Marathon des sables

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Moerieda MacKey is from South Africa. She lives near Johannesburg and has been running since 2011. No sport before that. Today, she is an experienced ultrarunner. Next april, she will run the MARATHON DES SABLES. A life dream.

  Moerieda, can you introduce yourself ?

I run because it brings joy to my soul.

I’m married to my soulmate, Adam and blessed with 3 beautiful children. I am a Business Transformation and Innovation Professional and holds a MSc (Eng) in Industrial Engineering. Yip, a bit of a workaholic. I fell in love with ultrarunning whilst searching for that elusive “work-life” balance at the age of… wait… 40! I have no sporting background and with zero athletic ability running is by far the most challenging thing I’ve taken on but it has put me on a path of self-discovery and serious transformation both physically, mentally and spiritually… and I love it!

In 2010 I lost 22 kg just training on the elliptical trainer (40mins; everyday… for about 9 months!) and watching my diet. Extremely “chuffed” with myself I was ready to push the boundaries so signed up for the 2011 Two Oceans Half Marathon in Cape Town. Running the Two Oceans Half Marathon was a life changing experience. I kept thinking ‘Why did I not do this earlier?’ I was hooked! I just love that feeling that comes with pushing my limits and running really far.


Is the MDS your first ultra race ? If no : where did you run before ?

No, MDS won’t be my first ultra. I consider myself an experienced ultrarunner: 3x Comrades Marathon Finisher, 2x Mont-Aux-Sources, Two Oceans Ultra, Ultra-trail Cape Town, Magaliesberg Ultra and many others. I am however a novice in multi-day events and only recently completed my first 2-day mountain stage race and my first skyrun, Wolkberg! I am currently training for the Salomon 100km skyrun in November 2016


Do you think you're crazy ?

A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y!! I’m a bit of a sucker for a challenge, very impulsive and sometimes end up doing stupid things like signing up for the MDS. Who of right mind would get excited about the opportunity to run 250km in the Sahara desert carrying everything they’ll need to survive for 7 days. Yes, I am crazy!

Physical training for the MDS : according to you, what is the most important thing to do ?

It is 6 months to MDS 2017 so the most important thing for me is to remain injury free. A structured program where I build mileage slowly has worked for me in the past so I won’t be messing with that formula! I will however include some strength training and yoga/pilates sessions into my schedule. My body and mind feel so much better after a yoga class. Key is to listen to the body… and to remember rest is part of training!

I believe it is important to train specific. MDS is not just a race, it’s an adventure in the desert and you need to be prepared for whatever will be thrown at you so I need to find opportunities in training races to test all my gear, my nutrition, hydration, recovery, sleeping on the floor and off course… taking care of my feet!

Same question with mental training...

The key to becoming a mentally tough runner is not to think but to do! I build confidence by knowing that I have done the HARD work. Thousands of kilometres in training… and when race day come I trust the process. “Que sera sera”. You have to believe in yourself and know that in extreme ultra races the wheels will come off and trust that you will are able to pick yourself up and push through! I love running and I am very stubborn so I know I will go that extra mile to prepare as best I can to survive the toughest footrace on earth.


How many hours, miles, do you intend to run during your training for MDS ?

I’ve just started my training programme, actually. Difficult to say, I suppose it all comes down to what my goal for the race is. I would like to finish in the top 200 or push for under 40hrs… but advice from experienced MDS runners is to focus on finishing the race and securing my medal. However having just ran 300km in September I would say a total of about 2400km for the 7 months so about 300-400kms per month. Running is my hobby, I won’t have time or energy for doing more than that! Yes… I am crazy!

When and how did you make the decision to run the MDS ?

I started my running journey in 2011. Whilst reading the Runner’s World Magazine my eye caught a picture of a guy dressed funny carrying a backpack and it looked like he was running. The picture showed off all of his gear and a list of mandatory equipment that he has to carry with him including an anti-venom kit. His running shoes were covered, looked like running boots! I was completely baffled with the intricacies. I think it was the anti-venom kit that scared me, what was he doing? Well, he was running the Marathon Des Sables (MDS), a 250km self-sufficient multi-stage race in the Moroccan Sahara Desert. I knew then already that it was something I wanted to do and I’ve have become obsessed with this race… it is all I can think of. Every day I run, I think about running in the desert. It is the craziest feeling. I’ve never even been to a desert; closest I came to 43 degrees celcius was in the Karoo. I am not sure why I have this burning desire to run in the desert, for now… let’s just say “The Desert Is Calling My Name!”

Do you prepare all-by-yourself or do you take advices from other people ? (if you take advice, can you tell me what and where, please)

I take advice from other people! I’ve always had a running coach as I prefer to work with someone especially training for major events. A structured programme keeps me focus on doing the right things. It also motivates me to know Big Brother is watching and having support if I go off the tracks. I also consume large amounts of running content by reading books, articles, blogs etc. One could say I have a Ph.D in Ultra Running and MdS… just need to run the race! I receive amazing support and lots of advice from the running communities on the social media platforms like Twitter.



One last : what would be a perfect MDS 2017 ?

I really have no expectation of the race. It is going to be the greatest adventure of my life! I have dreamt about this race for so long, just to be part of it will be perfect in itself. However, I couldn’t have ask for a better time to do the MDS.

MDS 2017 starts on the 7th April which is also my birthday…. cherry on top of the cake!

I am looking forward to have great tent mates that is going to help me get my medal! Rumour has it that Prince Harry is doing the MDS2017 so sharing a tent, a piece of cake and tea in the Sahara Desert with a royal prince… how much more perfect could MDS be?

A mixture of terrain with lots of beautiful dunes… and a sandstorm to keep things interesting!

I will also be running the race for charity; fundraising for Hope for Children an international charity organisationthat passionately believes every child has the right to a happy, healthy and positive childhood… so if I can create awareness about the work the charity is doing and raise some much needed funds that would be amazing!

Ultimately, making my family, friends, supporters and country proud by finishing the race and taking home that coveted MDS medal!

Blogs: (Primary Blog) (MDS2017 Blog)


Moerieda Mackay

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