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.

Marathon des Sables 2017 #MDS – Stage Four 86.2km

Two start times, 0815 and 1115, the same distance – a gruelling 82.2km of the best of what the Sahara has to offer, incredible views and at times brutal terrain with intense heat.

The route echoed much of the 2016 edition passing early through the oasis of El Maharch, a flat dried up lake before the first couple of climbs of the day starting at 10km. Cp1 offered some refreshment before the climb of Mhadid Al Elahau followed by a high level plateau traverse before a fast and thrilling sandy descent. Heading south a great deal of soft sand took the runners to Cp2 and then climbing a path, the runners came back on themselves through the nest valley. Cp3 to Cp4 was a long sand passage that eventually crossed a Oued. Cp4 to Cp5 and Cp5 to Cp6 were relentless dunes to sap the mind and energy. The push from Cp6 to bivouac via Cp7 was relatively flat but continually sandy – a tough day in Morocco!

The day in many ways unfolded at the front as one may have anticipated with Rachid El Morabity and Nathalie Mauclair taking stage victories. However, the story was not clear cut.

Mauclair took the race to Elisabet Barnes in a last ditch effort for victory. It was expected by everyone, after all, Mauclair is a long distance specialist. Through half the race the gap between the two hovered around 3-4 minutes. From Cp5, Mauclair extended her lead over Barnes but the 2015 Marathon des Sables champion dug in, used her flat running speed and closed on the French lady. Mauclair took victory in 9:39:58 and Barnes crossed the tape in 9:41:16 – job done! With the marathon stage to follow tomorrow, Barnes is in a strong perdition for a 2nd victory at this iconic race. Fernanda Maciel, also a long distance specialist, followed the duo ahead and she finished in 10:00:58. Emilie Lecomte was 4th.

In the men’s race, Rachid ran behind a lead pack that continually changed for much of the day. He never quite looked his fresh self but he pulled it out of the bag as he has done so many times before. He finished in an impressive 8:16:44.

Man of the day was British runner Thomas Evans who set his stall out on day 1 and has played the Moroccans at their own game. He has impressed day-on-day and on the long stage he didn’t sit back and defend, he attacked. At times leading the race. His efforts were rewarded with 2nd in 8:27:46. The margin of time behind him and El Morabity does not reflect a stunning performance! Rachid’s brother Mohamad placed 3rd and then Abdelaziz Baghazza and Remigio Huaman in 8:28:33, 8:41:42 and 8:43:39 respectively.

As I write this, runners are still out on the course enduring another day that will test them to the limit. Don’t listen to anyone who says ‘this’ is an easy race – it is not! So many are fighting demons, some fail, but the grit and determination is inspiring. For example, two people have inspired me – Duncan from the UK who is participating with two prosthetic legs and Louis from Luxembourg who has no arms – inspiring!

The fifth stage of the 2017 Marathon des Sables if the classic marathon stage of 42.2km and medals will be awarded on the line. The race is Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes for the taking – four sections of dunes will not make it easy!

Marathon des Sables 2017 #MDS – Stage Two 39km

The mood in bivouac on the second morning of the 32nd edition of the Marathon des Sables was one of mixed emotions. Satisfaction on completing day one, a good nights sleep and then the daunting contrast of a ‘tough’ day two and 39km with some significant technical and sandy terrain.

An 0830 start would allow runners a little more time to complete the stage – the cut-off was 11h 30min.

Heading south the early km’s were full of sand, dunes and climbing – Bou Laadam Jebel a significant marker at 5km. A plateau and then a steady sandy climb at 8.5km would lead to Cp1 at 12.8km. The next 12km would follow a southerly direction of sand, hills and dunes. Cp2 would offer some recovery before the push to Cp3. Dunes would sap the runners energy here and then a tough climb would lead to the highest point of the day via a gulley of rock. Elotfal jebel offered stunning views and then a steep sandy descent before the final Cp3 and a flat run to bivouac.

Day 2 was all about Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes. The duo dominated the day from the front and have well and truly laid a foundation for potential victory in the 32nd edition of the Marathon des Sables. Of course, there is still a long way to go…

El Morabity ran within himself till Cp1 but then opened up a gap leaving the rest to follow. The men’s field was spread throughout the sand, dunes and plateaus of Morocco – El Morabity was having none of the group running of day 1.

Abdelkader El Mouaziz, Mohamed El Morabity and Thomas Evans followed but they were not match for the MDS master. At the line, the gaps were significant. El Morabity crossed in 3:04:52 and then it was 3:12:15, 3:14:31 and 3:14:35 for El Mouaziz, El Morabity (younger brother) and Evans. Aziz Ek Akad placed 5th and Andy Symonds 6th.

In the ladies race, Elisabet Barnes is showing the form that gained her victory in 2015. She looks relaxed, happy and focussed. Last year’s second place Nathalie Mauclair commented on how strong she was running. Barnes lead from the front and never looked back, just as day 1, a way she like to run. She crossed the line in 3:49:04.

Following behind there was a change with Fernanda Maciel returning to form and pipping Mauclair to 2nd, the times 4:00:42 and 4:04:14 respectively. Emilie Lecomte placed 4th, Aziza Jaji 5th and rising star Jennifer Hill 6th.

FULL RESULTS HERE

The third stage will start 0830 and a distance of 31.6km and a 10h 30m cut-off will be applied.

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Marathon des Sables 2017 #MDS – Stage One 30.3km

 

On the stroke of 0900, the 32nd edition of Marathon des Sables began! The roar of the helicopter followed the runners as they were released from the line with a relatively flat, sandy 30.3km of the Sahara ahead.

Pre race nerves suddenly disappeared and months-upon-months of training and preparation could finally be put to use in the sands of Morocco.

As usual, race director Patrick Bauer warned the runners of how heat, dehydration and the desert brings a very unique challenge.

The route travelled south via a stony plateau and the first 6km were inaccessible by vehicle. A line of dunes followed that took the runners all the way to Cp1. From here, the direction of ESE and the east brought more flat but soft sand. A rolling landscape preceded Cp2 and then small rolling dunes, a rocky plateau and a small sand climb introduced the runners to the highpoint of the day and the sight of bivouac in the distance. A following 2.5km stony plateau resulted in the end of day-1.

The ladies’ race was all about 2015 Marathon des Sables champion Elisabet Barnes. Today she ran strong, confident and looked in incredible shape showing all the ladies a clean pair of heels. As she ran past me she shouted, ‘I feel great and I am loving it!’

Even 2016 second placed lady, Nathalie Mauclair could not keep up. Aziza Raji followed and then Fernanda Maciel, Emilie Lecomte and Melanie Rousset.

At the line, Barnes finished in 02:38:13, Mauclair 2nd in 2:44:57 and Raji 2:54:36.

The mens’ race was all about Brit, Thomas Evans. He but the Moroccan quartet of Rachid El Morabity, Mohamed El Morabity, Abdelkader El Mouaziz and Hammou Moudouji under real pressure as they pursued him through the sand and dunes of the 30.3km stage.

Always holding him in sight, it was like a stage of the Tour de France as the Moroccans took it in turns to pace and hold him at 1-200m. It was in the final kilometre they made a move. 2016 MDS champion Rachid was outsprinted by his brother Mohamad, El Mouaziz placed 3rd and Evans held on for 4th. The times, 2:10:36, 2:10:54, 2:11:17 and 2:11:58 respectively.

The 2017 edition for the race is going to be exciting!

Stage 2 is a tough stage of 39km. The start will be at 0830 and the cut-off is 11h 30mins.

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Marathon des Sables 2017 #MDS – Registration Day

It’s hot… I know it’s the Sahara but today has been hot!

After a day of travel, some 1200 runners arrived in bivouac yesterday and settled to a first night in the Sahara. A meal, some admin and it was an early night. The winds increased with darkness and the general comment in camp the following morning was, “Wow, it got cold last night!”

It caused some last minute anxiety as today is bag drop day and therefore after registration all runners are wearing and carrying everything they need for the week. I could see a few warm layers being taken from cases and added to packs… they can always be thrown away later!

Today is a long day as everyone just wants to run. However, all admin procedures must be undertaken at specified time slots.

Firstly luggage is left and it will not be seen till after the race. Passport and identity is checked and then an overview of medical forms. Packs are weighed for a minimum 6.5kg and in some scenarios checked for mandatory kit. A Spot tracker is added to the runners packs, numbers are collected, timing chips activated and that’s it. The process takes about 2-hours in the heat of the day.

Bivouac is spread over a large area and in each tent, which hold 8-people there is carnage as last minute planning takes place.

As the evening approaches, the last full meal is provided. On waking, self-sufficiency takes over and the runners will start, well and truly, the 32nd edition of Marathon des Sables.

Day 1 is 30.03km with a 10-hour cut-off time.

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Half Marathon des Sables Fuerteventura – New Event

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Marathon des Sables, the iconic multi-stage race has finally, after 30-years expanded with a new race for 2017 – HALF MARATHON DES SABLES FUERTEVENTURA.

The event will echo the ethos of the iconic ‘MDS’ race providing a 3-day self-sufficient journey of 120km’s on the Canary island of Fuerteventura.

Pre registration is open and although the event will take place in September, specific dates have not yet been confirmed.

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The MARATHON DES SABLES organisation and Fuerteventura present a new challenge: the HALF MARATHON DES SABLES FUERTEVENTURA. This 120 km running race in three steps will be held on September 2017, in Fuerteventura, in the Canaries Islands. As the MARATHON DES SABLES, it will be a food self-sufficiency race.

Unlike the the legendary benchmark multi-stage father figure race, Marathon des Sables, the new ‘half’ edition is designed to provide an entry level race at a much more affordable price. Where families may be able to join a racing father or mother and enjoy what Fuerteventura has to offer while a parent or parents race.

Although not confirmed, it is anticipated that entry per person will be under 1000 euro and places will be limited to 500.

(I must stress, this price and entry places are not confirmed yet)

Inscriptions for the race are HERE and as stated, it is expected that they will be limited.

Half MDS Marathon des Sables

Join our 2018 Multi-Day Training Camp with Elisabet Barnes and Sondre Amdahl in Lanzarote, January 18th to 25th. Booking and info HERE

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

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

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Also read

Top Tips To Better Multi-Day Running HERE

Multi-Day Food On The Cheap HERE

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Optional items:

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

Luxuries:

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

Perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

EQUIPMENT IN DETAIL

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

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

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

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

Jacket – Jacket choice will depend on sleeping bag choice. If you are using a light bag, a lightweight down jacket is an essential item. Look at Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, Yeti Companyon Strato, Mont-Bell Plasma 1000 Down, Berghaus VapourLight (not down) and/ or PHD custom made.

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

Shorts/ Skort – Same answer as T-Shirt.

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

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

Gaiters – Are essential and they should be sewn and glued on to the shoe to guarantee that no sand can enter. Raidlight, MyRaceKit, WAA and Sandbaggers make versions of gaiters.

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

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

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

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

Sleeping bag – Like the pack, a sleeping bag is a key item is it is likely to be the largest and heaviest item (except food and water) that you will carry. A sleeping bag is important as a good night’s rest is key for day-to-day running. If you are on a budget, Raidlight offer a ‘Combi’ that is a sleeping bag that converts into a jacket. You kill two birds with one stone and the price is a bargain. However, for me it has downsides – it’s large, heavy and offers limited flexibility with temperature regulation. I will always go with a sleeping bag and down jacket scenario is this for me provides less weight, less packed size, more flexibility and the option to get warmer at night by wearing the jacket inside the bag. Problem is, this comes at a price. A lightweight down bag and jacket will be more than likely three to four times the price of the Raidlight Combi. Also, consider your size, shoulder width, height and so on. Some bags are very small whereas bags such as PHD and Yeti can be purchased in small, medium or large. Recommended bags are PHD (custom or off-the peg), Yeti, Western Mountaineering, Haglofs, OMM (not down) and Raidlight.

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

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

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

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

Road Book (supplied)

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

As an example:

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

Total Weight 3550g

**Mandatory kit – see clarification

***Water – see clarification

MY EQUIPMENT LIST

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It’s important to note that equipment must be specific to the race you are doing and race conditions. The list below is an example of equipment for Marathon des Sables. However, if I was going to Atacama or the Grand to Grand (both self-sufficient) I would be looking at a heavier and warmer sleeping bag and a warmer jacket. Temperatures at night get much colder than the Sahara. The Grand to Grand can also have rain. If a rain jacket is on your list, the inov-8 AT/C Stormshell at 150g is hard to beat.

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

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

WEARING:

Hat: inov-8 or The North Face

inov-8-hat

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

inov-8-atc-t-shirt

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

inov-8-atc-trail-short

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

injinji-midweight

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

scott-kinabalu-supertrac

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

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

Buff: Any

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

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

IN THE PACK:

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L 520g – It’s a simple pack that is light, fits to the torso well, comes in S/M or M/L, holds two large bottles comfortably against the torso and importantly they don’t bounce and it has 3 external stretch pockets. The main compartment has a roll-top closure, so, as pack contents get less, you can roll the pack smaller to reduce any problems with contents moving around.

ultimate-direction-fastpack-20

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

mountain-hardwear-ghost-whisperer

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

phd-minim-ultra-k

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

 thermarest-prolite-small

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.

 black-diamond-spot

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

Buff 16g – Essential

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

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

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

Information HERE

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Support on PATREON HERE

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Episode 110 – MDS Special and Jasmin Paris

A_GRAVATAR

This is Episode 110 of Talk Ultra. This weeks show is a Marathon des Sables special with a load of great content from the Bivouac by Niandi Carmont and then a series of post race interviews with Sondre Amdahl, Elisabet Barnes and Elinor Evans. If that wasn’t enough, we have an interview with Jasmin Paris who has just blasted the Bob Graham Round ladies record to a new level.

It’s a different show this week as we concentrate on Marathon des Sables

Marathon Des Sables

It was a win again for Rachid El Morabity and Russian, Natalia Sedykh dominated the ladies race, times were 21:01:21 and 24:25:46 for the 257km. Full results are HERE

Niandi talk from the Bivouac 

00:25:32 INTERVIEW from the Bivouac

A selection of interviews of everyday runners doing extra ordinary things

00:58:54 INTERVIEW from the Bivouac

Fernanda Maciel ladies 3rd overall and Natalia Sedykh ladies race winner

01:19:09 NEWS

Madeira Island Ultra Trail

Zach Miller 13:52

Tofol Castanyer 14:12

Sebastien Camus 14:18

 

Caroline Chaverot 15:00

Andrea Huser 16:22

Emelie Lecomte 17:56

Penyagolosa Trails – The MIM and CSP

MIM

Miguel Angel Sanchez and Gemma Arenas won in 5:36 and 6:33

CSP

Sea Sanchez 12:54 and Mercedes Pila 15:02

Full results HERE

Ultra Fijord – bad news

We discussed this race extensively in a couple of podcasts last year, we spoke with Nikki Kimball and Jeff Browning. Jeff won the race and Nikki decided to withdraw from the race as she felt is was too dangerous. Alarm bells were rung. Unfortunately we have had news of a death at the 2016 edition. We have to be clear here that information is still a little sparse but Ellie Greenwood and Kerrie Bruxvoort have both commented on social media at the races apparent disregard for safety. We will have more information on this as and when possible.

A statement on Facebook from Ultra Fijord said:

The second edition of Ultra Fiord has been a very hard experience, marked by an exceptionally hostile climate and dramatic landscape that formed the backdrop of the race route, that was changed and shortened two days leading to the race to accommodate the impending bad weather. While some runners experienced and embraced the forces of nature, others were beyond their comfort zone. What impacted all of us the most was the loss of 100-mile runner, Arturo Héctor Martínez Rueda. Mr Martínez, 57-year-old from Mexico, had unfortunately passed on at an approximate 65km mark that is about 750m above sea level. Although the likely cause of his death was hypothermia, a confirmation can only be made in the following few days. The unfavourable weather has persisted in this mountain area since Friday, so the rescue team, awaits a favourable weather window to execute the evacuation. The race organiser takes responsibility and apologise for the poor communications to the outside world with regards to this tragic incident, simply because it is a step we could not execute without the confirmation of the status and private communications with Arturo’s family. In this difficult time, the organising team sincerely expresses its condolences to the family and friends of Arturo and ask followers for your cooperation to send peace and respect to them too.

01:25:40 INTERVIEW

Elisabet Barnes post MDS 

01:57:45 INTERVIEW 

Sondre Amdahl post MDS 

02:26:49 INTERVIEW 

Elinor Evans post MDS 

03:11:00 INTERVIEW

Jasmin Parishas just elevated the ladies Bob Graham Round record to a new level coming very close to Billy Bland’s benchmark 1982 record

UP & COMING RACES

Australia

Queensland

The Great Wheelbarrow Race – Mareeba to Dimbulah | 104 kilometers | May 13, 2016 | website

Austria

Tiroler Abenteuerlauf 60 KM | 60 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Über Drüber UltraMarathon | 63 kilometers | May 05, 2016 | website

Belgium

Wallonia

Trail de Lesse 50 km | 50 kilometers | May 08, 2016 | website

Canada

Alberta

Run for the Braggin’ Rights | 50 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Run for the Braggin’ Rights – Relay | 50 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

British Columbia

The North Face Dirty Feet Kal Park 50 | 50 kilometers | May 01, 2016 | website

Ontario

Pick Your Poison 50K Trail Run | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

China

Trail de la Grande Muraille de Chine | 73 kilometers | May 13, 2016 | website

Denmark

Hovedstaden

Salomon Hammer Trail Bornholm -100 Miles | 100 miles | May 06, 2016 | website

Salomon Hammer Trail Bornholm – 50 km | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Salomon Hammer Trail Bornholm – 50 miles | 50 miles | May 06, 2016 | website

France

Ardèche

57 km | 57 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Ultra Trail l’Ardéchois | 98 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Dordogne

Le relais du perigord sur 105 km (45+60) | 105 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Ultra trail du perigord 105 km | 105 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Drôme

Challenge du Val de Drôme | 153 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Les Aventuriers de la Drôme | 66 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Les Aventuriers du Bout de Drôme | 111 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Finistère

50 km | 50 kilometers | May 01, 2016 | website

Haute-Loire

50 km | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

80 km | 80 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Le Puy-en-Velay – Conques (Juin) | 208 kilometers | May 12, 2016 | website

Nord

100 km de Steenwerck | 100 kilometers | May 04, 2016 | website

Puy-de-Dôme

143 km | 143 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

86 km | 86 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Pyrénées-Atlantiques

Euskal Trails – Ultra Trail | 130 kilometers | May 06, 2016 | website

Trail des Villages | 80 kilometers | May 06, 2016 | website

Trail Gourmand | 50 kilometers | May 06, 2016 | website

Rhône

Ultra Beaujolais Villages Trail | 110 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Ultra des Coursières | 102 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Savoie

Nivolet – Revard | 51 kilometers | May 01, 2016 | website

Seine-et-Marne

Grand Trail du Sonneur | 66 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Ultra Trail de la Brie des Morin | 87 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Seine-Maritime

Tour du Pays de Caux | 88 kilometers | May 05, 2016 | website

Tarn-et-Garonne

52 km | 52 kilometers | May 05, 2016 | website

Vendée

100 km de Vendée | 100 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Yonne

The Trail 110 | 110 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

The Trail 63 | 65 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

The Trail 85 | 85 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Germany

Baden-Württemberg

Stromberg Extrem 54 KM | 54 kilometers | May 08, 2016 | website

Rhineland-Palatinate

Bärenfels 50 km Trail | 50 kilometers | May 01, 2016 | website

Westerwaldlauf 50 km | 50 kilometers | May 05, 2016 | website

Saxony-Anhalt

Harzquerung – 51 km | 51 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Greece

Euchidios Athlos 107.5 Km | 107 kilometers | May 08, 2016 | website

Euchidios Hyper-Athlos 215 km | 215 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Olympian Race – 180 km | 180 kilometers | May 08, 2016 | website

Olympian Race – 62 km | 62 kilometers | May 08, 2016 | website

Indonesia

100K | 100 kilometers | May 08, 2016 | website

50K | 50 kilometers | May 08, 2016 | website

Volcans de l’Extrême | 164 kilometers | April 29, 2016 | website

Ireland

Munster

The Irish Trail 60 km | 60 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

The Irish Trail 85 km | 85 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Italy

Lombardy

Laggo Maggiore Trail | 52 kilometers | May 01, 2016 | website

Sardinia

Sardinia Trail | 90 kilometers | May 06, 2016 | website

Tuscany

Elba Trail “Eleonoraxvincere” | 54 kilometers | May 01, 2016 | website

Kazakhstan

70 km | 70 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Madagascar

Semi Trail des Ô Plateaux | 65 kilometers | May 06, 2016 | website

Ultra Trail des Ô Plateaux | 130 kilometers | May 06, 2016 | website

Malta

Eco Gozo Ultra 55k | 55 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Martinique

Tchimbé Raid | 91 kilometers | May 04, 2016 | website

Mauritius

Royal Raid 80 km | 80 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Namibia

Sahara Race | 250 kilometers | May 01, 2016 | website

New Zealand

Kauri Ultra | 70 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Philippines

100 km | 100 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

50 km | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Poland

Ultramarathon “GWiNT Ultra Cross” – 100 miles | 100 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Ultramarathon “GWiNT Ultra Cross” – 110 km | 110 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Ultramaraton “GWiNT Ultra Cross” – 55 km | 55 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Portugal

Gerês Trail Aventure® | 130 kilometers | April 29, 2016 | website

Gerês Trail Aventure® Starter | 70 kilometers | April 29, 2016 | website

South Africa

The Hobbit Journey 90 km | 100 kilometers | April 29, 2016 | website

Spain

Canary Islands

Transvulcania Ultramaratón | 73 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Catalonia

Long Trail Barcelona | 69 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Ultra Trail Barcelona | 100 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Switzerland

Berne

Bielersee XXL 100 Meilen | 100 miles | May 13, 2016 | website

United Kingdom

Aberdeen City

Great Lakeland 3Day | 90 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Argyll and Bute

Kintyre Way Ultra Run | 66 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Kintyre Way Ultra Run – Tayinloan – Campbeltown | 35 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

County of Pembrokeshire

Coastal Trail Series – Pembrokeshire – Ultra | 34 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

East Dunbartonshire

Highland ‘Fling’ | 53 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Greater London

Thames Path 100 | 100 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Hampshire

XNRG Pony Express Ultra | 60 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Isle of Wight

Full Island Challenge | 106 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Half Island Challenge | 56 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

North Yorkshire

Hardmoors 160 ‘The Ring Of Steele’ | 160 miles | April 29, 2016 | website

Hardmoors Ultra 110 | 110 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Perth and Kinross

110 Mile Ultra | 110 miles | May 13, 2016 | website

Wales

Brecon to Cardiff Ultra | 42 miles | May 01, 2016 | website

Worcestershire

Malvern Hills 105 Mile Ultra | 105 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Malvern Hills 34 Mile Ultra | 34 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Malvern Hills 44 Mile Ultra | 44 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Malvern Hills 52 Mile Ultra | 53 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

The Evesham Ultra | 52 miles | May 08, 2016 | website

USA

Alabama

Grand Viduta Stage Race | 43 miles | April 29, 2016 | website

Run for Kids Challenge 50K Trail Race | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Arizona

All Day 5k | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Sinister Night 54K Trail Run | 54 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

California

100K | 100 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

100K | 100 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

100 Miler | 100 miles | May 13, 2016 | website

100 Miler | 100 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

200 Miler | 200 miles | May 12, 2016 | website

50K | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

50K | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

50 Miler | 50 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Armstrong Redwoods 50K | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Golden Gate Relay | 191 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Horseshoe Lake 50K | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Leoni Meadows 50k | 50 kilometers | May 01, 2016 | website

Lost Boys 50 Mile Trail Run | 50 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Miwok 100K Trail Race | 100 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Whoos in El Moro Race Spring Edition 50K | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Wild Wild West 50K Ultra | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Colorado

135 km | 135 kilometers | May 13, 2016 | website

Collegiate Peaks 50M Trail Run | 50 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Falcon 50 | 50 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Greenland Trail 50k | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

The Divide 135 Ultra | 135 miles | May 13, 2016 | website

Florida

Palm Bluff Trail Race and Ultra “Margaritas & Manure” 50K | 50 kilometers | May 01, 2016 | website

Palm Bluff Trail Race and Ultra “Margaritas & Manure” 50M | 50 miles | May 01, 2016 | website

Georgia

Cruel Jewel 100 | 100 miles | May 13, 2016 | website

Cruel Jewel 50 Mile Race | 50 miles | May 13, 2016 | website

Indiana

Indiana Trail 100 | 100 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Indiana Trail 50 | 50 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Kansas

FlatRock 101K Ultra Trail Race | 101 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Heartland 50 Mile Spring Race | 50 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Kentucky

Vol State 500K 2 Person Relay | 500 kilometers | April 29, 2016 | website

Vol State 500K 3 Person Relay | 500 kilometers | April 29, 2016 | website

Vol State 500K 4 Person Relay | 500 kilometers | April 29, 2016 | website

Maine

Big A 50K Trail Run | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Maryland

BRRC Gunpowder Keg Ultra 50K Trail Race | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

C&O Canal 100 | 100 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Massachusetts

Ragnar Relay Cape Cod | 186 miles | May 13, 2016 | website

Wapack and Back Trail Races 50 Miles | 50 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Missouri

Frisco Railroad Run 50k Ultramarathon | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Frisco Railroad Run 50 Mile Ultramarathon | 50 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Nevada

100M | 100 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

50M | 50 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

New Jersey

3 Days at the Fair – 50K | 50 kilometers | May 12, 2016 | website

New Mexico

Cactus to Cloud Trail 50K Run | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

New York

50k | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

50 Mile | 50 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Kids Fun Run | 1000 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Long Island Greenbelt Trail 50k | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Rock The Ridge 50-Mile Endurance Challenge | 50 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

Oregon

50K | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Red 50K | 50 kilometers | May 08, 2016 | website

Rhode Island Red 50M | 50 miles | May 08, 2016 | website

South Carolina

Wambaw Swamp Stomp 50 Miler Trail Run and Relay | 50 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Xterra Myrtle Beach 50 km Trail Run | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Tennessee

Ragnar Relay Tennessee | 196 miles | May 13, 2016 | website

Strolling Jim 40 Mile Run | 40 miles | May 07, 2016 | website

Utah

Salt Flats 100 | 100 miles | April 29, 2016 | website

Salt Flats 50K | 50 kilometers | April 29, 2016 | website

Salt Flats 50 Miles | 50 miles | April 29, 2016 | website

Virginia

Biffledinked 10 x 5k | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Biffledinked 10 x 5k 2 Person Relay | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Promise Land 50K | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Singletrack Maniac 50k Trail Run | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Washington

Lost Lake 50K | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

Snake River Island Hop 100K | 100 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Snake River Island Hop 50K | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

XTERRA Spring Eagle 50K | 50 kilometers | April 30, 2016 | website

Washington D.C.

Relay | 150 miles | April 30, 2016 | website

West Virginia

Capon Valley 50K Run | 50 kilometers | May 07, 2016 | website

03:50:55 CLOSE

Ian will be at GL3D and Transvulcania over the coming 2-weeks

03:57:33

ITunes http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/talk-ultra/id497318073

Libsyn – feed://talkultra.libsyn.com/rss

Website – talkultra.com

Top Tips To Better Multi-Day Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

No!

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

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

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

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

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

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OVERVIEW©iancorless.com_MDS2016-8488

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

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MDS is not complicated:
Let’s get one thing clear, Marathon des Sables is a simple race that is over complicated by too much information and too many people saying WHAT SHOULD be done. Let’s hark back to Patrick Bauer’s pioneering days and simplify the process of running the MDS. I interviewed and chatted with many runners in bivouac who had done just that, they had applied simple logic and worked out what would work for them. Yes, they had taken advice, looked at websites, processed information but importantly they had found out what worked for them. They realised early on that they were an individual and as such, they needed a personal approach to MDS and not a generic one. When you break the race down, key things are really important:

Pack – must fit, have enough room (but not too much) for all your equipment and provide easy access to fluid and you must make sure that your numbers are visible as per race rules.
Sleeping bag – lightweight, packs small and warm enough. I would always recommend a sleeping bag and jacket as opposed to a ‘combi’ as it offers more flexibility, reduced weight and reduced pack size. Popular sleeping bags this year were PHD, Yeti and OMM. There is a review on my website that compares all three. The Raidlight Combi was also popular, certainly with a small selection of the British contingent; it worked well and those who used it were happy – all about what works for you!
Clothes – you just need what you will run in. However, a spare pair of socks was commonplace and many runners had one or all of the following: a warm base layer, a lightweight down jacket or waist coat, buff and many had lightweight pants.
Sleeping Matt – It’s an optional one but a good nights sleep is important and those who hadn’t taken one were wishing they had in most scenarios. Two options exist – inflatable and roll out solid foam. The choice is yours. The inflatable ones offer more comfort, more flexibility in packing but with poor admin, you do run the risk of a puncture. I’ve used inflatable for the past 4-years with no issue. A solid foam Matt will last the week with no risks of problems but they roll large and need to sit outside the pack.

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Shoes and Gaiters – Shoes (more below) are personal, just make sure they have a good fit, appropriate drop for your needs and and suit your run style with enough durability for you. I say ‘you’ because Rachid El Morabity will complete the whole race in 21-hours whereas most people won’t even do just the long day in that time – his shoe shoe choice will and can be very different to what most of us need! Get your Velcro sewn on your shoes and make sure that when you get the shoes back the fit has not been altered. Plan in advance, don’t leave this to the last few weeks.

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

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

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

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

Hints and Tips to make your race better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admin and preparation that you may not think of:

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

Conclusions:

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

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

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

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

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

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