Marathon Des Sables Top Tips

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The Marathon Des Sables is a multi stage ultramarathon race across the Sahara Desert.  It is approximately 250km long completed in 6 stages of approximately marathon length each day, with one day being a double marathon where you will likely run into the night.  You will carry all your own support equipment including enough food to last you the event.  Our Founder David completed the race in 2016 and here are his top tips:

  • Start training early and incrementally build up distances.  Ultimately you want to build a robust body that can cope with all sorts of terrain including sand dunes, hard packed trails, steep rocky hills (jebels) and everything in between.  If you can get time on dunes ideal, but I mostly incorporated lots of hill work and cross training to build robustness.  The closer you can replicate the conditions you will run in the better but you’ll need to work with whatever is available to you.
  • There’s a lot of equipment needed for the event so don’t leave it until the last minute to acquire. There are plenty of forums with recommended kit and very much a personal choice.  MyRacekit is a shop specialising in supplying all the kit you need for the event and is a good starting point.  I used OMM back pack, sleeping bag and thermal jacket, 3/4 Thermarest roll mat, Raidlight gaiters and running top, Oakley sun glasses.
  • You need training shoes that are good all rounders and quite supportive for the hard packed / rocky terrain.  My Salamons were a bit too soft and caused me severe blisters on double marathon day.  I’d now use Brooks Cascadia or similar which are my go to ultra marathon shoe.
  • Don’t use the parachute silk long gaiters they will be shredded early on in the race.
  • P20 sunscreen is the best I have come across and one application will last the whole day. Very sticky but brilliant.
  • Ensure you take all of the salt tablets that are handed out for the race each day.  I used these together with NUUN electrolyte tablets and had no issues with sweat loss. NUUN are my go to but there are numerous electrolyte products on the market.
  • Nutrition is key.  Ensure you have a very high calorie breakfast and evening meal (1000 kcal) and then lots of varied snacks for the periods you’re running.  Drink to thirst – replen as much as you can carry at every check point. You will crave salty food because you are losing so much sweat.  I tended to want to eat more savoury than sweet and ended up ditching most of my flap jacks and gels. Salted peanuts, dried fruit, biltong/dried sausage all worked well for me.  Our Dates & Sesame pouches would work well in this environment.  Carb drinks are a good way to get the calories in in this hot environment also (Tailwind products being a good option).
  • Coming from a military background I was used to living in harsh environments. The desert will grind you down and you need to expect: sand everywhere (!), dust storms and strong winds, sharp thorns everywhere, very high temperatures. Nothing you can’t handle but you need to look after your body to make it through the week.
  • Spend plenty of time time looking after your feet and treating rubs early to prevent blistering – there is great medical support for the race with dozens staff to help with your feet and anything else that causes issues.
  • Fully rehydrate and fuel in the evenings to set yourself up for the next day – do the admin first and rest second otherwise it will catch you up.
  • The cut offs are very lenient so pace yourself through the week – better to start off slow as you acclimatise and finish strong as your pack grows lighter.
  • Enjoy the moment – it’s an iconic event in a special part of the world and has a brilliant atmosphere;  a truly memorable experience. Good luck!!

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Read more about the race here – MDS Website

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