced guide who understands the route and weather conditions and you personally would need a greater level of skill. The route rejoins the main trekking path and you then have an option to go left and return to Les Mouflons refuge or go right and return to Imlil. 

OUANOUKRIM ROUTES

Located high above Les Mouflons refuge, Ouanoukrim offers the 2ndTIMZGUIDA’ and the 3rd, ‘RAS’ highest peaks of the Atlas range. These two peaks are often neglected due to Toubkal being the highest peak, but these two are just a fraction lower at 4089m and 4083m and they offer much more challenging and technical climbing.

Leaving Le Mouflons, one heads up the mountain, Toubkal is to the left and you take the valley leading to the peaks ahead. The out and back trek/ climb is longer than Toubkal and the early gradients are less severe. However, as one moves up the climb the terrain becomes increasingly challenging and steeper.

At the saddle, you can decide to go left for RAS or right to TIMZGUIDA. TIMZGUIDA is higher and a more challenging climb that in winter requires more advanced scrambling skills, the need for an ice axe and a level head. It’s a stunning route that is perfectly achievable, even for a novice climber, as long as you have a good guide and the correct equipment.

After several scrambling sections, the mountain opens up with one last scramble to the summit.

The return is via the way you arrived, so, constantly ask yourself on the way up, ‘Am I happy down climbing these sections?’ – It is always easier to climb up than climb down. Exposure to the elements is a factor that you must consider, especially in the final 100-200m where the mountain is exposed. On my most recent trip, we had thick snow which made trekking up and down hard, we had snow flurries, thick mist, fog and very, very cold temperatures.

Of course, it is possible to do RAS and TIMZGUIDA in one day.

OTHER ROUTE OPTIONS

AFELLA 4043m and AKIOUD 4035m are two other route options from the Toubkal refuge.

AFELLA is to the west of the refuge with more complex faces. The majority of the winter lines are on the south face and are accessed by a narrow ravine. The east face requires ice climbing.

AKIOUD is accessed from the south via the ‘Assif ait Maine.’ The climb can take 3 hours based on conditions and it is possible to ski down following a south east direction.

Other route options exist that can be made up of multiple days. 

EQUIPMENT:

As suggested previously, summer on Toubkal and you can get away with standard running apparel with the addition of a warm layer (PrimaLoft or down) and water/wind proof top and bottoms for the climb and summit. Gloves, beanie, buff and so on are also essential.

In winter, you need very specific equipment which I will list below with links. Climbing boots are large and heavy and I strongly suggest you use a much lighter approach shoe or run shoe for the trek from Imlil to refuge and back.

 Base layer:

RAB Forge leggings and top

Mid layer:

RAB Shadow hoody

Insulation:

RAB Xenon Jacket (Stratus insulation) 

Pants:

RAB Torque and Winter Torque

Gloves:

RAB Forge liner glove and RAB Xenon Mitt

Hat:

RAB Shadow Beanie 

Waterproof layer:

inov-8 Stormshell

Shoes:

La Sportiva Mutant (used for Imlil to refuge) 

Boots:

La Sportiva G5 mountaineering boot 

Crampons:

Petzl Irvis Hybrid

Ice axe and Poles:

Petzl Glacier and Black Diamond Distance Z Carbon

For extreme cold:

RAB Neutrino Pro Jacket

RAB Aragon Pants (down)

Sleeping Bag:

RAB Neutrino 600

Other:

Make sure you have good sunglasses and I found goggles essential in winter conditions.

Make sure you apply sun screen.

I recommend you have an emergency tracker, I use a Garmin InReach for all outings. 

TIME OF YEAR:

Summer:

August for me is perfect. Marrakech is hot but has less tourists. Expect 30-40 degrees during the day. Imlil to the refuge, temperatures will be somewhere between 15 degs at 0700 and 30 deg in the afternoon.

Winter:

January through to April provides excellent winter conditions and snow/ ice levels will vary depending the usual weather variations. I have climbed in January and April. January provided more extreme conditions with much colder temperatures. 

RETURNING TO IMLIL

The way to return to Imlil is via the trekking path used when coming out. There is no need or requirement to visit the control points and show your passport.

This January Toubkal and Atlas Mountain trip was undertaken in preparation for a 2020 expedition to Nepal for the ‘Three Summits Expedition‘ – read more HERE

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

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Twitter – @talkultra

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Lanzarote Training Camp 2020 – Day 8 and 9

The penultimate day of our training camp was a cracker and one that many of the camp attendees have called a highlight.

Our first run was between 8-10 miles and included a climb, traverse and descent of the Montana Soo. It’s a great route and one that pushes many out of their comfort zone as the terrain is often steep, technical and challenging with loose stones.

At the summit it provides a great photo opportunity with Club La Santa off to the right in the distance.

For the more experienced runners, they move fast over the terrain embracing the challenge that it brings. Others move slower, more deliberate and thoughtful. We include it in the camp as it closely replicates the feeling and exposure that one can get at the large Djebel at Marathon des Sables.

After the mountain loop, we all returned back to CLS for a 3 hour break before a self-sufficient run. This is our mini multi-day experience that allows all our clients to run to a bivouac location in ability based groups with packs carrying sleeping bag, essential, dehydrated food for dinner and breakfast and a minimum of 1.5ltr of water. Most packs weigh around the 5kg mark.

We transport tents to the bivouac, rationed water and two gas burners to provide hot water for cooking. Once the runners leave CLS, they are self sufficient.

At the bivouac, they put up tents.

As the sun disappears they test out dehydrated food and simulate a bivouac experience. They understand the weather, the need for warmth and then they sleep under the stars.

Our night started perfectly with beautiful clear skies. Amazing star views and warm temperatures. As the night progressed, the wind increased and very much simulated a stormy night in the Sahara. For many, it was a sleepless night with shaking tents and sand being blown everywhere.

An early breakfast call, self-sufficient breakfast, water rations given and they were then off for another 13-miles of soft-sand and dune training before returning back to CLS.

Our final day has one final talk by Elisabet Barnes and Sondre Amdahl and then a group dinner to say farewell…

The next time we will all meet will be in Morocco for the 35th Marathon des Sables.

Our 2021 Training Camp will be announced soon HERE

Huge thanks to our coaches guides

Elisabet Barnes 2x MDS champion

Sondre Amdahl MDS top-10 and Trans Atlas winner

Gemma Game 2x 3rd place at MDS

Jodie Moss 8th at MDS

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Toubkal, Morocco Jan 21-25, 2020. Mini-Adventure – Anyone want to join me?

Anyone fancy a mini-trip to Morocco, Jan 21 to Jan 25th?
I am happy for 1-3 people join me.
*****
Plan is to climb and summit Mt Toubkal (4167m) three times in three days! Basic experience of snow climbing from 3000m refuge to summit and back. The climb from Imlil (1800m) to the refuge (3100m) is just trekking.
You will need to be self-sufficient (meals at refuge) and you will need good winter climb boots, crampons and ice axe.
*****
Plan:
  • 21st-  Fly to Marrakech and transfer to Imil, overnight Imlil.
  • 22nd – Imlil to summit and back to refuge with overnight at refuge.
  • 23rd – Early summit for sunrise and back to refuge.
  • 24th – Early start, summit, refuge and then return Imlil for overnight stay.
  • 25th – Back to Marrakech and flight back to London.
*****
If you fancy a mini-adventure please use the contact form below.
You can read about Toubkal HERE

Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100km 2019 Race Preview – Fierce Mind’s Edition

The 2019 Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100k #UMED rolls closer. Now in its 3rd edition, this 100km desert race based in Tozeur, Tunisia, North Africa brings 300 runners from all over the world to experience something very special in a unique environment.

The 1st edition had just 60 runners from 12 countries, for 2018, these numbers escalated to over 150 and a remarkable 20+ countries for 2018 and now 300 will toe the line.

Tozeur is the main city of the Djerid, known for its stunning surroundings it has a mixture of rocky mountains, valleys, salt lakes and desert dunes. The Ultra Mirage© El Djerid (UMED) is the first 100km Ultra Trail taking place in the stunning Tunisian Sahara desert.

A single-stage race that takes runners across a wide diversity of terrain, the start is at Mos Espa, famous as a movie set and tourist attraction as it was the home of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movie. The film set still exists and provides all involved a great opportunity for a photo before or after the race!

Soft sand, small dunes, rocks, dried river beds and multiple oasis, participants have 20-hours to finish the race with very specific deadlines to reach each of the checkpoints which will be between 15-20km apart. Starting at 0700, the race concludes at 0300.

Offering 4 ITRA points and equal prize money for the top female and male athletes, the 2019 edition of UMED looks set to be a great race: #1 EUR 3000, #2 EUR 1500, #3 EUR 500.

2018 Champions, Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes return to defend their crowns, can they beat the course records? Mohamed El Morabity has a faster time from 2017, (08:48:11) but the race route was very different! Elisabet Barnes set the 2018 record, 10:12:12. However, the 2019 route does have approximately 20% course change, and in the words of Race Director, Amir Ben Gacem:

“From cp3 at 50km is identical to last year: straight long lines in the desert. The first part will be the same for the first 20km across Chott el Gharsa. But between 20km and 50km we are probably changing the route to skip the road section in favour of plain desert. It will be more difficult as there will be no shade at all except at check points, and there will be more soft sand.”

MEN

Rachid is the outright favourite and little more needs to be said, he is the desert king. Rachid’s brother, Mohamed, will also return. The duo, both desert specialists, encountered difficult races in 2018 – the intense heat challenging them. Rachid collapsed at the finish line with dehydration and exhaustion, his brother making the podium after a very difficult final 20km. As desert experts, Rachid a multiple champion at Marathon des Sables, Mohamed equally a desert expert, but often in the shadow of his older brother, they are without doubt favorites for the 2019 title.

Sondre Amdahl from Norway will also return after making the podium in 2018 and nearly upstaging the desert king, Rachid. The final 10km really was a spectacular battle as they traded run stride and cadence to be champion. Sondre has raced at Marathon des Sables where he placed in the top 10. Certainly, the single-stage format and 100km distance will suit him as he proved last-year, however, he has been injured recently and therefore his form may well be below his own exacting standards.

Christophe Le Saux, France, also toes the line. He is a long distance expert, has a great history with MDS and he loves the desert. The men’s race will be interesting in 2019!

 

The UK’s Ben Whitfield will not be a name you know, but mark my words, you will after the 2019 UMED!

WOMEN

Two-time Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes, will head up the women’s race and after placing 4th overall, setting a CR in 2018, she is without doubt the favorite. A solid June and July saw Elisabet clock some great training miles which she has tried to maintain throughout August.

Bouchra Lundgren Eriksen will push Elisabet for the victory, a very accomplished marathon runner and podium finisher at MDS, she may well be the one person who challenges the MDS Queen, Elisabet, for victory.

Oriane Dujardin placed 2nd in 2018 and ran a solid and consistent race. With more experience and one year of training, she will once again contend the podium.

Rebecca Ferry has experience in multi-day racing and ultra-running, particularly at the 100km distance. She recently ran CCC and DNF’d, however, she has kept her powder dry since. If she has a good day, she will definitely contend the podium.

Chefia Hendaoui is the female Tunisian hope and she made the podium in 2018 – can she place higher?

As in any race, nothing is guaranteed. As the distance takes its toll, the soft-sand wears the runners down and the heat exhausts, anything can happen. Stay tuned for the action as it unfolds in Tunisia. No doubt, some names will shine that are not mentioned here.

One thing is for sure, the desert, Tunisia and the UMED organisation will provide a special experience for all.

Runners will start to arrive in Tunisia from Thursday 28th and transfer to Tozeur. Friday is registration and briefing and then the action starts Saturday, 0700.

You can obtain more specific information from the race website, HERE

Multi-Day Racing – It’s not complicated

It’s Not Complicated…

Let’s get one thing clear, multi-day racing is simple, it is often over complicated and this creates too many questions and too much confusion.

Let’s hark back to Patrick Bauer’s pioneering days and simplify the process, just like he did. Over the years I have interviewed and chatted with many runners in bivouac and after racing who have done just that, they had applied simple logic and worked out what would work for them. 

Yes, they had taken advice, looked at websites, processed information but importantly they had found out what worked for them. They realized early on that they were an individual and as such, they needed a personal approach to multi-day racing and not a generic one. Not all multi-day races are the same, some are completely self-sufficient, some are semi self-sufficient and others are supported where all you need is transported for you.

When you break a race down, particularly a self-sufficient race, key things are really important:

Pack

Must fit and be comfortable when loaded. Have enough room (but not too much) for all your equipment and provide easy access to fluid. You must also make sure that your race number is visible as per race rules. Think about additional pockets, such as a waist belt for snacks.

Sleeping Bag

Lightweight, packs small and warm enough. I would always recommend a sleeping bag and jacket as it offers more flexibility, reduced weight and reduced pack size. Popular sleeping bags year-on-year are PHD, Yeti and OMM. Read HERE on how to choose a sleeping bag.

Clothes

You just need what you will run in. However, a spare pair of socks is often commonplace and many runners have one or all of the following: a warm base layer, a lightweight down jacket or waist coat, buff and maybe long lightweight pants. Remember, you have to carry everything, so, it’s all about getting the pack as close to minimum weight. At MDS that is 6.5kg plus water.

Sleeping Matt

It’s optional but a good nights sleep is important and usually those who do not take one wish they had. It provides comfort and importantly an insulating layer between you and the ground. Two options exist – inflatable and roll out solid foam. The choice is yours. The inflatable ones offer more comfort, more flexibility in packing but with poor admin, you do run the risk of a puncture. I’ve used inflatable for many years with no issue. A solid foam Matt will last the week with no risks of problems but they roll large and need to sit outside the pack.

Shoes and Gaiters

Shoes (more below) are personal, just make sure they have a good fit, appropriate drop for your needs and suit your run/walk style with enough durability for you. I say ‘you’ because someone like Rachid El Morabity can complete the whole of MDS race in say 21-hours whereas most people won’t even do just the long day in that time – his shoe shoe choice will and can be very different to what most of us need!

Continue reading

Choosing a Sleeping Bag for an Adventure

If you are going on an adventure, taking part in a multi-day race or basically going on a one night jolly in the wilds somewhere, a sleeping bag is going to be an essential item.

Choosing a sleeping bag one would think is easy… Go to a shop, find one that fits into your budget, purchase and use.

The reality is, the above is far from the truth.

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ASK INITIAL QUESTIONS

A good sleeping bag is not cheap and going cheap is most certainly not a good idea. So, from the off, accept that you will need to dedicate a good portion of your hard earned cash.

One sleeping bag will not work in all situations, however, if one is clever, one can make a sleeping bag adapt to other situations and therefore it is possible to increase the range of use and temperatures that a sleeping bag will work in.

Sleeping bags mainly use two fillings: Down or synthetic such as Primaloft.

  • Down: Is lighter and the weight to warmth ratio is higher. It packs smaller and can be compressed to a very tiny package if required. Down however cannot get wet. If it gets wet it all sticks together and will offer no warmth at all. Down is expensive and one should make sure that if purchasing down that it is ethically sourced.
  • Primaloft: A synthetic product, it is heavier and packs larger than down. It’s a cheaper product than down and importantly it can get wet and still retains warmth.

The first questions one should ask are:

  1. Am I using the sleeping bag in a dry or wet climate?
  2. Is the weight of the bag really important. Normally the answer here is, if you are carrying it, yes, the weight is important.
  3. Do I need the sleeping bag to pack as small as possible?
  4. Do I need the bag to work in one or more situations? Another way of looking at this is, do I need to compromise on points 1-3 to get value for money.

Ask some personal questions:

  1. Do I sleep warm?
  2. Do I like to be warm and if not warm, am I miserable?
  3. Am I prepared to be a little cold to be as light as possible?
  4. Do I need a full-length zip, half-zip or am I happy to have no zip?

Consider other factors:

  1. If you are tall, wide, have big shoulders etcetera, etcetera then some sleeping bags will just not work for you as they will be too small.
  2. If you are small/ petite an off-the-shelf sleeping bag actually could be too big for you, this is not a huge problem, but if you wanted the bag to be as small and light as possible, you could go custom made.

Sleeping bags have a ‘Comfort Rating’ as follows:

Upper limit – the highest temperature the average male can expect to have a comfortable night’s sleep at without too much sweating.

*Comfort – the temperature at which the average adult woman can expect to have a comfortable sleep. *This is the ideal for most people choosing

Lower limit – the temperature at which the average adult male can expect to have a good night’s sleep in a curled position.

Extreme – the lowest temperature at which the average adult woman can survive. This rating comes with caution and additional consideration should be given if you plan to sleep in temperatures this low.

Layering:

Irrespective of what sleeping bag you choose. Layering for me is a key consideration when choosing a sleeping bag and this is one key factor that helps make a sleeping bag stretch over a multitude of uses and temperatures. (See the image below.)

  1. Sleeping alone.
  2. Sleeping bag, T-Shirt and shorts.
  3. Sleeping bag, L/S top and long leggings.
  4. Sleeping bag, L/S top, long leggings and Jacket (down or primaloft).
  5. Sleeping bag, L/S top, long leggings, Jacket (down or primaloft) and over-trousers (down or primaloft).

Note – By wearing a hat/ Buff/ balaclava or combination of all three, you will retain a great deal of body heat – remember this!

With the above diagram, you suddenly see how one sleeping bag can cover at least 5 temperature ranges and still provide comfort.

From a personal perspective, I prefer a sleeping bag that is probably not quite warm enough as stand alone for my chosen environment. Why? 

  1. Should the weather be warm, I know my sleeping bag will be fine on it’s own and if it has a zip, I can regulate even more.
  2. I know that I can get warm by incorporating layers.

How do I know what layers I will need and what about additional weight?

The answer to the above is actually part of the process and in some ways, part of the fun of what works for you. Let’s take two scenarios, Desert and Himalayas:

Desert:

Multi-day desert races such as Marathon des Sables, require runners to carry all they need for the duration of the event. Therefore, weight is critical. However, desert temperatures can vary greatly. Some evenings can be mild and even hot. Other nights you can be blasted by wind and sand and the temperature drops to zero or below. So, the sleeping system needs to potentially cover a range of temperatures, let’s say 10 degrees. If you purchase a sleeping bag that is warm at say zero, it is going to be way too hot at 10 degrees. The sleeping bag will also be heavier and pack larger. By contrast, if you had a sleeping bag that was good for say 5 degrees, not only will it be lighter, pack smaller but importantly it will be more comfortable in warmer temperatures. You then make the bag warmer, should you need by adding layers… hat, T, shorts, longer leggings and then finally jacket. A question is often raised about the need for a jacket? I personally think it is essential – they are perfect in the morning and evening when sitting around and importantly, they are that extra important layer if you get a cold night. From my drawing sample, you would be looking at 1 to 4.

“Smart lightweight campers have been using their clothes to boost the warmth of their sleeping bags for years and climbers do it when they have to. Yet most of us are still carrying bags much bulkier and heavier than we need.” – Peter Hutchinson Designs

Himalayas:

The principal of the desert applies to the Himalayas. But obviously, one would not use the same sleeping bag. The initial starting point will be a warmer bag that is obviously heavier and larger. Also, down would almost certainly be the choice. The layering would go from 1 to 5. The reason being that daily temperatures in the Himalayas can be say, 10/15 or even 20 degrees. In the evening, depending where you are and how high you are, the temperatures can be -20. That is a huge difference and therefore you need a system that works over a huge range – this can only come from layering! Read about my Three High Passes Trek HERE

NOTE: Both of the above systems benefit greatly from a good sleeping matt that provides a layer between you and the ground. This is an essential item in my opinion. Not only does it add a barrier, it importantly adds comfort. If you are comfortable, you will sleep better. A good nights sleep means you are fresh and recovered for the next day’s challenges.

Professional explorer, Eric Larsen commented to Outside online:

“Larsen firmly believes in layering heavily in the cold, an opinion developed after years spent sleeping in subfreezing temps. “There is no such thing as a cold night’s sleep, only not enough layers,” he says. “I layer when I’m inside the bag just as much as I do while outside the bag. When you’re climbing Everest, you’re not naked under your down suit. The more heat you can preserve in a warm layer next to your body, the better.”

url https://www.outsideonline.com/2271191/how-experts-layer-sleeping-bag

PRODUCTS

Choosing a sleeping bag is something very personal and we are all individual. A 6ft 2” guy weighing 85kg is going to need something very different than a 5ft 6” woman weighing 55kg, so, keep that in mind!

You know you! It’s ok to ask for advice and recommendations, but you need to keep the points above high in your mind.

There is a general rule with sleeping bags and down jackets, the more you spend, the better they are. But there are many options out there.

Understand that when purchasing a sleeping bag that often it is possible to choose a size, just like when purchasing clothing. For example, a Yeti Passion Three or a Western Mountaineering  Summer Lite comes in M, L and XL.

MDS two time champion, Elisabet Barnes, for many years has been offering advice and a one-stop shop – myRaceKit – for all multi-day essentials and the team at their store are able to provide excellent advice on what options are available for sleeping systems. They stock products from:

Hagolfs, OMM, Nordisk, RAB, Sea to Summit, Yeti, Western Mountaineering and Lightwave.

A UK based company PHD (Peter Hutchinson Designs) takes things one step further and can custom make a sleeping bag to your exact specifications and needs. “…a footzip, which adds 10g and allows some air circulation around the feet. Zips are an option on the Minim bags, but most competitors don’t ask for one. A short zip with draft tube adds about 55gm (2oz): a full zip and tube adds about 120gm (4oz). Zips also add to the packed size.” One of the advantages of PHD is you can get exactly what you need.

A few years ago I compared PHD, OMM and YETI at the Marathon des Sables. Read HERE

CONCLUSIONS

Sleeping bags are an essential piece of equipment. Choosing the correct one can make or break an adventure. In simple terms, a good nights sleep allows you to rest and recover for the next day’s demands.

Nobody likes being too cold, especially at night, so keep this in mind and embrace the layering system.

Understand that we are all individual, what works for one, does not work for all.

Research the race and environment you are racing and check the highest and lowest temperatures. Start looking at sleeping bags with the appropriate *comfort rating and narrow down a search from here.

Remember, not two places are the same! For example, there is a huge difference in the desert/ weather say for Morocco, Atacama and the Grand to Grand in the USA.

Also understand the specifics of your adventure and what bag best suits your needs. To clarify on this, if you are going to the desert and the Himalayas, you will need two sleeping bags as the demands are very different. However, if you are going to the desert and then going back-packing in France in summer, the same sleeping bag will almost certainly work.

A sleeping matt is a no brainer when it comes to sleeping. It adds comfort and a barrier between you and the ground. For example, in the Himalayas when the ground is frozen and hard, why would you not put a barrier between you and basically a hard block of ice. 

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