Translation “Sand Marathon – the day will come”
And don’t I know it. In approximately 170-odd days I will be at the start of what has been hailed the toughest race on earth. Whether or not you believe the hype about what is a ridiculously expensive multi-day race, one thing is for sure, it’s going to be a ruddy good adventure.
It’s taken me a long time to write this post because unlike most of the other races that I do, I have to come to terms with what I’m about to embark on.
What is the Marathon des Sables?
It’s a self-sufficient, multi-stage race across the Sahara where you can expect to find yourself battling temperatures of up to 55 degrees centigrade. And by self-sufficient, I mean you have to carry everything with you for the entire duration of the trip, which comprises of six stages (most stages are marathons but the long stage is a double marathon and as next year is the 30th year, we’ve been promised surprises!). That means food, water, sleeping bag (as it can become rather chilly when the sun goes down), toothbrush, soap and anything else you may happen to need. Forget flat roads and smooth tarmac, the terrain out there varies from sand dunes to teeny rocks that get into your shoes. The blisters from past participants are so gruesome that they can put you off your dinner…for life…And you have the opportunity to sleep under the stars, well almost, as the tents look like a very basic version of a yurt. You have to carry whatever you choose to sleep with too and share the space with seven other people. To put it into perspective, of the 1029 people (I think) who entered last year, 917 finished – around 10% abandoned the race.
So why am I taking part?
Besides being a glutton for punishment, the Marathon des Sables appeals to a side of me that likes to push myself to the extremes. There will be no crowds cheering me on just rocks, dunes, hills and planes of desert with all the terrain that comes with an arid landscape. Some days I’ll want to enjoy the silence and solitude, while on others I know that it’ll be the company of a talking book or music that will get me through. Whatever it is, I’m drawn to the challenge of completing this tougher than tough Marathon des Sables.
Of course, my family and friends are worried. I had to broach the subject carefully with the boyf. The conversation went – “Honey, if I really, really wanted to do something, you would support me wouldn’t you” He replied sternly – “If you’re talking about the Marathon des Sables then NO”.
I understand, I really do, why he is concerned. (And I finally talked him through what I was going to do.) But it can be sometimes difficult to articulate the exact reasons why you want to run across the desert. In my mind, I feel like I’m ready to do this. Ready to explore the unknown territory, listen to those who have completed the race before me and yet make my own way towards the finish line.
What will I have to do over the next few months?
As I said above, I’m constantly looking for advice and picking up tips on the way from the likes of the amazing Susie Chan and Cat Simpson (who has not only just completed Atacama – the equivalent race in South America – but was placed second woman). I’m heading to Vietnam next week for a fortnight but once back I return, my current training regime will be shifting up a gear or two.
I know I need to be realistic, I do have a day job which I enjoy but as it’s a 9 to 5 and sometimes later, I need to be flexible with my training plan. As well as competing in a few Trail marathons, multi-day races, upping my speed and hill work plus cross-country (which Danny Kendall who finished fifth in this year’s Marathon des Sables swears by), I’m also planning to go on some long walks in the country at weekends. This is something that I can do with my non-running boyfriend, made even more appealing by a spot of lunch in a country pub. During the week, I’m going to try Bikram yoga and sitting in a sauna. And sand dunes, well, I want to head to Camber sands or the Norfolk coast at least twice before April. It’s a semblance of a plan and it will take shape over the next few weeks. I’m pretty realistic and will not beat myself up if say I cannot stick to it day-by-day, but I think simply having a plan that I can stick to will boost my confidence as well as my fitness levels.
And finally, and equally as important, the question of kit (I have a Berghaus rucksack to test at this weekend’s race) springs to mind. What to wear? should I take a sleeping bag? All this needs to be considered now, well before Father Christmas decides to pay a visit down my chimney. Then there’s the fuel or food, which is my biggest weakness. I know I cannot live off a packet of Liquorice Allsorts for the entire duration of the race. Well, I could but I probably wouldn’t finish. It’s time to get serious and think about what I can really stomach in the desert (a mix of salty Supernoodles, Oats + Chia, Chia Charge flapjacks, Chia Tea latte powder, some sort of hot chocolate/strawberry milkshake, dried fruit, sweets and seeds is what I’m currently thinking will suit me).
Plenty of stuff to try out before Christmas and think about. In fact apologies to my mates and family as this will be high up my priority list. Scrap that, number one priority. I guess you could say that the Marathon des Sables adventure does not start when I step on that plane next year (4 April 2015). It has already begun.
Am I crazy? Yes but that’s just the way it is. To get me in the mood for Morocco, I’ve been listening to a famous Algerian artist called Khaled. His song “Le jour viendra” is a bit of a mix of Arabic melody and French lyrics. Give it a go…
Etait-ce vrai ou bien n’était-ce qu’un rêve ?
Oh… Le jour viendra