Marathon des Sables is a self-sufficient foot race held across the Sahara desert in Southern Morocco. It’s held in six stages over seven days covering a total of approximately 250kms with set distances for each day ranging from approximately 10kms to 90kms.
Participants must carry all their supplies including clothing, food, sleeping bag and first aid for the duration of the event. Overnight shelters (in camps) and water (strictly controlled and distributed during the race) is supplied. The first five stages will be timed with the final stage being untimed “Solidarity” charity stage.
The route details are only given to the participants on the day of registration in Morocco, so there is no unfair advantage in planning.
The event goes way beyond merely covering 250 kilometers in extreme conditions; it is a challenge to get past what normal people would regard as crazy, and achieve one’s personal goals.
Angus and I just wanted to thank you so much for your (Travelling Fit’s) organisation of us to do MDS and also for the messages of support we received from you. To say MDS was a life changing experience is an understatement, but it was definitely all we expected and much more. We knew we were in for a real challenge but actually living that challenge day in and day out saw us experience so many emotions we were not really prepared for. Looking back after just a week though we can honestly say that the difficult and at times harsh conditions actually really contributed to the level of satisfaction we now have. The Travelling Fit representative was also a wonderful, calm and supportive presence in our midst. It was great having him lead our group. Thanks again for your messages and all you did to support us.
I cannot fault the level of detail and contact from Travelling Fit. Having Travelling Fit organise all the logistics of getting there enabled me to focus on my training without worrying.. everything was perfect. I loved everything about the trip, it was challenging both during the race and before and after but that's what you sign up for! Our Travelling Fit host was amazing and as a first timer to the MDS I think his approach was perfect for all concerned. Relaxed but approachable manner made us all feel comfortable before the race but also during. Continually checked on our well being and always there for support and guidance. Was a brilliant person for the job. Cannot speak highly enough of him.
Wow wow wow ..... best event/mental/physical challenge I have ever done. From the daily sand management, self sufficiency requirements, footwear - enjoyed every second of it. Will be back at some stage to better myself from the lessons learnt. I also want to say thanks for all the support and encouragement on the recent MDS adventure…. To say I loved it was an understatement. The communication from Travelling Fit was fantastic and a big thanks goes to the Travelling Fit rep out at MDS for the people management in his quiet and very efficient manner. A real asset to Travelling Fit.
Travelling Fit is a great professional company full of passionate runners who are only interested in making the clients experience the best it can be. They are unbelievably organised which kept me on track and very understanding of how hard it is to organise and manage a big trip, work and family. The exclusive Travelling Fit Marathon package well and truly exceeded expectations and highly recommend to anyone travelling abroad for a race
I had a great experience travelling with Travelling Fit. The Travelling Fit rep was an absolute legend, perfect balance of being chilled out and letting us do our own thing and getting necessary tasks done. I felt really supported by him before and during the race, he’s such a down to earth, lovely guy! The Travelling Fit pre-event package was good too and something I would do again. I really appreciate all your help during the planning process. And also for your email during the race - it put a big smile on my face. I really didn’t appreciate prior to the race how much each email was going to encourage me in the coming stages! So thank you!!
Use Travelling Fit! Organising yourself for the MDS is a major undertaking and I think pretty much everyone was fairly stressed by the time they got on the airplane. Not having to worry about organising the travel made it that much easier to go to the race and enjoy it without worrying about travel plans. Travelling Fit is an excellent company and I had no regrets whatsoever using their services. I attended the Travelling Fit training camp which provided me with most of the information I needed to start buying my gear. Probably more importantly, I met some of the runners, who later were in my tent. For me, the MDS was as much about the people I did it with, as the race itself, and this was set up as a result of meeting them beforehand.
I have just competed in, and completed, the marathon des sables 2013. From start to finish you guys have made one of my life long dreams come true. Admin wise you made everything so simple and answered every question in a fantastic time making our journey so much easier. You took the stress out of our entire trip! (Thank you Di, ask Mari-Mar for a pay rise as you deserve it!). Mari-Mar, you truly are one of life's genuine, energetic, caring people. You went out of your way for every single person on this trip, often making sacrifices for yourself. When my bags didn't turn up you kept me sane, helped me get what I needed from everyone else, and to this day I still can't believe my bag turned up three days into the race in the middle of the desert!!! And having to sleep next to Hully's "drink" bottle must have made the whole trip even more memorable! Your photos are perfect, your attitude is fantastic and you made my experience one I will never forget (or stop talking about!). Tent 69 was so much fun and each of us encouraged the others to get through and friends for life were made, perfect match, thank you. We did this race to raise money for charity and Ronald McDonald house Newcastle will be the recipients of over $25000 of which indirectly you have made a massive contribution too, with your support and words of wisdom to both Drew and myself. Sadly Drew had to cut his trip short as his girlfriends sister had a baby who sadly passed away 11 days later. Ironically the family stayed at Ronald Mcdonald house so out efforts have already seen the good it can do. Once again thank you for everything you did for all 41 people, you are an amazing, inspiring woman who will continue, I am sure, to make other people's dreams come true. Thank you
Thanks for your assistance in the months leading up to the event. I’d have no hesitation recommending TF to friends off the back of my experiences with MdS. With an event of this nature and being a first timer there was a great deal of information to absorb, documents and forms to complete and arrangements to make and to be assisted along the way like you did was ideal. Particularly helpful was the access to seasoned runners via Facebook and the webinar prior to the event and then Mari Mar and others in Morocco. Any question that was not able to be answered on the spot was done soon after. The race was just a brilliant experience. Thanks again,
A huge thanks for all your advise, support and involvement in this years MDS. It was great, I always felt you had a finger on the pulse and that I could just sit back and relax. I`m back home now and relaxing. Very happy to have completed the Epic race... I will be looking at your company to swan off and do a few more adventures as I think you did a great job.
Entry Fees must be paid directly to the race organisers online – https://www.marathondessables.com/en.
The total registration cost for the 2023 Marathon des Sables is EUR3,190 for individual registration and EUR3,290 for team registrations (per person) and includes all arrangements from Friday 21 April through to Monday 01 May 2023.
Qualifying Times are not required however you must be 18 years or over. Written permission from parent or guardian must be given for any entrants aged between 16 and 18 years inclusive.
Competitors must hold a medical certificate form (issued by the event organisers) which must be completed by their GP along with a resting ECG report with graph. The medical certificate and ECG must be dated no more than 30 days before the start of the race.
Please note that failure to provide an up to date medical certificate and ECG may result in a fine or potential disqualification.
The start time for each stage race will be confirmed by the race organisers at race control the day prior to the event start.
Cut off times do apply for each stage.
Cut off times will be confirmed by the race organisers in the handbook which is distributed on the way out to the Bivouac on the Friday.
Competitors will be equipped with a ChronoTag for real-time monitoring and ranking.
Technical and administrative verification will take place at the first Bivouac, on Saturday, prior to race start. Participants must present themselves to the race organisers and meet all administrative, technical & medical requirements.
Participants will receive two race bibs, timing system (Chrono Tag), distress beacon (SPOT), salt tablets, toilet liners, road book and a check-in card.
Not applicable for this event
Personal Refreshments and Clothing
Competitors must be completely self-sufficient during the entire 7 day event. Water however will be provided on a daily basis.
All of the compulsory equipment and personal belongings for each competitor (eg food, first aid, sleeping bag and backpack) should weigh between 6.5kg and 15kg.
This minimum/maximum weight does not include your daily water supply.
Each participant will have to fulfil the above obligations during the administrative and technical checks on a daily basis.
Water will be distributed per day to each competitor during the race at check points and upon arrival at the bivouac.
Medical assistance will be available at each check point. As a “rule of thumb” water will be distributed as per the following:
Standard stage (Stages 1,2 & 3):
** 12 litres per person per day as follows:
- 1.5 litres or 3 litres at check-points 1 and 2
- 1.5 litres or 3 litres at check-point 3, if applicable
- 6 or 7.5 litres at the finish.
Ultra (2-day) stage (Stage 4):
** 25.5 litres per person over 2 days as follows:
- 3 litres at check-points 1, 2, 3 and 4
- 1.5 or 3 litres at check-points 5 and 6
- 4.5 litres at the finish
- 6 litres at the bivouac.
Marathon stage (Stage 5):
** 15 litres per person per day as follows:
- 3 litres at check-points 1, 2 and 3
- 6 litres at the finish.
Solidarity stage (Stage 6):
- 3 litres per person
A transfer will be provided from Erfoud to the first Bivouac and after the final stage race you will be transported to Ouarzazate.
Finishers T-shirts, Medals and Certificates
All finishers will receive a medal after the event (at the end of stage 6).
T-Shirts will be given out the day after the event in Ouarzazate.
Finishers Certificate and Official race video will be downloadable about 3 months after the race.
Average Temperature in April is 30 degrees Celsius during the day and 14 degrees Celsius during the night. The Moroccan Sahara is a very dry heat with the average humidity being less than 10 %.
In the event of a sand storm lowering visibility to zero, competitors must stop on the course and wait for instructions by the organisers.
Solidarity Event – last stage of Marathon des Sables where family and friends of the MDS participant can join them.
This stage of the race is compulsory however the time it takes to complete it is not included in the overall MDS time.
If family and friends of the participant wish to partake in the final stage then they will be required to purchase a package.
Please contact Travelling Fit for details.
Marathon des SablesMarathon des Sables was AMAZING! I can see how it is addictive. At the time I said I would never do it again but the further away I get from it, I just feel so fondly about it. The main thing I...
Marathon des Sables was AMAZING! I can see how it is addictive. At the time I said I would never do it again but the further away I get from it, I just feel so fondly about it.
The main thing I miss/loved is the camaraderie amongst all the racers, even the medical team/organizers! It honestly felt we were all one big team, trying to help and support each other through. I loved that I could walk up to a random dude of different nationality and ask him anything about who he was, his motivation, how he’s going (actually how he’s going, not generic “fine” answers) and there’s no agenda. I didn’t feel any agenda, sexual or otherwise, the whole time I was there.
I feel like I made 800+ new friends- the best. It made me sad to leave and have to adhere to standard social norms again ????
Pre-race I had no idea what to expect. My goals were literally to not die and to finish. Anything more than that was a bonus. So finishing, enjoying it and performing better than I thought I would, was amazing!
I had a great experience travelling with Travelling Fit. The Travelling Fit rep was an absolute legend, perfect balance of being chilled out and letting us do our own thing and getting necessary tasks done. I felt really supported by him before and during the race, he’s such a down to earth, lovely guy!
The Travelling Fit pre-event package was good too and something I would do again.
I really appreciate all your help during the planning process. And also for your email during the race – it put a big smile on my face. I really didn’t appreciate prior to the race how much each email was going to encourage me in the coming stages! So thanks you!!
Marathon des SablesMarathon des Sables. Done. Phew! It certainly lived up to its tagline - ‘The Toughest Footrace on Earth’ 220km over six days, totally self sufficient meaning carrying everything you need...
Marathon des Sables. Done. Phew!
It certainly lived up to its tagline – ‘The Toughest Footrace on Earth’
220km over six days, totally self sufficient meaning carrying everything you need for 6 days, ie sleeping gear, food etc.. (for me a 7.5kg backpack not including water!) – sharp rocky terrain mixed with soft sand, crazy distances through massive sand dunes, and then the odd mountain thrown in. Not forgetting a top temp of 41 degrees and a sand storm in the mix.
The MDS is more than an ultra-marathon running race, its a mental race – constantly watching your footing, and managing your hydration and food intake. Its a lengthy slog!
The moment you cross the finish line is incredible – the finish to an amazing journey that your mind and body has been through, pushed to its limits. A very emotional end to an unforgettable adventure.
I’m very grateful and lucky to have had the opportunity to take part in this event…
Massive thank you’s to my running pal Finny for coming along on this crazy adventure, to all the friends who sent me the messages that were delivered to my tent each day, to the rest of the #tent104 gang for the giggles and support, to the others that came with Travelling Fit ably guided by the the legend Gary ????????, and also the volunteers in the medic tent who patched up so many feet over the week, mine were relatively unscathed in comparison!
Most importantly the biggest ???? and gratitude to my wife and kids for encouraging and supporting me before and during MDS ????????
Marathon des SablesGrab a coffee, pull up a comfy chair and come on a journey to the Sahara… Pre Race It’s my birthday, and the longest birthday ever, as I’m steadily gaining hours crossing time zones. ...
Grab a coffee, pull up a comfy chair and come on a journey to the Sahara…
It’s my birthday, and the longest birthday ever, as I’m steadily gaining hours crossing time zones. (That’s an unexpected positive to a long-haul flight :))
Right now, I’m in seat 47 A cruising at 35,000 feet, on my way to the toughest multi stage race I’ve ever faced – the Marathon des Sables – to run 250 kms, over 7 days, in the Sahara Desert…
As daunting as that may all sound, I’m actually looking forward to it (why you may ask?) well, you see the idea of choosing an adventure and training hard for it actually plants a smile squarely on my face…
For the past 10 months I’ve calmly and methodically prepared: testing out my gear and food, and running in the soft sand at the beach. Now my backpack is packed, and I’m on my way.
I shift in my seat and gaze out the plane window and reflect on all my reasons why I’m taking on this phenomenal race (primarily pushing back at being defined by cancer and fundraising to help others) and my overall purpose in life (getting out there and giving things a go and celebrating life beyond my comfort zone.) I also wonder what the other Aussies will be like. I’m really looking forward to meeting them…
That afternoon our Travelling Fit Aussie contingent catch up for Welcome drinks. It’s great to finally meet everyone and to know we’ll have the full support and expertise of Mari-Mar Walton to guide us through our final pre-race preparations. We head out to have dinner at a local restaurant – it’s a feast for our senses with the elaborate decor and clay tagines filled with aromatic meat and vegetables.
Over the Atlas mountains
The next morning, we find ourselves in a minibus negotiating peak hour traffic. Soon the cream, square, concrete buildings give way to green fields of wheat and the haze of Casablanca dissipates to reveal a sunny, pale blue sky…
The road winds up into the Atlas Mountains… and down again…
We arrive in Ouarzazate, an ancient city known as the gateway to the Sahara. It’s filled with palm trees, ochre buildings with perfect turrets, and it feels just like we’ve stepped onto a Hollywood filmset…
We have time to buy final items and check our gear and Mari-Mar has invaluable advice about how to pack and manage the weight of our packs. The next morning, we head off on an early training run through the streets to a lookout… and from the edge of town, the desert stretches off to the horizon…
I check my watch. It’s only 7.30am, but the sun is already warm… what on earth will it be like out there in the middle of the day?
Off to the desert
I do a final post on social media, make a hurried call to loved ones and then leave the world of Wi-Fi behind and board our bus to the bivouac… It’s a full day’s journey.
We arrive at camp in the heat of the afternoon and as I disembark a gust of wind swirls dust into the air and covers me in grit – welcome to the world of Marathon des Sables! I seek out tent #86 and settle in – all the Aussies are housed in three Bedouin tents side by side, this is brilliant for camaraderie and support.
Race registration takes place the next day, with officials checking our compulsory gear, our paperwork and ECG readings and fit GPS trackers to our pack. I’m given my race bibs – it’s a profound moment – for now all those months of preparation and training will come into play… it’s suddenly feeling very, very real.
Hitting my stride – life on MDS
Like many other competitors, I’d seen the videos of past races, but nothing can quite prepare you for the start line experience on the first day!
The excited crush, the roar of helicopters circling overhead, the entertaining race briefing from Patrick Bauer in French and English and then there’s that song – ‘Highway to Hell’ by ACDC!
But before I know it we’re off, funneling beneath the inflatable start line, stepping over the timing mats and heading off into the desert.
And it’s just as I imagined: racing across sand dunes, along rough rocky tracks, dry river beds and open expanses… I settle into a good pace. Every 10kms the checkpoints appear with water and friendly personnel, then I’m back into the elements. I sip on my electrolyte fluids and nibble on my race nutrition. The 30.3km flies… so far so good. Day 1 is done.
Day 2 is 39km, and it’s filled with much taller dunes, stronger winds and the unbelievable challenge of ascending and descending a towering rocky outcrop called the El Otfal Jebel.
At camp I empty fine sand from my shoes and dress developing blisters on my big toes… it’s great to rest and it feels wonderful to tuck into rehydrated chicken and rice.
At midnight a wild sandstorm blows in… so Day 3 begins with very little sleep ‘deposited’ in the bank. It’s a rugged 31.6km climbing back over El Otfal Jebel on the fixed ropes in the midday heat, but the sweeping views from the top totally make up for it!
Day 4&5 is the long stage. A grueling 86.2km, and this is where the Marathon des Sables truly tests me. I’m just about physically spent.
So to get through the heat of the day and the cold of the night, I rely heavily on my willpower, music, memories of my family and friends, and the distraction of the magnificent stars.
I finish that stage with a flickering head torch, weaving legs, but with an incredible sense of relief and joy…
Day 6 is 42.2km – a marathon distance.
Today is the final competitive day and just to add to the challenge a sandstorm swirls at the start line, but I set my mind to run as fast as I can. There are a series of massive sand dunes and dry riverbeds to negotiate.
Then as the sun treks higher, the finish line finally comes into view and tears begin to streak the dust on my face… My emotions are running raw and real…
Never, ever would I have dreamt 11 years ago, when I lay in my hospital bed simply willing to survive, that I would be out here taking on such a phenomenal race like this. What a journey… What an incredibly special moment in my life… The Marathon des Sables is over.
Post Race celebrations
Back in Ouarzazate, we have a fabulous feast at a restaurant with crisp white linen table cloths and cushions. There are tagines filled with lamb, chicken, vegetables and couscous. There are plates of bread and icy cold drinks… it’s heavenly! There’s not a sand coated backpack or race number to be seen…
As I look around at our group, we’re almost unrecognizable with our fresh, clean faces and clothes… and I know as we go our separate ways, these amazing, seven days running out in the Sahara desert, will remain with us forever…
Marathon des SablesMarathon des Sables 2 weeks on, and now we're both back in the 'real world' and day jobs, wondering if the surreal race through the Sahara desert was all just a dream. If I had to sum up the ...
Marathon des Sables
2 weeks on, and now we’re both back in the ‘real world’ and day jobs, wondering if the surreal race through the Sahara desert was all just a dream.
If I had to sum up the experience up in just one word, it would be exhilarating. There’s nowhere else where you can traverse one of the most stunning landscapes on earth, with some of the most inspirational people you will ever meet. This is something anyone can do, you just need to believe you are capable of more than you ever dreamt possible, and then take the leap.
While we were in the Sahara it was difficult to get the time to write about all our experiences, so, without further ado, here is a recap of our amazing adventure written from Tanya’s perspective.
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT BIVOUAC 1 (CAMPSITE WHERE THE RACE BEGINS).
As we pile out of the coaches that transported us all from the desert town of Ouarzazate, we can see the bivouac in the far distance, row upon row of black tents, arranged in a giant circle.
Amazingly, it is raining lightly, but within minutes a dusty sand storm (mild variety) envelopes us all and everyone scrambles to put on sunglasses to protect eyes from the grit flying around. Everyone grabs their bags and clambers onto the luxurious transport to the bivouac, a line of army unimogs (trucks). If there was any doubt that we had left the luxuries of the western world far behind, they were certainly gone now!
The bivouac itself is a riot of colour and sound. There are over 1000 competitors here from all over the world, who are supported by over 400 staff, 270 berbers (locals), 100 all-terrain vehicles, two helicopters and one plane, plus 6.5km of Elastoplast and over 120,000 litres of water!
Our new home for the next week or so are traditional berber tents, made from heavy black cloth. They’re surprisingly more comfortable than they look…either that or we were so knackered at the end of each day, we slept soundly regardless of the conditions. I’m part of tent #69, and the only girl! Apart from my husband Yaroslav, we have Drew and James, friends racing together who have raised over $40,000 for their charity (supporting disadvantaged kids in sport) to be here. There is also Andy, a former bomb and IED disposal expert who is doing this race in honour of his friends and workmates, some of whom died or lost limbs in the service of their dangerous profession. In their memory, he will be doing the entire race in his bomb-disposal gear to raise awareness. Absolutely mad and admirable. I am in impressive company!
DAY 2: RACE BRIEFING AND REGISTRATION.
Everyone is hyped. The atmosphere here is electric as people register and do their last minute kit checks before race day. At the center of our tent ‘village’, Patrick Bauer (who founded the race in the mid-1980s) gives us a long speech on rules, regulations, safety and tips for the days ahead. We meet last year’s winners and get pumped as the media helicopter does low fly-bys overhead.
Television crews are everywhere, and there are at least two documentary crews following the German and Japanese teams this year, as well as the usual French media hoopla. This year we have some inspirational competitors. A group of French firemen are taking three disabled children through the event, carrying one of them each day on a custom-designed wheel/sedan style chair. Two blind people are competing with their guides, and a one-legged Israeli man will be competing as well, using his custom carbon-fibre blade and crutches to carry him along. Humbling.
DAY 3: RACE DAY, 37.2KM
If yesterday was exciting, today is manic. The berbers start taking down the tents at 6am each morning, and if you’re still in it, it gets taken down around you regardless! Today we are one of the first tents to get packed up, so breakfast is out in the open air with the buzz of the campsite surrounding us.
By 7am our bags are packed and ready to go with supplies to sustain us for the next 7 days. There is nothing to do but wait for the start and hope we survive!
Everyone is smiling and cheering, bands are playing, planes and helicopters do low fly-bys constantly. Cameras are everywhere and flashes pop constantly. TV crews roam the starting line, and people are being interviewed left right and centre. We are in the middle of the desert with nothing around for miles, and there is more adrenalin, high spirits and dancing/jumping about than a giant rave party on new year’s eve. Highway to Hell blasts through the speakers, a tradition that is played at every single start for every one of these races. It’s simply amazing.
After what seems like an age, Patrick Bauer finishes his speech (in French of course), and suddenly we are off, careening through the desert like a herd of startled colourful gazelles. The helicopter pilot is a magician. He sweeps along the long train of people stretching out into the desert so closely, that you could almost reach up and touch the feet of the chopper as it passes over our heads. And so we begin one of the toughest weeks of our lives.
Today is 37.2km, an unusually long leg for the first day of the event. We pass through magical scenery, travelling across small dune systems, along broad flat rocky plains and up hills that offer sweeping views of the desert.
DAY 4: ARE YOU TOUGH ENOUGH? 30.7KM
After our long walk yesterday we have a shorter distance to complete, but today will be anything but easy. Later described by race veterans and leaders as the toughest leg they had experienced so far, today was a true test of spirit, with 3 jebels (mountains) to climb and sand dunes to navigate before reaching the finish line. Temperatures reached over 40 degrees today, some say over 50.
At the top of each punishing jebel we are rewarded with amazing 360 degree views. It’s a prefect chance to take a breath or three and prepare yourself for the next onslaught.
The final jebel is the real killer. With over a 25% incline, the rock face, which stretches some 250 metres upwards, has accumulated sand over previous seasons, pushed along by the desert winds. The sand makes every step more difficult, with the sensation that you’re going backwards at times. Already weary from the last two mammoth climbs and long treks over barren plains in the heat, the effort is brutal and intense.
Finally, at the top of this last tortuous mountain, we are rewarded with the sight of the finish line in the distance. Of course, because this is the marathon des sables, it is still some kilometres away, and we have to cross a small dune field to get there. Still, the sight lifts my spirits and I practically sprint (ok, hobble) to the finish line. Exhausted I cook my dinner together with my teammates in our tent, and doctor my punished feet so I’m ready to go again tomorrow. I am fast become a expert blister-repair doctor, and my elastoplast skills are second to none! That night we all slept so soundly, I don’t think anyone moved until dawn the next morning.
DAY 5: KEEP ON TRUCKIN’ 38KM
Today brings us another 38km closer to the finish. After yesterday’s gargantuan effort, people are now starting to feel the pain and the average pace has visibly slowed. Yaroslav and I are both nursing blisters, and it’s become a matter of managing your feet and your body to last the distance relatively intact…after all, tomorrow will be the extra-long stage overnight! Today I simply aim to enjoying the scenery and keep a steady, ground eating pace as best as I can.
Early on in this stage we pass through the little town of El March, with its oasis of palm trees and curious locals. The heat has really started to set in, with temperatures climbing past the 40 degrees and starting to edge into the 50’s.
Yesterday I had put in a fairly solid effort, so I find the going more difficult than usual, and my feet are giving me significant grief today. I take a lengthy rest stop at the third checkpoint and shanghai one of the poor nurses on duty there to help me out, who does his best to drain the blisters and bandage my feet so I can finish this stage. We’re laughing and joking whilst he works, but I can see in his eyes that he thinks I’m barking mad for being here. “Respect” he says to me as I leave, and then some more words in French. I work out he was trying to tell me that he had a lot of respect for the fact that I (a) managed walk here on my feet in the condition they were in, and (b) will be continuing on to the finish line (about another 15km away) to complete the stage regardless. It took two hours for him to do his work, but whatever he did (I stopped watching!) worked and I found myself motoring along at a decent clip to finish just before sundown. I even manage to enjoy some of the spectacular scenery along the way.
DAY 6-7: HANGING IN THERE! 75.7KM
Today is the stage everyone has been dreading, a long trek of just over 75km, which (for just about all competitors) will include continuing through the night to complete the next morning. Surprisingly, this leg proved to be one of the most enjoyable in the race. Everyone is quite sociable, and once you accept the fact that your feet are going to hurt no matter what, it’s relatively straightforward to find your pace and just simply keep going.
Not long after I pass through the first checkpoint, I catch up with tent-mate Andy, still wearing his bomb suit. We’re both making our way along at the same pace and have a similar plan for this stage (don’t stop until you get to the end!), so we decide to complete this leg together. It’s good to have someone watch your back, as today the heat officially reaches 54 degrees. People are visibly suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion, particularly as we traverse the long open baking plains in the midday sun. Andy reminds me to take my salt pills at one hour intervals (avoiding hypotranemia, an electrolyte imbalance from drinking too much water), and we both find the hours literally rush by as we joke and talk rubbish for the next 6-8 hours or so till sundown.
We make checkpoint 4 (45.2km) just after sunset, and we stop and take a decent break to have a hot meal and elevate our feet for a while. At this rest stop many people choose to sleep for a few hours before continuing on in the morning, but we’re both of the opinion that this will hurt either way, and it’s best get it over and done with in one go, rather than trying to go again once muscles have had a chance to seize up!
Checkpoint 4 to checkpoint 5 (54.2km) has to be the most fun. We’re walking in the dark, but the race organisers have set up a giant green laser beam that lances out into the night to guide you in. At this point we are crossing a beautiful large sand dune field, and buoyed up by an intoxicating cocktail of a hot meal, some serious codeine painkillers and a no-doze nizagara pill, we hammer through these at a terrific clip passing at least 20-30 people on the way. I think it helps that the whole leg was in soft sand, which is gentle on tender feet!
The dunes are eerily beautiful at night, the punishing heat from the day has gone and millions of stars have come out. With no big city lights to distract the eye the stars shine undiminished, and the crests of the dunes stretching before us are lit gently by the moon. My super-powerful ‘Ayup’ head torch beams out like my own personal lighthouse, which makes navigating through them a breeze!
Finally, as dawn breaks the finish line for this leg is in sight. We’re both weary and unbelievably sore in legs and feet, but (thank god) we now have a full day and night to rest and recover before tackling the final marathon stage.
DAY 8: THE END IS IN SIGHT! 42.2KM
This is it, the final official stage has arrived. For everyone who made it through yesterday, it’s now a case of seeing this through to the end to collect our medals at today’s finish line. Very few people bother running at the start, as we are all now veterens and know better than to start out hard, only to run out of energy later in the race. Plus, everyone is footsore, and I do mean everyone! Even the elite runners are nursing a blister or two by today. Yaroslav and I have both had to slice our shoes open to accomodate our ever-expanding feet, and to ease off the pressure on the blisters and sore spots we have accumulated.
So, to echo a famous poet, todays start begins not so much with a bang, but a whimper. But its a happy whimper at least! Everyone is all smiles and there’s something ridiculously funny about the way everyone limps to the start line like a bunch of geriatric 80-year olds.
Today turns out to be hottest yet, with temperatures again reaching 54 degrees, and long stretches of flat open terrain to navigate. Water is in tight supply today and we have to ration carefully between checkpoints. More than one person runs out before hitting resupply points along the route. Luckily I had over a litre left over from yesterday so I manage fine, but many competitors choose to take a 1/2 hour time penalty and grab and extra bottle at the checkpoints.
Our final 10km takes us through the ancient town of M’Fis, which used to be the home of people who worked the nearby lead mine. It’s in ruins now, but people still ghost about in doorways as we run through. It’s beyond strange, never have I felt more like I’m in a video game or a scene from Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones. The thought keeps me amused as I pass through, and only the guy snapping photos of all the girls passing by on his iphone spoils my role playing!
Finally I crest the last rise and the final finish line is in sight! Broken feet or not, I cannot help but break into a jog, which slowly accelerates as I run the last 3km home. Yaroslav is waiting for me just before the finish, and together we run the last 500m. Those of my Aussie teammates who finished before me are all lined up at the end, and I get a rousing cheer as I approach cross the finish line. Patrick Bauer is waiting with my medal, and in true French style I get a kiss on each cheek and a hug before he hangs it round my neck. It’s a hell of a rush, and one of the reasons this race is amazing, everyone is treated a winner regardless of where you are in the pack.
Together the Aussie team finishers wait until the rest of the group comes in, giving each victorious finisher a rousing cheer as they cross the line. We’re still anxiously awaiting for bomb-disposal expert Andy to come in though…his poor feet were in pretty rough condition yesterday and that, together with wearing the bomb suit today in 54 degree heat will make today very tough going for him. Finally, about 10 minutes before the final cut off time, we see him pelting (ok this is relative, kind of more a hobble-run) towards the finish line. Everyone goes nuts as he crosses and gets his medal from Patrick.
It’s a wonderful finale, everyone made it through and now is the time to celebrate. Tonight we are getting our first catered meal in a week, and wine too! The organisers have installed a stage and a band will be playing. Ironically most of the competitors are pretty shattered, and I admit, after my glass of red wine I’m back to our tent to pass out till the next morning.
DAY 9: HOMEWARD-BOUND! THE UNICEF CHARITY WALK 7KM
Today we Marathon Des Sables veterans will walk our final 7km through some spectacular sand dunes for the charity Unicef. It’s a untimed stage and family/friends are invited to join us so the whole day has a very relaxed, carnival atmosphere. It’s just as well as both Yaroslav and I have broken feet and we can only just manage a slow limping walk. Thank God the terrain is soft and sandy, it will be gentler on our tender feet!
All up it takes us about 3 hours to complete a mere 7km. On the way we go through some amazing sweeping dunes, complete with herds of camels and many curious locals!
Finally, though, we make it to the end where our coaches are waiting to ferry us back to Ouarzazate. All up the experience was outstanding and we have learnt a few lessons along the way to help for the next time we do something like this (2015 anyone?!).
My top 3 would have to be:
1. Take care of your feet from Day 1, they need to last you all the way!
2. Pack weight matters. We took more food than was necessary, and our packs wieghed up to 6kg more than some of our Aussie teammates!
3. Regiment your salt, water and calorie intake religously during the event. This will stop dehydration and keep you going when the conditions get tough.
The Marathon Des Sables is a superbly organised event and something I would recommend to anyone, the experience is well worth it!
SATURDAY, APRIL 13, 2013 – WE MADE IT!
Hurrah! We have both completed the MdS 2013. 230 km of blood, sweat and tears, that less than 800 Australians have managed to complete in the 28 years the race has been running.
Thanks to everyone for your support, see you back in OZ!