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Alice Morrison at the 2015 MDS.

Marathon Des Sables

11-Jun-15

By Alice Morrison

This is not an exhaustive list but here are some of the things that veteran MdSers found worked well during the race. Remember that, in the end, it is down to personal choice! We are just reflecting some of the options.

Bag and Bottles

The MdS Bag has proven itself time and again. Light, well designed with plenty of straps to keep it bound close to your body. Also, it gives you immediate bragging rights.

Bottles can be a bit tricky.  Getting that angle right so that you can take a gulp of water without twisting your neck takes some adjusting. A quick canvas of opinion saw Raidlight come out top.

Photo credit: RunUltra.

Day clothes

Everyone knows that MdS is going to be hot, but actually it is quite hard to imagine how hot until you are in the middle of it. If you burn badly, wear long sleeves and ¾ length tights, they won’t make you any hotter, and you will avoid some pain. A buff and a cap are a must, a kepi is also a good option.  

You’ll see a whole range of options being exercised on the race, and here are some of the best sellers

Men

Shorts: Most people opt for the lycra option, but twin skins were also popular and those who do not fear chafing, let it all hang out with loose, lightweight shorts.

X-bionic were one of the really popular brands for both shorts and tops, with runners swearing that the cooling system works

Shirts: Short sleeved or long sleeved. Not many people go for the vest option. There are so many choices here, the main thing is to make sure you have tried the shirt out before and that it doesn’t chafe or ride up and expose your back (you see some nasty burns out there).

Women

As above: Shorts or three quarter leggings to keep your knees from burning. A cheap but good option for shorts is Underarmour who do a nice range in compression wear.

Marmot do good long sleeved tops, as do many other retailers. Women’s arms are a bit more prone than men’s to burn as they don’t have so much hair to protect them, so worth thinking about long v short sleeves.

Compression calf sleeves are recommended. Some think they don’t help but the majority come out in favour.

Photo credit: RunUltra.

Shoes/socks/gaiters/poles

Let’s start with the hard bit: Shoes. As the event approaches, this is the subject that will take up the most space on the forum, and that is a busy forum! There is no right answer. Runners will argue passionately for one shoe or another, but all our feet are different. There are a couple of things to bear in mind, though.

  • The heat from the sand is going to come up through your shoes, especially if you are not in the elite group and are slogging it out in the boiling hours between one and four pm.
  • The terrain goes from sandy to packed dirt/sand to rocks but it is not slippery or technical.
  • Everyone’s feet swell. A minimum of a size and a half above your normal shoe level is needed. And if (when) you get blisters and get your feet taped, you will need extra space to fit in the bandages.
  • Take one extra shoelace, you’d be unlucky to break two, and some duct tape in case of splitting.

Hokas are a bit like marmite, you like them or you don’t. A lot of people run in Asics, and of the very few people canvassed who didn’t get blisters, they were wearing Brooks or Salomons. The best advice is to wear what you are comfortable in, but bigger.

Gaiters are easy. Everyone always stresses about getting sand in their shoes but this really shouldn’t happen. The big parachute silk numbers keep the sand out but they flap and can rip. We like the MdS or Raidlight or Myracekit ones and make sure you get your Velcro stitched on to your shoes. Gluing may not be strong enough.

Socks are a matter of personal choice. A two sock system buffers you a bit from the heat coming up through your soles and means you have a pair to lose when your feet get too swollen/taped to get your shoes on. Injinjis are always a good choice.

How many pairs do you take? One set is enough. Two if you want some luxury. Yes, they will get bloody, sweaty and probably a bit crusty, but it doesn’t matter.

Poles. Should you, shouldn’t you. They may or may not suit your racing style but they ARE a form of insurance. If you sprain anything or your feet are so blistered you can barely walk, you will have a better chance of making it with a set. We like Mountain King Trail Blaze poles.

Sleeping/camp wear

Evening dress for the last night’s party in the desert, obviously, but apart from that... you will need something warm and consider compression tights to sleep in to give your legs a boost.

The overalls favoured by the French are warm and light but an encumbrance if you have to go to the loo very rapidly and a no no for women for that reason.

A lightweight jacket or fleece is a necessity. Two good ones are the Montane and the Uniqlo.

Be careful about your shoes for camp. Flip flops don’t work with the little blue plastic things that Doc Trotters give you to protect your feet after they have sliced out your blisters.

Sleeping gear

Far be it from us to be gender-normative, but women may want warmer sleeping bags than men. It is really chilly at night on the first few days and bear in mind you may be dehydrated and you will be exhausted. The Marmot range is excellent, really lightweight and warm, but you pay.

Another good recommendation is Vango. Very reasonably priced and comfy for a 6 foot + bloke.

Whether or not you take a sleeping mat comes down to comfort versus weight. But many runners find that they don’t need them as the thick rug that the Berber lads put down in the bottom of the tent is enough. Our top secret tip is to take a blow up pillow, you will sleep like an angel and be able to use your bag to elevate your feet.

Photo credit: RunUltra.

Stove/cooking gear

We love the Esbit stove, spork and titanium cup.

Don’t take extra fuel, you won’t need it.

Food

Do not take too much food! You will not be as hungry as you think and for most people the problem is trying to force it down. Take a variety of things. Most people cannot look at the same Clif Bar three days in a row. Decant all your freeze dried food OUT of its foil containers and into ziplocks. The foil packets weigh too much. You can use a cut down water bottle to rehydrate it in. Consider some real food: dates, nuts, raisins, biltong. Do take electrolytes, the salt tablets are not enough. Do take recovery drinks, they work a treat! Think about having a liquid cereal option for the long day. Don’t put any of the rehydration or meal replacement drinks in your water bottles, they will clagg. Use a half full water bottle – road book pages make an excellent funnel.

There are some great brands out there and many do complete packages that will save you some money: Extreme Adventure Food, Bounce Foods, Clif Bar or Nuun.

But man cannot live on freeze dried porridge alone.... so here are some veterans’ top tips:

  • Biltong
  • Pork Scratchings
  • Bird’s Custard powder
  • Rooibos teabags
  • Peperami
  • Dried Mango

Runner’s  recommendations

Here are some of the recommendations we got from experienced MdSers when we asked them what their favourite bit of kit was.

That is a quick scoot round some of the main points. One thing we would absolutely recommend you do is spend some time with one of the real experts and try stuff out/try it on. This will get you the best results.

There are lots of great retailers and MdS specialists out there including:

www.likeys.com

www.myracekit.com

www.rorycoleman.co.uk

Happy Running!

Thanks to Ruth Dobson, Stuart Rae, Richard Hedges, Alex Guerandel, Johan Grobler, Michael Fetherstone, Ellen Goldsmith, Phillipa Fewins, Rolf Lindsay, Anders Licht-Larsen and Elaine Horsey for their input.

If you want to add, correct, or query anything please email alice@runultra.co.uk

Photo credit: RunUltra.

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