Lanzarote Training Camp 2017 – Day 6

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

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

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

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

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

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Interested in our 2018 training camp? Go HERE

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

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

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Also read

Top Tips To Better Multi-Day Running HERE

Multi-Day Food On The Cheap HERE

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Optional items:

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

Luxuries:

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

Perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

EQUIPMENT IN DETAIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shorts/ Skort – Same answer as T-Shirt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Road Book (supplied)

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

As an example:

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

Total Weight 3550g

**Mandatory kit – see clarification

***Water – see clarification

MY EQUIPMENT LIST

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

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

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

WEARING:

Hat: inov-8 or The North Face

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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IN THE PACK:

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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Esbit Stove 11g – Small, lightweight and simple.

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

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Esbit Fuel 168g

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iPod Shuffle x2 64g – Life saver

Buff 16g – Essential

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

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

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

EXTRAS:

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

Total Weight 806g

TOTALS:

Pack and Main Kit Contents: 2406g

Extras: 806g

Food: 3550g

Total 6762g

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

 (water would be added to this weight)

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IN SUMMARY

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

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

Good luck!

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Clarification:

*Food (As required at Marathon des Sables)

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

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

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

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

Liaison stage: 10.5 liters per person per day

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

Marathon stage: 12 liters per person per day:

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

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

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

Why not join our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote with 2015 Marathon des Sables ladies champion, Elisabet Barnes. The camp takes place in January each year.

Information HERE

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Support on PATREON HERE

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Big Red Run 2016 – The Interviews, Part Three

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Niandi Carmont brings us her final two interviews from the 2016 Big Red Run, Alistair Nicol: A Lease on Life and The Tansley Tandem: Carlie and Jade Tansely.

Alistair NICOL: A Second Lease on Life

“To have your childhood dream realized is a really big deal.” – Maya Rudolph

It’s a bit of a process. Three years ago I had some heart problems, mainly due to the extreme stress of building a 3-storey functioning windmill in The Rocks down in Sydney. I found myself in hospital having my heart shocked back into rhythm. My cardiologist suggested I do some exercise and from there a little bit of running led to more focussed training and setting challenges. I’m also interested in the beautiful locations where you can do these challenges. My Dad was a photographer and travel writer for the Automobile Association and when I was a kid he’d come back from his trips and show me these stunning images of magnificent landscapes, remote regions and the outback. He’d interview local personalities and all of that made me dream – I knew then I wanted to visit those places. I got caught up in the stress of life and it’s only when I had my health issues the I took a step back and realised that I’d let go of my legacy.

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It is surprising when you look at Alistair as he doesn’t look like a candidate for heart problems. He’s  young, lean and lanky and looks athletic.

I was working with site managers and production directors at festivals and events. You end up taking other people’s stress,people who are just not pulling their weight. My tendency is just to make a job happen. After a few years of that, it started catching up. I probably could have been exercising more and I could have been eating a slightly different diet.

For Alistair the Big Red Run is a real challenge and an opportunity to reunite with his father’s legacy.

The first day was the my first marathon too! It’s not always easy to find training time although I have put in a lot of training the last 9 months. My legs are feeling pretty good. I’ve taken a producer, managerial approach to running in that I’ve been working with so many physics and chirps and other sports people. I’m actually not feeling too bad today – I might feel differently in 3 days time. (lLaughs).

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I ask him if he’s happy with his preparation.

On account of the rain, I think I should have taken half a dozen pegs to hang up and dry out my kit! Seriously, I think i might have over-catered on the food. I definitely took more than I needed. Also I had planned to do the Big Red Run but with the soft tissue issues I’ve had with my knee, I’ve had to switch back to the shorter version the Little Red Run. 

And his impressions of the ambiance, camp life?

It’s funny how there are people from all walks of life. They are all completely different in their personalities. I suppose it’s natural for an event like this in such a remote area that brings people together, people you’d otherwise probably not get to meet. There’s a sense of looking after everyone’s well-being.

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The Tansley Tandem: Carlie and Jade Tansely

Endurance and passion for the outdoors definitely run in the Tansely family. In 2015 father Shawn Tansely ran the Big Red Run and his wife Carlie and 2 daughters volunteered. This year Shawn is back running the BRR, accompanied by his wife and daughter, 18-year old Jade. Their youngest daughter is volunteering. Jade is also the youngest participant in the BRR. I caught up with them just after stage 4.

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I ask Jade about her impressions so far:

Pretty sore but I’m still OK. The hardest so far is knowing you have to get up every morning and go again. It’s amazing out there – I was struck by the size of the sand dunes, they are massive. This is my first multi-day – I’ve never done anything as weird and wacky. My friends at uni think I’m insane.

Do they train together?

Carlie: We stuck together the first 2 days and then Jade decided to do today by herself, just to find out if she could.

Jade: I needed to know if I could get myself from start to finish without Mum’s help and obviously I could, cos I finished today. It was bit of a confidence boost. I definitely needed to prove to myself that I could be autonomous and independent.

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We move on to the topic of race preparation and training.

Carlie: We didn’t always train together because of our different schedules, juggling with uni and work. Endurance and the love for the outdoors is something the girls have grown up with. They have been camping and hiking since they could walk. It’s just part and parcel really.

I wonder if Jade is mature enough to step back and analyse her performance. I ask her if she would do things differently next time.

A whole lot more training. I’d probably try to do some events and longer distances beforehand to be better prepared mentally. 

I ask Carlie about her takeaways on doing this event with her daughter.

I think it has bonded us. I get to see how Jade has developed as an adult and how she can stand on her own two feet and achieve. I’m very proud of her. Today was very tough, knowing I wasn’t with her. I was a bit stressed but she made it and it’s fantastic. Tomorrow for the long day we will stick together at Jade’s pace, walking, running, whatever!

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Top Tips To Better Multi-Day Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

No!

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

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

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

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

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

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OVERVIEW©iancorless.com_MDS2016-8488

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hints and Tips to make your race better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admin and preparation that you may not think of:

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

Conclusions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2016 – Day 3

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The 2016 Lanzarote multi-day training camp really got underway today with a full day of activity. This morning was a 4-hour run or hike over some very specific terrain that provided every participant a full-on appreciation of what terrain they may encounter at a race such as Marathon des Sables.

Mitch Keene, on the training camp with his wife, said post run:

“It was great to experience the sort of terrain that we are likely to come across when we get to the real event. To understand what it is like to run in some deep sand. It was also great camaraderie on the run. It’s good to know that there is going to be people around you who are in the same sort of position as you are and learning from them. And then there is just some basic stuff like understanding that wearing very short socks is a bad idea when running in the sand. So really simple stuff that you think you know when you set off but don’t. The whole learning experience is phenomenal out here and I really enjoyed it.”

The morning session took a relatively flat run out over very mixed terrain (sand, rock, lava, dunes) in three groups. Elisabet Barnes leading the runners who are able to hold a faster and more consistent pace. Niandi Carmont leading the runners who will run and occasionally walk and then Marie-Paule Pierson leading a small group who intend to walk the whole event. Ian Corless moved from one group to the next.

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“It’s nice meeting people who actually want to talk to you while you are running. I have found it quite difficult taking up running again on my own and going to events on my own,” said Leon Clarance. “People are usually polite but today people were actually chatting about their own experiences and it was nice to meet some likeminded people.”

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At the coastal resort of Famara, everyone turned 180-deg and the re-traced along the coastline but this time taking in the small mountains and hills that back on to the sea in this area. At times rocky and technical, everyone had a real insight into the complex terrain that one may encounter in a multi-day event. At the summit, one or two runners experimented with foot care and treatment; a key element of successful multi-day competition.

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“It’s ben a real eye opener,” said Alan Guthrie. “I have been behind with my training and today I managed my longest session for some time in some very specific terrain that directly relates to my chosen event; Marathon des Sables. It’s been a tough session but I have loved every minute of it.”

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Post run stretching relaxed tired muscles and 2-hour break was followed with a talk and discussion called, ‘What goes in the Multi-Day Pack?’

And just when the runners thought it was time to relax and chill-out an ‘optional’ 20-30min shake out run fired everyone up for one last effort, making the day a very successful and tiring one. Evening drinks, relaxing chat and good food was extremely welcome. Tomorrow we have a structured group walk in the Timanfaya National Park in a series of volcanoes followed with a talk on nutrition and hydration.

Many thanks to MyRaceKit, Raidlight, OMM, PHD, inov-8, Scott Running and Berghaus for the support.

If you would like to take part in a multi-day training camp like this, dates have been set for 2017 and it’s possible to book HERE

Click on an image to view today’s gallery

Marathon des Sables 2015 (30th Edition) – RACE PREVIEW

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MDS, Marathon des Sables, The Toughest Race in the World… whatever you want to call it, the 30th edition is just around the corner. Think about it, 30-years. It’s quite incredible how this race has grown and has become ‘the’ multiday race to do irrespective of experience. It was the first and arguably is still the best offering an ultimate adventure for novice and experienced runner.

Many a runner has started a passion for running at MDS and as such; the race will always be an important landmark for many. But it’s more than a race. It’s an experience, it’s escape and it’s a challenge.

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The combination of self-sufficiency, life in bivouac and running 250-km’s through the heat of the Sahara is something that those that have experienced it will never forget. It is the story of life, a story of men and women who have come to the heart of the desert to rid themselves of the superficial to keep only the essentials and get in touch with their true selves.

For the past three decades, some 18,000 runners have signed up for this experience, so, with the imminent running of the 2015 edition, it’s fair to say that race will see a great number of participants returning to ‘celebrate’ a very important birthday.

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Lasting six days participants must be self-sufficient carrying everything they need in a pack. Water is provided but rationed and a tent (bivouac) is provided each evening that must be shared with seven other participants.

The 2015 edition of the race will be 250-km’s offering a series of challenges that will test the mind and body in equal measure. Dunes, djebels, ergs and dried-up lakes offer a stunning backdrop that must be traversed. Battling against sand, heat and above all the mind completing the 30th edition of the Marathon des Sables will be a dream come true for those who toe the line.

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THE ROUTE for 2015

Stage 1 – Sunday 5th April

Here we have a very uneven playing field and a sufficient number of kilometers to make their presence felt. Competitors will have to run, avoid the obstacles and climb the surrounding uphill sections. The first dunes are between CP1 and CP2. It is fair to say that day-1 of the 30th MARATHON DES SABLES will be a long one.

Stage 2 – Monday 6th April

Those who imagine the desert to be flat are in for a surprise. Three steep little climbs form this second leg, with gradients reaching 30%… A new kind of roller-coaster ride which will open up landscapes that will be a sight to behold.

Stage 3 – Tuesday 7th April

Sand will be omnipresent today with some stony sections and some dried-up lakes. There will be a little something for everyone with some uphill sections here and there.

Stage 4 – Wednesday 8 / Thursday 9 April

A tough initial climb will hurt the legs, especially as it’s going to be a long day. Indeed this particular day will be the longest leg in the history of the MDS. And if that wasn’t enough, a climb of nearly a kilometer up a djebel awaits. At the summit runners will have 360° panoramic views. As for the descent, well it’s steep! After that, runners then traverse dunes, dried-up lakes and more dunes!

Stage 5 – Friday 10 April

Today’s route has a mixture of terrain that are hallmarks of the MDS, it’s a classic day!

Stage 6 -Saturday 11 April – SOLIDARITY UNICEF legs

For the majority of the participants, this leg is
a time for reflecting on the experience of this fine human adventure and is a united show of awareness before returning to civilization.

RUNNERS TO WATCH

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Antoine Guillon was second three times, third once and fourth three times in the Diagonale des Fous in addition, he is always well placed in the UTMB. Offered a place by the UTWT, Antoine will try his luck in the 30th MDS for the first time. Antoine just placed 3rd at Transgrancanaria, so his form is good. Can he recover in time?

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Christophe Le Saux never seazes to amaze me with his relentless racing calendar, he was 10th in 2014, 9th in 2013, 6th in 2012.

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Carlos Sà is a regular at MDS and has a wealth of talent and experience to excel. He was 4th last year’s, 7th in 2013. 4th in 2012 and 8th in 2011.

Dave Mackey has been one of the top American ultra runners for many years and he has excelled at the 100-km distance. His participation at MDS marks a new departure for him and it will be interesting to see how he handles racing over multiple days.

Javier Teixido Marti-Ventosa is the 2014 winner of the Andorra Ultra-Trail Ultra-Mitic (112km).

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Danny Kendall gets a nod from a UK perspective. He placed 5th last year and we can only hope that he moves up the rankings with a podium place. He knows the race, he knows the conditions and he understands survival in the Sahara; he just needs to bring it all together once again.

All six will be attempting to topple the Moroccan and Jordanian supremacy by keeping a close eye on the following:

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Mohamad Ahansal like his brother, Lahcen needs no introduction. He has 15 participations in the MDS, which includes 5 victories. He has been 2nd no less than 9 times and 3rd in 2014.

Abdelkader El Mouaziz placed 7th in 2014 on his first participation, he will be looking to improve in 2015.

Samir Akhdar has had several participations at MDS placing 6th in 2011 and 7th in 2009. 
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Salameh Al Aqra is always smiling and a great presence in the race, he was 1st in 2012, 2nd in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014 and placed 3rd in 2009 and 2011.

In the female contingent:

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Laurence Klein targets her 4th victory after making the podium in 2014 and 2013.

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Meghan Hicks champion in 2013, missed 2014 through injury and will be setting her sights on a 2nd win.

Liza Howard is the holder of a number of 100-mile race records and American champion over 100km and 50 miles in 2011, should have what it takes to treat the United States to a third crown in a row after Nikki Kimball and Meghan Hicks.

Jolanda Linschooten gets a heads up from my friend Jeroen Krosse and he says, ‘one to watch’ for sure. So I agree, she is one to watch. Jolanda has been 2nd and 4th before!

Claire Morrisey is the British hope who returns after placing 7th in 2014.

INSPIRING STORIES:

Moroccan Lahcen Ahansal, ten-time winner of the
MDS between 1997 and 2007 is
making a comeback this year after six years
absence. “I wanted to hook back up with this race through
a goal that isn’t purely competitive, but also human”, admits
the athlete who has agreed to act as a guide to the partially
sighted German runner, Harald Lange. “After pulling off the
challenge of securing 10 victories, I now want to rack up 20
participations. And why not be around for the 40th and 50th
editions too?” It should be said that Lahcen has not forgotten
his encounter with this legendary race, which has transformed his life. “I looked on with curiosity and amazement as the 23 athletes took the start of the first edition in 1986. From then on, I constantly dreamt that I, a nomadic child, would participate in this race. It has spurred on my life and created in me such a strong desire for sporting and human emancipation that I moved mountains to make my dream a reality some seven years later. It’s thanks to this race that I’ve become the man I am today.” Also of note, is the fact that another blind runner will participate in this edition as Didier Benguigui is returning with his guide, Gilles Clain, to celebrate his 11th edition.

The “4 Dinosaurs MDS” team comprises two French runners, Christian Ginter and François Cresci, one Moroccan, Karim Mosta and one Italian, Paolo Zubani, none of whom wanted to miss the 30th anniversary of the SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES. Between them, these four passionate runners already boast a total of 105 participations, which amounts to 27 out of 29 editions for the restaurant owner-chef Christian Ginter and 26 for the other three. “The idea of creating a team of veterans came about in the tent last year”, beams Karim Mosta, the cheerful leader of this group of friends, who wouldn’t miss this key stage

The famous British explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, is embarking on a new adventure at 71 years of age. After earning the title of first man to reach the North and South Poles via land, the first person to traverse the Antarctic entirely on foot and the oldest Briton to climb Everest at 65 years of age, he now wants to become the oldest Briton to etch his name on the list of SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES 2015’ medalists.

At 83 years of age, Joseph Le Louarn will be the most senior participant in this 30th edition. “I said that I’d stop in 2012, at 80, but with the energy drummed up by this anniversary, I couldn’t resist,” smiles the runner who has always loved ‘ambitious projects’. Indeed some three years ago he was quoted as saying “Card games and meals for retired people aren’t for me. I need to move; I need goals. I want to stay fit for as long as possible.”

A native of Luxembourg, Simone Kayser Diederich, 3-time champion of the MARATHON DES SABLES (2002, 2004 and 2005), will take the start of this 30th edition to celebrate her 60th birthday and her 14th participation. It’s a similar scenario for Moroccan Nadia Dadoun, 56, who will celebrate her 16th participation in this SULTAN MARATHON DES SABLES 2015, which is a record number of entries among the event’s female contingent.

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CRAZY STATS:

  • 150 volunteers to supervise the race,
  • 450 general support staff,
  • 120,000 liters of bottled mineral water,
  • 300 Berber and Saharan tents,
  • 120 all-terrain vehicles and trucks,
  • 2 Squirrel helicopters and 1 Cessna plane,
  • 8 Transavia ‘MDS special’ commercial planes,
  • 30 buses,
  • 4 dromedaries,
  • 1 incinerator lorry for burning waste,
  • 5 quad bikes to monitor race environment and safety,
  • 72 medical staff,
  • 2.3kms of Elastoplast,
  • 12,200 compresses,
  • 6,000 painkillers,
  • 150 liters of disinfectant,
  • 1 editing bus,
  • 5 cameras,
  • 1 satellite image station,
  • 10 satellite telephones,
  • 30 computers, fax and internet,
  • 18,000 competitors since 1986
  • 30% returning competitors, 70% international, 30% French, 
17% women, 45% veterans, 
30% in teams, 
10% walkers, 
90% alternate walking and running,
  • 14 km/hr.: average maximum speed, 3 km/hr.: average minimum speed,
  • 15 years of age for the youngest competitor and the oldest, 83!

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QUOTES

  • “The MARATHON DES SABLES is the United Nations. The runners come from all over the world, share the same emotions and help one another. All the boundaries are erased. We should take inspiration from it.” – Kirk McCall (United States)
  • “This event isn’t just a sporting activity. It’s a mental and philosophical process. In the desert, nature puts us back in our place at the heart of this environment. The MARATHON DES SABLES opens up new perspectives to us. People often think we’re crazy, but maybe they’re the crazy ones!” – Fernando Jose Castro Cabral (Brazil)
  • “The MARATHON DES SABLES represents Mecca. I come here for an annual pilgrimage. It purifies me.” – Amine Kabbaj (Morocco)
  • “Running in the desert purges me and enables me to empty my mind. I want to discover the desert by experiencing it from the inside. Each day, I recite a poem along the course. To think about poetry whilst running is a fantastic mental luxury. To run and be elsewhere through your thoughts… The sobriety of the desert is a source of inspiration.” – Duc Le Quang (Vietnam)
  • “In the MARATHON DES SABLES, you learn to rediscover and appreciate the simple pleasures. On top of that there is this solidarity between the runners. You run and you come across someone from Colombia, Portugal or China. You don’t know them but you share a moment with them. These encounters are worth all the money in the world.” – Nicolas Esterhazy (Belgium)

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Twenty-Nine years of victories.

Here is a who’s who of those 29-years.

1986 – Michel GALLIEZ (FRANCE) – Christiane PLUMERE (FRANCE)

1987 – Bernard GAUDIN (FRANCE) – Marie-Ange MALCUIT (FRANCE)

1988 – Bernard GAUDIN (FRANCE) – Marie-Ange MALCUIT (FRANCE)

1989 – Hassan SEBTAOUI (FRANCE) – Marie-Claude BATTISTELLI (FRANCE)

1990 – Hassan SEBTAOUI (FRANCE) – Claire GARNIER (FRANCE)

1991 – Hassan SEBTAOUI (FRANCE) – Monique FRUSSOTE (FRANCE)

1992 – Mohamed BENSALAH (MOROCCO) – Monique FRUSSOTE (FRANCE)

1993 – Mohamed BENSALAH (MOROCCO) – Irina PETROVNA (RUSSIA)

1994 – André DERKSEN (RUSSIA) – Valentina LIAKHOVA (RUSSIA)

1995 – André DERKSEN (RUSSIA) – Béatrice REYMANN (FRANCE)

1996 – André DERKSEN (RUSSIA) – Anke MOLKENTHIN (GERMANY)

1997 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Rosanna PELLIZZARI (ITALY)

1998 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Rosanna PELLIZZARI (ITALY)

1999 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Lisa SMITH (USA)

2000 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Pascale MARTIN (FRANCE)

2001 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Franca FIACCONI (ITALY)

2002 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Simone KAYSER (LUXEMBOURG)

2003 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Magali JUVENAL (FRANCE)

2004 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Simone KAYSER (LUXEMBOURG)

2005 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Simone KAYSER (LUX)

2006 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Géraldine COURDESSE (FRANCE)

2007 – Lahcen AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Laurence KLEIN (FRANCE)

2008 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Touda DIDI (MOROCCO)

2009 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Touda DIDI (MOROCCO)

2010 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Monica AGUILERA (SPAIN)

2011 – Rachid EL MORABITY (MOROCCO) – Laurence KLEIN (FRANCE)

2012 – Salameh AL AQRA (JORDAN) – Laurence KLEIN (FRANCE)

2013 – Mohamad AHANSAL (MOROCCO) – Meghan HICKS (USA)

2014 – Rachid ELMORABITY (MOROCCO) – Nikki KIMBALL (USA)

 

RACE SCHEDULE 2015

 

  • 3 April 2015 – Leave country of residence/Morocco – Arrival in Ouarzazate, bus transfer to 1st bivouac
  • 4 April 2015 – Administrative, technical and medical checks – Day to acclimatize 
  • From 5 to 10 April 2015 – Race in progress (The self-sufficiency begins from breakfast on the 1st leg)
  • 11 April 2015 – Solidarity UNICEF leg – (end of dietary self-sufficiency) – Transfer to Ouarzazate
  • 12 April 2015  – Day of relaxation
  • 13 April 2015 – Return to country of residence

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Marathon des Sables – A history in brief

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1984: At 28 years of age, Patrick Bauer decided to make for the Sahara to try to traverse a 350km expanse of uninhabited desert, on foot, alone, where he wouldn’t come into contact with a single village, oasis or watering place. Totally self-sufficient, with a rucksack weighing 35kg and containing water and food, he set off on a journey that was to last 12 days. It was the starting point of what was to become the MARATHON DES SABLES.

1986: The creation of the first MDS in the Moroccan Sahara. The 23 pioneers who took the start never imagined that their footprints would mark the start of a legendary event, which has today become a must among the major adventure sport meets. The creation of a non-mechanical competition in the Moroccan sands offers adventure runners a wealth of new prospects.

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1987: Creation of the MDS logo: the face of a runner covered by a keffiyeh, the eyes protected by a pair of sunglasses and the pipette from the runner’s water container clenched between the teeth.

1989: 170 competitors take the start of the race.

1991: The gulf drama puts the MDS at a disadvantage and the financial partners withdraw. Fortunately some runners answer the call. For these competitors, the true victory lies in meeting athletes from different backgrounds and their communion in the desert around the same goal. Sport proves once again that it can bring people together and create bonds.

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1992: One and the same regulation for everyone. This year sees the establishing of unexpected draconian tests, to ensure that each participant properly transports all his or her gear from one end of the course to the other. A 30-point charter is drawn up.

First participation by the Moroccan Lahcen Ahansal

1994: Arrival of the Doc Trotters at the event.

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1995: 10th anniversary. Since the start, over 1,500 men and women have left their footprint and their passion in the desert. Installation of water-pump for the inhabitants of the village of Ighef n’rifi (South of Er-Rachidia) – an idea by competitor Gilles Flamant and backed by Rolland Barthes and Patrick Bauer. Its success is to be repeated again and again

1996: First participation by Mohamed, a younger sibling of Ahansal. The two Moroccan brothers set off together and rank 4th and 5th respectively.

1997: This year heralds the start of the Ahansal saga. Morocco is honored with Lahcen’s first victory. He beats his two pursuers by nearly 30 minutes, despite them being international long-distance running champions.

1999: A mobile hospital on the MDS comes into being. There are around thirty practitioners on the ground, with doctors and nurses joining the caravan. A dedicated helicopter and ten all-terrain vehicles track the competitors each day. On- board these vehicles there are doctors of course, as well as high-tech equipment. The village boasts a genuine field hospital.

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2000: Internet puts in an appearance in the large MDS village. The organization decides to broadcast the texts and photos of the race live, day after day. The competitors can communicate with their nearest and dearest and receive messages of encouragement.

2001: For the first time the long leg, traditionally called “The 70”, exceeds the 80km barrier to reach 82km. The threshold of 240km is also surpassed since the 16th MARATHON DES SABLES spans 243km. Another first relates to the fact that there are no Moroccans on the podium this year.

2002: This edition is punctuated by a sandstorm, involving headwinds, which lasts the entire week. The doctors invent a machine for ‘low pressure cleansing’ to rinse out the runners’ eyes. Despite the difficult conditions, there are few retirements to report as the wind considerably reduces the temperature.

2005: The Luxembourg runner Simone Kayser is the first woman to win 3 MARATHON DES SABLES. For this 20th edition, the total number of runners exceeds 700 for the first time, with no fewer than 777 runners taking the start.

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2006: A drying wind and very high humidity levels cause damage to the runners’ bodies. Despite additional allocations of water, a whole series of retirements ensues. There are a total of 146 retirements ultimately, which equates to double that of the previous record… Race management decides to shorten the long leg by over 10km given how tired the runners seem.

2008: The Solidarité MDS association is created. The aim: to develop projects to assist children and disadvantaged populations in the domains of health, education and sustainable development in Morocco. 

2009: MDS is disrupted by flooding and the 1st and 6th stages are not able to take place. To avoid the flood zones, the organization is obliged to improvise new legs on a day-to-day basis. In this way, the edition goes down in legend for its 3rd leg, which is the longest ever contested: 92km of sand, loose stones and rocks… The leg even sees the retirement of Lahcen Ahansal… At the prize giving the 2 winners admit to having competed in their hardest MDS. However, it was also the shortest: 202km.

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2010: For its 25th edition, the number of participations reaches a record high of 1,013 participants. It is to be the longest MARATHON DES SABLES. It spans 250 kilometers with a course considered by former entrants to be the most difficult ever organized.

2012: A dramatic turn of events on the longest leg as the then leader in the overall standing, Rachid El Morabity (MAR) injures himself one kilometer from the finish. Medical examinations reveal a serious muscular lesion in the quadriceps. After over five years on the 2nd or 3rd step of the podium, Jordanian Salameh Al Aqra secures the title.

2013: 1,027 competitors on the start line make this a new participation record. New feature: a final “Charity” stage sponsored by UNICEF and traversing the Merzouga dunes round off the race. Sportswise, Mohamad Ahansal and Megan Hicks are the champions of the 231.5km event. On a human level, all of the finishers pull off their crazy bet.

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2014: 2011 winner, Moroccan Rachid El Morabity (MAR) wins the overall ranking and takes Mohamad Ahansal’s crown. In the women’s category, another American stamps her mark, Nikki Kimball. The French revelation is one Michaël Gras, 22 years of age, 8th overall and top Frenchman. A major athletics star, Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj lines up to take the start of Saturday’s Unicef Charity leg.

Content and information provided by ©marathondessables

FOLLOW THE 2015, 30th EDITION on this WEBSITE in words and images.

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MDS ‘Snapped’ Running Fitness

NO OVERTAKING ALLOWED!

MDS snapped RF 0713Running Fitness ‘Snapped’ July 2013.

Sometimes the nature of running courses mean that, despite our best efforts, overtaking the competitor in front is simply not possible. It might be too narrow, it might be too boggy, but it’s not often that overtaking is precluded by the mother of all sand dunes!

This striking images taken by our man on the ground (or in the desert) Ian Corless shows competitors in this year’s Marathon des Sables doing battle with the course – rather than each other!

The 28th running of the epic multi-day race in the Moroccan Sahara, this year’s race added a killer wind into the equation – as if it wasn’t hard enough already. We’ll be bringing you the full report in the August issue of Running Fitness.

Links:

  • Order the magazine and subscribe HERE
  • Images from the Marathon des Sables are available to purchase for personal use HERE

 

 

Pictures tell stories…

I love what I do! I really do.

To work in a race environment and capture the action in words or audio is a real pleasure. I have played with video and although I enjoy the medium, I do prefer a ‘still’ image. It is a moment captured.

These two images really capture everything that combines to make a great image.

Meghan Hicks on the first stage of the 2013 Marathon des Sables (which she went on to win) running up a dune on the first day. I captured the image by running alongside her.

iancorless.comP1020570From behind, my fellow photographer, Mark Gillett captures the process involved. Story making at its best, running at its best and the use of imagery at its best. I have often been asked HOW? I manage to capture images that make the viewer feel like they are in the moment… well here is how.

Copyright Mark Gillett

Copyright Mark Gillett

Pictures tell stories… thanks for the inspiration Meghan and thanks for capturing Mark.

Pictures tell stories...iancorless.photoshelter.com

 

Patrick Bauer – The Interview

MDS LOGO

Patrick Bauer has a passion and a love for the Marathon des Sables that the passing of the years has not suppressed. Back in 1984 he ventured into the Algerian Sahara to cover 350km’s alone in a self sufficient manner. Little did he know that his journey would not only change his life but also so many lives of so many others…

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Translation services provided by Niandi Carmont

IC Patrick, welcome. In 1984 you took a solo journey across the Algerian Sahara. Why, what inspired you?

PB In 1984 I decided to take a self-sufficient journey of 350km. It took me 12 days; because of my self-suffiency my pack weighed 35 kilos. I needed enough food water for the whole journey. I had no help. It was an incredible undertaking.

IC What was the motivation, It must have taken some planning?

PB I had lived in West Africa for two years. I was employed to sell Encyclopedias to teachers and books on medicine to doctors and pharmacists. Returning to France was difficult. I had no desire to stay… I just wanted to leave again. During my 2 years in Africa I had crossed the Sahara five to six times by car but I wanted to cross on my own, on foot. I remember it well, I had returned to France, I had no apartment so I returned to my parents. I was back sharing a room with my brother. I woke up one morning and said

“I am going to cross the Sahara on foot”

My brother said, “Ok, go to sleep… you had a nightmare”

I said to my brother you must help with a camera and sponsors. Just three weeks later I left to take the journey.

IC That journey influenced the rest of your life but importantly it changed your immediate life in the mid 80’s. In 1986 you decided to share that experience and create Marathon des Sables. What gave you the confidence to create such a race? How did you know you would have a market?

PB I realized when I did a presentation to my village. I had friends and sponsors present. It was a thank you but I had awoken curiosity and interest. Local runners did not want to make the journey alone, so, I decided to organize it. No other event compared, maybe Paris-Dakar. It was a ground breaking moment.

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IC In the early years, was participation mainly French?

PB Yes, French with the exception of one Moroccan. We had 23 runners at the first edition. It took 24 months to plan and create. Little did those 24 know that they would be the pioneers of one of the most beautiful stories that will soon be 30 years old?

IC In the early 1990’s you contacted ‘The Best of Morocco’ to introduce British and Irish runners, was this a long term plan to expand the race?

PB We already had contact with this agency (Best of Morocco) but by 1990 I had already done 5 editions of the Marathon des Sables. I wanted to expand internationally and I wanted as many countries present as possible. We started in a tentative way and today we have as many English runners as French and potentially more in the future.

IC British entries have reached 250+. The race is known worldwide. Did you know it would become so big?

PB I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined it would be what it is today. When a race is over, I start immediately on the next year. I have a passion and I don’t think about it all the time.  I want to be more strategic with my long-term vision. 2015 is the 30th edition; I like to plan 3 years ahead so I already anticipate higher demand for 2015.

IC What is it that makes the race so special. You appeal to novices and experienced runners. It is a difficult balance but you do it so well.

PB I think it is the concept. The cocktail of the desert, running and the self-sufficiency. Nobody at the beginning thought it would be possible to run with a pack. The expedition was an extra bonus…. You need to manage everything; calories, water, clothing, rest etc. All these elements combine to create the ultimate experience. It was new! Today we have additional security. Runners tell us that the safety element is key. Believe it or not, the average age is 40yrs+. These participants have families and children so risk is not negotiable. We want to offer security and safety for all these participants. We have helicopters, planes and insurance to make sure everyone is protected. Finally, it is about testing your limits; in our busy lives we find going back to basics a wonderful experience. Under the stars with friends, sat around a campfire, simple conversation and no luxuries. It is primal. It brings out true values that we may have forgotten. Because the desert facilitates all that is around us, the stars, the universe, you don’t need a book to tell you that ultimately we are all insignificant.

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IC What is it that makes runners that go back year after year?

PB Yes, we have some people returning for the 22nd or 23rd time. But it is not the same for all. If everyone came back we would have the same race, this would not be good. But we have a faithful family that we have created from the start. We have affinity and we love to find each other in the desert. We are also happy to find new friends. Maybe we have people return years later to celebrate a key moment such as a 50th birthday. We have a fraternity side, we share values. We have a respect for difference and other countries. All the languages that are spoken. These are the experiences that make the event. It is the combination of so many elements that make it great. We have an edge I think and that brings people back.

IC What is the future of the race? Will the race become bigger with more runners?

PB Yes, I think we will have more participants in 2013. We will have 350 from the UK. We had a meeting with worldwide representatives some time ago and it was decided that we would all work together on a communication strategy and we discussed the 30th edition. We have had great demand; we have refused more than 2,000 entries. I get messages about the 30th edition asking if it will be 300km as the 25th edition was 250km. Because of the worldwide economic crisis we may need to take more entries so that we can ensure the quality of the race such as safety. This is why we prepare 3 years ahead.

camp

IC As a race director can you give us an insight into the Marathon des Sables?

PB The advise to the runners is repeated every morning, like, hydration, protecting your head, sun block and more specific advice concerning the course. Storms can just arrive and then last a half-day or even 4-5 days. A few years ago we had floods… that year we had to plan from day-to-day. It wasn’t easy. The biggest problems are usually weather related. For the rest of us, it is a safe country. We have government backing should we have a problem, for example we have military assistance. We have trucks and soldiers who transport the tents everyday and we have 400 people who work on the event. If you add journalists, drivers, volunteers etc. then we have more like 450 people.  I have 110 people who directly report to me.

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IC It is so impressive, the tents, the staff, and the helicopters. A circus!

PB It is a little like the circus. Up and down, load up and move. I am always impressed. It is fantastic.

IC Since the beginning can you pinpoint any highlights?

PB The feeling you get from every event. We have an extraordinary experience. We share values with participants and it creates a bond. Some say ‘never again’ and then two years later we see them again. We all strive for equilibrium to balance the experience and we all strive for positive thoughts. If we have them then we can share beautiful things.

IC In 2005 you had an Opera singer to sing before the start. A magical experience.

PB Yes, for the 20th anniversary we had a spectacular start with an Opera singer and musicians. She was Japanese. It was a moving experience. Classical music is in harmony with the desert. At the beginning the runners are still fresh so they can enjoy the experience.

IC What do you think of Olympian James Cracknells performance at Marathon des Sables, he is not your ‘typical’ desert runner?

PB He was an excellent champion, a top-level athlete who understood how to test the limits. So I think he had a new experience in the Sahara. He asked himself what he was doing at the race several times I think. Discovery Channel did a documentary on him. He demanded respect as an athlete. As a man I did not get to know him but as a sportsman I am sure he has great values.

IC Has the race become easier over time or have you made adjustments to make the experience more challenging?

PB The race is not easier. The distance has increased over the years but water can be a key issue and we now have great water supplies which was not so in the past. In the past water was an issue. But we all have short memories. We forget the hardships. Every year has new demands. We now have more positive incline. We used to spend time in the valleys.

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IC True, we all forget hard times very quickly. We always remember the good times and they are our memories.

PB At the end you have sore feet and blisters… but your mind is selective. We filter the negative to retain the good. The human and sport experiences. We forget the soreness and remember the positive.

IC Do you still run, do you have the time?

PB Yes, I run after the sponsors, I run after my planes, I run after my trains… I started cycling a little and I do a little running. It’s not a good time for me. But then again, I always have an excuse. It is difficult but I am motivated to try to be more regular with my own exercise.

IC Patrick, it really has been excellent to get an insight into such an iconic race. Thank you so much.

PB Merci beaucoup

2013 RACE PREVIEW HERE

Patrick Bauer, Marathon des Sables copyright www.lest-eclair.fr

Patrick Bauer, Marathon des Sables copyright http://www.lest-eclair.fr