Marathon des SablesSo- want to do the Marathon des Sables, but wondering whether it may be too tough? Could you actually do it?

There’s no doubt that the MdS is a serious undertaking and one which should not be contemplated lightly. You will need to train- this is not a race you can blag unless you have a very good level of running and walking fitness. I am not exactly the greatest endurance athlete in the world, but I trained gradually over two years.

However, saying that, it’s certainly within the reach of any runner or walker who is used to spending hours on the feet and is willing to put in a few months of training. For starters it is a stage race, which means that you get to stop each day and have the evening and night to drain the blisters, rest up, eat and get some sleep. Also, although there are cut off times, they are quite generous. I walked the majority of the race and finished well before the cut offs, even on the last day when I wasn’t well and in pain.

The trick is to keep well and injury free, although much of this is down to luck. I have seen horrendous blisters and dehydration caused by a stomach upset slow even the fastest athlete to a crawl- or worse, end their race.

Lastly you have to be comfortable with ‘roughing it’. The camping conditions are very basic- the tents are open ended and basically coffee sacks over wooden poles, and the toilets- well, you would probably be better off finding a private bush to squat behind. Get used to not being able to wash for several days, wearing the same clothes for the whole race and trying to get a pan of water to boil over a tiny unstable stove after running in the heat for several hours so you can rehydrate a meal that resembles bits of sawdust… mmm… oh, sorry- got carried away there!

How Do I Train for the Marathon des Sables?

Unless you are a racing snake, you will almost certainly be walking more of it than you think, so make sure your training includes hours of walking as well as running. Get out in the most miserable conditions you can find- driving rain and miles of slippery mud are excellent as this will prepare you mentally for keeping going when every fibre of your being is screaming at you to stop. Build up your pack weight gradually so you are used to carrying a fully loaded pack for hours. Test drive all of your equipment before you go, and make sure that you actually enjoy the food you intend to eat as you will almost certainly lose your appetite at some point.

Make sure you get in plenty of hill work- this will pay dividends when traversing the sand dunes. I used the incline setting on the treadmill and ran up a steep road nearby several times a week. Doing lunges and squats in the gym will also help.

How Do I Enter the Marathon des Sables?

You certainly have plenty of time to train once you have entered. There are so many people wanting to take part that you have to register two years in advance, from this site (British entrants). Once a year they will open entry for the next available race, but be quick as places usually go within half an hour. If you miss out, a place on the waiting list is available- you will still need to get training though as unless you are near the bottom of the list you will probably get a place. I knew someone who was number 100 on the waiting list and they ended up in the race.

It seems to be a ‘rite of passage’ for all ultra athletes- and is a really fun adventure. I guarantee you will have a fantastic time and meet some great people. If you are considering it even just a teensy bit, I would urge you to go for it!

Are There Any Good Books About the Marathon des Sables?

I can recommend Mark Hine’s excellent book,‘The Marathon des Sables: Ultra Endurance Running in the Heat of the Sahara I have the older version, which I found really useful, but Mark has rewritten and updated the book so that it not only describes how he trained for the race and gives his account of it, it also contains preparing for an endurance race like the MdS and what kit you will need.  This book should definitely be on your shopping list.

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