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

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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

Top Tips To Better Multi-Day Running HERE

Multi-Day Food On The Cheap 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.

 

The 32nd Marathon des Sables takes place in 2017 and runners all over the world are wondering and asking the question, “What equipment do I need for the MDS?”

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 Big Red Run in Australia and The Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun 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.

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 simple list of absolute essentials, one could say that this list is mandatory:

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Buff
  • Jacket
  • 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.

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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.

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. Look at Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, Yeti Companyon Strato, Mont-Bell Plasma 1000 Down, Berghaus VapourLight (not down) and/ or PHD custom made.

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 – 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, MyRaceKit, WAA and Sandbaggers make versions of gaiters.

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.

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 WAA pack is a ‘go-to’ at many races and the Ultimate Direction Fastpack is slowly but surely becoming a favourite. New entries to the market are coming from Salomon 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, in years of using inflatable I have never had an issue. A foam mat is guaranteed to last the race but for me a 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. If you are on a budget, Raidlight offer a ‘Combi’ that is a sleeping bag that converts into a jacket. You kill two birds with one stone and the price is a bargain. However, for me it has downsides – it’s large, heavy and offers limited flexibility with temperature regulation. 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. A lightweight down bag and jacket will be more than likely three to four times the price of the Raidlight Combi. 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, Haglofs, OMM (not down) and Raidlight.

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, my partner Niandi Carmont ran Marathon des Sables and we worked hard to reduce pack weight to the minimum and we made sure we dialed food choices in to provide her with her desired calorie needs but also keep weight low.

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

MY EQUIPMENT LIST

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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. If a rain jacket is on your list, the inov-8 AT/C Stormshell at 150g is hard to beat.

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: inov-8 or The North Face

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Shirt: inov-8 AT/C Base with zip or The North Face ‘Flight’ Series – Both light and functional and allow air flow. I don’t like tight or compression as they are too hot.

inov-8-atc-t-shirt

Shorts: inov-8 AT/C 8” Short or The North Face ‘Flight’ Series – Both light and functional and allow air flow. I don’t like tight or compression as they are too hot.

inov-8-atc-trail-short

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

injinji-midweight

Shoes: The North Face Ultra Endurance, Scott Kinabalu Supertrac or inov-8 Trail Talon – Please note, I am a ‘neutral’ runner who prefers a moderately cushioned shoe with an 8mm drop. I would happily use any of these shoes in any multi-day race. They are comfortable, take a gaiter well, have good protection and they work excellently when walking. Remember what I said, shoes are very personal.

scott-kinabalu-supertrac

tnf-ultra-enduranceinov-8-trail-talon-275

Watch: Suunto Ambit 3 Peak 3 – Has enough battery life for a whole race. If I was worried about weight I would just go with a cheap digital.

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 20L 520g – 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.

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Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Jacket 180g – is super light, has a full zip and pockets, it’s a jacket I can use anywhere. I could go lighter, a little lighter, for example, the Mont-Bell is 50g lighter!

mountain-hardwear-ghost-whisperer

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.

phd-minim-ultra-k

Thermarest Prolite Small 310g – Small, comfortable and you can double up and use it as padding in your pack.

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

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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

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iPod Shuffle x2 64g – Life saver

Buff 16g – Essential

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

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

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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 with 2015 Marathon des Sables ladies champion, Elisabet Barnes. The camp takes place in January each year.

Information HERE

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Support on PATREON HERE

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Top Tips To Better Multi-Day Running

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Is the last edition of the Marathon des Sables always the toughest? It would appear so? You always hear as the race concludes, ‘Wow, that was the toughest race ever!’

Of course many variables come into play when one says it’s the toughest. First and foremost, you most certainly need to have done at least one other edition to be able to compare, but in truth, multiple editions or experiences must count to be able to claim any edition of a race as a toughest. Also, age, fitness, condition, state of mind and so many other variables impact on a decision. It’s not always easy to be ©iancorless.com_MDS2016-2441objective. I have often considered myself to be fit going into a race, only to find that my fitness is not where I thought it was and therefore a race has appeared harder! Truth is, the race was the same, it’s just that I wasn’t up for it. Let’s be clear, I’m not providing excuses, on the contrary, I am trying to provide perspective.

I’ve been at the MDS for the past 4-years, not as a runner (although I have 30-years of experience) but as a photographer and journalist. I like being on this side of the camera, for sure, there are days when I look at the race (or any race) and I wish that were me, once again fighting the terrain and fatigue to achieve a goal. My goals have now changed and as my good friend and photographer (who sadly has passed away) Mark Gillet used to say, ‘I sometimes think it’s harder working on the race than running it! Perspective once again…

I actually don’t agree with Mark, working on the MDS or any multi-day race is hard, stressful and the long 18-20 hour days do have an impact. Yes, I get out on the course and cover the terrain on foot but I get to change my clothes, I get to eat two times a day and although I sleep in a bivouac, it does usually have sides to it which blocks out the wind.

So with the 31st MDS in the bag, I wanted to reflect on the race and provide an objective overview from the outside looking in of what I consider worked and what didn’t work at MDS and provide some key pointers that anyone can take away and apply for a future MDS or other multi-day race. I must stress, these are my thoughts and on some points you will agree and on other points you won’t. That’s ok! It’s called opinion and we are all entitled to one.

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First of all though, lets answer that burning question, ‘Was the 2016 Marathon des Sables ever?’

No!

It was a tough one for sure, it ranks with the toughest but I don’t really think anyone can hand on heart say that any one edition is the toughest.

Each year, Patrick Bauer and his team work a little Sahara magic and as many MDS runners who have participated in previous editions will tell you, the race always covers some familiar terrain. It’s the nature of the Sahara and the complex route of access trails dictate where the race can go and where it can’t due to the huge convoy of vehicles that daily move the ‘circus’ from one place to the next. For example, the 2016 route had much of the 2014 route but in a nod to the tough course, the 2014 route was also considered a tough one with a very big drop out rate on day one.

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Having said all of the above, the 31st edition was a serious toughie and here is why:

Day 1 kicked of with the huge Mezouga dunes that are tough for any runner, even experienced ones. The day also concluded with a tough section of dunes but to add to the difficulty and complexity, midway during the stage winds increased and increased causing severe sandstorms that hampered navigation, onward progress and resulted with a chunk of DNF’s and those who finished were left exhausted.
At 257km, the race was the longest edition ever making all stages close to marathon distance. This impacts greatly on every runner as recovery time is reduced. The long day was not as long as many anticipated at 84km, especially after the 30th edition 90+km day. However, the long day was a tough one with plenty of climbing and loads of soft sand. The final charity day is usually a jog to the line and a way to exit the Sahara and get back to the buses, this year, the charity stage was 17km – too long!
Sand, sand and more sand. I know it’s the Sahara and therefore one would expect sand to be everywhere but in reality, MDS usually only has around about 30% soft sand. This year it was considerably more and that impacted on everyone.
Wind came and went but it’s impact on the racing and bivouac life was notable.
Temperatures rose just in time for the long day and then stayed very high for the remainder of the race.
Day 2 dropout rate was very high which reflected a tough stage but also the knock-on effects from a very tough day 1.
The overall drop out race once the race concluded was over 10%, a sure sign of a tough edition of the MDS.

There you have it, some solid points on why the 31st edition was a tough one and of the many runners who completed the race, I am sure they could add so many more points to my brief synopsis above.

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OVERVIEW©iancorless.com_MDS2016-8488

It’s funny how everyone is now looking to 2017 and the 32nd edition of the race. Questions are being asked – what, how, why, should I, can I, will I and so on…

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MDS is not complicated:
Let’s get one thing clear, Marathon des Sables is a simple race that is over complicated by too much information and too many people saying WHAT SHOULD be done. Let’s hark back to Patrick Bauer’s pioneering days and simplify the process of running the MDS. I interviewed and chatted with many runners in bivouac who had 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 realised early on that they were an individual and as such, they needed a personal approach to MDS and not a generic one. When you break the race down, key things are really important:

Pack – must fit, have enough room (but not too much) for all your equipment and provide easy access to fluid and you must make sure that your numbers are visible as per race rules.
Sleeping bag – lightweight, packs small and warm enough. I would always recommend a sleeping bag and jacket as opposed to a ‘combi’ as it offers more flexibility, reduced weight and reduced pack size. Popular sleeping bags this year were PHD, Yeti and OMM. There is a review on my website that compares all three. The Raidlight Combi was also popular, certainly with a small selection of the British contingent; it worked well and those who used it were happy – all about what works for you!
Clothes – you just need what you will run in. However, a spare pair of socks was commonplace and many runners had one or all of the following: a warm base layer, a lightweight down jacket or waist coat, buff and many had lightweight pants.
Sleeping Matt – It’s an optional one but a good nights sleep is important and those who hadn’t taken one were wishing they had in most scenarios. 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 the past 4-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.

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Shoes and Gaiters – Shoes (more below) are personal, just make sure they have a good fit, appropriate drop for your needs and and suit your run style with enough durability for you. I say ‘you’ because Rachid El Morabity will complete the whole race in 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! Get your Velcro sewn on your shoes and make sure that when you get the shoes back the fit has not been altered. Plan in advance, don’t leave this to the last few weeks.

©iancorless.com_MDS2016-2288Food – You need a minimum amount of calories per day specified in the race rules and how those calories are made up are up to you. This for many is a difficult one. It raises many questions and yes, it’s good to find out what other people do and use but ultimately, YOU have to eat it. The decision to use a stove is another question mark but it would appear that most runners like that hot water option. Remember though, you can make a fire from twigs, shrub and branches that surround bivouac. Also note here that food choices and what you eat during running varies greatly depending on how fast you run. For example, the top runners are done and dusted on the marathon stage in 3-4 hours and they are using carbohydrate as a fuel, they therefore can get away with 1-2 gels. If however, a typical day for you will be 6, 7, 8, 9 or even longer, gels are not going to be a good choice. Fat and real food are going to be essential. Understand this now and you can start making the necessary adaptations in training so that food choices will work for you. Training on limited calories and getting fat adapted is a key element for a successful MDS for many runners. Food is also the heaviest and most bulky thing you will carry, think about repacking in smaller packs and making everything as small as possible.

©iancorless.com_MDS2016_Day0_0003Water and Salt Tablets – These are provided by the race and it’s easy really, take the tablets as recommended and drink the water. Dehydration in 2016 once again was a huge issue.

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Feet – Look after them, along with dehydration, blistered and damaged feet are a key reason for failure in any multi-day race.

Extras – Mandatory kit is as one would expect, mandatory! So purchase what is on the list. You can save weight by shopping around. Simple rule; the lighter and smaller, the more expensive it will be! Optional extras are very personal and my advice would be take nothing extra other than a MP3 player and earphones. The Apple iPod Shuffle is super small, super lightweight and holds plenty of music for MDS (you can even take two). They cost about £40 and music may well just pull you through when the going gets tough. Anything else is a waste in my opinion. Embrace the isolation, embrace a simple life and you will find you have a new perspective at the end of the race.

Hints and Tips to make your race better

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You:
You signed up for the challenge, you wanted to be on the start line and therefore you are responsible for the outcome. Believe me, the you that leaves the Sahara is not the same you that entered. Arguably, you change the moment you pay the deposit, the transformation process begins. Embrace the journey and apply yourself. Most of us can loose a little weight and believe me, pounds shed in training make the race easier. Pointless striving for a 6.5kg pack and then to be carrying an extra 2, 3, 4 or more kg on your body. But keep perspective, the MDS journey is an enhancement of you as a person. It’s easy to become obsessed, ultimately the majority of runners at MDS are enthusiasts, if you keep that in mind the journey will be a complete one.

Training:
Plan ahead, formulate a long term plan and don’t rush. The sooner you start this process, the greater your chance of success and the less chance of injury. Plan stepping stone races and don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to run marathons day-in and day-out. You don’t! Training is about ALL the training you do and not about anyone run.

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Walking:
If we exclude the top 50-100 runners (who also walked) the majority of the 1000 strong field spend a huge amount of time walking. Learn to walk! Believe me, it’s a huge tick in the MDS box and rest assured that if you are able to walk at a good consistent pace (barring injury or dehydration) you will finish MDS. The 31st edition at times (from my perspective) seemed almost like a walking race and this can directly be attributed to more soft sand and longer days. Countless runners I spoke to said, ‘If only I had walked more. I trained to run and now I am here, I am finding that running is a luxury.’

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Poles:
If you are looking to race MDS, figure in the top 100 and are able to run in ‘most’ scenarios, poles will not help your MDS experience. However, once we get out of the top-100 and in particular, once you start to look at the mid to back of the pack, poles may well provide a huge advantage. They provide stability, momentum, drive and in soft sand, they are a little like 4-wheel drive. My recommendation would be try training sessions with and without poles and see what works for you. Don’t get poles 3-4 weeks before a race and think it will be okay… Poles require technique and yes, they will impact on your shoulder, arms and neck. In 31st edition with so much soft sand, poles were a god send for many. They are like Marmite though, some love them, others hate them. For me, they are something I would take. Just make sure you get good ones that are light and that will fold small so that you can pack them when not needed. A good example of this is the big Jebel climb with ropes at the top, some participants struggled up with poles when in reality they needed both hands free for the terrain.

Shoes:
Dare I open this can of worms? Shoes are personal and first and foremost you must consider your own run style – gait, pronation, width, drop and so on. NEVER take advice from anyone online that tells you that ‘X’ is the shoe to wear for MDS unless they know you and your run style. Having said that, certain considerations come into play which help narrow the selection process down. In previous editions of MDS I have seen Hoka One One shoes almost melt with the soft sand, this year, Hoka were one of the most popular shoes and during the race I photographed multiple pairs and saw none of the horror stories from previous year. Brooks have been a popular MDS shoe in recent years and I saw three pairs with horrendous soles that had started to fall apart, however, many runners have commented how well the Cascadia version of Brooks shoes performed. Altra with very low drop and a super wide toe box worked excellently for those who required a minimalist shoe and the re-vamped inov-8 270 (4mm) and 290’s (8mm) had rave reviews from those who used them. Mizuno, adidas and Scott also featured in MDS bivouac amongst others and what was reassuring is how well they all performed. The key here is that runners had found the shoe that worked for them. Make sure you do the same. It’s good to ask for thoughts but ultimately, ask 10-people, you will get 10 view points. Despite all this, there were plenty of foot horror stories. There always will be horror stories and certainly considerable more soft sand added to people’s issues this year. Notably, going back to the walking point, MDS participants often come to MDS prepared to run with shoes that work for running, in some scenarios, these shoes don’t work as well for walking. Think about this and walk in your run shoes! Also shoe size, forget the advice about going up a size or two sizes. It’s a recipe for disaster unless you know that your feet swell? A shoe that is too big will allow your foot to move, a moving for causes friction, friction causes blisters and the rest of the story speaks for itself. General advice is that if you have a ‘thumb nail’ of room at the front of the shoe above the big toe, this generally works. Notice I say ‘generally’ – there are exceptions. One thing that may happen, is your foot may get wider (rarely or never longer) with the heat and additional time on feet, therefore a shoe with a wider toe box often works well for many runners.

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Equipment:
Minimum pack weight is 6.5kg plus water, get as close to this as you can. Additional weight is additional stress and just makes the journey harder. Luxuries are ok if they improve the journey and make it easier, music is a good example of an additional extra. I can’t really think of anything else…

Friends:
You are going to share bivouac with 7 other people and you are going to have some serious highs and lows. These tent mates will pull you through and motivate you. They will become friends for life. Ideally find tent mates before you head out to the Sahara.

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The Mind:
The legs, lungs, heart and feet will only get you so far. The mind is what will get you to the finish. On the long day I was at CP5 with 54km covered and 30km to go. I stayed there all night from 9pm till the early hours of the morning when the last person left with the camels. I saw broken individuals with bodies in tatters but mentally strong. It was amazing to watch people leave with a smile, hobbling at a snails pace and then to see them cross the line later in the day. Despite the hardships and pain, they embraced the journey and mentally where superior in strength. It was the mind that got them to the line.

Laugh:
If you laugh, you are having fun. Laugh when you hit rock bottom, why not. Laugh when you are going the toilet in a brown plastic bag and most of all laugh with and at your tent mates and fellow runners. The comradeship of MDS is quite unique, embrace it.

Admin and preparation that you may not think of:

  • Take essentials on the plane and wear your run apparel and shoes. That way, should a baggage disaster happen your chances of racing improve.
  • Take food with you for the travel and on the plane. If I were running, I wouldn’t eat plane food!
  • The journey from the airport to bivouac 1 is always lengthy, MDS will provide a picnic and water but I would still have my own supplies.
  • Night 1 and night 2 in bivouac are NOT self-sufficient so take extras such as an inflatable bed, food and luxuries that you are happy to give away to the berbers. May as well have 2 comfortable nights and a comfortable day before the racing starts.
  • Food before the race starts in recent editions has been provided by a French catering team. It has always been excellent. For the 31st edition, Moroccan caterers were used for the first 2 nights to provide an ‘authentic’ Moroccan feel and experience. It was potentially food that could increase the chances of going to the toilet. Personally, I’d take food with me that would at least allow me a ‘safe’ option. This is food in addition to your ‘mandatory’ requirement so it can be as much as you require and it can weigh as much as you like.
  • Admin day was a lengthy multi-hour experience in previous editions, in the 31st it was slick and streamlined and seemed to take most people 30-45mins which was great. Just make sure you take some water and a little snack food.
  • Keep sun screen on and keep hydrated. No need to drink vast volumes – drink to thirst before the racing starts.
  • Have additional items such as a base layer, sleeping bag liner and other items that may be on a ‘question’ list for the race. On night 1 and before you go to admin, you can make final decisions of what to and what not to take. Particularly important if you think you may be cold at night.
  • Remember that after bag drop and check-in you have no access to any additional items, however, you only become completely self-sufficient when you start the race. With that in mind, you can have additional food and luxuries with you until day 1 kick-off, it’s a useful tip and does mean that you can have additional comfort for a good 12-hours.

Conclusions:

Marathon des Sables is a magical and life changing journey as are most if not all multi-day races. It really is a true challenge of mind and body to race over many days, irrespective if you complete the race in just over 20-hours or 60+ hours. It’s a hark back to a more primitive time, a time without clutter and modern technology. Embrace this. Embrace the silence of the surroundings and the simplicity of placing one foot in front of the other, eating, resting and sleeping and then doing it all again.

As I said previously, MDS and other multi-day races are all relatively simple in process, you need a minimum of kit, some food, regular water and a level of fitness to complete the challenge. Yes, it is THAT simple.

Plan ahead, do some research on kit but it’s not rocket science. Just find out what works for you and then pray the the multi-day gods are on your side. Drop out rates are relatively low considering the challenge, however, shit happens that you just can’t plan for.

Ultimately get the mind in the right place and the body will follow. A plan ‘A’ is great but have a plan ‘B’ and ‘C.’

Finally, set yourself a realistic goal (that may just be to finish) so that you manage not only your expectations but pace. Way too many start off too quick and most dropouts come on days 1 and 2.

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Join our MULTI-DAY TRAINING CAMP IN LANZAROTE with 2015 Marathon des Sables champion, ELISABET BARNES info HERE

If you need any specialist equipment, Iancorless.com partners and recommends MyRaceKit for expert advice on an multi-day racing equipment requirements.

David Loxton – Marathon des Sables #MDS2016. It’s easier if you laugh.

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British humour, it’s a wonderful thing! Dry, witty and at times it can be difficult to tell if a joke is really being told… David Loxton personifies this and in all honesty, it’s this humour that got him and his tent mates through the 31st edition of the Marathon des Sables. Niandi Carmont picks up the story from within the bivouac.

*****

Nothing like a touch of humour to help your tent mates get through a challenging event like the MDS. Humour is a natural pain-killer …

David Loxton has just finished the marathon stage and joined the ranks of finishers over the 31 editions of the MARATHON DES SABLES. He is relaxed in his tent, a bit grubby as can be expected but grinning from ear to ear. His tent mates look happy too. And no surprise as they are in good company – David is a laugh and a gaffer too.

So how did it go I ask?

“I’ve got no blisters, I’ve got very tough feet and I’ve been very quick most days, apart from the long day where I wasn’t quite as quick.  What else? I hate sand, I hate sunshine …”

His tent mates crack up laughing.

Seriously, I ask if he feels he’s got in enough preparation or was the event tougher than he expected?

“Nobody told me about preparation so I thought I’d just pitch up and do it.” More laughter. “Well I did do a training camp in Lanzarote to train for this in January.”

I ask him if he had any moments of doubt during the event.

“On day 1 actually I did. I thought I can’t do this for the next 5 days. It hurts. Beyond that it was OK.  Apart from day 2 and a few moments of day 3 and most of day 4. Day 5 was good apart from the bad bits.”

I ask him if he would do anything differently if he had to do it again.

“I would probably search online for some tent mates. Probably do some more work on the fitness and definitely pack before the Thursday night. We flew to Morocco on Friday.”

I know he’s not serious but he’s funny anyway and his mates seem to be enjoying his self-depracating humour.

“I’d also bring some business cards for the ladies.”

I ask him if he met some interesting people.

“I met some of the people from the training camp in January. I made myself unpopular with the Helpful Heroes tent by accidently stealing some of their water flavours, the French guys have been good and the Japanese guys too. I’ve loved every moment of it but once is maybe enough for me.”

 

Is he looking forward to getting back to wet, windy and cold UK?”

 “No I’m married.”

And has he learnt anything from his experience? Suddenly David takes on a more serious air, this time he’s not joking, he’s more philosophical.

“In terms of fitness it is surprising what you can do, how far you can push yourself. Sometimes your mind can overrule your body. The guys here have got some pretty horrific blisters and they’ve worked through it and they found more within themselves than they expected.”

When you are back in Ouarzazate and back in civilisation, what is the first thing you will treat yourself to?

“Apart from beer? The first thing will be beer, the second thing will be beer, the third thing will be beer …and after that I will phone home.”

And I lift my glass to David who deserves that long-awaited beer after keeping his mates going with his very special priceless sense of humour!

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Read Niandi’s interview with ladies 2016 MDS champion HERE

Read a summary and view images of the 31st edition HERE

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Natalia Sedykh – FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE #MDS2016

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Niandi Carmont writes from within the bivouac of the 2016 Marathon des Sables, a series of insightful profiles that brings to life the highs, the lows and the inspiration from the worlds most inspiring multi-day race. Lets kick off these interviews with ‘From Russia with Love’ the 2016 ladies champion, Natalia Sedykh.

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The Russian rocket takes us by surprise …

I peep under the bivouac and ask for Natalia SEDYKH. The girl sitting there indicates that it is her. She invites me to sit down. She’s a little distant. She looks calm and composed, not like an athlete who has just completed the long stage of the MARATHON DES SABLES. But then I was expecting that – her race management has been exemplary. She’s paced herself regularly winning every single stage apart from the long one. She’s gained 45 min over her closest rival and is 11th in the overall general.

She relaxes and starts chatting about what got her running and her life in Russia.

“I was in love with a boy when I was 16 and he did 100m hurdles and I wanted to see him every day. So I decided to do track. Initially I couldn’t run consecutive 400m laps because I when I was a child I was told not to run because of my health issues. But I persevered and gradually increased my distance. Since then I’ve trained really hard. If you can dream it, you can do it.”

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She initially concentrated on sprint, then longer distances but she admits to being more of a track athlete. Her PB over 10km is 33min54s.

“I don’t like extreme events. Life in Russia is extreme as it is.”

Her big break came 5 years ago when a coach Serguei Popov discovered her potential. At the time she was still a sprinter. After a period of injury, she stopped for 2 years. She set herself the objective of running her first marathon.

“I am not a professional runner. I’m a professional coach so I coached myself.”

Her marathon PB is 2.46 last year. Her half marathon PB was on slippery ice with -25C. Not exactly your typical MDS temperatures! We talk a little about her life, it’s not easy living in Russia, you need determination, commitment, strength and most of all, willpower.

“I am an ordinary woman. I want to travel, keep fit, maybe get married, have a family and cook nice soups. My father is a train driver and my mother a seamstress. The standard of living in Russia is low. I hope to save and help my parents financially. They believe in me – I need to do my best for them.”

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So back to the subject of MDS. How did she train?

“I did a lot of preparation for this race. Last year I got a penalty so I decided to come back and settle a score. Last year I didn’t get in a lot of preparation. I was a tourist.” She laughs. “I was living in Russia. It was sub-zero, icy, a lot of snow.”

Needless to say the conditions were not the same.

“In addition to that I was overworked. I was working in a fitness club and worked long days.”

She then goes on to explain that she’s been in Dubai for 2 months and is still coaching – novice runners this time.

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I wonder if the past 2 months have allowed her to be heat-adapted?

“In March I missed 2 weeks of peak training as I wasn’t used to the heat. In Dubai you need to get up very early at 5am or 6am to go training because of the humidity.”

I ask her if training in Dubai is complicated?

“Women run with veils. They are very health-conscious. I do my training sessions early or in the desert so I don’t attract attention.”

It’s getting dark and she has to prepare for the next day. I leave her and wonder if this girl who doesn’t like extreme will be back to defend her title in 2017.

Time will tell …

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Words by Niandi Carmont for the Marathon des Sables media team ©marathondessables

Images ©iancorless.com

Natalia went on to dominate the 2016 Marathon des Sables. It was an outstanding performance. As Niandi questions, will Natalia return in 2017? Part of me things not, but then again, who knows… One thing is for sure, Natalia has set a benchmark for all the other ladies to follow, just as Elisabet Barnes did in 2015 by winning every stage. Natalia is the first lady to make the top-10 overall. A remarkable achievement.

Read a 2016 race summary HERE

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Marathon de Sables 2016 – Race Summary and Images #MDS2016

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Photography by iancorless.com

Race summaries by Emmanuelle Lamarle for MARATHON DES SABLES

Translations from French to English by Niandi Carmont

The 2016 and 31st edition of the MARATHON DES SABLES concluded in Morocco on Saturday April 16th. It will go down in the history of the race as one of the toughest and most beautiful editions. At 257km long, it was the longest in the races history and although the long stage was 84km, the daily distance were higher and continually hovered around the marathon distance and thus made the multi-day challenge considerably harder. In the early days, particularly day 1, strong winds and sandstorms battered the runners making what was already a very hard day, considerably harder. This was reflected in day 2 with a high drop out rate. Day 3 was a beautiful stage but just an appetiser for the long day. The feared long day lived up to its reputation and although a very tough, relentless and challenging route, it was compensated for with it’s incredible beauty. Day 5, the classic marathon day, was for many a walk in the park after the long day, this was reflected in the emotions on the finish line when 5 days of effort were released. Day 6, the compulsory charity day concluded the race and with it, each runner received a medal on the line from race director and race creator, Patrick Bauer.

The Sahara, Morocco and the MARATHON DES SABLES never disappoints, 2016 though was a special one – tough, relentless and beautiful. the desert, the multi-day experience and the challenge really does make everyone look inward. The Sahara has a way of stripping you bare, down to your core and the looks of emotion, relief and celebration are moments to savour and all those who completed the journey will be changed forever.

Below is a brief summary of the race week with images to provide some perspective to what has been an incredible 31st edition of the ‘MDS!’

Travel and arrival

DAY ONE

MDSday1Moroccans dominated the men’s race as expected and the female field was shaken up by Russian Natalia Sedyhk.

Make no mistake the top male and female runners were bursting to go. In the minutes preceding the start the Russian athlete Natalia Sedykh (3rd in 2015) was doing some sprint warm ups; a definite indication of her intentions for the race.

An hour and a half later, on the other side of the incredible Mezouga dunes, the first 2 Moroccan runners surged from the North, then 2 other Moroccans joined them. To no-one’s surprise, the fennecs of the desert took advantage of the 12km dune section to open the gap, leaving behind their European competitors. Their run gait is incredible to watch. Light-footed, they hardly touch the sand. Three Moroccans take the lead and finish the stage claiming the first three places: Rachid El Morabity, last year’s winner, Hammou Ou Mohamed Moudouji and Abdelkader El Mouaziz all within 35 seconds of each other. Third and fourth, the Spaniard Jose Manuel Martinez and the Frenchman Erik Claveryfollow 9 and 14 minutes later.

In the female field, Natalia Sedyhk (RUS) arrived first at CP1 looking very fresh, she was pushing a relentless pace and looking to improve on her 3rd place in 2015 when a 2-hour penalty impacted on her race. Nathalie Mauclair followed in pursuit sticking to a regular pace but the Russian was too strong. Natalia sprinted across the finish line victorious winning the stage having outdistanced Nathalie Mauclair by 17 minutes. 2015 race winner, Elisabet Barnes crossed the line third looking relaxed and comfortable. Nathalie was very happy with her performance today:

“I stuck with a group so that I didn’t waste energy battling the wind alone. In the dunes I felt really good but I didn’t want to speed up as I didn’t want to overdo it. In the second dune section I had to use my compass to navigate and that went very well”.

The day was notable in terms of difficulty, especially the strong winds and sandstorms that made running and navigation equally important.

Women
1 – Natalia SEDYHK (RUS) – 3:40:20
2 – Nathalie MAUCLAIR (FRA) – 3:57:30
3 – Elisabet BARNES (SUE) – 4:10:57
4 – Elizabeth HOWARD (USA) – 4:17:50
5 – Fernanda MACIEL (ESP) – 4:22:49

Men
1 – Rachid EL MORABITY (MAR) – TGCC – 3:10:29
2 – Hammou Ou Mohamed MOUDOUJI (MAR) – TEAMAROC – 3:10:45
3 – Abdelkader EL MOUAZIZ – (MAR) – TGCC – 3:11:04
4 – Jose Manuel MARTINEZ (ESP) – 3:20:30
5 – Erik CLAVERY (FRA) – TERDAV EQUINOX 1 – 3:25:52

DAY TWO

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The Gap opens in the Moroccan field in the men’s race and Natalia SEDYHK keeps the lead in the women’s race.

In the first fifteen kilometres of the second stage of the MARATHON DES SABLES race predictions were that the Moroccans would yet again dominate the race and rank in the top 10 of the male field.

On the second part of the course, the Europeans held on and better still even overtook some of their Moroccan rivals including Hammou Ou Mohamed Moudouji , who for his first edition would have liked to stick to the heels of Rachid El Morabity, but he blew up. Which goes to show that even the Moroccans are not perfect!

At the finish Rachid finished before Abdelkader El Mouaziz , and was followed by a duo arriving hand-in-hand : the Spaniard Jose Manuel (Chema) Martinez  and Aziz El Akad . Erik Clavery (D 087 – FRA) finished sixth and was first Frenchman. Sondre Amdahl was seventh.

In the female race, Natalia Sedykh was in the lead again, she seemed a little fragile and less fiery but despite this, she once again dominated the stage making many runners comment, ‘she is on another planet this year!’ Natalia won the stage, finished in the top-10 overall – incredible! Nathalie Mauclair followed 15 minutes later and Fernanda Maciel  came in third position, 2 minutes behind her gaining an advantage over 2015 champion Elisabet Barnes who finished fourth.

WOMEN

D662 SEDYKH Natalia RUS F 7:51:06
D275 MAUCLAIR Nathalie FRA F 8:22:13
D482 MOURA ANTUNES MACIEL Fernanda ESP F 8:49:36
D2 BARNES Elisabet SWE F 9:02:43
D525 HOWARD Elizabeth USA F 9:15:40

MEN

D1 EL MORABITY Rachid TGCC MAR M 6:34:33
D4 EL MOUAZIZ Abdelkader TGCC MAR M 6:35:35
D447 MARTINEZ Jose Manuel ESP M 7:03:36
D6 AKHDAR Samir TGCC MAR M 7:21:16
D3 EL AKAD Aziz TGCC MAR M 7:22:11

DAY THREE

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A foregone conclusion to today’s race – not only do the Moroccans hold a faster pace but they know how to manage their race strategy running together in a small group.

Moroccan runners once again lead the race, setting off at a very fast and regular pace on a course which is going to be very runnable. Apart from two successive dune sections and a climb up a djebel, this pace was maintained. At the first check-point El Morabity was leading but closely followed by his compatriots. Only Manuel (Chema) Martinez  and Erik Clavery manage to keep up the gruelling pace that the local set. Clavery was definitely feeling much better today at the start. “It was much better today, I managed my race better”.

After the tough stoney djebel, three Moroccans continued to lead the race: Rachid El Morabity, Aziz El Akad and Abdelkader El Mouaziz. Sticking together they manage their race cleverly, running fast enough to hold off the competition but not too fast to risk blowing up. Behind them Chema Martinez was running hard though and he eventually caught up with  Samir Akhdar moving into 4th place with Erik Clavery hot on his heels. This order didn’t change before the finish although the gap between the runners widened confirming the Moroccan superiority and the leaders’ positions.

In the female race, Natalia Sedykh once again set a gruelling pace to shake off her rivals and although the long stage would follow, word in the camp was that it would take a monumental mistake by the Russian to loose the race. Aziza Raji, third at the first check-point, didn’t manage to stave off Nathalie Mauclair  and Fernanda Maciel.

Ranking of Stage 3:

First 5 women

  1. D662 SEDYKH Natalia RUS 03:49:15
  2. D275 MAUCLAIR Nathalie FRA 03:53:34
  3. D482 MACIEL Fernanda ESP 03:55:53
  4. D33 RAJI Aziza MAR 04:16:41
  5. D2 BARNES Elisabet SWE 04:37:28

First 5 men

  1. D1 EL MORABITY Rachid MAR 03:03:41
  2. D4 EL MOUAZIZ Abdelkader MAR 03:04:02
  3. D3 EL AKAD Aziz MAR 03:05:40
  4. D447 MARTINEZ Jose Manuel (Chema) ESP 03:18:55
  5. D6 AKHDAR Samir MAR 03:25:22

General Ranking

First 5 women

  1. D662 SEDYKH Natalia RUS 11:40:21
  2. D275 MAUCLAIR Nathalie FRA 12:15:48
  3. D482 MACIEL Fernanda ESP 12:45:31
  4. D2 BARNES Elisabet SWE 13:40:12
  5. D33 RAJI Aziza MAR 13:56:47

First 5 men

  1. D1 EL MORABITY Rachid MAR 09:38:16
  2. D4 EL MOUAZIZ Abdelkader MAR 09:39:38
  3. D447 MARTINEZ Jose Manuel (Chema) ESP 10:22:31
  4. D3 EL AKAD Aziz MAR 10:27:52
  5. D6 AKHDAR Samir MAR 10:46:40

DAY FOUR

MDSday4

Rachid El Morabity  and Natalia Sedykh claim victory on the 31st edition of the MARATHON DES SABLES with excellent long day results.

Rachid El Morality was congratulated like never before on the finish line of the long day in the 31st edition of the MARATHON DES SABLES. The Moroccan almost certainly sealed his 4th consecutive edition, claiming victory in all the stages with a comfortable lead on his rivals – just the marathon stage to go! His race management has been exemplary and irreproachable. Abdelkader El Mouaziz lost 2 more minutes to Rachid but crossed the finish to claim a well-deserved second place. Jose Manuel (Chema) Martinez ran a hard race and completed the podium of the long stage – a great result and a real improvement on his 2015 6th place overall.

Frenchmen Erik Clavery and Jean-Sébastien Braun, as well as Carlos Sa  and Sondre Amdahl all came in the top 10.

Talking about the Top 10: female Russian runner Sedykh  is the only women to rank in the top-10 general ranking, in spite of her loss in energy during the long stage where she placed 2nd behind Nathalie Mauclair. Sedykh has a 24-minute lead on the French lady and although Macular will try to take back that time in the marathon, it is highly unlikely she will succeed. It really is is hard to see how Sedykh’s rivals can close the gap on the marathon stage tomorrow. Nathalie Mauclair did manage to gain 12 minutes on her Russian counterpart on the long day with a really aggressive run but the Russian remained consistent. Fernanda Maciel placed 3rd, which as with the men’s podium should change very little on the marathon stage. The gaps have widened in the leading field and behind.

Ranking Stage 4

First 5 women

  1. D275 MAUCLAIR Nathalie 09:07:59 FRA 9,20
  2. D662 SEDYKH Natalia 09:19:53 RUS 9,00
  3. D482 MOURA ANTUNES MACIEL Fernanda 10:30:12 ESP 8,00
  4. D2 Elisabet BARNES 11:36:11 SWE 7,24
  5. D267 Sophie LAVERSANNE 267 12:00:25 FRA 7,00

First 5 men

  1. D1 EL MORABITY Rachid 08:11:24 MAR 10,26
  2. D4 EL MOUAZIZ Abdelkader 08:14:28 MAR 10,19
  3. D447 MARTINEZ Jose Manuel 08:25:55 ESP 9,96
  4. D3 EL AKAD Aziz 08:28:04 MAR 9,92
  5. D87 CLAVERY Erik 08:41:20 FRA 9,67

General Ranking

First 5 women

  1. D662 SEDYKH Natalia 21:00:14 RUS 9,33
  2. D275 MAUCLAIR Nathalie 21:23:47 FRA 9,16
  3. D482 MOURA ANTUNES MACIEL Fernanda 23:15:43 ESP 8,43
  4. D2 Elisabet BARNES 25:16:23 SWE 7,76
  5. D33 Aziza RAJI 26:09:24 MAR 7,49

First 5 men

  1. D1 EL MORABITY Rachid 17:49:40 MAR 10,99
  2. D4 EL MOUAZIZ Abdelkader 17:54:06 MAR 10,95
  3. D447 MARTINEZ Jose Manuel 18:48:26 ESP 10,42
  4. D3 EL AKAD Aziz 18:55:56 MAR 10,35
  5. D87 CLAVERY Erik 19:32:54 FRA 10,03

DAY FIVE

MDSday5

“The Moroccans are on a different planet” Erik Clavery

A thrilling race with the top 4 Moroccans claiming victory and leaving Jose Manuel (Chema) MARTINEZ  out of the podium. The female field remains unchanged with Natalia SEDYKH leading the field.

Once again the Moroccans claimed victory in the men’s field in today’s stage. They set off fast from the outset and widened the gap over the succession of sandy dunes and more runnable sections of the marathon day. Although yesterday’s stage pre-determined the winner Rachid El Morabity and runner-up, the third place was still uncertain with an 8-minute gap between Jose Manuel (Chema) Martinez and El Akad. Yesterday they knew that they would be battling it out the next day. For Chema the strategy was simple:

“I’m going to stick to Aziz and accelerate in the final runnable stretch.”

Aziz on the other hand intended to give it his best shot on the marathon stage

“I’m going to do everything I can to get on the podium tomorrow. I’ll make it or break it.”

And that is what happened Jose Manuel (Chema) Martinez lost 30 minutes to EL AKAD however this does not reflect the true story. ‘Chema’ was stopped early on in the race and was required to change his numbers due to a ‘technicality’ based on the race rules. This stopped Chema in his tracks and while he removed his pack and changed his numbers, his race was broken…  Rachid El Morabity did not win the stage coming in second behind El Mouaziz. Erik Clavery came in 3rd looking shattered.

“It’s the first time I am in tears at the end of a race. I am so happy. I really managed the race to the best of my ability. But the Moroccans are unbeatable – it’s another planet.”

In the female race, the ranking hardly changed. Natalia Sedykh lead the stage and opened a small gap with her rivals. She was flying at the finish of this 5th stage. Nathalie Mauclair tried to hang on but couldn’t keep up with the pace set by her Russian rival. Very moved she spent several minutes in front of the webcam at the finish blowing kisses to her kids and family back in France. Surprise of the day was the performance of the Chinese runner Pui Yan Chow who crossed the line in 2nd place. Fernanda Maciel remained third but like Chema, Maciel also was penalised for a number infringement, luckily it did not impact on her 3rd place but it was close….

Top 5 women Stage 5

Running Runner Number Time Country Speed
1 SEDYKH Natalia 662 3:45:12 RUS 11,19
2 CHOW Pui Yan 766 3:50:23 CHN 10,94
3 MAUCLAIR Nathalie 275 4:07:08 ESP 10,20
4 RAJI Aziza 033 4:32:07 MAR 9,26
5 MOURA ANTUNES MACIEL Fernanda 482 4:43:00 ESP 8,90

NOTE – “Puy Yan CHOW has received a time penalty of 3 hours for non-respect of the starting wave at stage 5 and we are going to update the ranking.”

Top 5 men Stage 5

Ranking Runner Number Time Country Speed
1 EL MOUAZIZ Abdelkader 4 3:11:32 MAR 13,16
2 EL AKAD Aziz 3 3:11:34 MAR 13,15
3 EL MORABITY Rachid 1 3:11:41 MAR 13,15
4 AKHDAR Samir 6 3:18:54 MAR 12,67
5 CLAVERY Erik 87 3:27:24 FRA 12,15

General Ranking 2016

Top 5 women MDS 2016

Ranking Runner Number Time Country Speed
1 SEDYKH Natalia 662 24:45:26 RUS 9,61
2 MAUCLAIR Nathalie 275 25:30:55 FRA 9,33
3 MOURA ANTUNES MACIEL Fernanda 482 27:58:43 ESP 8,51
4 BARNES Elisabet 002 30:02:26 SWE 7,92
5 RAJI Aziza 033 30:41:31 MAR 7,75

Top 5 men MDS 2016

Ranking Runner Number Time Country Speed
1 EL MORABITY Rachid 1 21:01:21 MAR 11,32
2 EL MOUAZIZ Abdelkader 4 21:05:38 MAR 11,28
3 EL AKAD Aziz 3 22:07:30 MAR 10,76
4 MARTINEZ Jose Manuel 447 22:27:50 ESP 10,59
5 CLAVERY Erik 87 23:00:18 FRA 10,35

The Charity Stage

MDScharity

The compulsory charity stage concluded the 2016 MARATHON DES SABLES and although the overall rankings would not change with is stage, it offered all the runners a casual way to transition from aggressive racing to recovery. Patrick Bauer awarded each and every runner, first to last, with a medal. A significant moment that concluded the 2016 MDS!