Marathon des Sables 2014 a journey by Philip Boardman runner 340

This blog entry records the experience of a friend, Philip Boardman, who participated and completed the 2014 Marathon des Sables. Enjoy the read.

Marathon des Sables, an Overview (6-12 April 2014)

Day 1 - 34km,

Day 2 - 41km,

Day 3 - 37.5km,

Day 4 - 81.5km,

Day 5 - Rest,

Day 6 – 42.2km,

Total 236.5km plus,

Day 7 - 7.7km for charity.

Averaging at 47.3km per day for the 5 full running days!!

The event took place roughly between the towns of Errachidia and Quarzazate in the Sahara desert of the Kingdom of Morocco. It is a self-sufficiency event – it means you have to take everything you need for the full 7 days in your back pack – no re-fill or top-up of anything – inclusive of your food, clothes, sleeping mat and sleeping bag. You get water at each check point and at completion of days distance – enough for drinking and food preparation only. You also get the Berber tent and carpet.

Temperatures during day time were between 32 and 38 degree Celsius and night time about 11 degree Celsius. I found the daytimes hot but not unbearably so. The heat combined with the low humidity of about 11%, meant that I used more water than I am used to. One fantastic thing I learned was to use salt tablets, after the first day I never had cramps and could bend my legs as per normal, something I could never-ever do after a 42km plus distance. I also learned to drink at regular intervals, every kilometer, irrespective if I felt like it or not.

My Experience

I was fortunate in getting only a few blisters and that, only at about 40km, on the long day. The blisters were treated very quickly and professionally and cheerfully by a podiatrist. Many-many people had serious blisters even up the sides of their feet and some of them would surely not have been able to proceed without the medical personnel building them "skins" with tape!

I never went hungry, in fact I gave away about a third of my compulsory 2000 Calories per day. The guys really appreciated the fresh South African biltong (like beef jerky) and dry wors (air dried thin beef sausage) that I handed out.

The only problem - and a MAJOR one - was one I could control, if I wasn't so stressed about it and could not think it through rationally, and it was the fit of my back pack. Although it fitted perfectly on all my many training runs, it just would not fit me at all in the desert?? Before the long day, Danny of tent 133, did make it fit better but it was still fairly bad. Only at the start of the 42.2km - last day - did Simon make it fit like a glove, inclusive of the fact that it was now much lighter as well. For the first time in the race I could now run at my best possible pace and it felt great.

My Achilles tendon started hurting on day two but it only slowed me down towards the end of the long day. Incredibly the doctors, under the name of Doc Trotters, made me some orthotics to lift my heals. It took two of them more than an hour to make it by hand and it worked well enough for me to finish the race without holding me back.

The heart of my experience in Morocco was the people, both the Runners and the MdS personnel. They were just an incredible group of people and I was most privileged to have been able to share the same space with them for 10 days. Berber tent 132 was my home for 8 nights and I shared with 6 wonderful young and very fast British. I thank you for your friendship Mark, Joe, Owen, Sarah, Richard, and Petra! Although you were all very special it was nice to share a tent with a real live Euro Fighter pilot - Owen you are my hero!

I carried the South African flag and it was quite incredible the amount of goodwill I found from a large chunk of the runners from many different countries towards South Africa, even from the all French personnel. I was told so many stories of good experiences people had in South Africa, how the either were born there or have family there or that they would just love to visit us. But the best was of people who either ran the Comrades Marathon or were planning to run it in the near future. All of them could not stop talking about how great a country we have! It was super!

The Sahara is a harsh country, it is very dry and hot and the sand dunes were never ending and very-very difficult to negotiate. The highest temperature was on the Long Day, 38.5C with 32C the lowest day temperature. Nights were cold at about 11C and a cold wind which you could not keep out of your open-ended Berber tent.

But it is beautiful, made more special with many ruins as the Berbers are a nomadic people and does not stay long at any one place. We only once saw a tented Berber camp.


I classify the MdS as by far the most difficult undertaking I have ever done - it is tough.

But I must be a bit biased by my bad experience with my back pack. There were 1,169 entrants and of the 1,040 runners who started 917 completed, a dropout rate of 12% which I find extremely low in such an absolute demanding race.

My final position was 691st putting me in the first 66%, in a time of 55:12:25 hours with the last athletes in at 75:01:45 hours. The organisation of the MdS is just unbelievable and can only be appreciated by those who saw it. The camp with all its logistical support was moved every day. There were about 1,000 support personnel apart from the 1,000 runners. All of them except for about 10 permanent staff are volunteers including the 57 doctors. They all have to take leave to be there, some of them have done it many times and there is a waiting list for all positions. It just shows you the caliber of person you find on the MdS.

The income from entry fees are around R45 million rand if you add huge sponsorships and all the free services supplied by the volunteers I would guess the real budget to be about R70 million giving you a spend of about R70,000 per runner, should give you an idea of the magnitude of the undertaking.

Patrick Bauer (organiser) – you are an organisational genius. This concludes a great year for me on the physical front. Since 2nd June 2013 to 12 April 2014 I completed my 10th Comrades (89km), ran the Fish River Canyon Extreme 100km (24 hours maximum time allowed), did the KAEM (Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 250km, a wonderful race) and now the biggest one of all the MdS.

I want to thank the Lord that gave met the mental and physical ability to even think of doing this race and then furthermore completing it!!

To my wife Rentia – thanks for your support in getting me to the start line – you helped me on so many fronts.

To the many people that knew about the race and gave me their support, you made it all possible for me. For the many strangers that spoke to me on The Road and others that sent me emails – you are all stars and you are the ones that carried me through the MdS.

Thanks Craig Braithwaite en Genis Pieterse – you are both one-of-a-kind!! Thank you to Jorrie Jordaan and MANY of my club mates at Alpha Centurion Runners Walkers who sent me emails before, during and after the MdS.

Here are two great videos:

Robert Masson Video

Oliver Robinson Video

You can also view my photos in here to have a look

#mds2014 #philipboardman

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