Fifteen Questions on MDS

Fifteen Questions on MDS

Multi-Day racing and in particular, the Marathon des Sables provides a very unique and difficult challenge for those who toe the line in Morocco. It’s easy to get bogged down with too much advice on equipment, training and what is the best plan of action for a 6-day adventure in the Sahara.
I caught up with three 2017 participants and asked just five questions.

Elisabet Barnes has won the MDS twice, 2015 and 2017. She is a very experienced multi-day racer who is meticulous in preparation.

How did you get into running and how long have you been running?

I started running in my teens as a hobby so it’s been a long time. I ran my first Marathon in 2002 and in 2011 I started running Ultra Marathons as part of a lifestyle change.

What is it like to return to MDS as a previous champion?

I loved returning in 2017 as I felt well prepared and confident. The pressure is always on when you are the reigning champion and I have learned that it makes all the difference how you deal with that. It can make or break you.

You were really prepared for 2017, what made the difference?

I had some really specific training and racing in the lead-up including Lanzarote, Costa Rica, Tenerife and Morocco. In addition, I spent time focusing on other areas such as marginal weight gains on my kit, specific planning of my food, and mental preparations. I was very focused in this year’s edition.

Did you ever think you wouldn’t win?

Winning is never guaranteed. The field was strong and many things can go wrong in such an extreme race. I was super focused every day and never assumed I had it in the bag.

Three tips for those who may run MDS?

  1. Understand your race ambitions, e.g. whether you are a “completer or a completer”. \
  2. This will determine the focus of your training, kit choices and food planning
  3. Acclimatize to the heat. Be mentally prepared for the unexpected.

Kev George is relatively new to running but likes a challenge. It’s always good to dream and Kev made his dream a reality.
 Marathon des Sables

What was your experience prior to MDS?

I was an unlikely entrant to MDS, having only started running in 2014, but I had a dream to complete one of the world’s most iconic ultra-marathons and so signed up in December 2015. I spent the next 12 months training hard, running longer, ticking off multiple marathons and ultras until disaster struck in December 2016 when I suffered a stress fracture.

 You were injured before the race, how did the MDS go?

Because of the injury, my only goal was to finish and so I committed to only walking on Day 1, but as the days passed, my confidence grew and I ran more and moved up the rankings.

 Did the MDS live up to expectation?

Words cannot describe how special this race is; it is way more beautiful than I could have imagined and to be out there in the desert landscape in searing heat, testing your body and mind against the elements is incredible.

 How tough and long was ‘the long day?’ And what was your lowest point?

Yes, the long day was tough, and I cursed the race director frequently, but there was something magical about trekking over dunes in the moonlight, with desert creatures scurrying underfoot. I had some low points but all were forgotten at the sight of that finish line where I was overwhelmed by the achievement of traveling 150 miles across such an inhospitable landscape.

 Three tips for those who may run MDS?

  1. Do it!  Commit and believe in yourself.
  2. Train smart.  You are going to walk… lots!  So train for that.
  3. The journey is personal.  Train with your food.  Train with your kit and choose what works for you.

Pete Rees is experienced in off-road running and likes his fair share of mud, particularly if obstacles are in the way.

What was your experience prior to MDS?

I’ve run a lot over the last 10-15 years (mostly trail) but, until this year, I hadn’t ventured into ultra-distance.

How did the race unfold?

My aim was to “race” and get into the top 200, and I managed to finish in 89th. It was a grueling experience, mentally and physically, but I felt well prepared for it. My training and kit preparation was spot-on for my needs.

What was the highlight, what was the low point?

My low point was in the second stage. Bad toe-taping resulted in me ripping a large blister before the first checkpoint – it was a mental hit at the beginning of a very challenging day. My high point was halfway through the forth (long) stage. My energy had been sapped by temperatures approaching 50 degrees in the sun. I stopped at checkpoint four to get a grip on myself. I put music on (for the first time), ate and took some caffeine. The boost that gave me was incredible – I stormed through the dunes that followed, while others crumbled around me.

How did you feel at the end?

Elated, exhausted and proud. I have never given so much to anything.

Three tips for those who may run MDS?

  1. Research and test. This applies to training and kit. It helps you to go into the event with confidence.
  2. Lighten your load (but not at the expense of food). My favorite rule when deciding on gear: “If it’s not mandatory and you can’t eat it, don’t take it!”
  3. Contrary to rule 2: Take poles, no matter what your target. There were a lot of runners in the top 100 who were jealous of how they improved my dunes game.

Credit ©iancorless.com

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