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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Fuelling for a Multi-Day like MDS – Marathon des Sables

Marathon des Sables pioneered the multi-day racing format and as such is often a key starting point when discussing a fuelling strategy for a weeklong adventure. For those who do not know, MDS was created by Patrick Bauer after he crossed the Algerian Sahara in a self-sufficient manner in 1984. He carried everything required with the exception of water which was supplied by his brother. The 350km journey took 12-days.

Multi-day adventures require fuelling and how one obtains food can vary greatly. In principle, there are several keyways:

Self-sufficient

Semi-supported

Supported

For many, self-sufficiency poses the greater question marks and worries as there are multiple factors to consider:

  • How many days?
  • Weight?
  • Balance of nutrients and calories?
  • Hot or cold food (or both)?
  • Access to water?
  • Environment?
Loaded up for a week in the Sahara.

Runners are required to carry all they need to survive in a multi-day like MDS. Fuelling is essential to survive and the balance of calories v weight is a prime concern. The only things that are provided are a shelter (bivouac) which is shared with 7 other runners and water which is rationed. Since its creation in the mid 80’s, the MDS format has been copied and used as a template for other races all over the world.

Get your pack as close to 6.5kg (plus water) as possible.

Weight is the enemy of a multi-day runner or fastpacker and therefore balancing equipment, food and water is an art form in itself. Read an article HERE about the equipment required for a race like MDS.

Food will take up most of the weight on any adventure when being self-sufficient. MDS, for example, has a minimum food requirement of 2000 calories per day, a minimum pack weight of 6.5kg and then one must add water, typically a minimum 1.5 litres (1.5kg) which makes the starting pack weight a minimum 8kg.

Food for multiple days will typically be around 4 to 5kg.

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.  

*****

Quite simply, running or walking, covering 250km over 7-days will leave the runner in a calorie deficit. Therefore, it is essential to optimise the food one takes.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER

How fast one goes does greatly impact on food choice and how calories are not only consumed but chosen. The macronutrient choices will change based on the balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat. In simple terms, a runner will burn more carbohydrates and a walker will burn more fat. Humans store enough fat to survive many days and even weeks. However, carbohydrate stores deplete quickly and need to be replenished.

Body weight, age, individual needs and males may well require more calories than a woman.

Main meals will usually come either freeze dried or dehydrated. Both processes involve removing the water from food to preserve it. Freeze-drying involves freezing the food to a very low temperature and drying it in a vacuum to remove moisture. Dehydration involves passing warm air over the surface of the food to remove moisture. Dehydration creates food that tastes like it should, with plenty of texture and flavour. It is an altogether slower and gentler process than freeze-drying. Please note though, that hydration times take considerably longer with cold water and taste can change. Test meals in advance using hot or cold water.

Firepot are a UK brand who create tasty meal by hand, using fresh ingredients and then dry each meal.

Carbohydrate, Fat and Protein are essential for balance and freeze-dried foods are usually balanced specifically for the needs of an active individual. Typically, 55% carbs, 30% fats and 15% protein are considered balanced. As an indicator in regard to calories, carbohydrates have 4 calories for 1 gram, fat has 9 calories for 1 gram and protein 4 calories for 1 gram.

Remember, we are all individual and although any recommendations here provide a guide and a template, you the individual need to answer very specific questions and ultimately, you may need to seek the advice of a nutrition expert to fine tune a fuelling plan for a multi-day adventure.

As a rough guide, BMR is the number of calories a person burns in normal day-to-day activity.

Example for a 37-year-old, 6ft tall, 170-pound man.

(66+(6.2 x 170) + (12.7 x 72) – (6.76 x 37) x 1.55 = 2663 calories

How to use the equation: (66+(6.2 x weight) + (12.7 x height) – (6.76 x age) x 1.55 = 2663 calories

The ‘Harris-Benedict‘ formula takes into consideration daily activity.

Fat adapted athletes will have specific requirements and the nutritional plan will be different.

Answer the following questions:

  • Age?
  • Male or female?
  • Body weight?
  • Walker?
  • Walk/ runner?
  • Runner?
  • Vegetarian/ Vegan?
  • Am I typically a hungry person?
  • Am I more hungry or less hungry with exercise?
  • Food allergies?
  • Will I use hot water or cold water?

A TYPICAL DAY

Breakfast – Ideally slow-release carbohydrate, some fat and quality protein.

Starting the day with breakfast.

Running Food – This will vary on the length of the stage, up to 6-hours and you may prefer easily absorbed carbohydrates, bars and or energy in drink form. For longer stages, the addition of real food, savoury and some protein would be wise. For a very long day, for example, the long day at MDS, you may even need a freeze-dried meal?

Post run food (immediate) – A shake is a great way to start the recovery period as it is easily absorbed, and this should have carbohydrate and protein.

Dinner – A dehydrated meal will form the basis for dinner and think about some small treats for each day, these will give you something to look forward to and help keep your palette fresh.

FOOD PLANNING AND IDEAS

Breakfast:

A freeze-dried breakfast is a good way to start the day. Top tip: Add the water to your breakfast at sleep time (especially if using cold water) as it will rehydrate during the night and be ready for eating in the morning. Of course, make sure it can’t be knocked over, get contaminated or damaged – that would be a disaster! An empty water bottle works, and the lid keeps it all safe. Example: Firepot Baked Apple Porridge is 125g with 500 calories.

Breakfast is essential to fuel the day ahead.

Muesli is popular and provides energy and fibre, it can easily be combined with a freeze-dried dairy product.

An energy bar for some works, but they often are heavy in proportion to the calories provided. However, for some, they are a perfect start to the day.

Top tip: Consider an evening meal as an alternative to breakfast. Sweet tasting food can become boring and sickly, the option to have something savoury with some spice can be a life saver.

During the run:

Runners will need typically more carbohydrate in an easy form so that they can maintain pace. By contrast, walkers will move slower, have more time to eat and easier time digesting, therefore real foods are possible. The balance is always weight v energy.  Don’t rely completely on liquids, some solid food and chewing is good for the body and mind.

Some ‘typical’ run snacks.

Example: Gels are around 32g each. Let’s say you took 1 gel per hour. Rachid El Morabity won the 2019 MDS in 18:31. So, 19 gels would weigh 608 grams. By contrast, if the race takes you 60-hours, 60 gels would be 1920g! Not only is the weight not feasible but also the volume size would just not work.

  • Powders (energy drinks) that one can add to water are an easy way to get calories and nutrients. They are also considerably lighter.
  • Energy bars.
  • Beefy jerky.
  • Dried fruit.
  • Nuts such as almonds are rich in fat and calories.
  • Trail mix.
  • Dried meat.

Post run:

Back in bivouac, first priority is drink and food.

A recovery drink is the quickest way to get balanced calories immediately in the body to start replenishing the body. Have this shake as soon as possible. Then do personal admin such as feet, clothes, bed, etc. One hour post the run, consider a snack like tabbouleh as this is easily hydrated with cold water and add some protein to it – dried meat a good option.

Dinner:

A dehydrated meal will make up the main calories. Depending on the person, the need for more or less calories will vary. Some companies, Firepot a good example, provide meals in two sizes: 135g with 485 calories or 200g with 730 calories for Vegan Chilli Non Carne and Rice.

A post-dinner treat is a good idea, this could be another freeze-dried option or a low-weight and high calorie option. A sweet such as a Lemon Sherbet is a simple way to add some freshness to your mouth and palette and although has little calories, it can be a nice treat.

Top tips:

Experienced runners make a real fire to boil water.
  • Try everything out before any race or event. You need to know what works for you when tired and fatigued. Try to simulate race situations so you have a good understanding of your palette and your body. Test for taste, stomach and brain.
  • Just because you love Spaghetti Bolognese, don’t be tempted to take 7 for a 7-day race. You and your palette become bored quickly.
  • Be careful with spices and anything that may irritate or aggravate a digestive system that will already be under stress.
  • The choice of having hot water can be a deal breaker. For some, a hot coffee or tea is just essential! In addition, food is typically more pleasurable when hot and hydrates quicker with hot water. You cannot use any gas stoves at MDS so you must use fuel tablets and a small stove. However, here are some alternative ideas: 1. If you finish early in the day, leave a bottle in the sun and let it warm naturally. 2. Often, there are lots of shrubs, twigs and branches around bivouac, it is possible to make a fire, but you will still need a pot.
  • Water at the race is provided in 1.5 litre bottles. A bottle cut in half is a perfect bowl for rehydrating food.
  • Consider repackaging all your food to make the volume and weight less, if you do this, be sure to include the nutrition label in your new packaging.
  • Take extra food and options. When in the Sahara, you can make some final food choices when you know the length of the stages from the road book. For example, the long day maybe 70km, equally, it could be closer to 90km – big difference for calories.
  • The ‘Long day’ and following ‘Rest Day’ will require different fuelling strategies, take this into consideration.
  • Rules – Race rules dictate you have a minimum 2000 calories per day, that you have nutrition labels for the food that you take and that on the morning of the last day that you have 2000 calories remaining.
  • Get used to reduced calories when training.
A cut down water bottle is a great food bowl.

WATER

Water is the only item provided at a race such as MDS and this is rationed. You are provided water for ‘in’ camp and then this is replenished while running; usually 3 litres every 10km (check the race rule book). When you finish the stage, you are then allocated water to last through the night and the following morning. NOTE: This water will need to last till CP1 on the next day’s stage, so make sure you leave enough to run with.

Water is rationed and supplied at every checkpoint on the route, typically every 10km.

Water is obviously used to hydrate but you also need it for your food and if you wish to wash.

Remember you need to replace salts that are lost through sweating. The race provides salt tablets on admin day and they recommend how to use and take them. Follow the advice. The two main reasons for a DNF are feet and dehydration.

SPREADSHEET

Create a spreadsheet so that you can see daily food items, how many calories and what the weight is. Not only is this invaluable for personal admin, but it is also a requirement for the race when at admin check.

Top Tip: Lay a day’s food out on the floor and look at it and analyse (visually) does this look enough for 1-day.

An example of fuelling for one day.
Use a sealed bag for each day and then add a label showing contents and calories.

CONCLUSIONS

Getting fuelling right for any multi-day is really important, so, do the research and test everything. Have a contingency plan and anticipate the need for sweet v savoury will change.

If possible, repackage food to save weight and use clear packaging and relabel adding the name of the food, what day it is for and how many calories are inside.

Make sure you have some treats and something to look forward to.

Real food is good for the brain and the chewing motion helps satisfy our natural human desire to eat and be happy.

Remember, multi-days are only about three things: running/ walking, eating and sleeping, so, make sure you are prepared for each element accordingly.

The long day, many stop and cook a meal during the night to fuel the journey.

SUMMARY

In this article, we have looked at food for a typical desert race like Marathon des Sables that lasts for 7-days. many races follow the same format. However, different race conditions may well dictate food choices, for example, a race in snow/ ice with sub-zero temperatures will require a different strategy and the balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat can be different.

The top Moroccan runners boil water and eat hot food. Here Mohammed El Morabity.

Some races or multi-day are semi-supported, some are supported. In these scenarios, your own food may be carried for you or, it may even be provided for you? Think ahead and plan for what you may need so that you can perform as you wish with the calories you need. Especially important for vegan, vegetarian or those on specific diets. The big advantages of semi or fully supported is the not needing to carry additional weight and in most scenarios, there will be no restriction on quantity or calories. Everest Trail Race and The Coastal Challenge are two perfect examples of semi and fully-supported races,

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Lanzarote Training Camp 2017 – Day 6

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It was another great day in Lanzarote. The sun shone, the sky was blue and the temperatures were in the 20’s.

It was a long day with a coastal run, some technical trail and stunning views. The walkers covered 24km with Marie-Paule, the ‘mid-pack’ runners covered 28km with Niandi and the faster runners covered 36km with Elisabet.

Lots of smiles, lots of laughs and as this camp progresses, the confidence of each runner is growing; it’s on view to see! One-by-one, they are slowly but surely understanding what it’s going to take to complete, their next multi-day adventure.

The arrival of Sondre Amdahl on the camp (9th at MDS, 6th at Oman Desert Marathon) was a real boost and within hours, Sondre was proactive in a talk/ demonstration of what goes in a typical multi-day pack. This talk was very much directed to Marathon des Sables. Niandi, Elisabet and Sondre all discussed what to, and what not to take to the race. Of course, all three had unique ways of looking at the race and what was and what is and what is not important.

An early evening run of just 20 or 40-minutes with a disappearing sun concluded the day. Tomorrow is a full-on day and tomorrow, the participants of the 2017 training camp will bivouac inside a (dormant) volcano.

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Interested in our 2018 training camp? Go HERE

Anna Frost and Samantha Gash : 2-weeks and counting #TCC2015

©paulpetchphotography

The Coastal Challenge 2015 (#TCC2015) is point-to-point race starting in Quepos and finishing in the stunning Drakes Bay close to the border of Panama. The 230km route weaves in and out of the Talamancas (a coastal mountain range in the south west corner of the country) providing a true multi terrain experience.

Participants are required to balance the distance, severity of the terrain and a tropical climate to reach the finish line. Jungle, rainforest trails, mountain trail, single track across ridge lines, highlands and coastal ranges lead into pristine beaches, rocky outcroppings, reefs, river valleys, river and estuary crossings to provide an ultimate journey.

I caught up with two of the male contenders for overall victory in the 2015 edition just the other day:  Joe Grant and Speedgoat Karl Meltzer (read HERE.) Today we have a catch up with Anna ‘Frosty Frost and Samantha Gash.

Anna Frost – Salomon

©iancorless.com.IMG_9258Transvulcania14

You have been back home in the Southern Hemisphere over the Christmas period, what have you been doing to prepare for TCC?

Well, it only seems like yesterday the 2014 race season finished. So I have been having a break and catching up with family and friends after a long race season away from home. It has been a wonderful hot summer so I have naturally been getting used to the heat and enjoying some beach runs and swims! It is a perfect time to be in the mountains on overnight adventures so I have taken the opportunity to get some long days back to back. 

You managed to experience the TCC race in 2014 without racing, how beneficial has that been in preparation for the 2015 race?

 I learnt a lot about the course and was able to see the challenges without putting myself through them. Although nothing really prepares you like the experience itself. I hadn’t expected such long beach sections so I have been making the most of living beside the beach and doing most of my runs there. 

Your mum is joining you out in TCC. That’s going to be quite special. Are you planning making this a holiday race?

Yes, my mum is joining me which will be fabulous to be able to share this part of my life with her. Stages races are so social and exciting everyday so for spectators to get involved is really nice for everyone. I got my travel blood from my parents so she is definitely looking forward to seeing somewhere new and in a new way through my race. (Im not sure what you mean by a holiday race) I am not fully back into race mode or training hard as I have a long season ahead, but this race will most definitely give me a good base to kick start the year.   

Any tips for all those taking part?

Drink lots of water, anytime you go past water submerge yourself to fully cool down, drink some replacement fluids afterwards and even in the morning and then drink some more water. It is so hot there…we are all going to need it. 

Anna Frost ©iancorless.com

Samantha Gash

Sam Gash

You have been back home after South Africa, what have you been doing to prepare for TCC?

I spent Christmas and New Years in New Zealand with my partner and fellow ultra running friends. It was only my second overseas trip in four years that didn’t revolve around a race! We spent everyday outside, running some incredible trails and hiking hard up some mountains. Although it wasn’t planned to be so, it was great training for TCC. 

You had a wonderful no racing multi day experience in South Africa. Great preparation for TCC but have you recovered?

To be honest I wouldn’t say I have recovered 100% yet. I get more tired after a run and mentally my mind isn’t yet committed to doing long runs for the purpose of training. It would be easier to be hard on yourself for feeling weaker whilst climbing hills and weary after a 20km run, but it is to be expected after what we experienced – both from a running and preparation perspective.

You have multi day racing dialled. What for you are the secrets of racing/ running day after day?

Be strategic in how you attack each stage. I personally like to think of the entire race as an arch as opposed to separate stages. There will be times where you may choose to run more conservatively to complete the entire arch. Nutrition and how you choose to recover between the stages is also important. So, I will aim to get some rest after each days run in addition to a good nights sleep. 

Any other tips for all those taking part?

Have fun, look around and get to know the other competitors. These are the things you will probably remember more than how you placed. 

Sam Gash2

The 2015 #TCC2015 starts on January 31st and finishes on February 7th. Daily reports and images will be available on this website and you can follow Facebook and Twitter#TCC2015

The Coastal Challenge Facebook page is HERE and the race website is HERE

Route book and profiles available on PDF Here

Top images of Anna Frost – ©paulpetch.co.nz