WHAT IS MARATHON DES SABLES?

  ©Alexis Berg

©Alexis Berg

Before I am diving into the details of my equipment, food, as well as training regime, I should explain what Marathon Des Sables (MDS) actually is. The ones that have followed my blog over the last few months will have read about it on multiple occasions, some may have even heard about it before, whilst others have absolute no clue what is going on here.

So, let me explain. Marathon Des Sables has taken place for the first time in 1986. It is a multistage ultra-marathon that takes places in the Moroccan Sahara at the beginning of April. Over six days my “desert friends” and I will be covering a total distance of over 250 kilometres, which is broken down into five stages, and then rounded-up with another short charity run on day seven. The first three stages, which are going to take place between April 9th and April 11th, each cover a distance of around 35 kilometres. The infamous fourth day (April 12th), is the day of the ultra-marathon, which is supposed to be around 90 kilometres long. Following the biggest leg of the event, we will have a day to rest. Apparently that is also the time, when a mysterious delivery truck will appear that brings a cold can of Coca-Cola for each runner. I am intrigued to see whether such turns out to be true, or whether the previous runners have hallucinated and only seen a mirage. In any case, after a day of rest, on the sixth day (April 14th) we have to overcome a final marathon, which concludes the Marathon Des Sables adventure. Though, this stage wraps up the official timing and confirms the rankings, there is one final stage to run, which is an approximately 15 kilometre-long charity run in collaboration with Unicef. You may have noticed that I am referring to “around” and “circa” a lot, which is due to the fact that we are only receiving the roadbook with the exact routes on the day that we are driving into the desert, which is on April 7th.

Aside from that there is quite a distance to be run, one has to bear in mind that this event is being carried out in the Sahara, where temperatures are expected to reach up to 40 degrees during the day, whilst drop to around ten at night. Talking about the desert, I suppose it comes at no surprise that there will be sand involved. Well, whilst there are some rocky flats and other harder surfaces of some sort, also known as regs, the majority of the time my fellow runners and I will find soft sand under our feet, which is also referred to as an erg - a dune field. Furthermore, the route includes a few hilly sections, which are actual mountains, or groups of mountains that are called “djebel” and can reach up 1200 meters of altitude.

Those are the hard facts. Besides, it is worth-mentioning that MDS is a self-supported race, which means that each runner has to carry all of his belongings with him throughout the event. All sorts of equipment, clothing, personal belongings and food have to be brought by us. The only thing that gets provided by the organisation is water, as well as the bivouac to rest and sleep. The latter will be shared with eight fellow countrymen. I am almost all set on the equipment side, as well as my food plan for those seven days in the sand. There are only a few final decisions to be made, for example whether to bring a light fleece for the night, take a Skins long-sleeved base layer shirt, or both? Shall I bring nuts with me, or rely solely on Clif Bars and disregard experienced runner's advice? I hope to make those decisions within the next few days, but I will be sure to let you know once I have wrapped my head around those. On that note, I should mention that Skins and Clif Bars, through their German distributor Lifebrands, have kindly supported me with their compression wear and energy bars respectively. 

Before I share my decision about the gear and food, in the meantime one may ask, why I even have to ask myself questions like these, i.e. what brings me to run, walk, trot, climb, or crawl over 250 kilometres through the sand, eat cold food and sleep in the open air for seven days? Well, some say, in order to challenge themselves, push their limits, test their willpower and mental strength, others want to raise awareness and money for certain causes, or maybe utilise the race to gain points towards other major events, e.g. Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc. I guess the list goes on, and is very long, whilst it will differ from runner to runner. Personally, all of the above most certainly somewhat apply. In the end, I find it quite hard to put into words what drives me to do it, but I hope that I will have discovered a better response to this question once I have completed Marathon Des Sables.

Right, I think that this post has covered the key points. I hope that it has given you a better overview of this upcoming event, if not feel free to ask, but as I said I shall be back shortly with more details.

Keep running.