What it’s like to run the Marathon des Sables

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

The Marathon des Sables is one of life’s most exciting personal adventures and is the perfect opportunity to find out what makes you tick. During the 156 miles (250km) of endless sand dunes, mountains and dried up river beds, the 50°C+ temperatures practically boil you. But I don’t care because the desert makes me feel alive.

A life chasing challenges

I discovered the race whilst trying to run 100 marathons during 1999. It was part of my journey of recovery from being a very unfit, overweight, alcohol and nicotine dependant 31 year old to cleaning up my act. I’d seen the race on TV and signed up immediately because I was looking for the ultimate challenge. The whole experience changed my horizons on how I should structure my life. During the seven days of the race you get completely broken, both mentally and physically. The deconstruction and reconstruction of one’s character is profound and everyone who does the race comes back appreciating life, relationships and home comforts far more than when they went.

Everything hurts

The race, well that hurts. It hurts your feet, your legs, your back, in fact everything hurts. Crossing the finish line each day though is one of life’s biggest rushes. I enjoy the solitude the race offers and it’s not like you can really get lost following a long line of people stringing ahead of you like ants. It’s a marvellous time for reflection and the only consideration each day is to get to the finish, rest, eat and drink litres of water to stay re-hydrated. Out in the sand dunes, the going is extremely slow. The sand is loose and collapses under your feet. To get over the hills you have to climb quickly to keep your momentum. Then you have to do the same for the next, and the next, and so on. It’s a real challenge. At the end of each stage there’s a small cup of sweet Moroccan tea to quench your thirst a little. Then you walk back to an-open sided Berber tent to share your tales of the day with the other competitors who’ve just endured the stage. The tent is your desert haven and your comrades are seriously special people. They help bolster the spirit and with them you’ll enjoy some of the funniest ‘crack’ you can ever imagine. It’s the only time I’ve ever cried during the race.

Every year I go back

Back in 1999 there were less than 600 competitors. This year there’ll be a colossal 1,500 due to the race’s popularity gained from TV and the internet. Everyone that takes part has a special place in their heart for their days at the Marathon des Sables. I’ve completed so many challenges, set world records and run the length of the country but each year I go back and recharge my batteries at the Marathon des Sables.

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 beginnersThe most memorable years of the Marathon des SablesEssential kit for the Marathon des SablesThe dangers of the Marathon des Sables and What it's like to train Sir Ranulph Fiennes.