Laurence Klein, Liza Howard, Jolanda Linschooten, and Eli Sanchez Brito are some of the women’s favorites at the 2015 Marathon des Sables. In the following interviews, hear how Laurence is approaching this year’s race mentally, what is going inside Liza’s pack, what has drawn Jolanda back for her third attempt at the MdS, and Eli’s history with endurance sports. Click on a name to jump directly to our interview with Laurence Klein, Liza Howard, Jolanda Linschooten, and Eli Sanchez Brito.
iRunFar: This will be your sixth start of the MdS. What keeps you coming back to this very challenging race in the Moroccan Sahara? What draws you in? What do you love about this race?
Laurence Klein: I have a very intimate relationship with the Moroccan desert. The landscapes are beautiful, and it provides a total break with my life every day! This is definitely my favorite race combining solidarity, humanity, and liberty.
iRunFar: What are your goals for this year’s race? You have three wins, a second place, and one year where you got sick and were unable to finish. You’ve always had so much success with MdS.
Klein: The MdS is a competition after all! I’m a competitor. I will try to have a good appearance again. The competition is tough! You return and other strong competitors will race, too.
iRunFar: Since this is the 30th anniversary of the event, there will be more competitors and more friends on the route every day. Do you talk with the people with whom you run? Do you simply run together, quietly?
Klein: The 30th edition will be very hard, the course difficulty, the length of the stages, a lot of very experienced trailers, but also a lot of friends. It is the charm of MdS.
iRunFar: At the bivouac each day, what do you do to recover yourself from stage to stage? Food? Drink? Stretching? Rest? What is your recovery plan?
Klein: The bivouac is an important moment. It provides reprieve. I eat. I send an email to my children who I love. I meet new people, chat, and live this fabulous time simply!
iRunFar: Marathon des Sables is not only a stage race, but a self-sufficiency stage race where you are mostly reliant on what’s in your pack for a week of running. Talk about going big or going home with your first stage race! What is your personal draw to this race, a race of this format, and the whole experience which surrounds it?
Liza Howard: I have been given the opportunity to participate in this grand adventure by the Ultra-Trail World Tour. Honestly, I was quite shocked to be selected by them. “You’re sure you have the right Liza?” I didn’t press them too hard about their choice since running MdS is a dream I’d never be able to accomplish without their help.
As far as jumping into the deep end (head first, wearing a heavy pack and big gaiters) for my first stage race, well sure, it’s not ideal, but I’m hoping my background as a field instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) living outdoors and carrying a backpack for multi-week courses will serve me well. And all the years of eating I’ve done in the San Antonio heat should be of good use, too.
Part of the draw for me is the challenge of self-sufficiency and the rigor of the environment. The certainty that I will be humbled by the format of this race and cross the final finish line wiser and more compassionate is a huge part of my desire to participate. Ultimately though, I’m drawn like a moth to a flame, doing something this nutty surrounded by like-minded people.
iRunFar: Because of the unique race format and its location in the hot Sahara, training and preparing for this race goes a little (a lot?) differently than for regular ultramarathons. Can you talk about a few details of your training? Some of the strange aspects that you’ve never done before? Aspects that might seem silly or hilarious to the outside observer?
Howard: I’d never worn a puffy jacket, puffy pants, and 20-pound pack on a treadmill before I started training for this race. I certainly didn’t imagine it was possible to sweat through a warm-enough-for-winter-camping puffy jacket. I had to stop mid-run a few times and throw all my clothes into the dryer because the soaked and clinging layers of polyester were more than I could stand. I kept my garage door closed during these training sessions to increase the heat, and so the neighbors don’t call Child Protective Services. Other than that, my training wasn’t dissimilar to training for a 100 miler. I aimed to do more back-to-back runs, though.
iRunFar: Your pack, what’s going in it? Can you share some details of your food, gear, and accessory items, things you’ve deemed important or necessary? And, are there any luxuries in your pack? Things you don’t need, but still really want to have with you?
Howard: Besides the mandatory gear, I’ll have a sleeping bag, a very, very tiny sleeping pad, a wind jacket, headlamp, blister kit, earplugs, some Tylenol and Imodium, toothbrush and toothpaste, an iPod, and about 18,000-ish calories of food. I’ll be bringing a tiny Sharpie to get autographs on my hat from tentmates, nice people, and any famous polar explorers. I’ll also be carrying that useless anti-venom extractor, which is part of the mandatory safety gear. Besides the Sharpie, I’ll bring a snapshot of my family, a few pieces of paper to journal on, and handiwipes. The pack will weigh almost 15% of my body weight, so that’s it for luxuries.
iRunFar: You raced Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile just about two months ago, running a 15:34 for second place, an incredible result because of the limited training you did while nursing a leg issue. How have you transitioned between that race and this one, transferring that fitness over? How long did your Rocky recovery take? I think the leg issue that held your Rocky training back has healed? What has your MdS training looked like?
Howard: I had a hard time recovering from Rocky. My leg stopped bothering me about a week before the race, but I had trouble putting in solid training afterwards. I was physically and mentally wiped out. It turned out I was also a bit anemic, and I’ve felt much better these past three weeks. I haven’t done the training I would like to do for this race, and I’m not as fit as I would like to be. But I have done a good amount moderate-paced running on trails with a weighted pack. I’m hoping the endurance will serve me well. I certainly won’t be able to make the mistake of going out too fast the first stages of the race.
iRunFar: Finally, you’re about to almost totally disconnect yourself from the rest of the world to run for a week through the Sahara Desert’s wilderness with 1,300 other people and camp with very limited provisions. What are you looking forward to? What do you fear? What draws you emotionally toward this experience? What do you want to get out of it that isn’t running-related?
Howard: I am looking forward to not having an iPhone in my hand and having only one job–running, eating, and sleeping for seven days. I am looking forward to chatting with folks at mealtimes and people-watching. I can’t wait to see the stars. I worry a bit about getting lost. I hope I don’t disappoint the UTWT folks or New Balance with my performance. I fear large camel spiders. I hope I can inspire some happiness and laughter out there. And I hope to leave this experience feeling rested. I know that sounds strange, but chasing a toddler around while working three jobs from home makes MdS sound a bit like a running retreat–with camel spiders.
iRunFar: You are returning to the MdS for your third participation. After having raced and adventured all over the world, including in climates the literal opposite of the Sahara Desert, what is drawing you back to the Moroccan Sahara?
Jolanda Linschooten: Running to me means a lot more than racing or preparing for it. Last year, I, therefore, decided to skip the races and to turn back to what I like the most: long adventures in rough places. That is why I ran solo 2,000 kilometers from Land’s End to John O’Groats off-road through the British fells. And along the Swedish Kungsleden. But giving an MdS clinic in January of 2014, I felt the excitement of the race back, the excitement of this beautiful race through the southern Moroccan Sahara. I love multi-stage running, I love the mountainous desert, and most of all I love that special kind of spirit that comes along with the Marathon des Sables. All of a sudden I understood: I missed it! So the next step was easy. Inscription for 2015!
iRunFar: What lessons did you learn at your previous two participations that you are taking into this race? Good lessons? Hard lessons? Do you have an memories of really strong moments from previous MdSes that you will be channeling through this year’s difficulties?
Linschooten: Each race is different. As soon as you think, Ah, I’ve done that one, I know that one, I believe you’re loosing alertness, which is essential for any race. I do remember that the heat is all right up to a certain level. In my second MdS, there was a day of 50-degrees Celsius (122F) and no wind at all. This was absolutely different from 45-degrees Celsius (115F) with wind! There will also be moments of despair, of extreme fatigue–it is part of doing this kind of racing–and they will be as hard as they were before. The marathon stage I found quite difficult to run. Mentally, I felt like I had done the hardest part after finishing the long stage, and then 42k is still a long run! But as in previous years, the desert is so variable, so beautiful, and the spirit with the other competitors is so enlightening. The people and the desert will provide lots of energy, I am sure about that.
iRunFar: The MdS is a uniquely formatted race. A week of racing, a pack of self-sufficiency, the climate, the terrain. What has your training looked like in the last three months to prepare for these parts of the race?
Linschooten: My training was partly here at home in the Netherlands where I can train in the hilly sand dunes of Schoorl as I live near the coast. This terrain can be (apart from the heat) quite similar to MdS. I can simulate running the MdS, sometimes with my pack, with the food, the shoes. Another part of my training has been done in the Norwegian mountains, in the snow. Together with my husband Frank van Zwol (being a wilderness guide, he also loves the great outdoors) and our husky Herschel, I made my own skis out of a tree and, then, we made a ski-touring trip on them. In between, I ran in the snow, which feels (again, apart from the cold…) quite similar to sand.
iRunFar: What are your thoughts on the very long Stage 4, in excess of 93 kilometers, which is being promised by the race administration? Talk about making a hard race even harder! What are your thoughts going into that day?
Linschooten: I am positive about that. We have to be! Of course, it will make the whole event even harder, because one needs more recovery after this and the 42k comes still at the same moment. But there is a positive outcome about it, as well. The hours of running in relatively colder temperatures will be more! I try to stick to the positive.
iRunFar: What are your goals going into this edition of the race? Performance goals? Emotional goals? Other goals?
Linschooten: My goal is to run the best race I can and to me, that means quite a few things. First of all, I have to really enjoy the whole MdS experience: the special bond between competitors, the beautiful desert, the competing against each other, the suffering, and the pure joy of running itself. Probably this one is the most important, because without that one looses more than one could possibly win. Running my best race means also to me that I give all I have, but in an ‘ultra way,’ so not all in one shot but in phases, more gradually. It also means that I want to keep my focus on my own running and not on what the others do. This is a difficult one in a race where you also like to be somewhere in the front.
Eli Sanchez Brito
iRunFar: You are a multi-sport athlete living in the Canary Islands. Can you talk about your background with sport? I think you have background and success in triathlon?
Eli Sanchez Brito: Since childhood I have done a lot of sport, of all kinds.I’ve been through basketball, football, judo, athletics. Three years ago, I met the triathlon, but not at a competitive level. In 2013, I decided to prepare for the 2014 Ironman Lanzarote, finishing in a time of 13 hours. I raced mountain races, but they have always been 50k in length. Marathon des Sables will be my first long ultra. It is a great challenge for beginners in the world of ultra endurance, and it’s what I am passionate about.
iRunFar: I can’t find many ultramarathon results for you. What is your background with trails and ultrarunning?
Sanchez: In Gran Canaria, I ran two 50k mountain races. I can tell you that the Marathon des Sables will be my first long ultra. With it I hope to first of many ultramarathons.
iRunFar: How did you decide you wanted to do one of the biggest trail ultramarathons there is, the Marathon des Sables? What draws you to this race?
Sanchez: I think that believing in myself. I decided to make an Ironman and finish well and so it was. I think everyone seeks their limits. If you can dream it, you can do it. That’s my motto. Only perseverance and a lot of discipline is needed. The rest comes alone.
iRunFar: What are you looking forward to most about this race? The Sahara Desert? Spending time with friends and other Spanish runners?
Sanchez: I guess putting the body to the limit. To know how far I can get. Coexistence not only with other Spanish runners, but sharing with different cultures and nationalities. Everyone is there to live a dream, an unforgettable experience that unites us.
iRunFar: How about your gear, from your pack to your gaiters to the food you are taking to eat during the race? Can you talk about the specific gear you are taking to the race?
Sanchez: Well, that’s something that has taken training throughout the year. Testing my nourishment has been key. Not only bars and gels, but the freeze-dried food. Keep in mind that we will be under extreme conditions and recovery for the next stage is basic. I am fortunate that my sponsors have helped a lot with my gear. The shoes are very important, I’ll take the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail. The shoemaker was in charge of sewing and gluing gaiters to keep out sand. I think a special mention is the sleeping bag is needed as temperatures drop much at night.
iRunFar: How about your training for this race? It’s such a unique race that it requires unique training and preparation. What are some of the key trainings and workouts you have done for the Marathon des Sables?
Sanchez: The base you have is key. I do not think someone may be prepared in nine months for a long ultra like this without prior preparation. I already had my Ironman training. That was months of building strength in the gym, months of building endurance. In my opinion, the head plays an important role in this type of race. When the body says enough the head may help keep me going.