I’m not sure what possessed me to enter Marathon Des Sables other than a wish to have a long term goal to build towards. An opportunity to do something that would test my mettle, mind and sportsmanship.
I know others that have run the race and I’ve spoken with plenty of people who know people. One thing for sure is that I’ve met a very different ilk of person. Not just sporty types or the ‘enthusiast’; these are sport nuts who think little of running 60 miles in a day. I even met a chap who ran from London to Dover, then swam the Channel before cycling to Paris: in one go! My efforts to cross The Sahara sometimes seems vanilla in comparison to others. There are worse challenges than the Marathon Des Sables... maybe that’s a goal for the big birthday year.
Everyone’s level of sportsmanship, motivation or goal is totally individual and for me my focus is on getting around the desert, on foot, intact with all my kit on my back. The challenge of the distance is one thing but for someone who’s more used to 5 star than 50 degrees, the other considerations are equally as enormous.
In April, the Sahara is said to be around 40-50 degrees in the midday sun and at night can drop to below 0 degrees. It’s quite a variation when you consider you carry all your kit with you: running in shorts and a t-shirt and a change for the cold evening would be the obvious. It seems not and my dilemmas are mounting!
It’s simple, the less you carry on the run, the less energy. It seems 7kg is the right amount but this needs to include all food for 6 days in the desert, clothing, sleeping bag & mattress, running kit, something warm for the evening and the requisite compass, emergency blanket, head torch and venom pump.
A change of clothes is out of the question as is a change into warm weather gear. What I’ve discovered is - like the people training for this level of challenge - a whole different microsystem and language. My puffa jacket for the evening is 100g and folds to minimal side, my sleeping bag which can cope with temperature down to -4 weighs much the same. Those 2 items alone are 200gms - this is weight watching at its extreme!
While carrying a weighty backpack is a major consideration, the body needs to be fed and fuelled. There are no rest stops with jelly babies or bananas on the way and at the end of the day there’s no central kitchen for runners to stocktake their carbs for the next day. It’s expedition food morning, noon and night. While the food is just 92g per pack, every runner needs to prove that they have sufficient calories each day. Yet another consideration to add to the equation that is Marathon Des Sables.
Other than the run being approximately 256km no route is revealed until we are dropped into the desert, 4 hours from the airport. There are no ‘rough guides’ to the area or terrain and as yet I’ve no idea of where I’ll be running. I do know it’s a marathon a day for the first 3 days. A double marathon followed by a day off, wallowing in the same gear, and then it’s another marathon. To get your medal on day 7 there’s a half marathon to the actual finishing line!
Distance, heat and the terrain all need to be thought about. It’s not all sand dunes as you may think. A lot is rocky terrain and there’s a lot of jebels which to you and I are big hills. My training to date has been up and down hills, country paths and beaches. Running on roads isn’t the best terrain for getting into the Marathon Des Sables mind-set.
The Mental Aptitude
Is a huge barrier to break, I attended an exposition by the organisers and they asked the group what their goal was:
‘To finish” was the resounding response.
“Wrong goal” we were told.
“You need to have fall back goals as not finishing is your absolute worst scenario - you’ve nowhere left to go. So think about where you want to place in the event or a run time for each day. Then if you can’t achieve that you can still fall back in finishing.”
It was an interesting message and one that can be carried for work too, it really does underline the whole management by objectives way of thinking. Have a goal and break it down to achievable and measurable sections.
While the work methodologies may come in to the goal of achieving Marathon Des Sables, there will be none of the daily digital distractions. Phones and emails are not welcome, this is digital detox real time.
For me achieving the goal is all in the preparation - mentally, getting adept at travelling super-light and of course clocking up the miles!
I’m embarking on a week sport training camp in Lanzarote to learn about: the art of packing a rucksack with a week’s food and survival kit - the intricacies of blister management - hopefully running in some heady temperatures and in the sun - as well as clocking up some serious mileage.
I’m taking my desert adventure very seriously as I want to raise as much money for WellChild.
I’ve paid for the whole trip, my coach Janette Cardy and the training camp out of my own pocket. Everything I raise goes straight to charity.
I’ve noticed that when folk sponsor for a marathon they sponsor £1 per km. So friends of WellChild how about it? At £1 per kilometre that’s £256 that will make a considerable difference to some lives that are in a far more precarious position to mine.