Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 3 32.1km

Anna Comet Pascua

The relentless wind and sand storms eased during the night to reveal a clear day that was considerably Warmer than those that had gone before. Another windy day was forecast and of course sand would be blown about, hopefully the full-on no visibility conditions of the previous day would not reappear – everyone hoped! As afternoon came the wind constantly increased making conditions challenging!

Julien Chorier climbing to the second ridge

Stage 3 at 32km is a beautiful stage with two exposed ridges split by Cp1, a flat plateaux crossing, the climb of Jebel El Otfal from the normal side and the descent using the gully which the runners climbed on stage 2. At the bottom, a small section of dunes and then flat terrain all the way to the finish. For some, me included, one of THE best stages in all of MDS history. The two ridges and Otfal provide more climb, exposure and challenge and if you like the mountains and vertical, this is a Sahara dream.

Vertical and technical terrain – a dream
Rachid leading from the start

Rachid, once again, went off from the front and set the pace. Three days in a row he has done this – most unusual. I chatted with him in camp before the stage. He was having breakfast with his brother. I asked how he was, his reply simple, he winked and said, “I am very good my friend!”

A brotherly shared breakfast

I am convinced he and his brother have a plan!

Rachid controlled the front of the race for an hour or more and then relinquished the lead to Mohamed and Aziz. The duo pulled away and crossed the line together in 2:36:43.

Aziz behind Julien in the opening km’s

Rachid, once again for the 2nd day finished 3rd and lost more time, his finish coming in 2:38:21.

Rachid formulating a plan

For those in the know, Rachid never concedes time and does not not finish 1st often. To allow his brother and Aziz to pull away only confirms for me that he has a big plan ready for the long day… It’s risky, he is now nearly 9-minutes behind the race leader, Aziz. My thoughts are that he wants Aziz to believe that he is not in good form, that he is struggling and then on the long day, he will unleash a ferocious pace, take back the lost time and gain time to take the lead. Of course, Mohamed will be used as a distraction and a game maker to make this happen. It’s exciting to see how this will play out.

Mohamed El Morabity

Of course, the other scenario is that Rachid really is tired and not on form? I don’t believe that.

Anna Comet Pascua

Anna Comet Pascua once again delivered a solid performance and with her skyrunning background, I am sure she will have revelled on the ridges and climbs. She won the stage in 3:26:49 ahead of Sylvaine Cussot in 3:35:51. A smaller margin than yesterday but no doubt Anna was conserving energy for the 85km long day.

Sylvaine Clussot

Aziza Elamrany once again finished 3rd in 3:49:11 ensuring that the Moroccan home ground will be happy with a podium ranking.

Aziza Elamrany

Tomorrow is the long day and as always it will be a key day that will dictate the potential outcome of the 36th MDS. Nothing is guaranteed, anything can happen on a day of this length and in these conditions. Each runner will need their ‘A’ game to run to their potential and dreams.

Stage 3 of the 36th Marathon des Sables has Anna Comet Pasciu and Aziz Yachou secure their leads ahead of the stage 4 long day.
Mds ants heading to Jebel El Oftal

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 2 38.5km

Anna Comet Pascua

Rachid went off like a shot again… Pushing the pace and behind everyone pursued. Then suddenly, in the space of a couple of km’s he relinquished the lead and hovered somewhere around 10th. I am not sure if there had been a ‘natural break’ requirement or if this had been an intentional move? Certainly it wasn’t blowing up!

Rachid leading early on

His brother, Mohamed took over the lead and on a climb before Cp1 was pushing the pace with Aziz following.

Mohamed El Morabity
Aziz Yachou

Rachid was now further back. It all made sense, in my opinion, the brothers were playing a tactical game on Aziz. I guess my cycling background is at work and my conclusion is Rachid has sent Mohamed out as a decoy, to allow Aziz to take over the lead in the race and placing Mohamed in second. This is a great move potentially. It would take pressure of Rachid to defend and force Aziz and Mohamed to control the front of the race and thus allowing Rachid to pounce… Rachid will need to feel very confident for this move, if not, his 9th victory may not happen!

Rachid moved back in the field

After Cp2 and climbing the stoney side of Jebel Otfal, Mohamed descended first and he continually looked over his shoulder for Aziz. Aziz followed not long later, within 60-seconds. It was however 4-minutes before Rachid appeared, now in 3rd. Was Rachid tired, or was he playing the tactic as mentioned above?

Aziz descending Jebel Otfal to take 2nd on the stage and overall lead

At the line, Mohamed crossed in 3:07:40, Aziz in 3:08:52 and Rachid 3:16:22 for the 38.5km stage. You don’t usually see a result like this in the early stages of MDS for Rachid!

The overall placing Aziz in first, Mohamed in 2nd and Rachid in 3rd, 5:13:29, 5:17:56 and 5:20:38 respectively.

The 36th Marathon des Sables is now Aziz’s to defend and the brothers to pursue. What an exciting 36th edition this is going to be.

Anna controlled from the front

The women’s race was strung out with Anna Comet Pascua dictating from the front with an incredibly strong performance. I said yesterday, she came her to win and this is being proven with her result in stage 2, crossing the line in 4:06:17.

Anna on Oftal

Sylvaine Cussot as on stage 1 pursued and always with a smile, she finished a strong and convincing second in 4:18:46.

Sylvaine Cussot

Aziza Elamrany had showed promise on stage 1 for a podium place and today that came true finishing ahead of the 2021 MDS champion and fellow Moroccan, Aziza Raji, her time 4:39:38.

Aziza Elamrany
Aziza Raji

The overall podium after 2 stages placing Anna and Sylvaine 1 and 2 ahead of Aziza Raji in 3rd, 6:58:37, 7:15:11 and 7:45:03 respectively.

It’s all to fight for on stage 3!

Stage 2 was marked by extremely strong wind and sandstorms that battered the runners. There was also an increase in temperatures recorded at cp2 of +10deg in 1 hour. At the time of writing there have been 49 drop outs today.

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Marathon des Sables 2022 #MDS2022 – Stage 1 30.3km

Stage 1 36th edition start

The 2022 Marathon des Sables got underway today, the 36th edition coming quickly after the 35th which took place in October 2021.

Conditions in March are very different to those encountered in 2021 with cool nights and relatively mild daily temperatures for the Sahara.

Patrick Bauer

Of course, anticipation was high in bivouac, a mixture of excitement and nerves. However, Patrick Bauer, as per usual, calmed everyone from the roof of his Land Rover with his daily morning introduction to the day. The race was underway at 0900 as planned.

The march forward

Unusually, Rachid El Morabity went to the front and set the pace. He meant business! He was followed by Julien Chorier and within 400m they had already opened a gap… This was a very unusual Rachid tactic. He usually bides his time, eases in to the day and the slowly speeds up; not today.

Rachid and Julien

Rachid started as he meant to go on and won the day! But why did he start so hard? Quite simply, in my opinion, he knows he has a race on his hands this year with Aziz Yachou who pushed him last year and had he not had a time penalty, the result just may have been different?

Aziz Yachou

After the fast start, Aziz pursued and at the line had closed the gap, Rachid 2:04:16 and Aziz 2:04:37. So close!

Mohammed El Morabity

Julien Chorier faded to 5th in 2:16:12 and Mohammed El Morabity after a slow start moved in to 3rd 2:10:16 with Cédric Fleureton 4th in 2:14:40.

One thing is for sure, Rachid will need to work his year and it is clear that he knew this before the start. He looked leaner and fitter, not that he has ever looked any different. But pre-race there was a different look. It’s subtle. The cheeks just a little gaunt and his legs more defined.

Anna Comet Pascua

The women’s race was a different story with a more gradual start to the day with a clear strategy forming. Anna Comet Pascua came here to with the race and although she had run with others in the opening km’s, by Cp1 she had taken the lead and she went on to win the stage in 2:52:20.

Sylvaine Cussot

Sylvaine Cussot finished 2nd in 2:56:25 and the 2021 champion, Aziza Raji finished 3rd in 2:59:41. Amelia Culshaw from the UK was 4th ahead of multi MDS champion, Laurence Klein, 3:06:10 and 3:13:01 respectively. The women’s race is set for an exciting battle as the terrain becomes more challenging and the distances increase.

Anna and Aziza
Aziza 2021 champion

The stage one route was just over 30km’s, flat but had plenty of soft sand and several small hills and dunes but nothing substantial to make the day difficult. It was a good day 1 for all to ease in and for the top men and women, a fast one! Rachid’s time was incredible… We are in for a fast men’s race.

The impressive MDS!

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Heat Acclimation – Dr Jodie Moss

Heat is often debilitating for a runner. Heat cramp, heat exhaustion, dehydration, heat stroke, headaches and the desire just to stop are all very real problems.

As the summer season approaches, running in a hot climate is sometimes unavoidable, however, racing in a hot climate is relatively controllable as you will understand in advance the race, the environment and the expected temperatures one can expect.

Understanding the conditions of ones running and racing environment is crucial to make the best of all the hard training you have done. So, one needs to adapt and plan.

Heat acclimatisation takes place in a natural environment where one can specifically prepare in advance of a chosen race or project, ideally for 7-14 days before the event. For most of us though, the luxury of travelling for 14-days and having an acclimatisation holiday is not a realistic proposition.

This is where Heat Acclimation comes in. In simple terms, this is about providing heat stress in a controlled environment, typically a heat chamber, over a set period of time and sessions.

Dr Jodie Moss has specialised in heat acclimation and in the process, put her learning to real time use at the 2019 Marathon des Sables where she placed 8th woman.

Jodie at MDS

With Marathon des Sables approaching, it is timely to re-visit and gain a full understanding of what is required to acclimate to heat with an interview with Dr Jodie from July 2020.

Podcast HERE.

What is it about heat that makes running so difficult?

You are imposed upon by a different challenge. What happens is you create this metabolic heat by contracting your muscles. When one runs, you use muscle mass and this generates heat. When you then exercise in a hot environment, particularly if it is greater than skin temperature, then this makes it very difficult to get rid of heat. Humans are not the most efficient mechanically, so this energy from contracting muscles, potentially around 20 to 30% of the mechanical energy being made is converted to chemical energy, that means 70%, maybe even more, needs to be eradicated in the environment. If the environment is hot, for example, the Sahara, a challenge is imposed to eradicate the heat and what often happens is is that the heat is stored and one feels hotter and this then has a cascade effect of issues and problems, physiologically and perceptually.

Physiologically:

An increase in skin temperature is likely the one which is noticed first as it is directly impacted upon by the environment. There will be an increased demand for blood flow that needs to go to muscle to provide it with oxygen/ energy to run, but also there is a competition for blood flow to the skin. In order to thermo regulate, blood is competing with muscles and skin and that creates an impact on one’s cardiovascular system. Typically, heart rate will increase due to the increased workload sending blood to muscles and skin.

Body core temperature will increase.

Sweet rate will also increase and therefore the percentage of water loss will increase and the consequence of this is dehydration – a deficit in body water with onward complications.

Perceptually:

We thermally perceive it to be a lot hotter.

You are more uncomfortable.

The feeling of needing to slow down and therefore performance is impacted.

Is heat acclimation as valid for the runner at the front, as well as the runner at the back?

In principal, yes. However, if we take Marathon des Sables as an example and the winner, Rachid El Morabity, he is a Moroccan, he lives in the environment in which the race takes place, therefore he is naturally acclimatising on all his training runs. Therefore, he has no need to acclimate artificially.

Highly trained individuals though, through training, can gain thermal adaptations, irrespective of environment. For example, if you are training everyday, particularly at a high percentage of VO2max, one will create heat this will require a higher sweat rate and therefore adaptation takes place. But, interventions should be in place both acute and chronic, to minimise the effect of environment on performance. Environment, will always have an impact on performance, no matter which athlete.

Acclimate for the heat.

When is a good time to start adapting to heat and how?

It is a consideration for close to competition, typically in a period of 7 to 21-days. Adaptation from exposure diminishes rapidly, so, there is no need to do this too far away from the chosen event. 

Now of course, if one is fortunate with time, the best scenario is to travel to the race location and adapt naturally in the environment of the race. However, very few have such a luxury and this is where acclimating as opposed to acclimatising steps in.

However, budget can be an issue, so it is possible to adapt via some simple home methods. Keep one’s training as planned, say by a coach, and then add layers of clothing while training. Have a hot bath after training. One can also consider Bikram Yoga and say saunas. But, and this is a big but, while some of these interventions will have some benefit, it is not something that can be recommended completely as it is harder to prescribe and measure.

We want heat adaptation and these adaptations only occur when there is sufficient thermal strain.

As an example, one could run for an hour with layers and build heat. Then immediately have a hot bath. Water has a greater density than air and the heat inside the body would be retained and most likely increase, this would stress the system. But, the issues arise with how long does one do this… Ultimately though, this is considerably better than nothing!

By far the best way, is environmental heat chamber.

Environmental Heat Chamber

The jury is still out on what is the optimal sessions for performance gain, however, five sessions would be considered fundamental over a period of 7 to 14-days. This period has shown results of a much more fulfilled adaptation. The pseudo motor function (sweat rate) takes a little longer to occur, but all the other measurements, cardiovascular and lowering core body temp occurs quite rapidly. So, based on sweat rate, a longer period of time provides the best results.

 In regard to the sessions, they could be performed every 2-days, every other day, every day and some even do 2 sessions per day. But obviously time and budget is a huge factor.

It is also important to remember that these sessions take place close to competition, so, monitoring stress and recovery is equally important. 

In regard to session length, 60-minutes is usually adequate and this allows the body to get hot enough.

I get asked about adding a run pack and weight, for example, MDS is a self-sufficient race and a pack is required. On the start line, the minimum weight will be 8kg. But training with this in the heat is not necessary, but some insist as it provides security, comfort and a greater understanding of what the Sahara, as an example, may feel like. But this adds additional stress and the sessions are about heat adaptation.

The Protocol

Isothermic heat acclimation intervention is typical. We get you to exercise so that your core reaches a certain temperature. For this we use a rectal thermistor. This ensures that you meet the thermal stimulus, crucial for sessions like this.  

We measure body weight naked and this allows us to monitor fluid intake and sweat rate. We can test urine to look at hydration status too. This is all about making the client aware of hydration and levels. We also want the client to leave a session re-hydrated!

A treadmill or bicycle is used. Personally, I prefer the bike as it adds less impact to the body. It’s important to remember, these sessions are about heat adaptation, they are not training sessions. A 5-minute check will include hear rate, core temperature, skin temperature, perception of thermal environment, how hot does the client think it is? And finally, I will ask how comfortable the client is. Then, the exercise will begin.

We aim for a core of 38.5 degrees in each session. This is ideal for pseudo motor and thermo functions to be maximised. It ensures that we are always controlling and meeting a fixed criteria. Measuring the thermal strain is key. It usually takes about 30-minutes to get to 38.5 degrees depending on the individual. But external factors do have an impact. 

We typically see improvements by session 3. But it is important to have, say 10-minutes of each session fixed, that way we can monitor improvement and adaptation. We can gain the data here and then report back. Day 5 to day 7 will show the most improvement. So, 7-sessions.

Time can be an issue and some may prefer to squeeze two sessions per day and compress 7-days, say, into 3 or 4. This is possible and literature confirms this. Total exposure is more important than days.

Ideally, the last session would be 1 or 2-days before departure for the chosen race.

What problems can occur without acclimation and how does one mitigate it?

A runner will be faced with a physical and perceptual challenge that will have negative effects. They will be slower, frustrated, dehydrated and have a potential of heat stroke and ultimately they may not finish the race. If any of these elements are experienced, try to cool as much as possible, seek shade at aid stations, rest and allow the core to lower. Hydrate and use spare water to provide a perceptual cooling. Water on face, head, forearms and neck will help a little.  

On a personal note:

I did not have the perfect race and that is what makes me keep signing up to race. My heat protocols were great but I compromised my training and I was surprised with 8th place. I had an amazing support system and I do have chronic heat exposure, I am also very good at getting rid of heat. I also sweat high. But I need to be careful on dehydration. I made a mistake with my pack trying to make it as light as possible but I compromised my pack integrity and this hurt my back. I look forward to going back, I hope in 2021.

Jodie with her medal.

Top 3 tips to get ready in regard to heat and training.

1. Have a heat protocol as outlined above.

2. Test all kit and nutrition, leave nothing to chance.

3. Do not panic. Trust the training you have done. Do not increase mileage and training in the light stages. Do not risk injury or illness. Be healthy.

Seeking shade at the 2021 MDS.

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Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2023 – Nearly sold out!

We announced earlier this week that the Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2023 would have two ’Special Guests’ and this has resulted in a surge of entries for 2023.


Rachid El Morabity the 8x MDS champion will join us Friday to Monday for run sessions and a 2-hour talk/ workshop on MDS, Multi-Day running and ‘What goes in the pack?’ of a champion.
‘Dead Man Running,’ 

Kevin Webber will join us for the whole week looking after a walking group and providing a 2-hour talk and workshop telling his incredible story of his Prostrate Cancer diagnosis and how he has embraced running and adventure to not only inspire others but to raise money for charity and raise the bar of what is possible as a human.


RECENT NEWS


It has been great to confirm Tom Evans will once again join us. Tom guided on the 2018 Training Camp after placing 3rd at the 2017 Marathon des Sables. It was the start of an incredible story that has resulted in victory at CCC, Tarawera Ultra, and a 3rd place at the iconic, Western States 100-mile race in the USA. 


Rab athlete Abelone Lyng should have joined the camp in 2022 but unfortunately had to withdraw late in 2021 due to the pandemic situation and her role in the medical profession. We are pleased to confirm that Abelone will join us for 2023. Abelone has won the Ice Ultra and placed 4th at The Coastal Challenge. An adventurer, ultra, trail and mountain runner, Abelone is a specialist fastpacker who loves to travel solo or with friends.


Pierre Meslet, a physiotherapist, placed 9th at the 2021 Marathon des Sables and joined us in Lanzarote Jan 2022. Pierre provided excellent guiding, a superb talk and the added bonus of offering the 2022 attendees with the option of treatment. A huge success, Pierre returns in 2023.


LATEST INFO
Currently, we only have 4-apartments remaining for 2023 which will sold on a first come, first served basis. If you’d like to join us, don’t wait too long…


Latest deal (2 available) – We do have the option to add 3 adults in a 1-Bed apartment (2 single beds and 1 sofa bed) at the price of £875 pp making a saving of £170 pp on the normal ’shared’ occupancy price. Please email if this is an option you are interested in.


WEBSITE HERE

BOOKING FORM HERE

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Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2022 – Day 4 and 5

Day 4 of the Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp was after a sleepless night in bivouac. The wind started at midnight and built through the night making for a ‘perfect’ test scenario for a multi-day race, particularly one in a desert.

Tents were broken, clothing items were lost, tents (those that survived) were full of sand and all the participants had a great learning curve that ultimately was a priceless experience.

After a dehydrated breakfast, we split in to four groups, Inge taking a walking group, Sondre taking a run/walk group and Ian and Pierre taking run groups. Distances varied for the groups but Ian and Pierre took on a new route for the Lanzarote camp which totalled 18/ 20-miles and over 1000m vert with El Castillejo (615m) and Peñas del Chache (673m) the two high points. The wind made the challenge all the harder.

From the summit, you have great views of the ocean, Famara, and off in the distance, La Santa.

Back in Club La Santa, Elisabet and Pierre hosted a talk, Elisabet addressing foot care/ taping and Pierre bringing his physio skills to great use with a talk and practical on how to look after your body.

At 1730, Ian did a practical demonstration on compass and how to follow a bearing. An often neglected but required skill for races such as Marathon des Sables.

As day 4 concluded, the winds and ‘*Calima’ raged on. While the winds and sand bring a challenge, they are perfect for a training camp providing the clients with a great opportunity to really experience and learn.

*Calima – Link

Day 5

The winds raged on and the Calima intensified. Day 5 started with a soft sand/ dune run and we warned all participants to be mindful of the Calima and suggested wearing Buff (or similar) to protect nose and mouth. The reality was we had perfect sand storm conditions to run in.

After 10km of running in a strong headwind, battered by sand, we eventually settled in a soft-sand and small dune area to practice skills.

While many may consider strong winds and sand make for miserable running, we were all thankful of the opportunity that these conditions brought. Running in a sand storm takes skill, patience and a required mental approach.

With 20km done, it was a great morning of running and learning.

The afternoon talk by Elisabet and Sondre was about equipment, packing and how to ensure you choose the correct equipment for your desired race and how to get as light as possible without compromising what you need to race safely and effectively.

At 1730, the final session of the day was done by Ian who discussed poles and how to use them.

Day 6 tomorrow is a big day… A marathon over a point-to-point route starting in Uga and concluding at Club La Santa.

Interested in our 2023 Training Camp? Info HERE

Photo Galleries HERE

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Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2022 – Day 1

After missing the 2021 edition of the Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp due to the global pandemic, it was a wonderful day to welcome 32-clients at Club La Santa for the 2022 edition.

Needless to say, the last 6 to 8-weeks have been a trying time with no guarantee that travel would be possible. However, travel has happened and the blue skies of Lanzarote and glowing sun welcomed everyone.

Day 1 is all about relaxing after travel, making new friends and then a 1-hour run to settle any nerves before the camp really starts.

With just 1-hour of running, day-1 is an easy day to settle nerves. Starting at 1700hrs though, does allow everyone to experience the best light of the day as the sun slowly drops and disappears on the horizon.

With 4-coaches, all paces are accommodated, from walking all the way through to running. There is no pressure, there is a group for everyone and the initial 1-hour run allows everyone to access which group they will go in come the first full day which starts with a 15-mile coastal run.

A group briefing at 1900 was then followed with a dinner and gladly, the 2022 Lanzarote Multi-Day Training camp was underway…!

With two-times Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes and top-10 finishers, Sondre Amdahl and Pierre Meslet, the clients of the 2022 camp have never been in better hands.

Now the anticipation for the first full day!

Interested on the 2023 camp? Go HERE

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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12-WEEKS to a MULTI-DAY Adventure or RACE

It’s 12-weeks before you start a multi-day, be that a race or a personal challenge, one thing is for sure, NOW is the time to focus and fine-tune training to be at the start in the best shape possible.

First and foremost, have a complete understanding of the task ahead. This is key not only in the physical adaptations that are required, but also the mental adaptations. There is a huge difference in doing something supported and in doing something self-sufficient. Marathon des Sables a prime example, understand the nature of the event…

MDS is an extreme event that takes place in the Sahara. The nature of the event is self-management both physically and mentally to endure the challenge, survive and reach the finish line. The weather (heat) is one of those challenges and surviving the weather is integral to the nature of the event. As is the ‘self-sufficient’ nature. Other than rationed water and a bivouac, be prepared to endure and complete this event with no outside assistance. Of course, help is at hand, but that help is and should be a safety element that is required in emergency. Equally, if undertaking a solo multi-day experience, do the research, plan routes, look at back-up options, can you re-supply with food, is water available?

Plan and prepare.

TRAINING

We are all unique and individual. Some of us are faster, some are mentally tough, some have a capacity to go for hours and hours and even days and yes, some runners combine all those elements.

Therefore, a multi-day training plan must be used as a template and framework to provide a structure for you, the individual, to achieve your personal goals and targets.

Be sensible and adjust training plans so that they fit your ability, goals, aspirations, training history and time available.

Think about when you place rest days, when you do long runs and when you work on hills and faster running. A training plan is like a jigsaw puzzle and managing the pieces and adding them together sensibly is how you make a successful and complete picture.

Any training plan is designed to progressively build strength, endurance, and confidence with gradual load increases. Rest is an important element of any training plan, so, rest with the same intensity that you train. Ultimately, you have decided to undertake this adventure, so, enjoy the process and make it fun.

Be specific. Make sure the training terrain, as much as possible, simulates your target event.

Always focus on the goal. Training plans for me start with the goal date and I then count back in time to a start point. That start point for you may well be before the 12-weeks but once you start the plan, focus on the target, and always make every session is as specific to the goal as possible.

For example, if participating in Marathon des Sables, you already know some key and important information:

  1. It will be hot.
  2. You will need to deal with hard and rocky plateaus, but you will also need to deal
    with soft sand and dunes.
  3. You will be on rationed food/ calories.
  4. You will only be supplied water to drink, and this is *rationed. In extreme weather such as the October 2021 edition, water rations were increased.
  5. Everything (not the tent) will be carried in a pack, on day 1 this will be at a minimum weight of *8kg. (*Minimum pack weight is 6.5kg but you must carry 1.5 liters of water which equates to 1.5kg.)
  6. You will sleep in an open tent, on the floor using a mat and sleeping bag.
  7. The long day comes on day 4 after approximately 90-100km of running, so, you
    need to be able to run for consecutive days and manage your pace and effort.
  8. The long day is (typically) between 70 and 90km and you have one full day, one night and most of the next day to complete it.
  9. After the ‘rest day’ is a marathon.
  10. You can complete the race by covering just 3km’s per hour.
  11. In 2019, the MDS was won by Rachid El Morabity and Ragna Debats in 18:31:24 and 22:33:36 respectively. The last runner was Ka Chun Chan from China in 69:29:16. For perspective, Rachid could have run the race nearly four times in 69:29! We are all individual.
     

Key elements each runner needs for a multi-day like MDS.

  1. You need to be mentally tough.
  2. Physically strong to endure multiple days of back-to-back exercise.
  3. Strong enough to carry a loaded pack and still move at a good pace.
  4. Adapted to function on restricted calories and food choices.
  5. Able to drink only water.
  6. Adapted to perform and function in heat.
  7. You need to be able to walk.
  8. You need to be able to handle un-planned situations.
  9. Have A, B and C goals.
  10. Be self-sufficient.

Multi-day racing and multi-day adventures are unique and particularly self-sufficient ones when you must carry all you need for the duration of the event. In a race, you will carry clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, essential items and food for the duration of the event. At MDS minimum weight is 6.5kg plus water. Just as you prepare physically and mentally, also be meticulous with equipment and food preparation. You ideally need your pack to be 6.5kg and no more… Additional weight is additional stress.

If fastpacking, you may possibly be as above, but you will need to carry your own tent and you will need to re-supply with water en-route either using natural water supplies or utilizing retail outlets.

Be specific and understand the demands of the event you are undertaking and plan accordingly.
 

WHAT SHOULD A TRAINING PLAN LOOK LIKE?

All plans need to be progressive and geared towards the end goal of a multi- day like Marathon des Sables or a fast-packing adventure.

Remember, we are all individual, so while a generic plan may provide a guide and structure from which to work from, it’s important to adapt and tweak to individual needs. For example, the training plan for someone who is trying to be top 100 at a race will vary greatly to someone who hopes to complete and not compete.

Each week will typically have one or two rest days.

A simple strength training structure that can be done at home or in a gym.

Hill sessions and speed sessions (tempo/ intervals/ fartlek) have a place in any training plan, but the quantity and duration will depend on what type of runner you are and what your aspirations are.

Long sessions are essential and most certainly, an element of back-to-back sessions will help adapt the mind and body for the challenge ahead. However, injury risk goes up with any block like this, so, it needs to be placed carefully with adequate rest and recovery.

Learn to walk. There is a huge difference walking with purpose and pace to ‘just’ walking. Except for the top runners, walking is an integral element to a successful completion of a multi-day race or adventure. Many only realise during the event. Get walking dialed in training.

Do some specific work with a pack and weight BUT be careful as it is easy to get injured.

Think of training as blocks of 4-weeks, build for 3-weeks and then rest/ take it easier on the 4th. An example could be as below.

The final phase of a training plan should taper to allow you to be strong and fresh when the start comes, typically this 2 or 3-weeks long. This a perfect time to add specific race adaptations such as heat training, preparing for humidity, preparing for a cold environment and of course fine-tuning equipment and packing.

CONCLUSION

Multi-day racing is exciting and adds many more elements to think about than ‘just’ running. Taking time to plan training and work to a goal is worthwhile and of course, any 12-week plan would assume that you already well training and adapted so that you can start a specific phase like this. If not, your training plan may need to be 24-weeks or even longer.

Further reading:

  • MDS 2021 Summary HERE
    The Ultimate Guide to Desert Multi-Day HERE
  • Fuelling for a Multi-Day HERE
  • How to find your Running Shoe size and fit HERE
  • Sleeping Bag for an Adventure HERE
    Ten Top Tips for Multi-Day HERE
  • Top Tips to better Multi-Day Running HERE
  • Multi-Day Running in a Rainforest HERE
  • Fastpacking – A Guide HERE
  • Fastpacking Light – HERE
  • Fastpacking and Camping in Winter HERE
  • Fastpacking in Nepal HERE
  • Poles for Running and Walking HERE


Recommended Races:

  • Marathon des Sables, Morocco (self-sufficient)
  • The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica (supported)
  • Everest Trail Race, Nepal (semi self-sufficient)

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Episode 219 – 35th Marathon des Sables Special Podcast

Episode 219 of Talk Ultra is co-hosted by two times MDS champion, Elisabet Barnes. We discuss the 35th 2021 race with expert discussion on heat from Dr Jodie Moss. We also have eight interviews with 2021 participants: Emma Burton, Gower Tan, John Murray, Kim Hutt, Mags McHardy, Martina Taylor, Paul Been and Pierre Meslet.

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Episode 219 is a Marathon des Sables special. After three postponements, the first in April 2020, a second cancellation late 2020 and then a 3rd cancellation in April 2021 finally saw the race take place in October 2021. October was selected due to climatic conditions typically being very similar to those of April. Little did we know that October would see freakish high temperatures that would impact on the race.

You can read a summary of the 2021 MDS HERE

You can view a full imagery gallery of the 2021 race HERE

Stats show that 353 completed the event, Rachid El Morabity running the whole event in 21-hours, 17-minutes, and 32-seconds. Christine Taieb was 353rd in 72-hours, 41-minutes, 31-seconds.

From the 353 finishers, 91 were from the UK, Patrick Kennedy the fastest in 25:16:14 and placing in the top-10 with Martina Taylor the 91st in 44:06:16.

Below daily race summaries which were published from the Sahara during the 2021 race.

Day 1, 32.2km race summary HERE 

Day 2 32.5km race summary HERE

Day 3 37.1km race summary HERE 

Day 4 82.5km race summary HERE 

Day 6 42.2km race summary HERE 

RESULTS

  • Rachid El Morabity 21:17:32
  • Mohamed El Morabity 21:32:12
  • Mérile Robert 22:39:02
  • Aziza Raji 30:30:24
  • Tomomi Bitoh 34:39:17
  • Aicha Omrani 35:47:48

PODCAST

Elisabet Barnes, 2x Marathon des Sables champion co-hosts the show to provide expert opinion as we discuss the 35th edition.

00:43:19 Dr Jodie Moss provides expert analysis on heat and acclimation.

01:22:20 We have 8 interviews with 2021 MDS participants who provide varied perspective and opinions of the 35th edition. Running order is as follows:

01:22:21 Emma Burton

01:42:16 Gower Tan

02:00:14 John Murray

02:19:35 Kim Hutt

02:38:30 Mags McHardy

02:55:30 Martina Taylor

03:11:50 Paul Been

03:28:52 Pierre Meslet

This is a long show, running length 4-hours 11-minutes.

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I’m Ian Corless and she is Elisabet Barnes Keep running

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Marathon des Sables 2021 35th Edition Summary and Thoughts

The 2021, 35th edition of the Marathon des Sables concluded early October after a 2.5-year hiatus due to the ongoing Covid pandemic issues worldwide. 

Three postponements, the first in April 2020, a second cancellation late 2020 and then a 3rd cancellation in April 2021 finally saw the race take place in October. October was selected due to climatic conditions typically being very similar to those of April. Little did we know that October would see freakish high temperatures that would impact on the race.

VIEW THE IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

I have worked on 7 MDS, 2021 was special! I provide this summary as an assessment as I saw the race unfold and how I experienced the conditions in the Sahara.

The 2021 race had relatively low start numbers, particularly in contrast to ‘normal’ MDS years, with approximately 700+/- toeing the line. It’s easy to understand why numbers would be low: 

  1. Repeated postponements caused apathy and a lack of focus and therefore refunds were requested.
  2. The October 2021 date was the 4th scheduling of the event, and many wondered ‘if’ it would go ahead and therefore moved entries to a safer and more predictable MDS in April 2022.
  3. Ongoing PCR requirements, Antigen tests and restricted border crossings and travel meant for many, October was just not possible.

One thing is for sure, Patrick Bauer and the MDS team were excited and motivated to resume proceedings in the Sahara and of course, Patrick wanted the event to be memorable for multiple reasons… It was the 35th edition and the first event post Covid.

2021 ROUTE

Stats show that 353 completed the event, Rachid El Morabity running the whole event in 21-hours, 17-minutes, and 32-seconds. Christine Taieb was 353rd in 72-hours, 41-minutes, 31-seconds.

From the 353 finishers, 91 were from the UK, Patrick Kennedy the fastest in 25:16:14 and placing in the top-10 with Martina Taylor the 91st in 44:06:16.

HEAT

Arriving in Errachidia and Erfoud several days before the runners, it was soon very clear to me that temperatures were high. On the first day, I ran in the desert starting at 11am and temperatures were already over 40 degrees. In the evening, for a second run starting at 1800hrs, temperatures were 36 degrees. The following morning, a run starting at 0700 and temperatures were already 34 degrees. No doubt about it, the 35th MDS was going to be a hot one. Chatting with locals and my driver Said, they all confirmed, ‘These temperatures are not normal for October!’

On social media I provided a ‘heads-up’ to all those travelling to Morocco of the heat situation, and yes, I understand that with just a few days before the race, there is little people could do, however, they could re-think clothing, sleeping bags and make allowances in packing for the ‘option’ to race lighter than originally planned.

Arrival at bivouac 1 early afternoon and the heat inside the tents was stifling, shade protected from the direct sun but not the heat. It was impossible to escape that.

Admin day was extremely hot, and this is notably important, no matter how slick or fast admin day is, runners will almost certainly be standing out in direct sun with no shade for a prolonged time. Here is a first top tip – Take an umbrella in your luggage that you can use when standing in the admin line. It will protect you from the direct sun and keep you cooler. Also, make sure you have water and snacks. Admin can take 30-mins if lucky, but it is possible to be out there for 60/90 or even 120-minutes.

The race started in oppressive heat, on day 1 this was recorded at 42 degrees and the forecast for the week predicted temperatures would go cooler. Those cooler temperatures did come BUT they were still extremely high and hotter than a ‘typical’ MDS and a ‘typical’ April or October month.

In my opinion, the Marathon des Sables is an extreme event that takes place in the Sahara. The nature of the event is self-management both physically and mentally to endure the challenge, survive and reach the finish line. The weather (heat) is one of those variables and in the 35-years of MDS there have been many hot years and many cool years. Nothing is guaranteed and surviving the weather is integral to the nature of the event. In my editions of MDS, 2021 was the hottest event from beginning to end. However, I have experienced equally hot days in past years, they were more in isolation though.

The impact of the heat for the 2021 race was substantial and hyperthermia was a very real risk and without question, countless runners succumbed to the rising mercury.

HEAT and SICKNESS

Heat is a brutal beast to manage and quite simply keeping core temperature lower, particularly when running can be difficult. It was very clear that many runners, maybe far more than usual were running considerably less and walking became the norm except for the front of the race, the top men and women were running as usual but at a reduced speed. It’s important to clarify here that walking is essential at MDS and many walk far more than they anticipate, even in a normal year. Heat and a pack add considerable strain and why many think pre-race they will run 80% and walk 20%, the reality is they will walk 80% and maybe run 20%. For 2021, walking was the norm.

MDS is a self-sufficient race with rationed water that echoes Patrick Bauer’s original journey. It was apparent after day 1 that water rations would need to be increased to compensate for the heat. An additional 1 x 1.5ltr bottle was added to each checkpoint (typically every 10km) for every runner and water allowance was increased at the end of the stage.

Additional water was required by all; however, this added an additional problem for many runners… Typically, runners use 2 x 750ml bottles on their chest or they use a 1.5ltr water bottle added on top of a front pack – the Moroccan runners prefer this method. The problem comes when you need to carry an additional 1.5ltr – there is nowhere to put it (typically) other than carry in one’s hand. Not only does this add another 1.5kg to overall weight but it can also alter running gait, and this can cause potential injury or stress.

In a normal year, the excessive heat would have without doubt impacted on the race and the number of runners who completed. However, I strongly believe that the DNF (did not finish) rates would probably have been more around the 10% mark or maybe 15%.

The main reason for DNF in 2021 was sickness (Diarrhoea and Vomiting) and the ongoing knock-on effects. The jury is out on the causes of this sickness and hopefully, in time, we may receive clarification of this from Doc Trotters and the MDS organisation. Of course, there are many rumours, however, here are a couple of my thoughts (I am no expert, so don’t shoot me down):

  1. Food poisoning – The only shared food came on day 1 and 2 before the race got underway. If there was a problem with the food provided by the race, everyone would have been impacted immediately and not over multiple days and the 7-days of the race. During the race, everyone is self-sufficient, so, food poisoning on a mass scale is not possible.
  2. Noro virus – A stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea which spreads rapidly and typically lasts no longer than 2-days. This sounds very similar to what MDS runners and staff experienced with most stating the ‘bug’ lasted just 24-hours.
  3. Bacteria – One or two (maybe more) were sick before the race, therefore, a form of bacteria (equally Noro virus) could have been brought in to camp and quickly spread from person-to-person and tent-to-tent.
  4. Hyperthermia – Increased heat and exposure to heat causes a failure to regulate mechanisms within the body that is extremely dangerous that can result in vomiting and diarrhoea and other symptoms.

Ultimately, the sickness at the 2021 MDS may well have been a combination of several of the above.

One thing is for sure, the sickness when it came was brutal and debilitating. I know, I had it! I got it on the evening of day 3 at 2000hrs and without going in to too much detail was losing fluids from both ends for 6-7 hours. By the following morning I was over the worst but struggled to drink and ate nothing for 24-hours. I had little to no energy for day 4 of MDS.

The above was a typical story for many a runner and quite simply, if you are losing fluids and energy as in the scenario above, combined with intense heat and trying to cover 32 to 82.5km’s a day, it is no wonder that so many DNF’d.

Many a runner proclaimed that they were fit, strong, well trained and prepared for the MDS only to have the race ‘robbed’ from them by a situation that was beyond their control. I fully understand this thought process and can only sympathise. I strongly believe that had it not been for the sickness, many more would have finished the race.

The impact of Covid and the Pandemic may well have impacted on every runner’s immunity and ability to fight bugs and bacteria? For most of us, we have isolated, social distanced and constantly washed our hands for 18+ months. Suddenly, we were all thrown in close proximity with less-than-ideal hygiene… I wonder if this resulted in some problems.

Multiple questions were asked by runners:

  • Race distances should be made shorter – As I have mentioned previously, the MDS is an extreme event that takes place in the Sahara. There are many variables of terrain and heat, and this is the challenge. The race is how runners manage this challenge and in 2021, 50% did this.
  • The race should be cancelled – Ask the 50% that finished should the race be cancelled; you would get a resounding no. I also spoke with many DNF runners who also confirmed that the race should have continued. Ultimately, MDS will assess the 2021 race and may well sit down and lay out a new set of protocols moving forward that make allowances for extreme conditions that are outside the normal extreme conditions of the race. For example, this could be early start times, longer cut-off times, the option to shorten stages or maybe a combination of elements. BUT would this take away from the ‘toughest foot-race’ tagline?
  • The race was compromised – The extreme heat and the sickness compromised the race experience for the runners and yes, it impacted on the MDS organisation with demand on 4×4 vehicles, doctors, helicopter rescues and so on at an all-time high. Typically, there are 400 staff on MDS, and in 2021 700 participants. Doc Trotters team was as large as usual, despite less competitors, therefore the ratio of doctors to runners was high. However, I described Doc Trotters as the NHS and the runners as Covid during the race. Quite simply, the 2021 MDS had a perfect storm of events that put all under pressure. It is important post-race that an assessment is done so lessons can be learnt. There are always lessons to be learnt.

DEATH

The death of a runner on day 2 due to cardiac arrest was announced to all the runners and MDS staff publicly by Patrick Bauer in bivouac on the evening of day 2. The situation was clearly explained to all. It was a sad day and first and foremost it is important to pass on our love and thoughts to all those concerned.

For many, the death was a wakeup call and it suddenly brought home the real risk and danger of participating in extreme event. It changed viewpoints and it may well have influenced 2021 participants to ‘play safe!’ afterwards. Prior to the incident, the urge to push on and fight for a finish was a priority, however, for the start of day 3 and moving forward, I personally encountered runners making decisions based around the day 2 death and their own personal assessment of risk and what risks, they personally were prepared to take. It does not matter if those ‘risks’ were real or perceived (from an outside perspective), from the individuals’ perspective they were real.

On a personal note, I have been involved in extreme events for many years and unfortunately, I have experienced multiple deaths, I have been involved in multiple rescues and I have had to make the decision of when and when not to carry on personally. Just this year at the TDS, part of the UTMB week of races, a runner died during the night – I was there. It may sound blasé, but extreme events are not without risk, danger or death. After all, for many, it is ‘the risk’ that makes the event desirable. MDS, as a prime example, has used the tag of ‘toughest foot-race in the world’ for many years and those who sign up, quote this as a reason for participation. Prior to 2021, the race had experienced 2 deaths. The MDS is not without risk and these risks exist despite rigorous health checks before toeing the line on day 1 and incredible medical support and a huge logistical team. As J K Rowling said, ‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all…’

Risk at MDS is actually very low. The medical team and support in conjunction with live Spot tracking, countless 4×4 vehicles and 2 helicopters means that should an incident take place, you will normally be looked after within 20-minutes.

With all the above considered, the death of a runner had an impact.

THE RACE

The 35th MDS took place over 7-days with 5 timed stages and 1 charity stage. Days 1, 2 and 3 were 32 – 38km. Day 4 and 5 was the long day with an allocated 32-hours to complete 82.5km. Day 6 was the classic marathon stage where medals were awarded at the end and officially, this was the conclusion of the timed race with overall ranking positions awarded. Day 7 was a compulsory charity stage of 8.5km and the timing was not taken into consideration.

Day 1, 32.2km race summary HERE – On paper, was an ‘easy’ day with little challenging terrain. However, the 46-degree temperatures in the shade changed that. It turned out to be a very tough day, especially with the race operating on ‘normal’ water rations. The DNF rate after day 1 was modest. I personally anticipated the numbers to be much higher. The organisation assessed the heat and feedback from the race route and increased water rations.

Day 2 32.5km race summary HERE – Was a similar distance to day 1 BUT included a long and lengthy stretch of the Merzouga (Erg Chebbi) dunes. These dunes last 13km +/- and ran from CP1 to CP2. They are the highest dunes in Morocco and would be feared in any ‘normal’ year. For 2021, they were a formidable challenge. Top runners could pass through them in less than 2-hours but for most, they could anticipate 3, 4, 5 or maybe even 6-hours to cross. This is without any shade or additional aid stations. CP1 resembled a medical tent from a war zone with countless runners taking shade and on IV drips. The severity of the heat was soon apparent to all and while some had the ‘sickness,’ it was probably fair to assume at this point in the race many were suffering from hyperthermia. It was the evening of day 2 when bivouac and the MDS staff ere notified en-mass of the death of a runner.

Day 3 37.1km race summary HERE – Had a sombre start with silence and the whole race departing with a walk and clapping. The distance ahead longer than the previous two days and the death from day 2 lingering on many people’s mind. The ‘sickness’ within camp was now considerably more obvious, with many runners complaining of D+V and I personally witnessed countless situations of runners vomiting before me. The route was generally easier but there was a considerable amount of soft sand. The day was tough one with many withdrawing, the heat, sickness, and the death all playing instrumental in how individuals assessed their own personal risk assessment of the challenge ahead.

Day 4 82.5km race summary HERE – Was the long day with two starts, most of the race starting at 0800 and the top runners originally departing at 1100 but this time was brought forward. Importantly, the distance of the long day was not notified to the runners until the completion of day 3. This was one of the ‘surprises’ of the 35th edition. However, this no doubt contributed to the anxiety and worry for the 2021 participants. I know from experience, the first thing runners do when they receive the ‘road book’ for the edition in which they will participate, is that they look at what distance the long day will be. To not know this leaves question marks and worry. For the 2021 edition, with so much heat and sickness, this was one additional worry they did not need. As it turned out, the distance was normal 82.5km, however, it did include the infamous Jebel Oftal that for most, would be climbed at night. With less than 10km covered and before CP1, the long day was proving too much for many. I personally put 9 people in vehicles who were suffering from sickness, heat or a combination of both. CP1 was full of runners who would withdraw and who were already on IV drips. It was going to be a very long day, night and following day. Many headed advice taking the day as steady as possible looking to gain time during the cooler temperatures of the night.

Day 5 – Was the conclusion of the long day for those who needed it, or a great opportunity to sleep, relax, hydrate, eat and look after personal admin.

Day 6 42.2km race summary HERE – The marathon day and now approximately 50% of the race had DNF’d. For those who started the marathon day a medal waited at the end, and it was fair to assume that all those who started would run, walk and crawl to get that medal. All who started finished.

Day 7 was the charity stage, a compulsory 8.5km to help raise funds for charity and facilitate the departure from the desert and back to civilisation.

The race was won by Rachid El Morabity, his 8th victory and finally, Aziza Raji stood atop of the MDS podium for Morocco.

RESULTS

  • Rachid El Morabity 21:17:32
  • Mohamed El Morabity 21:32:12
  • Mérile Robert 22:39:02
  • Aziza Raji 30:30:24
  • Tomomi Bitoh 34:39:17
  • Aicha Omrani 35:47:48

NOTES ON THE RACE

I said previously that in my opinion, MDS and races like MDS are about management of the physical, mental and equipment to achieve a goal. After all, it’s a self-sufficient race in the Sahara. THIS IS the challenge. The route changes year-on-year, the terrain changes year-on-year and the heat and other conditions are not guaranteed.

What sets 2021 apart is the sickness that ripped through bivouac, not only for runners but also staff.

Without doubt, why so many DNF’d. 

A self-sufficient race is about personal management and I have always said to friends, participants and coaching clients, there are two things that cannot be controlled: 

  1. Injury.
  2. 2. Sickness.

The sickness the ripped through bivouac left runners drained, empty, void of calories and energy, despite the will and desire to push on, so many were left with empty shells that had to succumb to physical conditions. The physical conditions of course were only made worse by the oppressive and damaging heat.

2021 and the 35th MDS had a set of ‘perfect storm’ conditions that resulted in the highest DNF rate in the races long history.

It’s pointless to compare MDS to other races and state stats and figures. Some races have regularly few finishers due to the severity of route and the time allowance. Other races have a high DNF rate due to the terrain and weather. In most scenarios, runners when entering will research the race and understand the chances of completion. For MDS, stats show that typically less than 10% DNF. Therefore, any runner toeing the start line of the 35th edition will have had this in mind and will have hoped not to be in that relatively small percentage. The fact that 50% did DNF shows that the 2021 was an extreme race, but the major DNF factor was the sickness which cannot be planned for.

TOP TIPS

  • Understand the event, research it, train accordingly and prepare meticulously.
  • Heat acclimation pre the MDS will increase the chances of a successful completion, this should be done in the 7-10 days before the race. The best option is to travel to Morocco and be in the environment that the races take place in. Of course, this is not possible for most. Therefore, heat chambers, saunas, bikram yoga or even taking hot baths will all help.
  • Start slow and ease into the race.
  • The minimum requirement of a runners MDS pack is 6.5kg. You really need to get your pack as close to this weight as possible. Any additional weight is just a burden that adds to fatigue and stress. Test all your kit and fine tune it.
  • Prior to admin day, you have your luggage with you in the desert. Take options of kit so that you can fine tune kit selection based on climatic and other conditions. For example, 2021 was so hot a lighter sleeping bag was certainly possible and the need for a down jacket minimal.
  • When you arrive in bivouac you have dinner, breakfast, lunch, and dinner provided by the race before self-sufficiency begins. You could plan to be self-sufficient for food in this scenario and therefore reduce the risk of any potential stomach issues from unknown food.
  • Admin day as mentioned above can take a while, take an umbrella to provide shelter, take liquid and snacks.
  • Food options for the race are key, particularly when fatigue and heat take its toll. Look to eat well early in the race as food can become less appealing as the race progresses. Think high calorie and low weight. Balance sweet and savoury and understand that sweet is less inviting in intense heat and later in the race (for most people.)
  • Taping shoulders, lower back, and other potential friction points in advance of the race can be a great idea if you know from training this is a potential problem area. Tensoplast is perfect for this.
  • Get the correct shoes with the correct fit. A thumb nail of space above the longest toe is ideal. Do not go too big with shoes. A shoe that is too large allows the foot to move. A moving foot causes friction. Friction equals blisters. A shoe with a wider toe box can be a good idea as it allows toes to splay. Road shoes can work but the desert is harsh with lots of rocks, a trail shoe usually has better toe protection and an outsole that offers more durability.
  • Keep hydrated and take salt tablets as provided by the race.
  • Keep luxuries to a minimum. Always think about weight and ask, ‘can I eat it?’ MDS quite simply comes down to three simple things: Running, sleeping, and eating/drinking.
  • Take a mat, it provides comfort when relaxing and gives a better night’s sleep.
  • Personal hygiene is important – be careful. You will be in close proximity with many people with less-than-ideal hygiene conditions.
  • The long day is always feared but you have loads of time. Take the first day easy, controlling pace, reducing stress and if extremely hot, take more rest and shade. As the day comes to an end, look to maximise the night when cooler temperatures will facilitate a faster pace with less effort. If possible, look to get the long day done before the sunrise the next day… If you can avoid another day of heat, it is well worth it.

CONCLUSION

The oppressive heat of 2021 is a possibility that can appear in ‘any’ MDS and while the 35th edition was extreme, the heat has been experienced before, albeit not for a sustained period. One needs to be prepared to adapt and self-manage to achieve a finishers medal. This is Morocco. This is the Sahara and this is the nature of the event. With global warming and climatic conditions changing worldwide, hotter temperatures in the Sahara may well become the norm, plan accordingly.

The sickness that ripped through bivouac is an uncontrollable variable that cannot be mitigated against, and I can fully appreciate that many feel that a finishers medal was stolen from them. I would not disagree. However, this is nobody’s fault, just darn bad luck. Just like an injury, to coin a phrase, ‘shit happens!’

50% of runners managed to navigate the conditions, implement an effective race strategy, and finish the race. I am sure that many of the 50% avoided the sickness but not all did, I am aware of countless stories of runners who got ill, battled and somehow came out the other side.

The 2021 and 35th MDS was always going to be memorable, now the race is over, we can all confirm that it will never be forgotten. It will be talked about and discussed in many, many years to come.

The below was released by MDS on October 28th. Approximately two weeks after this post was written.

There are lessons to be learnt from the 2021 race, for runners and the MDS organisation.

I for one experienced first-hand, day-to-day, on the course the challenge that everyone undertook and I can hand on heart say that I saw runners fight to the bitter end to hopefully achieve a lifetime goal and I equally saw MDS staff work 16+ hour days helping to facilitate that.

If you are entered for 2022 or 2023, don’t be worried. Respect the event and look at the extreme 2021 event as an opportunity to learn and plan.

The 2022 event will take place 25th March to April 4th.

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