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Highlights from the 4th MDS Expo

Cracking on. Photo credit: RunUltra.

Highlights from the 4th MDS Expo


Last updated: 02-Mar-16

By Kathryn Bullock

For the uninitiated this is the go-to show if you’re taking part in the famous Marathon des Sables (MDS) in April 2016 which kicked off with the revelation that one of the attendees had come from as far afield as Azerbaijan – such is the draw of this iconic event. This race is considered the toughest footrace on the planet (quote from Discovery Channel) and there were plenty of tales to persuade you to get your goals and race training plan established as soon as possible if you are taking part in this multi stage race.

This year the event was hosted at the beautiful and impressive Royal Institution of Great Britain building in central London, where our host Steve Diederich reminded us that electricity was invented by Faraday. The event was a sell out and very quickly the event was humming with runners and exhibitors who were keen to sell all the specialist kit that runners might need to avoid a DNF in the Sahara.

Key messages from Patrick Bauer

The show kicked off with a passionate intro from Patrick Bauer, the original founder of the race over 30 years ago. He reminded everyone of the jaw-dropping amount of money that has been raised as a result of the race. He announced a few changes for 2016, which should help those that remember waiting in the heat for their start time. Everyone will now start at the same time. The medal giving will also now happen on the day after the final race day.

The race has an impressive support team in place with more than 500 workers, volunteers and a medical team of 65 complete with air support. He could not be drawn however on the question about the “torture” he had in store for runners on the last day of the race and that is one of the best kept secrets each year. The fourth stage is the longest and most gruelling of all typically at around 85kms.

Humorous tales of adventure from James Cracknell

We were then in for a big treat with a very candid, witty and humorous session with James Cracknell OBE who as a double Olympic gold medallist for rowing gave us some insights into his life as an adventurer and his MDS experience. James finished 12th in 2010 and was the highest placed British athlete in the race’s history then. Some of the MDS veterans mentioned that they thought it was his best talk.

We got to see the gritty realities of ugly blisters, frostbite, disappearing tents under layers of snow during James's expedition to the South Pole in 2009 and the lessons learned of not pushing too hard and not treating injuries early enough. He showed us how your body looks after dropping from 100 to 75 kilos as a result of doing the South Pole and the importance of having the same shared goal when he rowed across the Atlantic with Ben Fogle. It was clear that James believes in the importance of having a personal goal and this paid dividends in the London Marathon in 2015 when he achieved it in 2 hours 50 mins.

His top tips for those doing the MDS were to make sure you spend some time in a heat chamber before the race and to look for people with big bags as they often have too much food so you can do a trade with them when they find it too heavy to carry – a smart operator indeed!

Key lessons learned and top tips from the Pros

It was a packed programme with great sessions from the pros such as Elisabet Barnes, Danny Kendall and Rory Coleman and top tips from Nick Saunders for first timers. Rin Cobb gave us some top tips on race nutrition, Graeme Harvey took us through how to pack smart and light and Doctrotters showed us how to care for our feet. All essential tips for giving you a head start at the race. Dr Mike Stroud also gave everyone a thoroughly researched session on how heat affects the body.

Photo credit: RunUltra.

Key important takeaways from Elisabet Barnes

These tips were beautifully presented to a keen audience:  

  • Train with poles or don’t use.
  • Do shorter faster runs with a backpack but don’t overdo it to minimise injury.
  • Start your weight at 2kg and increase gradually.
  • Heat acclimatisation is very important.  If you don’t have a heat chamber nearby do hot yoga or find a sauna or find a training race in hot climate eg Coastal Challenge or other MDS specific training races (several offered in UK in January - February 2016).
  • Be careful about doing too many long runs too close the actual race – she tapered off the distance in March to conserve energy.
  • Most importantly execute a training plan and know your motivation to do the race so it keeps you going when the going gets tough.

Round up

Overall the MDS Expo was a day not to miss for any ultra runner planning to or thinking of doing the MDS and for their partners who will be going through it with them, in more ways than one! There were also valuable tips for ultra runners planning any type of endurance race. Follow the hashtag #MDSExpo for a tweeted insight of the day. We will be posting some short YouTube videos of our runner insights during the show so lookout for these. Thanks for everyone who came to say a few words to the camera.

Were you there? Did you enjoy it?
Please share your stories and top takeaways in our comments section below.

*DNF - Did not finish.

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