Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 5

What a day! The 2018 Marathon des Sables concluded today on the edge of the Mezouga dunes on what will bee remembered as one of the toughest marathon stages in the races history.

The day started at 0700 with the majority of the field departing in strong winds and sand storms. The top 200 departed 90-minutes later also in sand storms.

The winds never eased and for the duration of the day, the runners encountered a full-on headwind all the way to the line.

The course was in comparison to other stages of this years race, a relatively easy one despite some large dunes in the final third. However, the combination of cooler temperatures, relentless wind, and drifting sand made for a tough day.

In reality, the race was over yesterday for the podium places and Rachid El Morabity and Magdalena Boulet were crowned 2018 Marathon des Sables champions. On the day, Magdalena won the final stage in 4:19:39 and Rachid placed 4th in 3:31:41.

The overall men’s final podium stands as:

  1. Rachid El Morabity 19:35:49
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 20:01:28
  3. Merile Robert 20:41:00
  4. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 20:51:59
  5. Gediminas Grinius 21:31:23

Gemma Game from the UK followed up a solid and consistent week placing 2nd on the final stage. 4:29:31 to Magdalena’s 4:19:39. Bouchra Eriksen placed 3rd in 4:30:58 and without doubt has been a revelation this year. Natalia Sedykh won the first three stages, gained a 1-hour time penalty, had very sore knees and stomach issues to have a very tough week in the Sarah. Today she placed 4th in 4:39:25 ahead of the USA’s Jacqueline Mariash in 4:40:22.

The overall female final podium stands as:

  1. Magdalena Boulet 25:11:19
  2. Bouchra Erksen 26:36:00
  3. Gemma Game 27:00:23
  4. Natalia Sedykh 28:26:56
  5. Anna Marie Watson 29:04:43

Of course, the final day is all about emotion and runner’s of all abilities a lifetime goal and achievement. Many a tear is shed on the finish line as Patrick Bauer embraces each and every runner, kisses them on the cheek and places a medal around their necks.

MDS is more than a running race. It is a life changing adventure of 250 km’s with intense highs and lows, elation and pain, laughter and crying. The bonds created in the Sahara are not forgotten. The pain and the joy will be remembered.

Tomorrow, a short stage of 7.7km transitions the runners from the Sahara and back to buses for the journey back to civilisation – a shower, some food, drinks, a bed and clean white sheets. Believe me, everyone has earned it!

Full Results HERE

Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 4

The long day! It’s the day that makes the Marathon des Sables and it is the one most feared by the runners. The 86.4km’s of stage 4 are classic MDS and yes, they are beautiful km’s combining many of the elements that make the Sahara and Morocco so unique. However, soft sand and dunes are not the friend of the long distance runner, particularly when trying to cover distance as quickly as possible.

It was an epic day!

Intense heat during the day with strong winds as sunset came and then a very cold night making most runners wear down jackets to keep warm – it was a tough day for all, Rachid finished in 8:12:05 for the men and Magda 10:29:58 for the women. As I write this, 27-hours have elapsed and runners are still out on the course trying to finish ahead of the 35-hour cut off.

Camp life is key to the MDS – being self-sufficient, carrying everything you need, the only provisions are rationed water and a bivouac (tent) shared with 7 others.

The day started at 08:30 for the masses and 11:30 for the top 50.

Rachid El Morabity and Natalia Sedykh as expected dictated the pace at the front. Rachid consolidating his lead and showing the rest of the elite men who is the boss! It’s quite simple, when it comes to the desert, Rachid is the king. He glides over the terrain, almost floating – he is beautiful to watch. He dictated the day and won with a 20+-minute margin.

For the ladies, Natalia was always going to push and see if she could claw back the 1-hour penalty time and regain the overall lead. By CP1 she had 3-minutes, by CP2 Magda was catching the Russian and then after CP4 it was all over… Natalia broke with the pressure and was forced to ease up eventually finishing 6th on the stage.

For the men, Rachid’s brother, Mohamed, followed in the footsteps of teacher and once again placed 2nd, 8:33:52 to Rachid’s 8:12:05. France’s Merile Robert excelled finishing 3rd 8:43:35 and Lithuanian Gediminas Grinius finishing 4th. The ever-present Abdelkader El Mouaziz had a tough day finishing 5th in 9:19:09.

Magdalena Boulet from the USA showed her strength at long distances and dominated the stage running a clever race firstly behind Natalia and then passing her and running strong all the way to the line in 10:29:58.

With Natalia’s explosion, it was all to fight for for the ladies podium and Bouchra Eriksen once again showed real consistency finishing 3rd ahead of the UK’s Gemma Game, their times 11:22:36 and 11:29:00 respectively. The UK’s Anna Marie Watson had a bad day with stomach issues and finished 9th. This opened the door for The USA’s Emily Kratz and Jacqueline Mariash to finish 4th and 5th in 12:08:49 and 12:24:15.

With the marathon stage tomorrow, the podium looks set with Rachid and Magda the 2018 Marathon des Sables champions.

The long day though is really so much more than discussing the elites who seem to run with ease over the harsh terrain. The day is about all the runners, the mid-packers, the slow, the runner out of their comfort zone, the runner looking for a lifetime achievement, the runner looking for adventure, the runner with a mid-life crisis – the long day changes people and it changes me as I experience their journeys. The lows of a withdrawal at a CP or the highs of a hard fought finish. 

THIS IS THE MDS!

It brings a tear to me eye as I document the journey from early in the day, through the night and into a 2nd day.

I have heard ultra runners say that the MDS is easy. It is not! Trust me, it is not… The cut-off times are generous but ask yourself, running or walking, would you like to be out there for 35-hours?

I am honoured to document this race and I salute all those who tried this year and failed. It is not a failure… trust me! You put yourself on the start line and risked a great deal. You will be back.

For those who fought sleep deprivation, hunger, blisters, the cold, the heat, tired aching muscles and so much more – congratulations. You have achieved something quite incredible this long day. With ‘just’ a marathon to go. The 2018 MDS is on paper, ‘in the bag!’

Full results HERE

Overall GC going into the last official stage:

  1. Magdalena Boulet 20:51:40
  2. Bouchra Eriksen 22:05:02
  3. Gemma Game 22:30:52
  4. Natalia Sedykh 23:47:31
  5. Anna Marie Watson 24:24:21
  6. Rachid El Morabity 16:04:08
  7. Mohamed El Morabity 16:37:30
  8. Merile Robert 17:07:55
  9. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 17:28:08
  10. Gediminas Grinius 17:58:58

Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 3

One could be forgiven in thinking that today, the two fastest runners in the 2018 Marathon des Sables, Rachid El Morabity and Natalia Sedykh had an easier day… They both won again, for Rachid that is two stage victories and for Natalia it is 3 out of 3. But the winning margin was just a handful of minutes for the duo. I think they are saving something for tomorrow’s long day of 86.2km.

Today’s stage by MDS standards was an epic one that combined a multitude of terrain. Soft sand, dunes, gorges, stoney climbs, exposed ridges, the technical climb and descent of Jebel El Oftal and then an easy and relatively flat fast run in to the finish.

Rachid and Natalia dictated the day but Mohamed El Morabity and Magdalena Boulet was never far behind. It was a controlled day. In the end, Rachid finished the 31.6km in 2:36:20. Mohamed followed just over 1-minute later in 2:37:32 and then ever present Abdelkader El Mouaziz was 3rd in 2:40:43. Peru’s Remigio Huaman had a good day today with 4th ahead of Aziz El Akad.

Despite the 1-hour time penalty, Russia’s Natalia Sedykh continues to push at the front. Today she finished 1st again just over 5-minutes ahead of Magdalena, 3:28:27 to 3:33:45. Magdalena leads the race overall but Natalia claws back the 1-hour time penalty little by little. I can’t help but think we may see an all out effort on the long day to bring things equal. It could be a risky strategy but what has Natalia to lose? Bouchra Eriksen once again was 3rd ahead of the UK’s Anna Marie Watson and Gemma Game who placed 4th and 5th respectively.

Despite some strong winds and sand storms in the night, day 3 of the MDS was calm with little wind, clear skies and relentless heat. It’s amazing to watch runners of all abilities fight their demons, particularly on the climb of the Jebel – it brings out some serious inner strength.

The key now is recovery. The long stage of the MDS is tomorrow and they have 35h to complete the 86.2km distance. Bodies and minds are now tired – everyone will need to dig deep!

  1. Natalia Sedykh 2:28:27
  2. Magdalena Boulet 3:33:45
  3. Bouchra Ericksen 3:39:13
  4. Anna Marie Watson 3:44:13
  5. Gemma Game 3:47:03

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 2:36:20
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 2:37:32
  3. Abdlekader El Mouaziz 2:40:43
  4. Remigio Huaman 2:41:11
  5. Aziz El Akad 2:48:10

 

Overall GC going into the long stage:

  1. Rachid El Morabity 7:52:03
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 8:03:38
  3. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 8:08:59

 

  1. Magdalena Boulet 10:21:42
  2. Bouchra Eriksen 10:42:26
  3. Gemma Game 11:01:52

*Natalia Sedykh 11:03:22

Full Results HERE

Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 2

 

Today, the king and queen of the desert set out their stalls! For Rachid El Morabity, it was a day of showing the rest of the field a clean pair of heals as he slowly but surely pulled away from the field finally finishing almost 10-minutes ahead of his brother and day 1 champion, Mohamed.

For the ladies, 2016 champion Natalia Sedykh was no doubt frustrated and angry after winning stage 1 only to be penalised 1-hour for failing to have a whistle at a kit check post day-1. A penalty was applied and now Natalia must run and race hard each day to make up the time. Today, she gained over 8-minutes on the ladies overall leader, American, Magdalena Boulet.

Day 2 was a tough day for all with relentless soft-sand which made moving tiresome. Throw in a stony and steep climb up Jebel El Otfal and then the fast and sandy descent to the final CP, and it was only really the final 4km’s that was stony, flat and faster.

Day 1 had no drop outs but day 2 was taking it’s toll. Some runners were fighting demons to get to the line but there was some real grit and MDS spirit out there as participants dug in to achieve a lifetime goal.

At the front of the race Mohamed El Morabity trailed his brother to finish 2nd just 45-seconds ahead of Abdelkader El Mouaziz. Aziz Ell Akad finished 4th and Merile Robert 5th.

 The USA’s Magdalena Boulet once again placed 2nd on the stage and looks at home in the sand, Bouchra Eriksen was 3rd ahead of the UK’s Gemma Game and Anna Marie Watson in 5th.

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 3:04:01
  2. Mohamed El Morabity 3:14:36
  3. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 3:15:16
  4. Aziz El Akad 3:18:34
  5. Merile Robert 3:18:34

 

  1. Natali Sedykh 3:56:08
  2. Magdalena Boulet 4:04:48
  3. Bouchra Eriksen 4:16:08
  4. Gemma Game 4:19:48
  5. Anna Marie Watson 4:19:48

Tomorrow’s stage is 31.6km’s and starts at 0830 with a 10h 30m cut 0ff.

Full results HERE

 

Marathon des Sables 2018 #MDS2018 – Stage 1

The 2018 Marathon des Sables got underway today on the stroke of 0900 after an emotional Patrick Bauer released the runners into the sands of the Sahara for the 33rd edition of this iconic race.

The previous day had been a long day of admin and kit checks, so the 977 runners were happy to be finally experiencing the best of what Morocco has to offer.

At 30.3km the route was almost exactly the same as the 2017 edition of the race and an allocated 10hrs was allowed for runners to complete the distance. In MDS terms, it was a relatively easy day but the skies were clear, cloudless and it was hot with a gentle breeze allowing to cool as they ran.

The route started in a cued and at 5.5km the runners passed through a hilly passage before entering sand dunes. CP1 Brought a welcome rest at 13km and then the dunes continued to CP2 at 22.9km. There was a great deal of soft sand today and this continued in varying degrees all the way to the line with a narrow gorge at 25km and a small climb at 28.4km breaking up the terrain before the finish on a flat rocky plateau.

Predicted race times were 2:10 for the men and 2:35 for the ladies and these times were almost matched exactly with Mohamad El Morabity winning ahead of his brother and reigning MDS Champion, Rachid El Morabity, by just a handful of seconds. Ever present Abdelkader El Mouaziz was 3rd ahead of strong Peruvian runner Remigio Huaman.

For the ladies, 2016 MDS Champion Natalia Sedykh started the race with a strong performance ahead of USA runner Magdalena Boulet, their times 2:38:47 and 2:43:09 respectively.

Bouchra Eriksken was a surprise 3rd ahead of UTWT champion Andrea Huseer and the UK’s Gemma Game was 5th.

  1. 1.Mohamed El Morabity 2:11:30
  2. 2. Rachid El Morabity 2:11:42
  3. 3. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 2:13:00
  4. 4. Remigio Huaman 2:16:17
  5. 5. Merile Rober 2:17:29
  6. Natalia Sedykh
  7. Magdalena Boulet 2:43:09
  8. Bouchra Eriksen 2:47:05
  9. Andrea Huser 2:48:47
  10. Gemma Game 2:55:01

Stage 2 will start at 0830 and will be challenging day 0f 29km with a 11h 30m cut off.

Full results HERE

Marathon des Sables 2018 Race Preview #MDS #MDS2018

It is here, the 33rd edition of the iconic Marathon des Sables – 250km, 6 stages over 7 days and over 1000 runners from over 50 countries battling the sand and the heat of the Sahara in a self-sufficient manner.

The MDS is the granddaddy of multi-day racing and with its long history it is still the race that all other multi-day races base themselves on. Patrick Bauer’s vision is as strong today as it was back in the 80’s.

Bauer is not just a race director, he is a passionate man who loves Morocco and the people. The MDS ‘is’ Bauer and without him it is like the band QUEEN touring without Freddie Mercury center stage.

The stats for the race are impressive. They always are.

In 2018, as per usual. The 40-49 age group is the most popular. Yes, it is the mid-life crisis group with 349 males and 72 females toeing the line. The 30-39 group is next with 225 males and 58 females. Surprisingly, the 50-59 group comes in 3rd with a split of 177 to 37 male and female respectively.

The youngest runner is 17yr old Moroccan Ali Zaghloul who will be supported along the route by his father, Mehdi. The youngest female is Sally Wellock from the UK aged 23yrs.

France takes top honors for the oldest male, Jean-Claude Raymond aged 80yrs will look to complete his 12th MDS and Philippa Lloyd from the UK is the oldest female aged 69yrs.

I have to say, I have a soft spot for my good friend Didier Benguigui, this will be his 14th MDS and he is blind. I have seen him over the years overcome great adversity to achieve his medal. He is a true inspiration, he will make you cry – a legend of the MDS!

For those who love stats, believe it or not, the 2018 MDS will be Christian Ginter’s 31st MDS – yes folks, 31st edition – incredible!

ELITE RUNNERS

Female:

Natalia Sedykh returns to the MDS after winning the race in 2016 with a blistering performance. For me, she is the head and shoulders favourite for the 2018 race. She is currently in excellent shape and at the end of 2017 she won the Oman Desert Marathon.

Andrea Huser is a UTWT specialist and one of the strongest runners in the world with a string of incredible performances, be that UTMB or Transgrancanaria. She hasn’t run in the desert before and multi-day racing is a fickle beast. I see her doing well but I don’t think she will have the pace of Natalia.

One lady who will have the pace to take on the Russian is Magdalena Boulet. Magda has won Western States and placed 5th at UTMB. However, like Andrea, she is a desert Virgin and that will be her achilles heel for victory.

Anna Marie Watson can run in the sand, she won Half MDS Fuerteventura and recently placed top-10 at UTMB. She is likely to be a real contender for the podium this year and has trained specifically for the challenge ahead.

Gemma Game was 4th at MDS in 2015 and would have been a likely challenger for Natalia but has decided to ease of the gas for the 2018 race and she plans to have as much fun as possible.

Jax Mariash is a multi-day specialist who will bring her Gobi, Atacama and Namibia experience to Morocco. The question will be, does she have the speed to match the experience?

Also keep an eye on Bouchra Eriksen, Amelia Griffith and Beth Kay.

Male:

Rachid El Morabity is the desert king and you’d be a fool to bet against him. He won Morocco and Peru in 2017 and knows the sand like the back of his hand. He is an amazing runner with a wealth of experience and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.

Mohamed El Morabity is Rachid’s younger brother and if Rachid was not running, Mohamed would have the nod for victory. He was 2nd in 2017, and he also won the 100km Ultra Mirage in Tunisia.

Abdelkader El Mouaziz won the London Marathon in 1999 and 2001. He has a marathon PB of 2:06:43 – ouch! He is a MDS vet having placed 2nd twice and 7th.

Aziz El Akad is a consistent Moroccan who has finished in the top 5 at MDS on 7 occasions – that speaks volumes!

Gediminas Grinius was new to sand and multi-day at MDS Peru at the end of 2017. The race didn’t start well for him, but he eased into the race and finished strong. I am sure Peru was invaluable for him to fine tweak his prep for MDS Morocco. I expect to see his kit and food fine-tuned and it to be lighter. He is a formidable performer, strong as on ox and never gives in.

Alejandro Fraguela placed 3rd at Half MDS Fuerteventura and that will set him up well for a strong and consistent run in Morocco.

Arnaud Lejeune is maybe the great French hope. However, his lack of desert experience will be against him despite great results at UTMF and a top-10 at UTMB.

Vajin Armstrong from New Zealand is a strong runner and fierce competitor, he’s a sand/ Sahara virgin and has a huge learning curve ahead of him.

Majell Backausen from Australia is also a strong competitor and like Armstrong will have his first desert experience in Morocco.

*Remigio Huaman is on my start list but I am not sure if he will race? If he does, he is a podium and most definitely, top 5 contender.

THE 2018 RACE

Speculation is always rife about the route the race will take and certainly looks like from the very brief description below that the 2018 edition of the race will be similar to 2017. I therefore predict a finish in Merzouga dunes.

For perspective, the 250km distance can be covered at 3km ph with an approximate 83hrs finish time. By contrast, the fleet of foot can cover the distance at 14km ph with a finish time of 18hrs.

For the record, 2017 distances per stage were as follows:

  • Day 1 30.3km
  • Day 2 39km
  • Day 3 31.6km
  • Day 4/5 86.2km
  • Day 6 42.2km
  • Day 7 Charity stage

I think it’s fair to say that the 2018 edition will have similar distances and therefore the key days will be day 2 and of course the long day!

2018 ROUTE OVERVIEW

Stage 1 – The terrain will be flat with a great deal of sand, small dunes and a small climb to the finish.

Stage 2 – Is a longer stage, with a great deal of sand. It will include a climb through a gorge and then a steep descent.

Stage 3 – Starts with a climb followed by small climbs one of which is very steep with a technical passage. This stage includes the first ‘real’ dunes of the 33rd MDS.

Stage 4 – The dreaded long day! It’s going to be a tough day with a great deal of sand. It includes two passages through small gorges, a climb up a djebel, a rollercoaster through sand and a technical descent. It’s a day about managing oneself and saving something for the night.

Stage 5 – Is the classic marathon stage with dunes to kick off the day. It’s a day of no major difficulty and it includes sandy oued and small sparse dunes. However, be prepared for the long plateau towards the end.

Stage 6 – Obligatory charity stage and buses will wait for the finishers to return them to civilization.

KEY STATS

Needless to say, key elements of the MDS are the distance, heat, sand and self-sufficiency. The combination of all these elements makes the race a tough one! For safety, each runner is tracked and monitored with a SPOT tracker.

Each runner must carry all the food they require for the journey and the race specifies a minimum per day. This must be adhered to; however, a runner can carry as much food as they like. The downside is the weight. Therefore, the race is all about balancing calories to weight.

The runner must also carry a sleeping bag, sleeping mat (if they wish), any luxuries and they must decide if they carry a change of clothes – many don’t!

Mandatory kit is specified by the MDS organization and this must be carried. It includes:

  • SPOT tracker
  • Knife
  • Compass
  • Whistle
  • Lighter
  • Venom pump
  • Antiseptic
  • Sleeping bag
  • Survival blanket
  • Mirror
  • Salt tablets
  • Light sticks
  • Headlamp

In addition to the above, other items are specified and failure to carry them will incur a time penalty.

The only items provided by the race for each runner is water (rationed) and a bivouac (tent) that holds 8 people.

SCHEDULE REMINDER

April 6 – arrive Morocco

April 7 – Inspection day

April 8 – race start, stage 1

April 9 – stage 2

April 10 – stage 3

April 11 & 12 – stage 4

April 13 – stage 5

April 14 – charity stage

April 15 – free day

April 16 – journey home

FOLLOW

Instagram @iancorlessphotography

Twitter @talkultra

Facebook – iancorlessphotography

Talk Ultra Podcast HERE

 

Marathon des Sables Peru #MDSPeru on Sidetracked

On my recent trip to the inaugural Marathon des Sables Peru, I decided to shoot a portfolio specifically in B&W. For me, the desert transfers well to tones of light and dark.

I was very happy when Sidetracked agreed to publish a portfolio with some words to introduce this new race to the Marathon des Sables family.

“Way back in time, running was never about fun, it was about survival. Deprived of luxury, deprived of technology, deprived of phones and deprived of connecting to the outside world, participants have one objective at MDS: to journey from one place to the next. Racing like this forces everyone to connect, to sit in groups, help each other, talk about the day, share the journey in words and mutually bond.”

You can view the full article HERE

Marathon des Sables PERU 2017 #MDSPeru Day 1

The 2017 and inaugural Marathon des Sables Peru got underway, today, November 26th. With the passing of time, it is a day that will be remembered fondly as all those who are taking part will look back and say, “I was there, I was there at the very first edition!”

Marathon des Sables is over 30-years old and had Patrick Bauer not decided to take a solo-journey, on-foot, through the desert of Morocco, we may well not be talking about MDS Peru. 

Bauer pioneered the multi-day racing format and although it has been copied the world over, no other race quite compares to the grand scale of the first and original MDS!

MDS Peru is looking to follow its big Moroccan brother.

Nearly 500 runners from all over the world arrived in Lima to start their journeys. New journeys! They are pioneers of this new race and as such they will create history.

Peru is not a quick trip, for most people, they will have undertaken a minimum 16-hour journey to reach Lima and as they soon found out, the journey didn’t stop there. Boarding luxury CIVA buses, the journey continued for a 9-hour drive south to the ICA desert and bivouac one. A police escort made leaving Lima somewhat faster than on a normal day.

What lies ahead? 

Gigantic dunes, cliffs, oases, canyons, sand and the Pacific Ocean. The race will start cover 240+km from Cahuachi to La Catedral.

The MDS Peru follows the Moroccan format of 6-days racing of self-sufficiency, the only things provided; a tent and rationed water. Unlike Morocco, the bivouac will be made up of Individual WAA tents grouped in numbers of 6. These tents will be grouped based on the participants country and language. Think of them of little circular communities built around (hopefully) a camp fire.

Day 1 – 26th November is a travel day of approximately 285km south to Cahuachi and bivouac 1. Apart from long travel, made comfortable by luxury coaches, the runners will have a short welcome briefing, dinner provided and a first night under Peruvian stars. 

Day 2 – 27th November is an admin day with equipment checks and the deposit of personal belongings. Food will be provided throughout the day. After the evening meal which concludes at 2000hrs, self-sufficiency will begin and the reality will soon hit home that MDS Peru has begun.

THE RACE November 28th to 4th December.

 

Day 1 starts in Cahuachi and concludes in Coyungo 37.2km later. The day will begin at 0730 and it is a day of pretty much all downhill starting at an altitude of just over 350m and concluding a little higher than sea level.

Day 2 starts in Coyungo and concludes in Samaca 42.2km later. The profile is more challenging than day-1 with a climb starting at 2.5km covered and concluding 10km later. A long 10km descent follows and then a rollercoaster of small inclines and descents follows all the way to the line. It will be a tough day with some steep sections, dunes and the canyon of Rio ICA.

Day 3 starts in Samaca and concludes in Ocucaje 32.7km later. It’s a mixed day of sand, Lunar type landscape, stony terrain and big round shaped dunes. The route climbs just above sea level from the start to around 550m in the first 13km. The remaining 20km stays a move 450m and constantly rolls up and down all the way to the line.

Day 4 starts in Ocucaje and concludes in Barlovento 68.3km later. It’s the long day and the one that often strikes fear in to many of the runners. The first 40km undulates up and down above 400m until the route drops to sea level at around the marathon point before once again climbing back up at 57km to around 63km and then a final drop back to the finish at sea level. It will be a tough day of sand, dunes, hilltops but the incredible Pacific will accompany the runners throughout the day.

Day 5 starts in Barlovento and concludes in Medieta 42.2km later. It is the classic marathon day and all those who finished the long-day will now be smelling the finish line. It’s a day that runs along the coast and arguably may be the most spectacular of the race as the Pacific will always be to the left sending hopefully a breeze off the sea. Beaches, rocks, cliffs, protected archaeological zones, constant up and downs as the route constantly drops to sea-level and climbs back up to around 220m.

Day 6 starts in Medieta and concludes in La Cathedral 19.6km later. Like the day before, it’s another coastal day but easier in regard to elevation gain and terrain: dirt roads, shingles, beaches and small cliffs will conclude the 2017 MDS Peru.

After the conclusion of day 6, runners and staff are transported to Paracas for 2-nights at Double Tree Hotel before flying home on December 6th.

Runners can expect to be surprised, a raw experience, a basic experience and a full immersion in nature deprived of creature comforts. Runners have three simple things to thing about – run, eat and sleep. For 30+ years, MDS has pioneered this return to basics and in 2017 MDS Peru continues and enhances the legacy of Patrick Bauer and the Marathon des Sables.

Half Marathon Des Sables Fuerteventura 2017 Summary

The inaugural Half Marathon des Sables Fuerteventura has just taken place!

Unlike the legendary bigger brother, the race, as the name suggests, is half the distance of the Moroccan counterpart and as such provides a great opportunity for novices to test themselves over multiple days or, it allows experienced runners to race faster and harder.

300 runners toed the line of the first edition, the only thing known before the start of the race that they would need to cover 120km’s over 3-days. Like the bigger brother, the race route was kept secret till just before the race and of course, runners are required to be self-sufficient – only bivouac and water is provided.

A 7km walk to bivouac 1 followed kit-check thus allowing a phase of ‘adaptation’ before the racing kicked-in. It was an opportunity to check apparel, shoes, gaiters and make sure the pack was sitting and fitting well to the body. Of course, all this should have been dialed in before the race!

A few hundred meters from the ocean, bivouac 1 was an oasis of calm. A final full meal, a night under the stars and the arrival of dawn would see the start of stage 1.

Stage 1 25.5km starting at Playa Las Coloradas and finishing at La Pared Isthmus.

It was a hot day, a really hot day of stifling and oppressive sun.

Deep blue ocean, orange rocks and cliffs were contrasted by black volcanic slopes – a trademark of the Canary Islands – as the runners ran the opening miles to Cp1. As one would expect, a long sandy beach followed leading to a technical path and dune decent to Cp2. The final 3 miles were classic Fuerteventura terrain; sand, stony plateaus and dunes to the bivouac.

Local runner, Yeray Duran was no doubt a pre-race favourite and he didn’t disappoint on day 1 running with Alejandro Fraguela Breijo. The duo pushed hard from the off but Peru’s Remigio Huaman, who completed the Moroccan race earlier in the year, kept an ever-watchful eye. Duran suffered in the heat placing 3rd and Fraguela Breijo took victory almost 5 minutes clear of the Peruvian. Timings were 2:23, 2:28:09 and 2:30:46 respectively.

“Tomorrow is the long stage,” said Huaman post-race. “I need to keep in contention from the start, watch my food, watch my liquid. I like to run easier early and then speed up!”

For the ladies, the UK’s Anna-Marie Watson who just week’s earlier placed top-10 at the UTMB had a great first day. She clinched a solid victory of almost 20 minutes ahead of Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo. Kristina Schou from Denmark was 3rd, their times 3:04:03, 3:23:46 and 3:31:51.

Watson post-race discussed how the first ascent was tough and how the temperatures were high. This is coming from a lady who has placed 2rd overall at the Marathon des Sables Morocco in 2015.

“The sand dune before Cp2 was dreadful,” Watson continued. “I had to compose myself and push on. Tomorrow is the long day and that is my preference so I will rest, recover, eat and prepare.”

Stage 2 66.5km starting Aguas Verdes and finishing at La Pared Isthmus.

A straight north-south stage of oueds, dirt roads, single-track, dunes and ridges was made unbearable by oppressive heat but the stunning ocean provided company and contrast to the glow of orange. After Cp3, the race crossed the pretty village of Pajara and as the day unfolded volcanoes and the ocean would provide relaxing views to a challenging day. Due to a rock slide, the final miles of the route changed thus saving the runners a little over 3km.

As promised, Remigio Huaman used his ultra-running skills and desert running skills honed in Morocco earlier in the year to stamp his mark on the men’s race. He followed his strategy with a steady start but he upped the pace as early as 8km in the 66.5km stage leaving Hernandez Curbelo and Fraguela Breijo struggling. At Cp2 the gap was 8 minutes and at Cp3 it was 13 minutes. As the finish line came, the gap had opened to 30 minutes – an unbeatable lead going into the final day. Hernandez Curbelo improved his strategy and placed 2nd and Fraguela Breijo placed 3rd. For Duran, it was a bad day and he slipped in the day’s ranking to 5th and out of the top 3 after a time penalty for taking an IV drip due to dehydration.

For the ladies’ it came as no surprise that Anna-Marie Watson used her long-distance skills to school the opposition. With each mile, she pulled away and finally finished with a 14-minute lead over Kristina Shou. Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo placed 3rd.

“I had no strategy but to run on feel and listen to my body,” Watson said. “I ran my race not worrying about the competition. It was a great stage, I loved the cliffs underneath the camp and the sun set was incredible.”

Ranking

  1. Remigio Huaman overall 9:03:08
  2. Jonathan Hernandez overall 9:59:59
  3. Fraguela Breijo 10:18:30 
  1. Anna-Marie Watson overall 11:32:22
  2. Kristina Shou overall 12:14:13
  3. Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo overall 12:38:22

 

Stage 3 21.1km starting Tuineje and concluding at Las Playitas

At 10am start at the heart of the island unleashed the runners into the heat of the day and a maximum time of 6 hours to complete the stage. Solidified lava was the terrain of the opening miles followed by dirt roads and the village of Gran Tarajal. Mountains followed with some great climbing and descending before single-track brought the runners home.

Three days, three days racing… There was no easing back or victory lap for the final stage, Remigio Huaman pushed from the front and not only consolidated his lead but extended it averaging over 13.15km per hour for the stage.

“For me, the Half MDS is relatively easy as I am fortunate that I can run quickly,” said Huaman. “I am able to get the stages over, even the long one, quickly. I can eat, rest and recover. However, many of the other runners spend so much time on their feet, they walk long distances, suffer from the heat and suffer from hunger, they are the heroes as are all the staff!”

Duran kept the home crowd happy with 2nd place on the stage and Juan Jose Rodrigues Garcia placed 3rd on the stage ahead of 2nd overall, Jonathan Hernandez Curbelo, the times 1:35:49 for Huaman, 1:39 for Duran and 1:40:30 for Rodriguez Garcia.

Anna-Marie Watson eased off the gas for the last day knowing that victory was secure. This opened a doorway for the Spanish runner Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo to seize an emotional final stage victory in 2:14:03. Watson finished in 2:19:04 and 2nd placed lady overall, Kristina Shou confirmed her consistency with 3rd in 2:20:52.

“My dream started many years ago, 17 actually when I heard of the MDS,” said Watson post-race. “In 2015, I placed 2nd at MDS and in just a few shorts years things have progressed, what a dream!”

As with all multi-day races, the journey of the front-runners is only a very small story of the race. The true race happens behind. Runners fight fatigue, heat, exhaustion and demons just to finish. France’s Mathilde Male sums it up well:

“I am happy the race is over, but I am sad it is coming to an end… My best memory will definitely be the arrival of the long-stage, at around 1am. Staff were cheering and I was with my race partner Christelle, it was magic.”

OVERALL TIMES

  1. Remigio Huaman 10:38:57
  2. Jonathan Hernandez Curbelo 11:41:37
  3. Alejandro Fraguela Breijo 12:05:42

 

  1. Anna-Marie Watson 13:51:26
  2. Kristina Shou 14:35:05
  3. Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo 14:52:25

 

Full results HERE

 

Images ©Cimbaly/ Valentin Campagnie / Marta Bacardit

TOM EVANS – Marathon des Sables #MDS 2017 Part One

Captain Tom Evans, placed third at the 2017 Marathon Des Sables in April, it was a complete surprise. Prior to the race, it’s fair to say, Tom had well and truly kept himself under the radar, a skill no doubt honed whilst in the army. British runners have a long history with the MDS and finally, we have one on the male podium!

I caught up with Tom post MDS to find out a little more about his remarkable story.

Ian: Who’s Tom Evans and tell me how this all came about?

Tom: It’s a very surreal experience. I went out with a few small ambitions. My main goal was to go out unknown and see what I could do. There was no pressure on my running so I could just focus on myself, focus on the race. There were no expectations which I think it’s safe to say I managed to achieve. Absolutely no one had any idea who I was on day one.

Ian: [laughs] Well, you achieved that completely. I remember, on day one, I was scooting around the dunes in a jeep, trying to find the runners because you were ahead of schedule. I saw this shadow in the distance. I told my driver to stop. I’m running through the dunes. Then, you come past me. I look and I think, “Who is this? I don’t know who this is.” Then behind was Rachid and Mohamed, the duo were working together, a little like they do in cycling taking turns to set the pace.

They were holding you at 100, maybe 200-meters which they did to the end of stage one but we’ll come on to the actual race and how it panned out later. I called you Captain, you’re obviously in the army. You were out with a whole bunch of soldiers and Walking with the Wounded. You had Duncan Slater out there with you. Just from that perspective, with your performance, Walking with the Wounded, Duncan Slater – it has been an epic Marathon Des Sables, hasn’t it?

Tom: Yes, it’s been amazing. The support that the whole team has received, not just from Walking with the Wounded and serving members of the British Armed Forces, but from so many across the world. We’ve been incredibly lucky this year; the Walking with the Wounded team had raised a lot of money. Like you say, the likes of Duncan Slater for the first double amputee to complete the race – amazing.

Then also we had Oscar who’s 16 years old, he competed with his father. Everyone helps during the race. That was very encouraging throughout. But then also, everyone back home really got behind the team which then led to the successes that Walking with the Wounded had in the race.

Ian: Let’s go back because there’s got to be a starting point. Let’s start with you and your running and then the MDS prep. To prepare for Marathon Des Sables and be non-Moroccan and do well, it normally requires all sorts of specific types of training, whether that is being really anal about kit, working out what type of food you’re going to eat, heat adaptation, how you handle dehydration, and all those things. I’d like to talk to you about that. But first, when did you start running?

Tom: My sister was a good athlete at school. I got slightly jealous of her so I decided that signing up to the Athletics Club was a good idea. That was when I was 13. I raced on the track all throughout school – anything from 70, 100 meters to 5k on the track. I realized that I was a decent, good English runner so I just got pulled in to the cross-country teams. Since being in the army, I’ve had an incredibly busy career and running took a back seat.

However, during 2015, I was based at a posting in Kenya for 10-months. I was lucky and spent a week training at the high-altitude training centre which really got me focused again on my running. Getting back to the UK, I carried on as much as I could but with work commitments, it’s always been difficult to be able to plan out a couple of months in advance of which races I wanted to do.

I’ve always been keen on my fitness and played as much sport as I can. But my running has only been specific for the last six months. I was squeezing everything in as much as I could – my preparations have been fairly rushed. I still see myself as relatively untrained…

Ian: I’ve got a feeling that there’s a lot of runners around the world saying to themselves, “If Tom’s really untrained, what’s going to happen?”

Tom: I think I have to find my distance and to find my passion, for now ultra-trail, that’s where I’ll stick. Hopefully, specific training will then lead on to more great results.

Ian: Like I said, you were a complete unknown but there was a great deal of conversations at MDS about you being a 2;18 marathon runner, aiming for an England vest, wanting to run at the Olympics – what is the truth in that story though? What are the aspirations outside? What you’d like to achieve in ultra and trail? What is your marathon time? What are your objectives, maybe in terms of a GB or an Olympian vest?

Tom: I think for the time being, I’m really going to focus on ultras. Certainly, the next 18-months. It’s always been my ambition to race in the Olympics. My marathon is currently at 2:20, but that was a while ago. I’m hoping with the experience that I’m going to gain in the next 6, 12 and 18-months, that my running will really start to improve. For the moment, I’m doing it because I love the sport.

It’s more than running, It’s the whole community, the preparation. It’s being self-sufficient throughout the race and then also, mixing with the other competitors. It’s a very competitive sport but on the start line, you’re mixing with other people from all over the world – Rachid and Mohamed for example. It’s just that relationship that you can forge over a week-long period which really draws me into ultras, especially multi-day.

Having said that, my ultra-running experience is so limited and I’m sure a lot of the followers will be fairly surprised to read that the MDS was my first multi-day race, so it was completely uncharted territory for me. The long stage of MDS was the farthest I’d ever run by 12-kilometers, ity was all so new.

Ian: Wow.

Tom: It’s just such a huge learning project. I’m so new to that. I’ve got so much to learn and will just be learning as much and as much as I can in the sport.

Ian: Yes, okay. I’m getting a sense that maybe the multi-day type experience is where you will place an emphasis but obviously single-day ultras are also going to figure. Being in the army and the way that Marathon des Sables is organised, is the race just like another army training exercise – Is it just like another military campaign?

Tom: There are certain similarities, I think that’s why Marathon des Sables attracts a great deal of serving and ex-military personnel not only from the UK but also from all across the world. It’s self-sufficient element is classic military and replicates doing something hard – be it a long insertion march or similar, plus you must carry weight. Post the run, it’s about getting yourself back into your tent and then starting to look after yourself, looking after your body, doing all of that, the basic administrations, sorting out your feet, stretching, making sure you’re fully hydrated again, getting your nutrition on – classic army!

This is what really draws everyone closer together, you’re going through that together. You are living in a confined space in a tent with 7 other people and the camaraderie that’s built up over a very short period of time is very similar to the military, which I think is absolutely amazing.

Ian: The process of working out how you were going to spend the week in the desert in terms of your kit selection, your food choices, were they just extensions of what you’ve experienced as a soldier or did you specifically pool information and speak to people to find out what type of equipment to use? It can be a daunting task when you think about this whole self-sufficiency thing and the fact that you’ve got to carry everything that you need. The only thing that you’re being given is water and a shelter for the night and it’s all basic.

Join Tom Evans, Elisabet Barnes and Sondre Amdahl on our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote – information HERE.

Tom: Yes, I spent a bit of time speaking to lots of people. I was lucky enough to be around for the MDS Expo in London which was excellent. That was my springboard to start my research really – the kit, the foods, the heat training and the hydration strategy that I was going to implement during the race.

I spent a great deal of time testing different kit, my room at home now is full with different backpacks and different pairs of shorts and socks – it can be expensive!

Ian: [laughs]

Tom: It’s important to be specific, my needs are different to others in the race. For example, I completed the whole race quicker than say someone takes to do just the long stage. That is significant! The demands on ones feet, clothing, time on legs, nutrition and so on can’t be underestimated.

Ian: Absolutely.

Tom: It’s very different. It’s a very, very different experience. I started day one with six and a half kilo pack exactly. I had a few comforts, had a nice a nice warm jacket, a good sleeping bag but no roll mat, my food reserves were weighed out and light weight and I probably didn’t carry as many calories as I would have liked and no stove, all my food was cold. But having said that, because I ended up getting in  early during the days, I was able to warm my water up naturally in the sun. It can be a very daunting process, ask a 100-people they’d probably tell you 100 different answers.

It’s important to find out what works for you, what’s comfortable but also assess the race and your goals. Most will walk far more than they anticipate, I was lucky, I ran pretty much the whole race but it’s a very different story once you move out of the top 10%.

Ian: Yes. I’m impressed for a first-timer with the fact that you got your pack down to 6.5kg, that obviously must mean that you weren’t eating much more than two and a half thousand calories per day. You said that you’d been quite a big guy over 80 kgs, I don’t know what you’re racing weight is now, you’ve lost weight so need less calories. Andy Symonds from the UK, he was looking for top-10 and he achieved that but he did say to me that as the week went on, he was just permanently hungry and he wasn’t getting enough calories to function as he wanted.

He could run but he didn’t have the energy to run the pace that he wanted to run. How did you manage that and how did you sustain the pace? Is there anything that you had done pre-race that taught your body to use fat as a fuel?

Tom: I ended up doing a lot of my training early in the mornings before breakfast because I was incredibly busy at work. If I could get 1-2 hours in the morning, it meant that I had more time during the day. I’d have a good meal the previous evening but then 10 hours later, eight hours later I’d be running on an empty stomach, it just got my body used using my fat stores and supply the energy I needed.

During the race you’ve got to make sure you have the right nutrients, the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in your diet. I’ve got a good friend back home who owns a small supplement company, OG Supplements, who spent a lot of times of going through my diet plan, just looking at the ingredients – I had the right amount of nutrients in my diet.

On the shorter days I would eat 2,300 calories and then on the marathon days, 2,700, and on the long day, 3,100. Lets be clear, you are going to be in a calorie deficit throughout the week but I think it’s being able to space those meal plans out that works. A sizable breakfast in the morning and then throughout the day, every time I got to the checkpoint, I was taking calories on just to try and maintain a level of energy within my body. You need some good calories quickly when you finish, you need to start the repair process asap.

You must make sure that you look after yourself as soon as possible – going back to being serving officer in the British Army, certainly with the Welsh Guard, that is a key lesson that I learned going through my training, it has become second nature.

Ian: I think certainly being in the Army is a huge advantage. It’s that admin, it’s that protocol, it’s that discipline. I often think of a story that a soldier told me of why you make your bed in the morning and you can probably elaborate on this far better than I can but it’s that process of starting the day and having that discipline.

Tom: Yes it is! You can look at it in the short term with the same analogy as making the bed in the morning: Start the day as you mean to go on, exactly the same; start of the week, start of the month. You’ve got to be able to take on that attitude in everything you do. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it properly!”

A lot of people say, “Oh, you were very lucky that you get the chances to do these things.” Funny how people who work hard become lucky! Without hard work, none of this is possible. You must delve into the depth of everything and you’ve got to try and cover all bases, looking into to every possible eventuality. I’m a huge believer of visualization and setting goals – short-term, midterm, and long-term.

That brings it much closer to home and making my dreams a reality rather than something that, “Oh, this might be quite nice to do.” It’s the mentality that I use when I go into anything – work, home, training or racing.

Ian: You mentioned about training in the morning and training fasted and the fact that you have a busy working life. What would a typical training week for you look like in the build-up to Marathon Des Sables?

Tom: I have been lucky enough to be training with a group of guys who are training for London Marathon, all guys planning on running a sub 2:20. The majority of my mileage was high-quality miles. I was of the mind-set that I needed to run quality miles. However, when you’re training for ultras, you are doing longer distances, one needs to be specific. If I tried and maintain the same tempo and the same effort in longer sessions I would crumble – all about balance.

I would average 90-miles per week and then in the month before Marathon des Sables, I added two weeks at 120 miles, which was by far the longest that I’d run. My runs would be a real mixture of longer runs, typically back-to-back. I would do a tempo long run on a Saturday and then a slow long run on the Sunday. During the week I’d be on the track once. I woukd join sessions: 4x 8-minutes 10k pace for example, really focusing on speed work and the power. I really think it helped my form for Marathon des Sables.

A lot of the race is about speed and about strength – if racing at the front. If you imagine going over the dunes, the quicker that you’re able to get off the dune, the less chance there is for gravity to work against you and the sand to hold you back. I needed to perform at a high level, day-in and day-out. I did a lot of work with my heart rate monitor and I’ve spent time in the lab looking at my VO2 and my lactate threshold.

My training was based on a marathon training program. I have a coach at Lewes Athletics Club and we mixed everything together to try to work it around my schedule at work – it worked well!

In the second part of the interview, we bring you Tom’s thoughts about the race and how his 2017 Marathon des Sables unfolded.