The Marathon des Sables across the Sahara Desert is the stuff of legends. Most agree it’s the toughest footrace on earth and organisers describe it as ‘a gruelling multi-stage adventure through a mythical landscape in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments’, so it’s a serious challenge, and not one to be taken lightly.
The Marathon des Sables 2017 starts on the 7 April and takes place over six stages over seven days, across 250km (156 miles) through endless dunes, over rocky planes, and across white-hot salt plains, all in temperatures of 50+ degrees centigrade.
In light of this, we’re incredibly excited to be supporting our (very brave) Boudavida friend, Josie Adams, aged 26, who will be taking on this challenge to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. A cause close to her heart. In the final weeks of training, we caught up with her to find out more:
1. What made you want to take on the Marathon des Sables?
The idea just stuck, having first heard about it a few years ago... once I'd said it out loud there was no going back!
2. Have you always been an active person?
Yes - I guess being brought up on a farm with two older brothers was a pretty good starting point. I remember when I began running too – sometimes I used to walk the dog after school and at the time it must have been a tedious chore so I would run around instead to get home quicker. I think I knew then that it felt good so I carried on.
3. What has your training involved?
I've had a series of loop holes to jump through, which includes running my first ultra, followed by multi stage ultras which got me used to running on tired legs.
The races naturally built up endurance. I've gradually built my pack weight up too, to the weight it will be in the race and I'll also have two weeks of heat sessions in a chamber prior to the race to help with heat acclimatisation.
As with all my running to date, I haven't used a training program - I think having to conform to one gets boring quickly and I enjoy just following my gut and tackling various training hurdles when it feels right.
4. What do you think will be the toughest element of the race?
My take on the MdS is all about minimising what can go wrong, so I'm preparing for everything that I can by putting myself in those situations prior to the race - heat, blisters, testing foods and kit etc. So, I guess the toughest thing will be dealing with something - injury/feeling/situation that I haven't experienced before. I know the long day (50 odd miles in one go) is going to throw a new experience at me; I haven't run this distance before. So, I'll be going into it with an open mind and expecting a few hurdles.
5. Have you had to change your diet and nutrition through training?
Through choice I've adapted to a high fat, low carb diet which has helped get my weight down and also really emphasises the effects of carbs when I do have them (on race days). It's been a lifestyle choice I've enjoyed and feel suited to anyway so I expect I'll keep it up post-MdS.
6. Have you done any extreme challenges like this before?
The only thing I can relate it to is a multi-day, 125 mile Kayak race I did when I was at school... That was a bit of an odd thing for a 17 year old girl to be doing during her A-levels as is - by most of the reactions I got – and now the MdS, so I guess there's a pattern forming with my 'extra-curricular' side of life!
7. What is your pacing plan for the race?
The race is set out over a set series of stages. People compete at every level from walking to fast running. I'm aiming to run most of it and have set myself personal 'gold, silver and bronze' targets which will help me mentally in the race.
8. What kind of specialist kit and clothing is needed for the Marathon des Sables?
There's no end to the specialist kit you can go into for a race like this, but my main concerns are weight and how to cope with the heat and the sand. I've gone for X-Bionic clothing that is great in the heat and gaiters to prevent sand getting in my shoes. All my kit and sleeping arrangements are super lightweight and small to keep my pack as light as possible. There's also a checklist of compulsory items - venom pump, flare, signalling mirror etc which I'm slowly compiling together.
9. How much are you hoping to raise for the Alzheimer’s Society?
My original target was £2000 but I'm going to have to re-think that after recently going well over £3000 with my Mum's coffee morning contributions! Perhaps I'll try for £5k!
10. What are your post-race plans? Will you put your feet up?
Riad for a week in Marrakesh for a group of 18 of us... Hopefully I'll be able to keep my eyes open!
To help support Josie, please visit her JustGiving page to find out more.