The Marathon des Sables In The Limelight
It won't be long before you'll be standing at the start line of one of the hardest marathon races in the world, the Marathon des Sables.
The following 9 best marathon tips will help you to keep an eye on the most important aspects and facts of the most well-known desert race.
Tip #1: When it comes to running training, many people think they need to carry 18kgs. backpacks during long runs. Honestly, it's wiser to invest time into core strength exercises and keep the heavy weight off your back until race week. I personally trained with a 3kg backpack a few times and had absolute confidence that I would survive carrying 10 kgs through the sahara for 6 days.
And I did just fine. By training too much with a backpack full of rocks you'll only increase the risk of forcing an injury. And there is no time for that now. At the end of the day, it's your legs and feet doing the work for you running through the sahara desert sands. Therefore gently strengthening ankles, feet and knees with your own body weight is more beneficial.
Tip #2: Train off-road as much as possible. It's excellent training, creates a lot of variation and trains you to stay focused and concentrated on what's lying ahead in the sahara desert Ideally, wear the running shoes you're likely going to wear during the race three out of five or six times that you're running. The running shoes you'll be wearing during one of the most challenging marathon races need to be at least 1.5 sizes bigger than your usual running shoes.
Tip #3: Cut out the junk miles. In the remaining weeks prior to the race make sure to keep up the quality. Whenever you feel short of time, invest 20-30 minutes into core and weight exercises instead of going for a 30-minute jog. Junk miles are a waste of time except for when you're in a recovery phase after having raced an ultramarathon. Keep up back-to-back long runs, one hill interval and one tempo run per week and you'll cope well running one of the most interesting and inspiring marathon races.
Tip #4: Your feet will naturally be under a lot of strain and need special care and attention. Now is the right time to test different tapes during your training. I've used leukotape both in training and during the MdS. I'd tape the toes that are prone to blistering. The tape stays on during hours of running and I never had to worry about getting blisters. I only got three little blood blisters during the race. Never ever use compeed, though. It'll stick like glue to your skin caused by the extreme heat. Think simplicity as one layer of leukotape will decrease the risk of blistering.
Some people use special cremes but from experience, the tape serves as a protective layer between the skin of your feet and the material of your socks.
Tip #5: Gaiters are pretty much a must-have. The offical darbaroud shop offers special sahara desert gaiters whereas some runners prefer gaiters that cover the whole lower leg. Again, from experience, the short red gaiters proved to be a good choice. They come with a velcro strip that you're supposed to glue on with super glue, for example. That's not a guarantee that the gaiters will stay on escpecially when you have to cross bushes and very rocky terrain. Find a shoemaker that'll sew the velcro along the outer contour of your running shoes. This worked wonders as I never had to empty my shoes from sand and the gaiters stayed on for the entire race.
Tip #6: Use trekking poles if you think you'll be mainly walking the course. In most ultra marathon races participants are allowed to use poles. Even some top runners have them ready to use when they feel the need. Practice the appropriate technique in your training. Try and improve your stride walking or running uphill with the poles, about 1-2 a week. It's great training for your upper body and hamstrings. These days, there are many light-weight trekking poles to choose from and they don't take up a lot of room in your backpack that you'll be carrying through the sahara desert.
Tip #7: Optimize your equipment to the last item you think you're going to need. There is obviously obligatory equipment you need to have with you during the entire race and plenty of calories for seven days. It's worth refining your equipment lists over and over again. The nights can get very cold and while the body is dehydrated you'll get cold much easier.
Therefore my compromise was to invest into a warmer and heavier sleeping bag but skip an extra mat, extra running outfits, too much food and other extras. The days are pretty much all about running, resting, drinking, eating and sleeping. I started the race with just under 10 kgs including 1,5 litres of water and electrolyte drink. Take a look at this special MdS equipment list provided by Robert Pollhammer of racelite which can give you more ideas on how to optimise your gear.
Tip #8: Marathon races like the MdS require you to carefully select the food you'll need to take for a week, it's generally the case that women are storing more fat in their bodies and can cope just fine with less calories compared to the daily caloric expenditure that suits the average man. Therefore it's a very individual matter as to how much food you want to take with you.
I've seen runners eat a three-course-meal every night and others that survived on nuts and energy bars. Still, a warm hearty meal enjoyed under the starry sky in the sahara desert really feels good especially if you've been drinking and eating mainly sweet foods during the stage. Ran, who was in 'my' tent had curries for breakfast and beef jerky en route. At night, he'd also have a curry and barely anything sweet to eat. The bottom line is that you need to test your food in training in order to find out whether you're stomach can deal better with sweet or savoury foods. Also take into account that you'll have to improvise in the desert since different climates can change your body's reactions to food.
Tip #9: Mental training is a staple part of your training and should be high on the priority list when you're about to be running one of the most beautiful marathon races in the world. If you haven't already started visualizing certain parts of the race, then it's time to do so. Deeply relaxing meditations will help you to channel your energies needed in the race and access inner strenghts to prepare you for the long stage. Creating a vision board can support to manifest your ultimate Marathon des Sables goal. It only takes 20 minutes 3-4 times per week to deepen your confidence that you will finish the race when you first decided to sign up for the race. Hang on to that first vision and pull through the highs and lows during the marathon. Good luck!
Marathon races like the Marathon des Sables let you discover new facets and strengths of your personality. Anyone can finish this race through the stunningly beautiful sahara desert if they've prepared for all eventualities that could occur.
Nothing can be planned to absolute perfection but feeling fully prepared for such marathon races can add to making it an even more memorable and enjoyable experience.
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