Marathon des Sables 2009 – A New Challenge

Marathon des Sables 2009Today, was kind of a big day for me – I verbally committed to running the Marathon des Sables in Morocco next March and April! I’m so very excited for so many reasons – the challenge, the training, the people, the planning, the experience – just to name a few. Over the next half a year, I plan to share with you the training, the planning, the gear testing, and, ultimately, the effort and spirit I put into the Marathon des Sables itself.

In case you are wondering, the Marathon des Sables is a 6-stage, 7-day race that covers approximately 150 miles of the Moroccan desert. That means we run over sand dunes, up mountains, through dried river beds, and on miles and miles of rocky desert landscape. In case, that’s not fun enough, it’s likely to be hot (think 120′ F) and could be really hot (130′ F). Oh, did I forget to mention that participants carry everything that they need for the week with the exception of water and the 2-walled Berber tent they’ll sleep in.

Marathon des Sables Stage 3 2008How do they may the course look so cute?

While I have no clue how I will fair relative to the competition, a number of experienced MdS and adventure racers have said that the race will suit my strengths. Their confidence in me was one reason that I decided to make the commitment after only a few days consideration. Well, that and the fact that I tend to agree with them and here’s why:

  • I tend to “run smart” and take care of myself well. This should be a huge asset in a race with (1) 150 miles in 7 day (2) over sand and rough terrain (3) in sick heat (4) all while wearing a 10-20 pound pack.
  • I am “not a small runner,” as a friend put it yesterday. No, I don’t have some warped body image and think that I’m fat or a goliath, I’m just not a waif. I’ve got big strong legs. This will be one time that I’m glad I run like the rhino and not the gazelle.
  • I’ve got some ultrarunning and, now, some stage racing experience thanks to August’s GORE-TEX TransRockies Run. Fortunately, I still feel good about my effort and strategy at TRR.

As I mentioned, I’m also excited about the people I’ll meet and see at MdS. If even a few of the folks I meet at MdS are anything like the folks I met at TRR, it’s sure to be a good week. That said, I’ll be happy that when I show up at MdS I’ll alreasdy know folks there as great as the DreamchasersLisa, Jay, and Colleen; my new friend from TRR, Meghan; and my neighbor and weekly training partner, Michael Wardian. Speaking of Wardian, I’m also hoping that I’ll get to join him and another runner as part of what could be a very good American team at next year’s MdS.

Of course, I’m also ready to geek out planning for the race. The fact that I’ll have to carry all my gear and food the entire way means that I’ll very carefully select every bit of my kit. (I’ve obviously already spent far to much time at the UK MdS Forums.) Of critical importance will be the pack itself – so I intend to test a great number. I’ll also be taking a look at new sunglasses, hats, gaiters, various smaller pieces of gear, and dried foods. I can’t wait to share what I learn with you.

Last and certainly not least, I’m psyched about training for the race… and about learning how to train for the race. I’ve already tested running with a 10 pound pack and intend to do much more training with heavy packs (unless I learn that’s a bad idea). I’ve already started doing core work (wheel of pain) and push ups. For the first time in the five years I’ve had chronic Achilles problems I’ve started actively rehabbing the injury. I want it fixed by next March. I may also do some serious back-to-back runs, some sand runs (if I can find enough sand), and some sauna work. Oh, I also plan to train my butt off for the next six months. Wish me luck!

If you want to follow my journey leading up to and through the Marathon des Sables, consider subscribing via RSS or via email.

There are 16 comments

  1. Mike

    WOW – I'm so jealous (not that I could do it, but more b/c of the experience you'll have). Can't wait to follow your journey from the combort of my laptop :) The backpacking/fastpacking community is a great place to get ideas on reducing your load. My favorite site, thebackpacker.com. Great people, TONS of knowledge about gear, and welcoming to questioning. Check it out. You may meet some of them soon – hopefully.

  2. Meghan

    Holy crap! Welcome to the OCGC's! That's the Obsessive-Compulsive Gram Counters, in case that wasn't clear. I'm so glad you're going to be there to chase away all the camel spiders. ;) Such very exciting news!Yours in ultralight geekhood,Meghan

  3. BGill

    Niiiice Bryon! Sounds like you've got your work cut out for you over the next couple of months. Definitely looking forward to all the new gear reviews. Best of luck!

  4. Yassine Diboun

    Hey Brian! You are going to have an experience of a lifetime over there. My father is Moroccan (Berber)and I still have so many relatives living there. I spent the summer there two years ago. I was training in that heat too and let me tell you…it's really hot in the shade. I look forward to hearing more as you get closer and let me know if you need anything that I might be able to help with. Best wishes. Yassine

  5. Argentine Rocket

    Didn't you pack like 12 bags for TRR, Bryon? I'd like to see you go from that to only one (no makeup, mirrors, or stuffed animals!) I recommend Ray Jardine's light backpacking books – the guy shows you how to transform gear to save every gram of weight. I look forward to reading more about your preparations!

  6. Meredith

    You are going to have the time of your life. You already are comfortable with stage racing, which will put you ahead of the curve. Now, you just need to work on running with the pack and get some custom made shoes and gaiters :) I am so excited (and slightly jealous) and know you are going to have an unparalleled experience.

  7. Runner Tammy

    Wow, even considering the Marathon des Sables is impressive…committing to it verbally is just AMAZING!I just am glad I know people like yourself who I can point to when my husband questions my running goals.Be careful of the creatures on the course out to get you (and I do not mean the fierce competitors) but the scorpion, spiders, snake and other man biting creatures. And always remember to shake out your shoes and clothing before you put them on.Have fun?!?Tammy

  8. Sunshine Girl

    Yaaay! How exciting! Any adventure is a good adventure (and yes, that includes TransRockies, DNF's and trips to Morocco!) and I'm glad Meghan will have you to keep her entertained and scare away spiders.I would love to go to Morocco to run around the High Atlas some day(it's reeeeeal pretty) but no deserts for me, thanks. Sand and sun are for the All-Inclusive Keith and Leslie holiday. I can't wait to see the color of your skin when you return, little red-head boy! Leslie

  9. Anonymous

    Great – can't wait for the reports and pics (guess we have to though ;) ) I just finished reading Mike Stroud's book: Survival of the Fittest (I think it is called). Great read and he has a chapter on his experience at the MdS. I'm happy to just read about it!dogrunner

  10. Trail Goat

    Wow! I wish I hadn't had such a crazy week and had been able to respond sooner. Thanks everyone for your support. Who knew that iRunFar's most commented post would be about my race plans six months out?!Mike,Thanks for pointing out thebackpacker.com – I've never been there before. I'll be sure to check it out. It's funny, the first thing that I thought of when I saw you had commented was whether I should plan for a system to pick up trash in the desert! That's a good influence you have!Meghan,I will scare away all the camel spiders AND the stinky runners. I am SO the OCGC guy. I think I might be president of the club soon after a coup-de-geek.Gill,I can't wait to get to the gear reviews. I'll start collecting new gear this weekend. Tim to cruise the internets and over to REI.Yassine,Wat else can you tell me about the desert? How hot is "really hot in the shade?" ;-) I'll be sure to let you know if there's anything you can do to help. Does any of your family live in or near Ouarzazate?Hart,You said it, dood!Rocket,I NEED to take a mirror. No. For Serious! Stop laughing. A mirror is part of the required kit for MdS – it's used to signal for help in emergencies. I don't think I'll ahve any problem going down to one bag… in fact, I suspect mine will be among the lighter packs out there.Paige,I can't wait to tell everyone about it.Meredith,I'm already working on the running with a pack thing. Already had two runs this week with a 10# pack and will go for 15-20 with a pack tomorrow. The gaiters, they are a comin'.Tammy,I'm glad I an help you out with the "well, this guy is even crazier than me" category. ;-) Part of the required MdS gear is an antivenom kit. I'll be sure to shake my shoes, clothes, and booty before every stage, as well.Mike V., I am already a subscriber to the Backpacking Light website – great stuff, indeed. I hadn't thought of visiting Skurka's page. Thanks for the idea.Leslie,I can't wait for my fire and ice double next year. :-) If you can imagine, I can actually tan. Just give me three months to peel first.Angie,Yup yup!Dogrunner,I hadn't heard of that book, I'll have to check it out. You might have to wait a long time for pics… I'm debating whether or not to carry a camera. Every ounce counts.Tony,That's better than no chance at all.Lisa,I'm so excited! :-)

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