Hard graft through the desert, Marathon des Sables 2022~ Evan Wright
Odd though it seems for a 56 year old, 6”5’, 95kg swimmer, there was a sprint finish to my MDS. Kerry from Perpetual Motion Coaching was there to witness it. Initially forgetting to pick up my medal was not part of the plan, but was an indication of just how spongy my brain had become after six days of hard graft through the desert.
It was my “accidental ultra“ because my body is designed to swim long distance open water, where legs are for balance, not propulsion. For coach Kerry, the challenge was turning a turtle into a racing camel.
They call it the “Toughest foot race on Earth“ but it doesn’t have to be. My humble advice? - Take a long run up and build slowly. Make most runs a kit test. Once you’ve made your kit decisions, don’t change. Make fast hiking over long distances a good proportion of your training. Get used to carrying a pack of (in my case) up to 10kg and make sure your race pack is significantly lighter. Do some good quality heat training a few weeks before you go. Condition your feet in advance. Early in your training, hook up with a coach who has actually done the race. From a conditioning and psychological perspective, this is pretty damn fundamental.
There are hundreds of other tips, like – reinforce your gaiters before you go. Sewing them back together at CP5 on the long day is not something I want to repeat. Many choices come down to personal confidence. Of the 1000 people on the start line, there will be 10,000 decisions in terms of kit and clothing. Most ‘little’ choices won’t make a blind bit of difference to your finish time. I didn’t take the minimalist approach and I didn’t beg forgiveness from those who chose to eat cardboard for a week.
Unless you are a front runner and you need to push every mile, your objective should be to get to day four (the ‘long day’) in the best possible shape. The Doc Trotters medical team were fantastic, but the sounds coming from their tent were not.
Play to your strengths. I finished 366th, well inside the top half. I came 54th of 205 in my age group. Little secret. Don’t tell anybody- I walked virtually the whole thing. That said, my Nordic walk made me faster than most runners over that ground and it kept my heart rate down in the heat. My pace was consistent for the six days, no matter what the terrain. It was classic tortoise and hare stuff.
Lack of campcraft caught a lot of people out and put them on an early bus; from Boston qualifiers to UTMB veterans. Watching the lads from 2 Para getting ready in the morning should have been compulsory.
If you do it, for goodness sake, enjoy it. Take in the unique experience and talk to lots of people. You will meet amazing characters in your tent and in the dunes.
After a year of training and lots of logistics, I found myself looking up at Patrick Bauer, perched on top of his Land Rover as he introduced AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’, just like in the countless You Tube videos I’d seen from previous years. I got quite emotional. I was actually there, but in the blink of an eye, it was over. On day six, our tent agreed that we had to finish because ‘we sure as Hell aren’t coming back’. Here I am, putting a team together for 2024.