iRunFar’s own Meghan Hicks scored her first international victory last week by championing the 2013 Marathon des Sables. In addition to besting the women’s field by an hour, she finished 17th overall, the highest a woman has finished in modern/large-scale iterations of the race. In the following interview, Hicks talks about her race’s key moments, some of the other female competitors, and her favorite part of the race.
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Meghan Hicks, 2013 Marathon des Sables Champion, Interview Transcript
Meghan Hicks: This is Meghan here from iRunFar and I am with myself and also with Katherine Hay-Heddle. She is going to be conducting this interview today. Katherine was actually a competitor at the 2013 Marathon des Sables. She was forced to pull herself out of the race on the first day after she injured her Achilles or her lower leg. I’m really sorry that that happened. As the result of that injury, you were able to watch this year’s race unfold and watch the finish-line results each day. So you’re kind of an appropriate person to do this really awkward interview. I’m going to turn this over to you. Thanks, Katherine.
Katherine Hay-Heddle: I’m here with Meghan Hicks who is the 2013 Marathon des Sables winner, the first U.S. winner of this century, and only the second ever American winner of this amazing race. Congratulations, Meghan, you did so well this week.
Hicks: Thank you.
Hay-Heddle: First things first. In terms of your preparations for this race, you’ve been here before, what did you do differently?
Hicks: Four times. This is the fourth time I’ve done this race. I think I’m officially obsessed with it. I think my family would agree with that too, wondering why their daughter, cousin, niece keeps going to Morocco every year. Last year at this race, I think I had an epiphany where it was a fairly comfortable experience. I knew what I was getting into. I knew how to do the race. For some reason, all these light bulbs went on during the race and after the race. All of a sudden I understood the race. I understood how to race it. I understood what I could do to be the best version of myself for this race. I came home from last year’s race really inspired and feeling like I had the tools to turn myself into a better MdS racer.
Hay-Heddle: In terms of something that I watched, the two stages that were absolutely amazing to watch, one was the third stage where you came in like an absolute train. Can you tell us what happened that day?
Hicks: Stage 3, I think I began that day in second position [overall] by just a couple of minutes. Laurence [Klein] was maybe 10 minutes ahead in the overall standings. Eventual second-place finisher, Joanna Meek, was in third position [overall] by just a couple minutes behind me. She ran in front of me most of the race, as did Laurence. I ended up catching up to [Joanna], seeing her in the distance most of the second half of the race. Kind of gradually by our natural paces, I caught her at the last checkpoint about 6 or 6.5k to the finish—just a short little leg to the finish. I caught up to her and it kind of turned into a race. I didn’t think it would. I kind of thought we’d run it in slowly and easily because we had to run 50 miles the next day.
When I caught her, she took off like she had fire in her pants all of a sudden. Very near to the end of the race—it’s essentially a cross-country race, so you pick your lines—she picked a line that took her a little bit longer. So by natural terrain differences, we ended up right next to each other about half mile to go. I thought again at that point that we would jog it in together as we were a half mile from the finish. So I said, “Want to jog it in?” She said, “No!” The effect of what she said was, No, let’s race. So I said, “Okay, let’s race.” So it was probably a blazing 8:00 minute-mile pace after…
Hay-Heddle: You don’t often see that in the desert.
Hicks: Yeah, it was probably as fast as the [top] boys for probably a half mile. That was the resulting steam train—Joanna indicating she wanted to race, so we raced.
Hay-Heddle: The other stage I mentioned was the longest stage. It’s the stage that everyone talks about. I was usually quite good at guessing when you’d be back, but I missed you that day. You were a good half an hour earlier than expected. You started that stage in second place overall; you finished in first. What happened over the course of that day?
Hicks: That was a long day out in the desert. It was a really hot day. I think the temperature increased that day by several degrees Celsius over previous days. We started out and Laurence started out really fast. She was only a couple minutes ahead at the first checkpoint at 12k. I could still see her a few minutes out by my watch. Then she disappeared. We went over a series of sand dunes and she just literally disappeared like magic… flying along. It was really, really hot at that point and there was no way to chase her, no way to keep pace, no way that I could run what she was running and still have 40 more miles of good running. I had to gear down and do it at what was sustainable for me. That ended up being about the same sustainable pace for Joanna, too. She and I ran pretty much the entire first half of that race within 50 meters of each other—her leading, me leading, gapping each other, running next to each other, chatting with each other.
Then coming into just shortly before checkpoint 3, which was close to half way, Joanna was a few minutes in front of me, I saw her running past someone wearing yellow. Laurence was wearing yellow all week. All of a sudden I realized it was Laurence and she was walking. I just about died seeing the top woman walking half way into essentially a 50-mile run (47 miles). I came upon her a couple minutes later. She was kind of in a bad state. She was out of water; she was overheating; she was nauseous; she was a little bit confused. She couldn’t exactly communicate what was going on. She was ill. I felt terrible seeing her. She had somebody walking with her to deliver her safely to the next checkpoint where she could get some medical help. It was actually emotionally grueling to overtake her just to know what she could be going through. She was absolutely amazing. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Joanna is just one minute in front of you. Go race.” Yeah, it was wrenching—heart-wrenching to pass her and know she was in duress, but then to have her tell me to go race was pretty amazing.
Joanna and I ran pretty much together for half the distance from that checkpoint to the next checkpoint. Then I gapped her in some dunes. I never looked back after that. I don’t know how fast I gapped her. I don’t know how much time we spent in sight of each other. I never saw her again. I went with the intention of closing out that stage fast. I think running conservatively in the heat of the day well below the threshold of sustaining myself really set me up for being able to nail the last 20k of the race. I was able to progressively pick up the pace to the point that I was able to run whatever pace I wanted to the last 5k. In terms of a race plan for me, it couldn’t have gone any better even though it involved seeing Laurence become ill and eventually have to drop from the race. For me personally, it couldn’t have gone better.
Hay-Heddle: You did look great when you came in which is amazing after 47 miles.
Hicks: I didn’t puke. I always puke after the 50-mile day, but I didn’t puke this year.
Hay-Heddle: Oh, you didn’t? I’m glad, as I was sharing a tent. In terms of ignoring finish lines, what was your high point of the race?
Hicks: High point of the race was sunset on the long day. They start the 50 top men and the five top women around noon. So you inevitably run into the night. I was about 15k from the finish when sunset came, and I got to see the sun fall out of the sky through a hazy, sandy atmosphere and fall behind layers of silhouetted mountains. It was just gorgeous. It happened simultaneous to the point that I thought, This is the time where I really turn it on and push. Laurence was somewhere behind me. Joanna was somewhere behind me. I knew that this was my moment to make as big of a gap on the women’s field as I could. This was my race to either make or not make. Being inspired by the beauty and having that all kind of interwoven together was very special.
Hay-Heddle: You did a fantastic race all week through. It was great to witness it as a tentmate, and it was fantastic watching you finish every day.
Hicks: Thank you so much, Katherine. I appreciate it.