Tag Archives: Marathon des Sables

More than just a race

Marathon des Sables was more than just a race. It was incredible. There is so much I could tell you about it, but here is an overview!

During a six hour coach ride from Ouarzazate airport in Morocco to the start point of the race we were presented with ‘the roadbook’. The coach avidly scanned the book, I think many to see how long the longest day in the history of the race would actually be (92km)!

Eventually we pulled off the road, into the darkness……with head torches on we made for the bivouac to find our home for the week. Tent 115 ‘Yorkshire tent’ turned out to be a very happy place. The eight of us shared highs and lows and made fantastic memories – some painful – together.

So, these are the distances which we tackled and a few of the high and low points of each day.
Stage 1 – 36.2 km (22.6 mile)
At daybreak we were informed of a new time zone ‘race time’. It was actually only 6am when we thought it was 7am. ETAPE1_E_SAMPERS_MDS2015-6666That left 3 hours till the start. Before we set off we formed a 30 shape to represent the 30th anniversary of the race. You can just see the Yorkshire flag in the bottom right of the zero. Then there was 30 minutes of race briefing/welcome from race organiser Patrick Bauer – in French. The English translation lasted about 1 minute. Good luck – stay safe! John and I got separated from the rest of our tent and ended up starting with some of our our tent neighbours.P1000072 We slowly caught and passed all our tent mates. Jay ran with us for a while. It took at least an hour to catch Fe and Simon. The stage started flat with some small climbs throughout the day. Tent mates Paul and Ben passed us again in a check point while we were having a routine change of socks (blister prevention). We later caught them again and spent an hour or so all together. Day one finished with a climb and a descent into camp. We ran strong into the finish. All of tent 115 back safe and not long between us.
Stage 2 – 31.1 km (19.4 mile)
This stage was stunning. A flat start and then a big climb. 360 panoramic views from the top. The scenery so dramatic and big. We soon had a river crossing and then a proper dune which turned into another big climb. We then set off in the now heat of the day across a huge plain surrounded by mountains. After a few miles we could see a check point, still miles away – there was a helicopter there which looked like something out of a kinder egg (so far away!). As we got closer we could still see no way out of this ‘bowl’ which we were in. But then we could see – along the right ridge of this dune and over the top! I reverted to a kid on an adventure and the excitement combined with knowing the finish was over the other side I ran ahead of John. The descent was brilliant, rough like a Yorkshire fell before a few km of little dunes which were lots of fun to ‘surf’ down. I finished the day with another Yorkshire participant and arrived back 3rd from tent 115. This was my favourite day of the race.
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Stage 3 – 36.7 km (22.9 miles)
Wow – it was hot today. Really hot. The morning had lots of rocky terrain which was very runnable. Then we had to cross a huge cracked lake bed. P1000205Before traversing plenty of dunes.
P1000241Again we finished with a decent climb and a descent to the finish. This time though the big climb wasn’t the last climb and over the summit there was another one! I decided I wanted to try and finish in the same time as the first day, so cracked on in the heat over the last few km, finishing only slightly behind the first day time, but much higher up the positions.
Again we spent plenty of time taking photos and I think JB even thought he was on his holidays!
Stage 4 – 91.7 km (57.3 miles)
What can I say about this. We started in 40 mph winds up a huge sand dune, not conducive to running so we conserved energy. The descent was awesome and made up for the hellish hour it took to get there! The wind settled a bit but it was tough going to CP1, so more walking. The windy weather meant I missed my morning cuppa. Once I realised that was probably the cause of my lethargy I popped some caffeine nuuns and felt much better. The day passed. The heat was immense in the middle of the day. Sunset was beautiful. We were by a ruin as the sun went down. It was really stunning. At the same time we stumbled on camel carcasses and to quote a fellow northern runner “even camels can’t survive here”! At 7pm head torches were compulsory and glow sticks were activated. Now we followed yellow glow sticks of people and green glow sticks of markers. After dinner at a check point and a scary encounter with a camel spider (like a scorpion but white) we pressed on. Dunes. Lots and lots of dunes. Hours and hours of dunes. Amongst the dunes was a checkpoint with deckchairs and sultan tea. It was so welcome but we didn’t stop long. At the next checkpoint we befriended Mark whose GPS emergency tracker had failed. The three of us trudged on like zombies through the night. Sunrise brought hope and life again. My legs which were agony with fatigue felt better. We were greeted by camels on what seemed like camel race track. Somehow we ran together the last km to the finish. It was nearly 7am. We needed extra direction to find the bivouac! It was in the same place as usual! Ben and Paul were already asleep. We were next back. Quick recovery shake, wash, change and sleep. 2 hours later I was awake and my legs were throbbing despite me sleeping with them raised on my bag. I got up and walked back to the finish line and sat wrapped in my sleeping bag watching people finish. It wasn’t until the afternoon that the remainder of our tent mates arrived back. I enjoyed the rest day and ate 3 meals which was a treat! Even better we all got a can of cold coke in the afternoon. At 8pm ish we all went to watch the last runners cross the line…..
Stage 5 – 42.2 km (26.4 miles)
The marathon stage. Today we started early, about 7:20 by the time Patrick had wished us all well. It was cooler and I felt great. So did JB and Ben. We ran together. We ran well all the way to CP2. No conserving energy up hill or in dunes. We just ran, except when we stopped for photos with wild camels! The ground was uneven and rocky but hard – perfect for a runner from Yorkshire! At CP2 I urged my running buddies to go ahead. I was fading and they were strong. It was nice to have time alone in some very pretty and quite large sand dunes. This is when the emotions hit. I had less than 15km till JC_S7255the end of the Marathon des Sables and I felt good. I was going to do it!! After a few km of choking back the tears whilst walking and soaking it all in I started to run again. I passed people, including Graham Bell (he might have led me by a long way all week but now I was beating a former Olympian in a marathon!!). I encouraged my tent neighbour as we went into the last 5km. It was never ending but I just kept running! My recently (a mind game with myself in the final few km of the race to motivate me to keep running) set target being to beat my time from day 2 (which was 10km shorter). The finish didn’t arrive. Garmin said 42 km and no finish in sight. I stopped looking at garmin and kept running. Eventually I summitted a rise and the finish was there – only a few hundred metres more. I crossed the line. I had finished the marathon des sables!!
I missed my fastest stage time by a few minutes but I was ecstatic! All my tent mates finished too. That evening we were  given a can of beer and we celebrated together. We did it!
And then we had to do the Charity stage – 11.5 km (7 miles) – this is not officially part of the MdS but it wasJC_S9140 compulsory! We were still in self sufficiency mode too so still no shower in sight. For this day we were all given a clean t shirt! As a tent we walked together. It was so good to be with the team who I had shared this journey with.

Since I have been back there have been a few reoccurring questions that I am asked, so in case you are wondering too:

How do you feel?Are you aching?
I have been super tired, but no aches and pains to report. I am feeling about back to normal now.
P1000070Did you get to meet Ranulph Fiennes?
Ran was in the tent next door but one so we saw him most days. He seemed a very lovely man. Here is a picture with Ran and his coach Rory at the start on the first day.
Was it really ‘the toughest footrace on earth’?
During the long stage I realised that yes it probably was! The culminative effect of the previous days running, sleeping under canvas in the wind and the calorie deficit combined with an absolutely hellish route was pretty punishing. That said, I haven’t completed any of the other races also claiming this title, so can only conclude that it was certainly tough.
Did you get blisters?P1000384
A small one on my little toe. This is it on the bus ride back to Ouarzazate. It popped in the shower at the hotel and disappeared for good.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely! The camaraderie of camp life was unbelievable. I have laughed so much. Race organisation was spot on (aside from lots of queueing) and the scenery was out of this world…..But I am in no rush – there are plenty of other places to go and see first….
So what’s next? How will you top this?
I don’t know yet! For now, I am going to enjoy the sofa and relish in the feeling of completing the Marathon des Sables.
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A bit of a change

The last couple of weeks have brought some variation to my training. In addition to my usual off road moor runs I have enjoyed some long road runs home from work, a beach and dune run and running with a much heavier pack – although I didn’t enjoy the latter much and cycling.

Work hard, run home

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So road running is not really my thing but after struggling to motivate myself out into the freezing cold after returning to a warm home following a long day at work I decided it best to cut out that step! The next day I changed straight into my running gear, filled my pack with all my work gear and set off running home. As many people have pointed out to me (and I already realised!) work to home is all up hill. I chose a ‘scenic’ even hillier route and feeling like forrest gump off I trotted home. Nearly 13 miles. Lots of busy road crossings. 2.5 hours. Training done for the day. The following week I did it twice. This week will bring it again.
What took me slightly by surprise on these runs has been my ability to zone out and take my mind elsewhere – a skill which I’m sure will serve me well in the desert! With most of my running being shared with the company of great friends or being off road and concentrating on the next step I haven’t experienced this complete zone out for a while.

Beach run

Woah – sand dunes make your legs burn! Especially with 6kg in your back pack – but this is nothing compared to miles of dunes with up to 10kg on your back which I will be experiencing soon. All said though I loved my day at the beach (Druridge bay) made even better by the company of my two oldest and bestest friends, one with her beautiful newborn son. Part of my beach running involved dune reps back to my friends who soon sent me on the next rep!! Lovely food and a good catch up followed. Fantastic day. I learnt some valuable lessons about how to ascend and descend dunes, how it feels to have sand in your shoes and a but about how sand moves. All this sounds really obvious but you think about things in a different light when you are heading to the Sahara for a week. It has helped me decide on sock choice (injinji toes socks with my usual running socks on top), shoe size (with the double socks and knowing my feet swell I am going for a UK size bigger for my race shoe) and also encouraged me to add some steep hill reps in the coming weeks training.
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Pack weight

I have become perfectly happy with 5kg in my pack for long hilly runs. An increase to 7.5kg was a shock (especially as I thought I only had 6kg until l got home and weighed it properly!). At no point was I going to abort my 15 mile run but I was much slower than usual and forced to walk most of the climbs. I am confident that I will soon become accustomed to the heavier weight as I did with 5kg.
I also find it mildly entertaining to fill my pack with bags of muesli and rice to get the weight up.
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Food

In an attempt to get the best calories per gram for food I actually like I have a spreadsheet to add the information to. This also includes macronutrient content so that I can try and have enough carbohydrate during the day and fill up on protein and fat at night. Dehydrated foods seem the best option. John, Simon and I got together and had an MDS picnic (whilst watching Genis’ webinar) to try a few. We tried four. For me – two were ok, even pretty nice – one was unpleasant but edible and the fourth just revolting!! I love my food and will eat most things but am at my fussiest when I am tired. So it is going to be really important for me psychologically to know that I’m going to eat food I like at the end of each day in the desert. While it is expensive to keep trying these dehydrated foods I need to find another that I like. I have sorted my snacks though. 9bar! I love them! The peanut ones are 290kcal for 50g weight and they taste like food not just energy goo. I am also taking some pumpkin bars (250kcal/50g) and the breakfast bars. Twiglets, jelly beans, granola, allsports desert survival formula and pot noodle will constitute the rest of my food in the desert.

Cycling

Riding my bike has been on the back burner with run training taking priority. The last few weeks have been me on my bike more often, mostly for active travel. I have really enjoyed it. It is in addition to my runs but I feel like it has taken pressure off running somehow.

MDS dreams

Scorpions, being hungry, being stuck on a treadmill going nowhere….are featuring in my dreams during the last week! I can tell the event is getting closer…..

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How many miles?

Many people have asked me what the format is for the Marathon des Sables – is it a marathon every day? Sort of…..The exact distance and route for this years Marathon des Sables is not announced until we (the competitors) arrive in the desert. To give you an idea, this is what the 2014 race looked like:

  • Day 1 – 34km (21.3 miles)
  • Day 2 – 41km (25.6 miles)
  • Day 3 – 37.5km (23.4 miles)
  • Day 4 – 81.5km  (50.9 miles)
  • Day 5 – rest day (but only once I have finished day 4 – which could be during this day!)
  • Day 6 – 42.2km (26.4 miles)
  • Day 7 – charity walk (!) Back to the bus 7.7 km (4.8 miles)

Total 152.4 miles!!!

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The 2015 route will not be the same but the format will likely be similar. Now you can all share the miles with me! My race number is 0414. Once the race starts you will be able to track me online (I will send all the details round again before I leave).

A couple of people have said that they would like to sponsor me by the mile for the Intensive Care Foundation. Just Giving cannot process this on their site – they can only take payment at the time of the sponsorship pledge. If anyone would like to pledge per mile, you could comment on this blog post and then donate via http://www.justgiving.com/michellemorris-mds when I complete the event. This way you can experience every mile with me from your pockets!

Please pledge your donation in the ‘Leave your reply’ box below.

Some suggestions:

  • 1p per mile = £1.50
  • 5p per mile = £7.50
  • 10p per mile = £15.00
  • 20p per mile = £30.00
  • 50p per mile = £75.00

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February 13, 2015 · 8:56 pm

More wind, more snow and a brass monkey

Well the Yorkshire winter weather continues to test my mental toughness. Character building I am told…The odd thing is I am loving it :o)

Last weekend James (my boyfriend) and I treated ourselves to a weekend at the lovely Harewell Cottage (www.harewellcottage.co.uk) in Glasshouses. Only 40 minutes from home, but a new set of training routes on the doorstep. Once the training is done, there were no distractions aside from the log fire and complementary vino. Perfect blend of training and rest. On Saturday we enjoyed an 11 mile hilly loop, walking together, with my backpack loaded (I have an Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 from my race kit – so far it is great. The service from ‘My Race Kit’ was excellent – but more about that in the kit blog which I will write soon. There was plenty of snow on the ground but the really challenging bit was the frozen ice – and there was lots of that too. Despite James’ best Bambi on ice impressions it was me that ended up on my derrière! Ouch. It didn’t dampen the mood though and we treated ourselves to a lovely cafe lunch in Pateley bridge on the way back.

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Sunday was real treat for me – a cycle ride. Something which I haven’t done for weeks – well maybe months! There is a reason why the area is called Nidderdale ANOB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

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A beautiful 30 odd mile loop past Brimham rocks, into Masham and back over Lofthouse Moor – what more could you want. What about 30-40 mph wind? Yes – we got that too. Full on head wind over the moor. I saw the speed on my garmin drop as low as 2.5 mph. I felt like I had done battle with a  wild animal the next day – I had needed to rag the handlebars that much to get up the climb into the wind. James waited gingerly at the top, nervous of a potential of a tantrum but he was greeted with ear to ear smiles. It was so much fun – ridiculously tough – but just ace! I enjoyed a nice 10 mile run on Monday morning – such a treat when I’m usually at work. A sports massage in the afternoon topped the weekend off well.

All this followed a different kind of weekend where I had a brief foray with road running. I raced the Brass Monkey half marathon at York. The race conditions lived up to the name – it was freezing! With the exception of large sections of black ice en route it was near perfect running conditions. Despite all my long slow training miles I surprised myself to carry off 8 minute (well 8:04) miles to run a pb of 1:46:28. I also surprised myself to quite enjoy it. When I completed the same race in 2012 I said ‘never again’. I found the fast, flat smooth roads incredibly boring. I missed the hills, the mud, the bogs, gates and styles, but this time it was all a mind game. There will be flat endless sections in the desert where it will be mind over matter to keep going. So Brass Monkey was a test of the mind. I couldn’t let it beat me and it didn’t. I might even go back next year – the marshals all around the course were second to none and really made it a fantastic race. Getting to catch up with a very old friend at the finish made it a fab day out.

Today the mind games continued as again my training ventured away from the usual routine. I caught the train with Fe and Simon (MDS training buddies) to Skipton to walk/run back along the canal. When we live in such a beautiful area with open moorland, fantastic trails and woodland I rarely bother with the canal bank. I didn’t ask any questions about the walk/run routine. I assumed it would just be mostly running with a bit of walking to break it up. My pack today weighed in just short of 5kg again (3 bags of porridge oats today’s weight of choice). Only when we set off did I realise the session was much more formal – Simon set his watch to beep every 2 minutes. 2 minute run, 2 minute walk, 2 minute run, 2 minute walk…..It was fun with good company. We nearly had the extra laugh of Simon slipping into the canal, but he corrected himself just in time. After 2 hours of 2 minutes run, 2 minutes walk I chose to keep running. I needed to be back in time for lunch and I was pleased with myself for sticking it out for 2 hours. Simon, having done MDS before, assures me this will serve me in good stead for the desert. I am happy with another 19 miles in the bank today.

This weekend has been topped off with a couple of hours picking the brains of a friend of a friend who competed in the 2014 MDS – with a fantastic top 100 finish (I’m in awe of that!). Some great tips and kit to try and a photo slide show. My giddiness and excitement reached a new high…..bring on next weeks training :o)

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A windy weekend in Yorkshire

I love living in Yorkshire. It is a truly beautiful county – especially when the sun shines! This weekend it was still beautiful but also brutal! Average winds were 20 miles per hour with gusts over 4o miles per hour. Intermittent hail stones joined the party.

The training plan was 2 x 20 mile runs with a 4-5kg pack. In the wind – do you run in the shelter of woods with the risk of falling branches and trees? do you run on the sheltered but incredibly boring canal bank? or do you get on with it and stick to the planned route taking in the highest point on the moors? We stuck mostly to the plan! Saturday, our training group was 4 – John, Fiona, Renee and I. We started with a 12 mile loop around the twelve apostles (to include the ritual circumnavigation of the stones) on Ilkley moor, returning over the Odda. John and I then continued on another 8 mile loop to make it up to 20 miles! We were blown to pieces. the reservoirs looked tidal. But it was fun….

Sunday – time to do it all again. The weather forecast was colder but stiller. Well it was colder but the wind was extreme. Rombolds stride route in reverse (less the top corner). 8 miles in 2.5 hours moving time. The headwind was ridiculous. We could barely move forwards on Ilkley moor. It was more like crawling than walking, let alone running. Occasionally tiny hail stones would batter us in the face – training for sandstorms in the desert – that kept cycling through my mind! Eventually we reached Keighley mast as the bigger hail stones set in. As we turned towards home we had the pleasure of a tail wind. The hail stones ricocheted off our head and shoulder, but with every stride we moved an extra few feet. I loved the running and hop skipping with the wind propelling us. I stopped to wait for John who complemented me on my chicken impression as I flapped my way along the stone flags – but it worked and I had fun for the first time on the run.

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A somewhat delirious photo, Sunday on Ilkley moor.

Eventually we made it home again, exhausted but pleased to have set out and achieved the plan. Lots of stretching, a hot bath and feet up in front of the fire followed for me :o)

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Snow is like sand….right?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year all.

It’s been a busy few weeks of running…and eating….and socialising! I am feeling happy with how my training and preparation is going despite some recent over indulgence!!

Is it all going according to plan?

I revisited my plan in my previous blog post. Some of it is exactly on track. Some elements haven’t happened – but I have learnt some things about myself and understand why. I am typically running 30-40 miles a week, sometimes more. I go to hot yoga weekly. Sometimes I swim or cycle but neither of these happen regularly! I have realised that running tires me out much more than cycling or swimming and as such I sleep more.
My plan to lose weight has been slow but I am a couple of kg less so it is going the right way.

Training milestones

In training I have done some long runs Saturday followed by another Sunday. It feels good. Most of my training is with MDS buddy John. The long miles pass much quicker when chatting.

We ran out first Ultramarathon at the beginning of the month. Frostbite30…..although the name is deceiving when the route is 34 miles! It lived up to its name in other respects though. It was freezing. Nidderdale was white with frost and it made for beautiful scenery for running. Having not run over 27 miles before this was unknown territory. The route was off road and hilly. The plan was to walk the ups and run the rest. Like clockwork it went until the last 6 miles when we bored of walking and ran strongly to the finish. It couldn’t have gone better and we felt very pleased with ourselves. Better still, the next day I got up (and after some good stretching) ran the first winter league cross country for my club. Only 4 miles but the legs worked well carrying me through the mud and up the hills well. I was slow down hill but that was partly in my head as I feared my legs would give way!

We squeezed in a lovely relaxing weekend break in Budapest before Christmas, with lots of spa time and fantastic food. There was still time to run though. My boyfriend James even came out to keep me company. As he is someone who doesn’t usually run, this was really special. While not a runner, he is fit and encouraged me to “smash it” round a 5km track in the middle of our run!

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Over Christmas my aim was to run everyday. This included a Christmas day parkrun. It was lovely to see so many of my running friends. Getting beaten by James was even good as I love that we were out running together. I was very lucky and Santa brought me desert food and foot cream!

The Chevin chase was boxing day – a 7 mile trail race. A lovely route with the main climb like something from the Tour de France – so deep with spectators.

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Racing with olympians is always exciting too, with Alistair Brownlee taking the win, closely followed by brother Jonny.

The 27th brought an epic 28.5 miles round a variation of the Haworth Hobble. wpid-20141227_102011.jpgEpic as at times we were thigh deep in snow! Snow is like sand…right? Trudging through the snow must be good training for sand??

The landscape is so different when covered in snow and I was pleased my running buddy Chris knew the way well! We got back just as the sun went down. Stunning views over the Yorkshire hills.

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My last run of 2014 has been the Auld Lang Syne fell race at Penistone Hill, organised by Dave and Eileen Woodhead. A fantastic, muddy/snowy/slippery race, again with Olympians heading up the field and full of all kinds of fancy dress – my favourite being emu on stilts!

What’s next?

Order kit!
Plan the desert menu!
Add some regular gym strength sessions
Increase the pack weight
Loose a couple more kg
Stay well ☺

Thank you and Happy New Year

The fundraising for the Intensive Care Foundation is going amazingly. Thank you all so much for your kind donations. I have been really touched and quite emotional by it all.

An especially big thank you to Joe and Simon who made me a wonderful fundraising video, which not only does a great job of explaining why I am running for the Intensive care Foundation, but also of showing off our Yorkshire countryside. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here:

I wish you all a fantastic, healthy and adventure filled 2015!

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