Marathon des Sables: What to Expect
This is my last blog post until Tanya and I return from the Marathon des Sables (MdS).
With a little more than two weeks to the start of the 30th Marathon des Sables (MdS), I returned to the MdS 2013 research data in an effort to refresh my memory as to what physiological issues an MdS runner can expect to experience out in the Sahara desert. A runner might expect to experience any of the issues listed below, or even a combination of issues. The reality is that, this is what the MdS is all about, the pain, discomfort, suffering, and difficulties experienced, all adds to the mental and physical challenge and it is the combination of environment, terrain and self that makes this a formidable challenge, and it is the reason why an individual entered the MdS. In the first place, the ability of this race to pull an individual out of their comfort zone is what the event is all about. Both experienced and inexperienced runners are equally challenged, the familiar is removed from every-day life and each and every runner competes against his or her self.
So what can be expected?
Around 2% of all runners will experience severe irritability and will be unable to keep fluids down. Another 2% of runners (around 30 runners) stand the chance of losing consciousness at some point during the race. Another 3.9% of participants will experience constipation; around 4% will become disorientated while running and 5.8% of the 2013 MdS runners reported that they became confused during the event. Abdominal pain and bloating was experienced by 7.7% of runners as was an excessive rapid heart rate. Diarrhea affected 9.6% of runners and leg cramps around 10%. Runners who experienced sleepiness and tiredness came to 11.5% of the field and 12% reported vomiting during the race. Light headedness was experienced by 13.5% of runners and 15.4% experienced dizziness. Excessive thirst is at the order of the day with 15.4% reporting that they experienced this at some point during the day. A lack of energy and general muscle cramps haunted 19.2% of all runners and 21.2% of the participants experienced headaches. On the emotional front 27% of runners reported that they became emotional during the event. Dehydration seems to be more widespread with 32% of runners reporting a dry mouth and 33% indicated that there urine turned dark yellow to amber in colour, while 35% reported a decreased urine output. And finally, the one point all runners expect, is to experience excessive fatigue, which was reported by 40.4% of all runners.
From the numbers it is clear that this is an extreme event that will challenge all runners both physically and mentally. The experiences listed above were experienced by the competitors who actually finished the MdS and represent those experiences over and above blisters, chaffing and back-pack related pain, such as shoulder, neck, back and hip pain. What this means is that with discipline, commitment and a strong mental will this race can be completed by a participant.
As non-professional runners, most participants had to fit their training around work obligations, family responsibility and social engagements. This means that no runner’s training program is perfect. For most, the feeling persist that they have not trained enough miles, for others that they have not run enough long runs, some may feel that they have not trained enough with weight and the list of inadequacy goes on and on. Lack of experience adds another dimension, yet, amidst all of these inadequacies, fears and uncertainties, every person that stands on the start line of the 30th MdS will have the ability to complete the event. For the fast, strong, experienced and professional runners, the combination of brute strength and competition will let them run the competitive MdS, a race in the true sense of the word, for the remainder, a more strategic race will have to be run to ensure that a runner is both on the start and finish line.
To all my fellow MdS runners, and in specific my beautiful wife, good luck, stay positive, remain focused, trust in yourself and the training that you have done, adapt to the environment and terrain, bring your sense of humour, role with the punches and above all remain disciplined drink, eat, sleep and have an amazing time out in the desert with the knowledge that you are part of a privileged group of extreme adventurers that will stand with me on the 30th MdS start line. I have the utmost respect for each and every one of you and wish a pleasant and unforgettable time for all of you out in Morocco.
If by chance you come across runners 451 and 452 out in the dunes, know that we are having a great time, savouring this time of adventure and freedom with all of you. If at that moment you are feeling the effects of this race, know that it is just part of this amazing experience, embrace it, and enjoy the victory that comes from winning the battle within yourself, the one in your mind, where the daemons of your past battle against your present will. Fight hard, but be gentle to yourself, and decide to create a new experience, a reality that will set another norm, one of victory.
See you in Morocco…