MdS SOS, how to chew the elephant

By Andy Mouncey

It’s around this time of year that one particular group of emails start arriving:

Hello. I’m entered for the Marathon des Sables next year and I’m a bit worried ‘cos it’s now 5-4-3 months to go and I haven’t really started training / I keep getting injured / looks like everyone else is doing way more than me… and I’m tying myself in knots wading through all the different/conflicting advice out there (fill in as required). HELP!

I tend to deal with the last one first as it’s a particular bugbear of mine and an easy way to sift those who are serious about investing in their own solution as opposed to those who aren’t. My reply is along the lines of:

You will find 3 things online: Muppets, opinions and nuggets. Finding the first two is easy – sifting for the last one is not. And then you have to recognize it when you find it and even then it may not work for you in the way you want first time around.’

Depending on how I’m obtuse I’m feeling I may throw a couple of other rocks into the pond just to see how big they splash.

Rock number 1

Another thing: The internet Is Not The Territory. Which means  – shock horror! – that there are talented folks doing great work out there who don’t feel the need to shout about it online. Which means you might be limiting your options if your attention is glued to your smartphone.’

Rock number 2

And finally…consider this: We all know what we should be doing to keep ourselves generally fit and healthy – that’s not the issue. The issue is why we don’t do those things consistently.

So I reckon that you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of what at least the main bits of your training plan for MdS should look like if you applied yourself – your issue is WHY you haven’t been doing that…

If they’re still with me at this point then one of two reactions follow:

  • Eyes glaze over – or whatever the digital version of that is.
  • Pennies drop – or whatever…

No prizes for guessing the folks I work with.

Reasons WHY it hasn’t been happening / they’re in a right pickle also tend to follow variations on key themes. And because I really am nice and lovely I have listed some of the main ones here so that you can start your own un-pickling process as required.

For the purposes of a concise article I have generalized from the patterns I have seen over the years. When I am coaching I work with whatever the client brings to the party and offer it back in a way that is right for that client.

Nevertheless, the themes below do hold:

I Just Can’t Seem To Get Going!

Otherwise known as procrastination – which can also be a smokescreen for ‘I’m bored / pissed off / overwhelmed by the enormity of it all (delete as appropriate).

If this is you then a fix will involve making it fun, simple and using evidence of progress so you feel like you are actually getting somewhere.

Fun could be as simple as hooking up with some buddies periodically. Simple could be the patience of taking it one step-session-week at a time.

I’m Running Out Of Time!

Unless you are coming to me with podium aspirations, having recently won your local Park Run after starting running six weeks ago, the answer to this is:

No. You’re Not.


If this is you then breathe out, tune in and listen up.

It’s rarely about how much time you have –
it’s usually about how you are using the time that you have available.

And that comes down to how motivated you are – back to the WHY then – to get your ass out the door and do it, and how creative/effective you are with the resources at your disposal.

You can do an awful lot in 12 weeks even if you have very little by way of running background and a goal to just finish without destroying yourself.

You just have to be smart – and make it matter.

Everyone Seems So Much Fitter / Doing So Much More Than Me!

Well – that depends where you look and what you’re looking at.

People don’t tend to post about how little training they’re doing and about how their shit kit is falling apart – hashtagI’m_so_old_school_and_lovin’_it.

If this is you then here’s the bind you are caught in:

You are comparing your inside to their outside.

You have no idea how these people feel, what else is going on in their lives or the price they are paying to do that volume of training they say they are.

They could be knocking out 100k weeks and be wracked by self-doubt and forever on the edge of injury.

They could have a nanny, personal trainer and be close pals with someone on the board at HOKA.

Or their Significant Other could be harbouring a grudge the size of Alaska, because here’s another bloody project hot on the heels of the last one. And guess who has to stay home and look after the kids?

It’s just that getting behind the headlines can be tricky.

So make sure you compare like with like.

And anyway here’s the good news: Unless you have racing snake aspirations it isn’t all about the running. For most of you there will be some running involved in that week in the sands – and it will be way less than you think.

Success out there for most people is about covering the ground efficiently and being on top of your personal admin. That’s NOT about how physically fit you are – that’s about how good you are at keeping your shit together and the sand out of your shoes.

About the writer: Andy does the training stuff for us. He is author of three books including ‘So You Want To Run An Ultra’ He runs long for the challenge and fun of it and has been a professional coach since 2000 working across business-education-sport-lifestyle. He lives with his family in North Yorkshire, UK.

Andy makes his business from helping people keep their shit together and at this time of year that tends to include more folks than normal who are heading out for some sand dune fun in April. If you are one of those and you have hopes, fears, aspirations and questions you still want to nail down please email Andy.



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Date Range

Global - Virtual


A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for

For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Endurance - Multi-activity


An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for

Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude)

Suitable for

Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat)

Suitable for

Experienced runners who have completed at least 4 ultras in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.



Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.



Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed at least one ultra in last 6 months or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.



Very little change < 500 metres

Suitable for

First ultra event. Runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running (>26 miles) in the last 6 months.