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I signed up for the Marathon des Sables in a fit of madness... ~ Catriona Savage

When I was young we lived in the Middle East for a few years and from that point on there was always something that intrigued me about the desert. I was never a sporty kid, or adult for that matter, but when I heard about the Marathon Des Sables in my twenties, it peaked my interest as a challenge and adventure in an environment I had always loved. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started running, initially to raise money for charity. I had never seriously thought that an event like the MDS would be within my reach. Entering my 40’s, and whilst losing weight and gaining fitness under the watchful eye of Rory Colman, the possibility of Ultra distance events and the MDS started to become real. In a post event fit of madness myself and a friend decided that we’d at least go some way towards that goal. ln January 2019, we signed up to the September 2019 Half Marathon Des Sables in Fuertaventura in the Canary Islands. By April we’d agreed to go the whole way and signed up to the full MDS for 2020. The HMDS in Sept was fabulous, a taste of things to come, an opportunity to make new friends and test kit and food in a less extreme environment. For the final few months of training, at the beginning of 2020, I teamed up with Kerry for the run up to the MDS. As part of this I did a training week in Lanzarote learning a huge amount from the experts including Elizabet Barnes and Ian Corless. In February I also took part in the Pilgrims Challenge as part of my preparation (Race report - hard, long, very, very muddy). It was after a long training run in March 2020 that I sat down at the George Inn in Bathampton. I had arranged a lift home from my husband so I looked at my phone to check the time and place. Instead I saw the e-mail from the MDS organisers delaying the event to September due to Covid-19. Although disappointed, it was mixed with a bit of relief. I think mentally I hadn’t quite committed and there were some aspects of my organisation that weren’t quite up to scratch with only a few weeks to go. I looked at it as an opportunity to sort that out and take my physical and mental preparation one step further. Kerry was straight on the case changing my training plan to suit and helping me to stay motivated. For a while though my commitment waned, and with it, some consistency in training. As the days counted down towards the new date I realised I needed to get back on track and if there is one thing I have learnt about myself its that I need goals 8-12 weeks away to keep me interested! My consistency returned, and Kerry’s support was invaluable. Even though the risk of the event moving again was real, it was looking increasingly likely that it might go ahead as planned. Medical dates were shifted and we started getting emails informing us of the additional Covid-19 precautions being planned for the event itself. Mentally I committed and physically my training was on track. I’d sorted out my admin and spent lunchtimes trialling freeze dried foods hydrated with cold water. On Saturday 18th July I was doing the weekly food shop when one of my MDS tent mates messaged our tent WhatsApp group with the news. I actually cried this time, in the middle of the supermarket, into my cloth face mask. I’d told myself it was going ahead because I needed to do that to ensure I’d be fully committed. The disappointment was far starker, we would now be going in April 2021. I messaged Kerry, took the decision to chill out in the garden for the afternoon, and we agreed to regroup on Monday. After 24hrs I was ready to refresh and restart. We’ve been afforded another opportunity to be even more prepared both physically and mentally. Those with injuries will be able to address them properly before we leave. The team that makes up our tent is developing increasingly strong bonds, most of us didn’t know each other before January. We have been supporting each other through the uncertainty which will only add to the experience when we make it to the desert. Third time training for the MDS 2020, and this time we hope it will be third time lucky.


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