Marathon des Sables: Your success depends on the following five things

With the Marathon des Sables (MdS) six weeks away, many of you are feeling the usual mixture of apprehension and excitement. Over the next few weeks I will post a number of short pointer articles to assist you on this wonderful journey.

There are some very important things that you will need to give careful attention to over the next few weeks, but the most critical among these are the following five:

Race Preparation

Most of you have now trained with the usual restrictions we all face. Bad weather, injuries and work commitments have interfered with your ideal training plan, and as a result you may feel a little unprepared right now. This is good news, that feeling of apprehension is normal, and for the most part you will be more than fit enough. Don’t forget that the MdS is a much more mental than physical race. If you hadn’t trained at all, you should be petrified right now, as without training you will not make this race. But, speaking from my own experience, we don’t enter the MdS and forget about training.

The reality is, however, that not one runner would have had a perfect training regime and the research shows that the majority of runners on the start line will feel that they had not done enough. With this feeling persistently gnawing in the back of your mind you must take special care not to be exploited. There are no quick fixes; there is no way in which you can make-up the perceived shortfall in your training right now, without the risk of an injury that will leave you worse-off. It is far better to arrive on the start line a little under-trained then a little over-trained. Any injury you sustain now will not have sufficient time to heal, so my advice would be to take care, be conservative, and shy away from the promise of the miraculous.

I saw this morning that Megan Hicks, the 2013 ladies winner, withdrew from the 2014 Marathon des Sables, due to illness during the past four weeks. It goes without saying that if there were a miracle pill to drink, or a miracle activity to engage in to improve your fitness over the next four weeks, she would have grabbed it with both hands, but there isn’t. So relax a little, keep your training consistent, don’t do anything out of the ordinary, and whatever you do, don’t put yourself at risk of injury now.

Race Pack

It is a great time to really start thinking about your race-pack. And even here, forget about the hype, the 6.5kg race pack is a pipedream for most, and possibly even requires you to move outside the spirit of the race by bending the rules. I remember that in 2013, some runners came around asking for food, having believed that by day four people would still be discarding food. Reducing pack weight based upon the belief that you will scrounge from other runners by picking up their discarded food, is firstly a very risky strategy and secondly could leave you in a very bad place as your body may not be used to whatever you collect around the camp site. And returning to the scroungers that came around, no by day four we had no more food to discard. Besides, this is a self-sufficiency race, not a survival race. In a self-sufficiency race you carry on you everything you will need, whereas in a survival race you could scrounge as much as you like.

But let’s return to your race pack and what you should give consideration right now. Nutrition is first and foremost, then follows the mandatory equipment (so read the race rules carefully, don’t arrive without all the mandatory items it will cost you dearly, also during previous races powders did not count towards your calorie count so make sure your have familiarised yourself with the rules). Then there are some vital, but non-mandatory elements to include, and lastly some comfort items. Depending on your race objectives you might take no comfort items or you may pad your race pack with as much as possible. It is all up to you how you approach this, so don’t let anyone rob you of your race on this.

Remember the Marathon des Sables is an adventure; with memories that you will never forget, but for most, it will be a once-off opportunity so make the most of it. Take the good camera, sleep well, be warm during the cold nights and eat well, all these things will enforce those really great memories.


Make sure you test everything you are going to eat, and rather do this on your 30km plus long run then on your 10km daily run. Try to live on your race food for a week (preferably sooner than later) and take the food that you like, are used to and have confidence in. Trust what you take with, it does great things for your mental state. I will, within the next week or two, publish a short article on nutrition to guide you through this.

Mandatory Items

Read the rules and make a list of the mandatory items you need, get these items within the next week or so, if you don’t have it already. Save yourself the stress of running around at the last minute to find stuff.

Mental Conditioning

If you are going to refocus your training in anyway, it should be aimed at mental, opposed to physical conditioning right now. Review some of those great moments of the past year or two. Build your own confidence by looking over the statistics of your long-runs of the past year. Find the places there you improved and prove to yourself that you can do it. Watch a few inspirational videos of the Marathon des Sables, not the run-up videos or the training videos, but the videos of runners completing the various stages. See, that they are exactly like you, normal people, young and old, male and female, big, small, muscular, etc. You can do it, now it’s time that you get your head in the game. It is this mental confidence you acquire now, that will give you something to dig into when there are tough times during the race.


I hope these few pointers will provide you with some direction over the coming weeks. I will keep on posting short articles to help you through the next four weeks. Have fun, relax and savour these moments, they will be over sooner than you think. Now is the time to immerse yourself in the wonderful thing that is the Marathon des Sables. I am posting some links to inspirational videos for you here, go out look for some more:

Video 1

Video 2

Thank you for reading this blog, see you soon.


#marathondessables #genispieterse #ultraendurance #extrememarathon #nutrition #racepack #mentalconditioning

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