Marathon Des Sable 2011

The Toughest Footrace on Earth

“It covers 243km/151 miles (in sections similar to 25, 34, 38, 82, 42, 22 km) run over 6 days – equivalent to 5 1/2 regular marathons. . . In addition to that, competitors have to carry everything they will need for the duration (apart from a tent) on their backs in a rucksack (food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag etc). Water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint.

Marathon des Sables 2011

You will experience mid-day temperatures of up to 120°F, of running or walking on uneven rocky, stony ground as well as 15 – 20% of the distance being in sand dunes.

The heat, distance and rubbing will trash your feet and may cause severe trauma if incorrect shoes and equipment are used. Mental stamina probably constitutes at least 50% of whether you will complete the distance or not. Physical fitness is important but don’t underestimate the mental stress that you will need to endure.

On the 4th day, you will set off across the barren wilderness to complete a 45 – 50 mile stage. Few people complete this before dark that evening and some will not come in till after dark the next night. This is followed by the 42km Marathon stage!! It’s tough!! ”

That is the opening paragraph on the application form, it’s meant to put people off, yet it makes me even more intrigued.

Marathon des Sables 2011

I have followed the Marathon Des Sable for years, watched it on Eurosport, loved the footage of people running over the dunes, through mud hut villages, over dried river beds, I watched the interviews, men with sun burnt faces and dried lips barely able to talk because they are so dry, lying half dead on their backs and exclaiming that it was amazing!! , I have dreamt of being one of those guys for what seems like a lifetime, yet I was always chasing another dream, the dream of kayaking flooded gorges in far flung places or of hanging by the finger tips off of 1000 foot rock faces, but now, when the fire doesn’t burn so bright for my other pursuits there is room to try to pull off one last dream … Competing in the Marathon Des Sable…………

So I applied for a space in 2012 , plenty of time to be prepared , to train my body, to build my mental strength, but I missed the ballot and was asked to reapply in 2013, fair enough I thought , let’s see how I feel about it next year.

However the week before I flew to Amsterdam for the marathon  , I  received an email from the organizers offering me a place in the 2011 event , apparently the recession has even hit an event like this and there had been several cancellations  , far too soon I thought , surely I can’t be ready ?? yet I was about to run Amsterdam marathon , this was as fit as I had been for years , then I thought that if I fail the ballot in 2013 I will regret not taking this chance forever ,  I pick up the phone with a shaky hand and accept my place .. And on the 1st of Apri 2011 I will be on the starting line of the Marathon Des Sable, a dream come true.

I ask myself what the Marathon Des Sable means to me, it’s a test of my abilities and fitness, a huge challenge to see if I can complete the journey and run over the finish line , lie on the ground half dead and tell the French camera man it was amazing.

Marathon des Sables 2011

For the past week I have asked serious questions of myself, Can I train hard enough, have I learnt enough over the years to survive until the finish, can I figure out the logistics, how good will I be at managing my food intake and hydration, all things I have learnt through either climbing or kayaking, yet I’ve never had to apply them in such an extreme and inhospitable environment as the Sahara desert…. and especially when running against the clock with limited water..If there is one good thing about a kayak expedition, it is that there is never a shortage of water!

So now reality bites , the excitement of gaining entry is replaced with nervous thoughts of the huge effort it is going to take to do this ,yet I accept the challenge , I will work harder than I ever have and because of this I won’t fail , I will build myself into a man capable of completing  the Marathon Des Sable ….

I have to run 50-60 miles a week , in the winter months until xmas , then up this to over 80 in the new year , all this in the wind and rain , mental training indeed .

Marathon des Sables 2011

I need to run with a loaded pack , I need to work out my water intake, my calorific usage , I need to make sure I have all the right equipment and know how and when  to use it , that I carry the correct food , that I manage my electrolytes and salts , that I don’t sit on a camelback spider .. These by the way sneak up on you at night, numb your arm and eat the flesh off it, and they are 10″ long…. scorpions are also in abundance …I hate beasties , they give me the heeby jeebies !!!!

This week has been my first week of Ultra training and already I have ran over 40 miles , swam 1500 meters and cycled 26 miles of black route …. and it is only Thursday ,  16 more weeks like this to go!!!

Many thanks to Martin at : and Dave at : for helping kit me out with all my equipment … best guys in the world …

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