Martyn masters the Marathon des Sables – again!
The Marathon des Sables (or MDS as it is known) is ranked by the Discovery Channel as the toughest footrace on earth. It is a multi-stage adventure in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates, the Sahara desert. The rules state that you must be self-sufficient and carry on your back everything, except water, that you need to survive.
The MDS attracts the most crazy, eccentric, and functional lunatics on the planet who all have a collection of stories and motivations, but who are united by a desire to compete in this life experience.
Martyn Bracegirdle, OO (1956-64), has just completed this gruelling race for the second time.
Serious training normally starts in the September prior to the race, but due to a short illness Martyn’s training did not start until November. A generally fit and active man, Martyn runs 15-20 miles per week, but once training began this increased to over 100 miles per week with his longest training session logging an impressive 44 miles.
Martyn flew out to Morocco in April and arrived in the southern Moroccan Sahara. He spent his first full day in the desert making last-minute adjustments and exploring the MDS village that had popped up about eight miles from the village of Merzouga.
Day 1 was a brutally sharp introduction to MDS conditions at a distance of 34km. Martyn set off with 3km of flat running straight towards one of Morocco’s largest and tallest field of dunes, the Erg Chebbi. He then contended with a 12k crossing of that dune field with shifting sands offering little to no navigational markers. This first day, when Martyn’s pack was the heaviest (11kilo), was surely the greatest challenge. Running through sand is both physically and mentally sapping, however there is good sand and bad sand; by finding the hard stuff Martyn could almost bounce along, but should he get it wrong he would sink and have to plough through. During this stage Martyn’s running partner, who has previously run the MDS 4 times, passed out between checkpoints and was rescued by helicopter. There were 20 dropouts on this day.
Day 2 Martyn set off with his pack with “Another One Bites the Dust” aptly greeting him at the 8:30am start. The beginning of the course led through a sandy, stony flat stretch and onward to smaller, darker orange dunes covered with black stones. The heat of the desert (close to 90°F) fully set in by late afternoon.
Day 3 was a little easier and Martyn had flat, runnable terrain for most of the stage’s 37.5km distance. This said, Martyn encountered several shorter dune fields, one small jebel (rocky hill), and some very sandy terrain at the edge of Oued Rheris.
Day 4 (The Big Day) - 84.3km (52.3 miles). Martyn began the longest stage for 2016 at 8:30am. The course had everything in it, tons of sandy terrain via small dune fields and dried creek beds, a couple of rocky jebels (hills), dried-up lake beds, and other flat and more gentle terrain. Running through the sand at night under the stars is something never to be forgotten. Martyn completed the stage at 4:30am the following morning – 20 hours after first stepping out.
Day 5 (Marathon Day). This was the last competitive day of the MDS and at a true marathon’s distance, 42.2km, was a runner’s route. While the course was interspersed with sand dunes here and there, a jebel and a couple of other pace-sucking elements, Martyn’s final stage led him through ‘easy’, runnable terrain (in the context of the Sahara Desert and what Martyn had endured over the previous days).
Day 6 was given over to UNICEF with the obligatory stage timed but not counting in the MDS ranking. At just 17.7km Martyn needed to cross the finish line to receive a finisher’s medal.
Martyn’s achievement is extraordinary. 1200 runners began the race and 973 finished. Martyn placed at 584 – an amazing feat.
Having pushed himself to his absolute limits Martyn finished 1st in his veteran class and received a magnificent trophy. His physical and mental strength is astonishing and Martyn is an inspiration to all Oswestrians.