Marathon of the Sands
A daily account of my first Marathon des Sables - 7 days / 250kms in the Moroccan Sahara.
Marathon of The Sands - Done & Dusted!
December and January issues discussed the training. Now the race. To refresh your memory - the distances were:
Day 1: 25km
Day 2: 34km
Day 3: 38km
Day 4: 85km
Day 5: rest day (if you finished the 85km in one day)
Day 6: 42km
Day 7: 22km
We flew by charter from London to Morocco, spent one night in a hotel and were then trucked out to the first bivouac. Over the next 2 days we went through medical and kit checks. I was then able to settle on my pack contents. I needed to wait to this point because a certain amount of gear was provided by the race (e.g. flares). My starting pack weight ended up 10kg (plus water). Some were carrying 15kg - way too much! Selecting the right gear had been critical.
We were provided with water ration cards and a "road book" and were ready to go!
We were quickly introduced to the temperature variations -dropping to 1o at night and climbing to 51 o during the day. Luckily I had an excellent Marmot top to see me through the cool windy nights.
Each day started with a French language briefing. The 650 field thinned quickly on day 1 and preparation showed almost immediately . Day 2 and a new ritual emerges - the walking wounded are taken off the course by landrover - the walk of shame! The Koreans start early morning aerobics - the British stand by taking the mickey! But by day 4 the aerobics die a death!
The 2nd day we hit the big dunes! 200 to 250m high! Huge blisters and peeling feet in the medical tent…. slice off the skin, douse with antiseptic, cover with compeeds! Brutal, controversial, and painful. No need for me to visit the tent.
Day 2 ends and I'm in the top 50. It's now very clear that many had underestimated the event - there was destruction everywhere. Flares going off at odd times of the night as competitors, slowed to a shuffle, pull the pin! literally! Navigation was required occasionally on all days and provided some light relief. Standing at the top of a dune you could see people going in every direction possible.
Day 3 and sandstorms. We can hardly see more than a few feet ahead. Stifling heat and sand dunes - sapping!
Day 4 and we look and feel like war wounded. No water for washing and no change of clothes - we look and smell rough. The big day - 85km! I ran well for 75km - sandstorms, rocks, and dunes. I slowed down as we hit a really sandy section and fading light. I was mumbling and talking to myself and running in the dark not wanting to turn on my head torch and give my position away. I staggered across the line 11hrs 20 mins in 44th place and woke up with the doctor over me and "compes mentos" enough to tell him not to give me an IV - I didn't want a 1 hour penalty.
Day 5 - I'm horizontal, eating, and recovering. I'm sleeping well - I used a lightweight sleeping mat and a Snugpack bag.
Day 6 and the punishment continues. I had taken Backcountry freeze dried food and was reconstituting in cold water. I had decided not to bring any cooking fuel in order to lower my pack weight. The hottest day so far - 51o.and brutal running conditions. Vicious sand and rocks - worse than South Island river beds. One guy nearby falls and breaks his shoulder. Well used to this type of running - I lift the pace.
Day 7 - I'm pleased. I'm still in the top 50 and feeling good and only 21km to run. I cross the line after 1hr 50 mins.
All up - 29 hours of running and 47th overall.
They said it was the toughest race so far - but I bet they say that to everyone. Equipment, training and preparation - that's what it was all about! Some things that I did well - I adapted my ASICS DS trainers by sewing on lycra gaiters - they performed well; I stiched heavy elastic cord to my pack straps for carrying water bottles - this worked well; My food was on target - Backcountry freeze dried, milkshakes (protein powder & high fat milk), beef jerkey, & nuts.
If you love the outdoors, want an adventure, want to combine training, equipment, and navigation - this is the race for you!
Russell Maylin is a massage therapist (sports). He owns Action Potential Massage, Parnell, Auckland. He provides coaching.