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Marathon Des Sables - The Final Countdown: 5 things to focus on

The Marathon des Sables. Photo credit: RunUltra.

Marathon Des Sables - The Final Countdown: 5 things to focus on


Last updated: 30-Aug-17

By Andy Mouncey

It is just weeks now till the glorious 1300+ will be heading off to Morocco to get their feet nice and hot on the sand for the Marathon Des Sables. Andy Mouncey, coach, speaker and writer on all things running, has some excellent last minute advice for everyone preparing to run.

Minimize The Faff Factor

Your personal organization during race week may be the difference between screaming and crying and happy-smiley. Kit choices should be tried and tested by now all in a variety of conditions and by you in a variety of conditions.

  • Can you reach your bottles?
  • Which side are your snacks?
  • Nothing chafes and rubs, right?
  • No irritating little details either?
  • If you need to do running repairs on your feet (a) do you know what you’re doing (b) is the kit to hand?

Practise, practise, practise.

What You Do Between Stages

In my opinion and experience, it’s the things you do – or don’t do – between the finish line and the start line of the next stage that makes the biggest difference to how you last the week. Will you maximize your recovery through deliberate choices or just tag along with the rest of the folks in your tent?

Have a post-finish line and a pre-start line routine written down and rehearsed and be ruthless in its application. There’s still time to come up with one. Think of the stage finish line as AFTER you finish your post-stage routine. Sure, you want to socialize at the end of stage – and you can do that after you sort you out: the next stage depends on it.

Stay Off The Forums

Everyone has an opinion – usually just based on their own experience - and social media has these available in abundance. This is the last place you want to be on the eve of your big adventure. If you have even a hint of nerves it can be spectacularly unhelpful to view the helpfully posted pictures of meticulously organized Gucci-kit by buffed and ripped MdS wannabes, or read how much mileage they’ve clocked up.

Now is the time to focus on you and your stuff  because you know what they say: ‘When the flag drops, the bull**** stops.’

Feel The Heat

If you’re coming out of a northern hemisphere winter then April in the desert can be a big shock. Build confidence in your ability to handle the heat by allocating some of your runs: ‘Over-dressed.’

The budget version is to go all Rocky Balboa and head out with lots of layers to a point of being ridiculously overdressed. Build up duration and layers as you would with any progression. Or you can sit on a stationary cycle with the heat turned up. Or if you have time and money to burn you can put a treadmill into your spare room, close the windows, line the inside with plastic sheeting and turn on the free-standing burners. Bet there’s a YouTube for that…

Bikram yoga is also an option.

What If..?

Having a response planned in advance usually makes dealing with a setback much easier. So it is here. One of the most valuable coaching tools I have – and most used with my clients – is the Scenario Plan that does exactly what it says on the tin. It prompts us to come up with possible and probable situations the client may encounter, and it provides a framework to write down and rehearse responses.

So I assume by now you know what you will do if:

  • Your flight is delayed
  • You struggle to sleep pre-race
  • You start way too fast on the first stage and blow up
  • You want to kill your tent buddies

If you don’t, there’s still time to plan your responses so that if/when they happen for real you have already chosen how to respond in a way that is consistent with your race goals.

Enjoy – and may the sand always be outside your shoes!


Who Is Andy Mouncey?

Andy signed off 17 years in triathlon setting record stage times for the Enduroman Arch To Arc Challenge in 2003: A 300 mile solo triathlon linking London and Paris via an English Channel swim. Since then he’s been getting his kicks ultra running and has placed 2nd twice at the UK’s premier trail 100 miler Montane Lakeland 100. He has been coaching and speaking professionally since 2000 working with a range of clients in sport, education, business and everyday life. He is a published author, married and lives with his family in the north of England.

If you would like to take advantage of his excellent coaching, he can be contacted through Big and Scary Running or directly by email [email protected]

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