MDS 2015

MARATHON DES SABLES – Toughest foot race on earth!!

In March 2014 I was sat in Tamworth Service station heading to Aldi Head Office where I received a text off Allie, my partner, who may I add has always enjoyed running, completing half marathons, marathons and even doing a 30 mile ultra that she organised around Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, asking would I like to do Marathon Des Sables? My immediate thoughts were:

A: I’m not a runner and

B: what’s the Marathon Des Sables?????

At this point in time I’d run no further than 8 miles and only ran from a line out to the ruck and then a scrum so the thought of trekking 255km across the Sahara Desert had not even entered my mind.

Obviously I said yes and the planning started. What kit do we need? Running advice? Trainers? What trainers? Online forums? It was all mind boggling. In the June¬† Allie tracked down a chap, Rory Coleman, in Cardiff who had done MDS on several occasions so we booked into see him for advice and a training plan. We did an initial fitness assessment, where I nearly passed out on the treadmill and was told “you can be ill later, but let’s get this test complete” and left in a bit of a mess with a training program and a healthy eating plan in hand to see us through the next few months.

As the months passed we had done a few runs entered my first marathon, ever, Hereford, and did that in a time of 6hrs dead!!!! This resulted in the thoughts of I have a lot of work to do in little time as this was now the end of September and we started in April. PLENTY OF TIME I thought to myself. How wrong I was.

The dark nights passed trundling round the Streets of Ludlow, down the Teme out to The Clive (great place for a brew), round the race course and home.

As Allie worked away we did most of our training separately and compared notes on how we were getting on. I was very worried at this point as only now a few weeks away.

Our kit started to arrive, day sacks, sand gaiters, caps, dried rations, socks, shorts the list was endless. Facebook forum was heating up and people started going on about weighing they’re kit and getting it as light as possible. Some people had 6kg and mine was coming in at a slightly heavier 11kg. Too much food? So we started weighing batteries for the head torch, weighing out our food into freezer bags and this was going on into the dark hours the day before we set off. Eventually we got our packs down to roughly 8kg.

Heading off to Gatwick on a little adventure we separated onto different flights and said our farewells and “see you in the desert” was our leaving comment to each other.

A 4 hour flight to Morocco and then a 7 hour bus journey which consisted of a packed lunch and a bottle of water. Finally we got to the first bivouac in darkness and off I went to find space in a tent for 2 people.

2 hours later Allie’s bus turned up and found our tent, which we shared with many different characters, one being a great chap from Guernsey whose calories consisted of a bottle of olive oil as it had 6000kcal, a lad who could run like the wind, a helicopter pilot instructor, married couple from Guildford and a young British Army Officer. We were all from different walks of life but all with the same goal over the next 7 days. In the pitch black of the desert we got some food and a well deserved head down.

The next 24 hours consisted of kit checks, medical paperwork check, and safety gear fitted, GPS and a tracker where apparently not meant to push the red button!!!

The next day was day one and adrenaline was pumping, far too much, and we were all stood on the start line, very hot,wearing all our kit and Highway to hell blaring out over the speakers!!

The first day went very quickly indeed crossing all sorts of terrain, rocks, sand(obviously) jebel’s(massive mountains) river beds and salt pans.

This continued for 3 days where we were doing pretty well, several blisters but we were making the check point cut off times and making it in at night sorting our feet, eating our very tasty dried food and then off again the next day.

Day 3 was start of the long day. 91km to be exact. Pretty tough and especially when Allie went over on what we though was her ankle. She was in a lot of pain but however we carried on through dune after dune, through the night and eventually getting the long day complete, at this point her leg was very painful and pretty swollen.

The next day and final push which was a full marathon and I woke to the sounds of “we are going to have to run the whole way today to get through the pain”. I lay in my 100oz summer sleeping bag, which for desert night time conditions isn’t the best no roll mat to sleep on as mine was thinner than A4 paper to yet again save weight. The thought of running a full marathon at this point was not a great thought but it clearly had to be done and was our only option. A pack of ibuprofen later, more dried food, litre of water and we were back on the start line where highway to hell was blaring out and off we went. Feet very very tender at this point and Allie’s leg very painful and 26 mile to go.

We managed to run to the first checkpoint which was 14km away in a decent time and felt really good. We then hit some pretty tough dunes and once over them we got back into a little running pace eating up the mileage and treading on what felt like nails as feet were pretty threaders at this point. Every horizon was getting further away and every brow of a hill there was another horizon in the distance, this went on for around 9km and eventually we saw this helicopter and a lot of dust and over the next brow there it was…….THE FINISH LINE. 1km away which actually felt like 10!!!! Crossing that line with Allie was the most amazing feeling ever. Mixed emotions, didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, scowl(which I gave a cameraman) or just go absolutely mental with happiness.¬† All of a sudden I was given a hug and uncontrollable tears poured out of me……please stop I thought but no they wouldn’t stop. We got back to our 8 man tent and everybody had made it to the end which was brilliant and massive congratulations all round.

The next day we were bundled back onto coaches for a 7 hour drive, sleep, laugh, joke with new friends we made and on returning to the hotel at which at this point a cardboard box would have sufficed we discovered that Allie had fractured her fibula on day 3, was now up to her neck in plaster and a set of crutches. AN ABSOLUTE LEGEND she is.

We were both ecstatic at finishing the Marathon Des Sables which was the 30th year. More people enter the London marathon every year than have finished this “TOUGHEST FOOT RACE ON EARTH” so I’m pretty pleased with what we’ve achieved in a short space of time and proved what the human body can do if pushed.

It was a truly remarkable experience and I have tried to keep this as brief as possible but still to this day and I’m sure the memories will live with me forever it was still the most amazing experience.

Alexandra McClellan & Elliot Maslen


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