All you will ever need to know to run the MDS

Last updated: 30-May-17

By Alice Morrison

It is one of the iconic ultras on the racing calendar, the Marathon des Sables, a 250km self-sufficient stage race across the desert. From that first decision to sign up, through the agony of training and preparing, right up to just before the race itself when you are panicking about what to pack, and how to get your head in the right space, we have the answers. Read on, and if you are not ready after this lot, then I will eat the bloodied, pus-filled bandages I kept from when I did it…

Is it for me?

This is the first big question that everyone faces and there are lots of things to think about. It is very expensive; it is very hot; it is in Morocco; it is self-sufficient; there is a lot of sand; you are out in the wilderness; it is hard – don’t believe the lovely Susie Chan when she says it is a “holiday in the sand”.

You need to consider all the above and make your decision. I can’t answer that question for you but if the question is – CAN I do it? Then the answer is absolutely yes. If I can do it, anyone can.

Check out the details here. 

And here are some veterans’ stories to help you decide.

  • Elisabet Barnes, Ladies’ Champion
  • Steve Diederich, needs no introduction
  • Alice Morrison, very slow runner
  • Rory Coleman, MDS Specialist
  • John Bell, MDS Finisher

Training and nutrition

Let’s assume that, inspired by these tales of derring-do, you have signed up and got in. The next thing is that WTF moment when you start thinking about training. But, do not fear, Andy Mouncey has the answers.

You might need to build up your base training first. Ian Corless has some tips. 

And it is crucial that you factor in nutrition. It will make you or break you. Don’t wait till a month before to get strong and healthy from the inside out.

Think about race food early on and try lots out before you go. 

Here are some tips from a pro. 

Kit

This is probably the thing that you will focus on the most. Well, let’s face it, it is easier than training! Seriously, though, your kit is hugely important. The main thing is to find out what suits you and what you like using. Do not take new kit unless it is a carbon copy of something you have used before and do not, on any account, take new shoes. Break them in, seems obvious but it is easy to get carried away.

RunUltra does regular reviews of all the new kit on the market.  

And this is what worked for me (remember everyone is different). 

And for the elites… 

Just weeks to go

Suddenly, those months of Bikram yoga and heat chambers, running on cold, windy dunes and getting up at 4 am in January to get a long run in, have passed and there are just weeks, or even days, to go. 

It is time to think about packing: 

Those last minute hints and tips.

Remember to drink and take the salt tablets and electrolytes. 

And keeping your head in the game! 

Final word

You are ready to go. Your body is a lean, mean fighting machine. You are fully prepared to get in there and kick some desert ass. Have an amazing time! You will, I can promise you that.

But please…. don’t do this.

And please….do, do this when you get back. 

So, if after reading this, you have (inconceivably) decided the MDS is not for you, fret not, there are plenty more where that came from. 

Good luck, MDSers!

"It is very expensive; it is very hot; it is in Morocco; it is self-sufficient; there is a lot of sand; you are out in the wilderness; it is hard"

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