“The unique set-up of the MdS – you’re in the Sahara for a week with only the contents of your rucksack – requires fastidious preparation of not only your physical and mental self, but also that rucksack. I’ve put together these 10 tips, from the experience of racing MdS four times and finishing in the top-five women three times, to help you turn up to the start line 100% ready.” – Megan Hicks.
Megan’s an amazing runner she’s just at a whole other level; she won the 2013 Marathon des Sables and was the highest-ever female finisher in the overall race rankings, when she came in 17th. On the long stage (47-miles) she finished 12th overall, the highest a woman has ever placed in the overall rankings of a single stage. This is an incredible performance – Well done Megan!
As well as totally dominating in the MdS in 2013 Megan has set many other running records, these are the ones she’s done over the past few years.
New Year’s Revolution Run five-hour, indoor-track race, second female, fifth overall
Coldwater Rumble 52 Miler, first female, third overall
New Year’s Revolution Run five-hour, indoor-track race, second female, ninth overall
Three Days of Syllamo stage race overall, 50k, and 20k, first female
Marathon des Sables, first female
Silver City Endurance Runs 100k, first female, second overall, new women’s course record
Kat’cina Mosa 100k, first female, third overall, new women’s course record
Goblin Valley 50k, third female, seventh overall
Three Days of Syllamo 20k, second female
Marathon des Sables, fifth female
Trail de Rodrigues 38k, third female
Megan’s Top 10 Insider Tips
Prepare your feet – Wet your shoes, insoles and socks before going on long training runs and re wet them half way through so the skin on your feet gets accustomed to damp conditions. This will mimic what happens in the heat, when your feet sweat and the moisture is trapped by the gaiters.
Treat your feet – Learn how to treat your own blisters, that way you don’t need to spend hours waiting to see the doctors. Buy and read; Fixing your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes by Jon Vonhof. This is seen as the bible for foot treatments for ultra-runners.
Eliminate the chafe – Make sure your pack fits and you’ve tested it out on long runs. Do some training with your pack at full weight. Pick your shirt well and make sure it has no seams or edges that can rub.
Test your nutrition – Eat everything you want to take with you before-hand. Ideally go on a long run and then sit in a sauna to eat your food. If you can get it down and it tastes ok take it with you! You have to like and be able to eat all the food you bring with you.
Lighten your load – Think about not taking a stove and just cook your food using the heat from the sun.
Sleep soundly – Take ear plugs!
Rest well, race well – Get a good sleeping bag this is where your rest and recovery will take place. Bring a sleeping bag that’s rated to about 6.5 degrees Celsius colder that the actual Sahara night temperatures.
Be Zen: accept the sand – Run strategically by landing flat footed so you can evenly distribute your weight over the sand, rather than coming down on your heel or your toes, which will cause your feet to sink in even more.
Be cool about being hot – The heat is going to slow you down and you’re not going be able to run as fast as you normally do. The heat caused your heart rate to elevate as your body attempts to cool itself down. So in the desert you’ll need to do more work to keep the same pace. Accept this fact and run a kilometre or two per hour slower than you’ve trained at home.
Be patient and flexible – There will be lots of queuing and long waiting times. Be prepared to stand at the start for about 30 mins before you go in the morning. Don’t compare yourself to other people doing the race, run your own race. If you feel unwell, be prepared to slow down!
Megan is 100% correct that preparation is so important for this race; you can’t leave things to chance. You need to explore, experiment and see what works for you. These are some amazing tips and I’m going to try them out and see what works for me!