The most memorable years of the Marathon des Sables

by Rory Coleman
International Performance Coach

Rory Coleman, a professional running coach and ultra-athlete, is training Sir Ranulph Fiennes to run the Marathon des Sables, the toughest footrace on earth, to raise money for Marie Curie. Rory has run the Marathon des Sables 11 times, and is doing it again in 2015. He’s telling us all about the race, covering the highs and lows, and everything in between.

Rory Coleman running the Marathon des Sables

I've run the Marathon des Sables 11 times now. So I've a wealth of stories and material, enough for an all action Indiana Jones sequel or perhaps a ‘Carry On up the Desert’ instalment, depending on your point of view. They’d be set against the amazing backdrop of blue skies, mountains and endless sand dunes but, like a TV series, each would have its own particular theme.

The first instalment

To start, there was my first outing in 1999. Not knowing quite what I was undertaking and without the benefit of forums, Facebook or email, I went off to my local outdoor shop and bought a huge pack which I managed to overload with kit I’d now scoff at. It was before the advent of gaiters, the shoe covers that prevent sand getting in your trainers. This meant every mile or so there was the tedious job of tipping out the golden sand that had filled your inappropriately designed trainers. Yes, I got it all wrong and paid the price. But it didn’t matter because the experience was totally overwhelming. So much so I went back for the tricky sequel the following year.

The race in 2000 was the hottest ever. That year we scorched at over 60°C in the desert. After finishing I thought I’d experienced all the race had to offer and tried other race experiences. But none of them compared to the Marathon des Sables.

The year the race got even harder

In true ‘rock star comeback style’, I went back in 2006 – the 'Jack Osbourne Year' – only to find out the amps had been turned up to 11 with the race a whole lot harder than before.

Being known as the World’s Toughest Footrace means it has to stay ahead of the competition. It did in the 'Wet Year’ of 2009. When we arrived at the first camp we were greeted with torrential rain and Glastonbury-style mud until we were evacuated to a hotel for two days. A makeshift course was designed with a super-long stage. It quashed thoughts of the organisers going easy on us and provided extra-large blisters to make sure no one felt short-changed. It was also the year of the ‘Moroccan Two-step’ (the dreaded trots) which made it even harder for 90% of the Brits who suffered its evil curse.

2015: the Sir Ranulph Fiennes year

Luckily, it didn’t come back for 2010 – the 'Cracknell Year' – and that’s the one most people are familiar with. There’s plenty of footage of that year that showed just how hard the race is. It made the Marathon des Sables famous and highlighted the incredible landscapes that 1,500 competitors will be experiencing in just a few days’ time. They’re coming from all over the world, from more than 20 countries in all shapes, sizes and abilities, from world-record breaking athletes looking to win to people just looking to get to the finish line. Everyone though will be hoping that the 30th Marathon des Sables will live up to the hype.

I know it will. They’ve now made it longer and even tougher with a 100km stage on day four – the longest stage ever. That’ll really test the limits of human endurance. But, then again, that’s only right for the 'Sir Ranulph Year’, isn’t it?

You can support Sir Ranulph Fiennes in his latest challenge by donating on his JustGiving page.

Enjoying our Marathon des Sables blogs? Take a look at our previous blogs: Jogging and running for beginnersEssential kit for the Marathon des SablesThe dangers of the Marathon des SablesWhat it’s like to train Sir Ranulph Fiennes and What it's like to run the Marathon des Sables.