Well I did it! I completed the toughest foot race in the world’, coming in 164th out of 1300 runners.

Now before I continue, this post is purely just on kit performance and tips for those who are interested in taking part in the this race. My race report will be in a separate post here.

So overall my kit performed really well and I was more than happy with it. With a decent overall finish and only 1 blister it’s safe to say my kit choices were right for me. Let’s take a look at each piece individually and if you missed my previous kit list article, check it out here. In that article you will find links to all the kit I bought.

Cap – The my race kit cap worked perfectly with the neck flap covering all the way round to the ears. However we had a very windy week so sometimes the neck flap was useless. People were wearing all sorts of caps/brands that did the job perfectly so don’t stress out too much about this one. Just get a breathable material and ideally in white.

Sunglasses – Again my sunglasses worked perfectly! £25 from Decathlon. No more needs to be said really, they were robust and sat snug on my face the whole time.

Buff – Did its job and I wore it over my neck the whole week. We also had a very windy/sandy day so I pulled it over my mouth and nose which worked well.

Top – I used a free t-shirt that I got from another race due to me not really suffering from nipple or armpit chafe. I had no problems whatsoever and I would recommend you use tops that you already have experience with. Save your money!!

Shorts – I loved these! I had no thigh rub at all! The compression liner was really great too and definitely helped with recovery. They held up well despite being like cardboard by the end. I brought them home and after a wash are as good as new! Great buy.

Socks – My Hilly Twin Skins were great, but I knew they would be as I’ve been running in them for a very long time and never had problems. I also took a pair of Smart Wool socks to change into on the last day. With me only getting 1 blister, I would say they worked well. However they worked well for ME and I cannot say they will for someone else, you need to experiment here.

Trainers – My Asics GT 2000 3 shoes did a perfect job. As I said, don’t get sucked into people telling you that one shoe works better than others. Brooks Cascadia’s are constantly being peddled as THE shoe for MdS. I met 3 people this year whose feet were in bits from wearing these shoes. I also know people whose feet were bad from wearing Asics too. Just like the socks, trainers are very individual, don’t change your brand just for this race, any shoe will work on the terrain. So you want a shoe that you have used for years and know works well. As for going a size up etc, I stuck with my normal size and felt that is why I didn’t get major blisters where some who went a ½ to a full size bigger did.

Backpack – My OMM 25l was awesome. It had pockets in the right places and more than enough room for all my gear. It sat snug and did not rub me at all and stood up perfectly to the arduous conditions. Again I scrubbed it in the bath on my return and it looks like new. A lot of people used the official MdS pack with 4 people in my tent using it. All said it was a good pack too but most got frustrated with the front pack on it. Again, test it thoroughly before you get out as some were wearing it for the first time out there!

Sleeping Bag – It got quite cold in the night and early morning. I didn’t feel any of it with my sleeping bag. The lightweight down and small packing size were more than worth the money alone. However I was so warm at night it was perfect for the conditions.

Stove – Warm food was such a morale boost so a stove was invaluable. The wind shield was a great addition to this and was needed on many occasions. However at nearly all camp sites there were plenty of rocks you could use as wind blocks. The stove, pot and spoon all worked fine and held up well.

Roll Mat – The Thermarest 2-lite foam mat did the job. It wasn’t as comfortable as an inflatable but as my tent mates will testify, they all hated the Thermarest inflatable. While it was comfy, it sounded like they were lying on crisp packets! It was so loud and noisy when they moved around on it! I think the foam option is more than adequate and the worry of punctures is not there too.

Sun cream – P20 SPF 50 is all you need. I applied it once per day and it worked perfectly. 100ml bottle more than lasted me for the week.

Wemi Wipes – Great! Really good for wiping yourself down after each day and weigh next to nothing. I had 3 tubes of 8 but could have done with an extra one.

Body Glide – I used it, but don’t think I needed it as it ran out after day 3 but I still had no chafe on days 4 and 5. Again though, that is unique to me. I would buy the bigger container as the small one didn’t last.

That pretty much sums up the main bits of kit! So what I want to do now is quickly summarise each bit and finish with some final tips and advice.

Cap – Anything will do (low priority).

Sunglasses – Anything will do (low priority).

Top – Whatever lightweight tops you already use! (Medium priority).

Shorts – What do you already use? DO they work? Use them! (High priority).

Socks – What do you already use? DO they work? Use them! (High priority).

Trainers – What do you already use? DO they work? Use them! (High priority).

Backpack – What do you already use? DOES it work? Use it! (High priority). Don’t use a pack? Have a think about what you want to take and consider the smallest possible pack. If you buy a bigger one, you will fill it!

Sleeping Bag – Depending on goals and bank balance will dictate how heavy your bag is. However you want it to go down to at least 5 degrees Celsius if not 0 degrees C.

Stove – Want hot food? Get a stove, it’s that simple. The Toaks one is a good option, but there are other ones that do the job too (medium priority).

Roll Mat – Foam is adequate but if you really wasn’t comfort inflatable is the way forward. Puncture risk is low but test it before going out! (High priority).

Sun cream – Just get the P20 stuff.

Hygiene – Wemi Wipes or baby wipes. Simple! Add to that some hand gel and use it regularly.

Anti-Chafe – Body Glide or Gurney Goo .

I just want to re-iterate the point from my previous post. Most of you will be experienced runners who have used loads of kit and know what works for you. Use it! Don’t let MdS make you think that your experience doesn’t count and certainly don’t take the FB groups advice as gospel. If someone tells you that a bit of kit is the best with regards to the running itself, trainers, socks etc it was best for THEM. Doesn’t mean it will work for you! So don’t waste hours of your life like I did getting 30 different answers to what kit I should use. I got annoyed and stressed and decided to go with my own experience and had a great race. Trust in yourself!

Finally some last tips:

–          Know how to use a compass.

–           Have a good variety in your food.

–          Try and keep your pack under 10kg.

–          Test everything before you get out there!

–          Be ruthless with pack contents!

–          Speak to one person who has done it before, rather than hundreds. It’s a minefield of stress!

–          Practice sleeping outdoors and get used to doing admin in poor conditions for a few days straight.

 

If you have any further questions or want some advice please don’t hesitate to get in touch! info@warriorstrength.co.uk

Marathon des Sables – 250km of running over 6 days, carrying all your kit and equipment, rationed water and living in Bedouin tents. Oh and it takes place in the Sahara!

That, in a nutshell, is what I have just completed. Classed as ‘the toughest foot race in the world’, over 1300 competitors took part in its 30th edition, covering terrains from soft sand to mountain climbs and everything in between.

After a flight and 8 hour coach journey we arrived in the desert at our first camp site. There we spent two days sorting out kit and finding a tent to stay in. Once we were happy with our backpacks we had to hand over our remaining luggage to be stored away until the finish. We were then given our salt tablets, gps tracker, had our medical forms checked and given race numbers. It was a slow and tedious process and gave us a chance to experience the heat that would accompany us on our runs.

After all was done my pack weighed around 7.9kg without water which was just right for me. Some people had packs weighing 14-15kgs! Insane! I was in tent 141 sharing with 7 other people who were all great. We had some top laughs over the week and rallied together to support each other when help was needed. The only downside was we all made an agreement that the first person back each day would clear the stones from under the rug we slept on and collect rocks to hold the canopy down when it got windy. Who got back first each day? You guessed it!

So now that all the checks were done, we had our tents sorted and had one last proper meal, it was time to turn in ready for day 1 of the race.

Day 1 – 36.2km with 2 checkpoints. I was awake at 5am and didn’t sleep too well as my stomach hadn’t been right since I arrived. I was straight into military routine, started the food cooking while I washed myself, brushed my teeth and sorted my kit for the day. This became morning routine each day and was like second nature to me. I then went and collected my 3l of water for which you had a card that got punched each time you were given the allocated water. From there it was a brief bit of relaxation before heading to the start. This is where all 1300 runners converged to listen to Patrick Bauer (race organiser) give us a brief about the day, tell us who’s birthday it was that day and any other announcements. He did like to talk! I just wanted to run! However it wasn’t long before the countdown began, ACDC’s Highway to Hell started playing full blast and I was running.

The route was fairly straight forward with the majority of it rocky and flat. There were some small climbs and some soft sand but on the whole a fairly steady introduction. I was feeling great the whole way round and kept up a good pace (the pace I practiced) but it caught up with me towards the end. I finished it in 4 hours and 40 mins placing 136th but it was too fast. I felt rotten when I got back to the bivouac and having to clear stones and collect rocks was a mission itself!

Day 2 – 31.1km with 2 checkpoints. This was known as the Jebel (mountain) day. We had 3 major climbs that day – all were challenging in different ways with some longer but more gradual and some short and steep. It was tough going but my steadier pace served me well and I felt good the whole way round. I completed the day in 4 hours and 43 mins placing 216th. I also felt much better in camp!

Day 3 – 36.7km with 2 checkpoints. My stomach was still really bothering me and I just didn’t feel up for it. I think I was also very apprehensive about the long stage the following day. The route had a LOT of soft sand and dunes and the temp apparently reached 51 degrees Celsius! I struggled to gain any momentum on the sand and it just sucked the life out of me. It was at this stage that I also realised I should have added some more carb based snacks to my food supplies as I was crashing. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I struggled to eat my Clif Bars out there, something I could not have foreseen. The route finished with a horrendous climb up a soft, sandy Jebel with 2 false summits! I was in auto pilot at this point, head down and just get over the finish line. I never felt like quitting, but the last few km were mentally challenging. I completed the course in 5 hours and 41 mins and came 344th, a bit of a drop in the rankings but I was more concerned with what came next.

Day 4 – 91.7km with 7 checkpoints. I was nervous all through the night before and the morning leading up to this one. I had never ran this distance before and I knew there was a lot of soft sand on this stage. The route was 26 miles more than I had ever done before so basically a marathon on top of my longest run! I had sorted out a trade with one of my tent mates and got some gels and energy shots to help me along the way. I got a good routine going with the food and by CP 4 I was feeling great! Between 4 and 5 was a bit of a struggle with the soft sand and dunes but with the right food I battled on. CP 5 was amazing. There was a small jazz band playing live with deck chairs laid out. It was so surreal when you looked around and there was just desert as far as you could see! I only stopped for about 8 mins so didn’t get to fully appreciate it but it was a great boost!

From there it was getting dark and there were lots of times where all I could see were the faint glow of a light stick in the distance marking my route. I was mainly alone for the rest of the race but felt great and picked up the pace for a strong finish. I completed it in 14 hours and 46 mins placing 167th which I was so chuffed with! It was a huge weight off my shoulders. I went to sleep but a few hours later one of my tent mates arrived and then shared some McCoy’s crisps with me and it was THE best moment ever! We both sat there staring at the floor, minds blank, savouring the flavour of flame grilled steak. I say sat there, I was wrapped in my sleeping bag only my eyes showing while he posted McCoy’s into my hand through the gap.

Day 5 – 42.2km (marathon) with 3 checkpoints. I felt really good as we had had a full rest day (well some of us had) and also enjoyed a cold can of coke! The route was relatively flat and stony but with some dunes. I was determined to go hard and that’s what I did. I dominated the dunes and finally got a good rhythm going to finish the course in 4 hours and 37 mins and placed 98th! What a finish! I got my medal and I genuinely wanted to cry, I felt so emotional and it didn’t feel real at first. I had done it! I completed MdS! Not only that I felt great, my feet were good, my kit worked well and my body felt ready to do more. All that was left was an 11km walk for charity the next day but I knew I was going to take that one easy.

Overall I came 163rd with a total time course time of 34 hours and 27 mins which I couldn’t be happier about. I had a goal of top 500 which I was well within and obviously I survived.

The race was, in my opinion, all mental toughness. There were generous cut off times each day so you could walk the whole thing and complete it. So you could make it as hard as you want to which is where the mental side comes in. There was one point on the long day where I was actually shouting at the sand, cursing it for its existence as it sucked the life out of me. Those are the kinds of challenges you deal with. Living in shitty conditions for 7 days, eating freeze dried meals and carrying all your gear adds to that challenge. However it was more than worth it. I spent so many occasions just looking to my left and right, taking in the beautiful, quiet surroundings, no music, no technology, just me and the desert. It was an amazing feeling, something I will never forget and to be honest, already miss.

When I was training for it, I said never again after all the stress it caused me, but now that I know what I’m capable of there is a feeling of emptiness and wondering what to do next. It won’t be for at least a couple of years but my thirst for extreme challenges wasn’t quenched by MdS.

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