25th May 2023
Running the Sahara
Running the Sahara – The Marathon Des Sables 36th Edition, Morocco
Challenge events have the name for a reason but running the Sahara dessert is as extreme as they come, it is revered as the ‘toughest footrace on earth’. Courageous supporter Matthew Welch took on this challenge to raise vital funds for Wish, and has shared his experience with us.
“Marathon Des Sables (MDS) is a 7 day, 250km footrace across the Moroccan Sahara desert, the unique thing about the MDS is the total self-sufficiency required throughout the race – you don’t have a support crew. Food, clothing, sleeping system and other mandatory items such as anti venom pump, compass and other survival equipment has to be carried. There’s no space for luxuries such as spare clothes, so you end up pretty filthy after a few days! My starting pack weight was 11.5 kg (less fluid) with the weight being predominately food. I took a mix of specialist expedition food and general supermarket food which ended up being good. Due to the salt loses, you crave salty snacks and any junk food was a highlight in the diet! Each day starts around 9am so you run through the hottest part of the day. Believe it or not, this is part of the fun of such an event!”
Each day of the race is between 30 – 40 kilometres over varying terrain but there is also a long day of 85 kilometres. The desert isn’t flat. The terrain is akin to the outer Lakeland fells with sharp rocky ascents and descents, dunes are steep and there aren’t any footpaths. This means everything is a scramble hand ropes are left to help navigate these technical sections. Many runners struggle with the technicality of the race as it is a real test of strength, stamina and physical coordination.
I was told I would have an epiphany. Mine came at checkpoint 5 on the ‘long day’, I had planned to start listening to music to boost my morale at the 50km stage. I’d reserved my playlist for this stage of the week to help keep momentum. The sun was setting, I was 7 Km into a sand dune crossing and ‘For Your Eyes Only’ by Sheena Easton came on. Totally random but at that moment, missing my family, staving off dehydration, feet painful with blisters from the terrain and miles from any civilisation, I felt so alone – but also so content and almost indomitable . It really was my eyes only seeing such a wonderful scene and at that moment I knew I could achieve the full distance.
I’ve been asked a few times how long I trained for the event. To be honest, the race is that far reaching I’ve probably been training all my life for it. Physically, 2 years have specifically been about running with an increasing pack weight and working out what works, which trainers to use, race strategy and kit. As you can imagine without the right kit, it’s a long week – in fact it can be life threatening.
The Marathon Des Sables had long being a life goal. After running a fair few marathons, ultra-marathons and competing in triathlons including Ironman I had been looking for something that was life changing; it was and more. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and made some lifelong friends. I managed a very respectable 262nd position out of about 1000 starters, managing to run most of the final marathon on the last day - so was very happy when I received my medal.
In today’s society too many of us take the basic things for granted. When you are stripped back to such a basic standard of living and are physically depleted from the enduring conditions, you learn to realise that don’t have to look far to see others in a far worse state than yourself. You really start to appreciate how selfish modern life can be. I genuinely believe that if you’re able bodied, anything is achievable – it all comes down to conditioning.
The Marathon Des Sables was a blast.
Running this life changing event Matt made very fond memories and his selflessness achieve a fantastic fundraising total of £4,000 with support from his employers at VPI. This incredible test of educate and sponsorship also enabled our Wishes to happen for children in the UK living with life threatening illness. If you have ever considered an endurance event, Matt is happy to share his experiences, both in the lead up with the training and preparation, or how to be motivated for such a task. To exchange contact details in the first instance email firstname.lastname@example.org