Half Marathons des Sables Series: Stage 1 of 5; Introduction to the race.
I write this as we sit on the first of two flights, travelling from Zurich to Lima, Peru. Why Lima? This is where the first ever edition of the Half Marathon des Sables Peru will be taking place, in 4 days time.
Some of you reading this will be familiar with the Marathon des Sables or MDS as its more commonly known. Often said to be the toughest footrace on the planet (although I would say that nowadays there are many extreme races available for those who seek them, and yes there are many who do!). The MDS covers 250km across the Sahara, and takes place around April time. What makes it so tough are a number of things; namely the terrain, and the fact that you have to be entirely self-sufficient during the 7-day stage race. Carrying all your kit, food, cooking and sleeping equipment for an entire week, running anything between 20km and 70km per day in extreme heat before settling down to freezing cold temperatures at night. Sounds pretty epic!
So what is the half MDS? Well it’s exactly what it says on the tin to be honest. 120km over 4 days in the desert, with two editions – Fuerteventura which has been successful for the past couple of years, and now further afield in Peru. The latter of which we, myself, along with my girlfriend Julia and friend Marcus, hope to complete. We will be running across the Ica Desert starting off near a town called Paracas on the western coast of Peru, about 4-5 hours by bus South from Lima. There are four day-stages to the race, which are structured as follows; 30km, 60km, rest day (or extension of day 2 depending on progress), and finally 30km. The terrain and conditions promise to be equally brutal, sand dunes and baked desert (naturally for December it´s their summer), and the same rules apply. We are required to carry all our food, clothes, medical kit, cooking and also sleeping equipment for the duration of the race. The only thing provided to us will be water throughout the stages and a tent over our head each night, other known as a bivouac.
So why the Half MDS and not the full? Well there is a long answer and there is a short answer. The long answer is that I´ve dreamed of running a week long multi stage race for many years, but it’s a tough sell. Entry fees upwards of £3,000 - £4,000 (gasp, yes people pay for this type of thing), significant time off work is required and various new jobs have got in the way. All excuses I know, but I feel it just hasn’t fallen into place. The short answer is that I had an opportunity to run this event through a good friend, fellow ASICS Frontrunner and accomplished athlete Marcus (@the marathonmarcus), I had enough holiday left in 2018 and I was looking for a new challenge. So, I jumped at the chance to try something new and to run with Marcus. For that I am extremely and genuinely grateful, so a big thank you to him. The other big plus is that my girlfriend Julia (@safarika) will also be running with us in Peru. Again, the opportunity arose and for that we have another friend and ASICS ambassador Matt (@thewelshrunner) to thank in an equally big way, along with WAA Expert Heidi (@trailrunningyogi) who helped facilitate this. A big thank you to Matt and Heidi. Who knows, this may well be the introduction I have been looking for into the so-called, longer stuff … but that’s for another day! I guess the point that I am trying to make here is that you can never surround yourself with enough good, likeminded people.
In order to make the best of this trip I want to cover a number of bases or ´stages´ (see what I did there?) through this blog series. This way I hope it will be both interesting for non runners or those starting off on their adventure or running journey, just as much as those looking to prepare for a similar race whether a marathon, multi stage or ultra distance event.
This Half MDS series will cover the following areas:
Stage 1: Introduction – you´re reading it, so thanks for getting this far!
Stage 2: Training - how best to prepare for an event of this nature, what types of sessions are appropriate and how to manage the mental aspect of running longer distances. This will be live post race so I can comment how effective this was in the end!
Stage 3: Race Kit - the million dollar blog. What to take, what not to take. Mandatory kit, essentials and medical kit. Feet, that’s a big issue. This will be published post race in order to give a better perspective on what worked well and what didn´t.
Stage 4: Nutrition – fuelling strategies for this race, and longer endurance events in general. Freeze dried foods, energy bars, gels and supplements. Also published post race to give the best possible view and feedback on this topic.
Stage 5: Race Report (regardless of how the race itself goes!) – my goal for any race is always to finish the race safely and healthily (that’s my mum´s mantra before each race I do!). This continues to be the number one priority, and a race report will hopefully be a great way to share the experiences had over the 4 days across the Ica Desert, regardless of what happens.
So, with that, I´ll bring to a close the first blog in this mini series. Let me know what you think or indeed if you´re running, it will be great to see you on the start line. Look out for Blog 2, all about training, and thanks again for reading.