Marathon des Sables: The Greatest Journey

RW staffer James lays bare his Marathon des Sables experience - and his battered feet

by James Fricker

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The greatest journey I have ever been on is over, and it feels hard to get on with a life without the Sahara. It’s a journey I’ve been on since October last year when my place in the 27th Marathon Des Sables was confirmed. It’s the toughest footrace on earth - why wouldn’t I want to give it a go?

First steps

My first challenge was breaking the news to my girlfriend, who while incredibly supportive was less than impressed by the documentary I showed her of James Cracknell’s adventures in the 2010 MdS.
“So let’s get this straight,” she said, “it’s 151 miles across the Sahara in temperatures up to 52C and people have died doing it? You’re going to do what you want anyway but just so you know - I don’t want you to do it”

Crucially, she didn’t say I couldn’t do it so I had the all-clear.

All that remained for me to do was train, get kit together, perfect my nutrition strategy, find footwear and gaiters that worked, fill out all the relevant paperwork, book my annual leave, enjoy Christmas and ask people to sponsor me. It was a busy seven months.

'Insert Training Montage Here'

I started off slowly, averaging around 20 miles a week and ramped it up to 70 miles a week. With two months to go I introduced the backpack and a bit of weight and even tried an ultra-distance race in Devon. I felt like I was slowly becoming a running machine...

By race week I was as ready as I thought I could be - I’d just comfortably paced sub-1:30 at the Hastings Half-Marathon, completed a marathon in Devon and done seven runs of 20-22 miles. I was injury-free and I felt ready.

On My Way

After a lovely send-off (including the helpful comment “it feels like I’m waving you off to war”) I found myself in Gatwick, milling around with other ultra runners all desperate to get on the charted plane to Morocco.

What instantly struck me was the average age of my fellow runners. Compared to my 25 all the other runners seemed to be in the mid-30s – I took this as a sign that I could only get better with age, something to look forward to!

In Morocco we found our tent buddies – I teamed up with two marines, two guys from the navy, Rob the South African, Luke the Aussie who was aiming for a top 50 finish and a BP worker called Adrian who I wrongly accused of overinflating petrol prices. The eight of us were going to share some interesting times together in the desert.

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Marathon des Sables, MdS, ultra, travel

Discuss this article

James, thanks for sharing your story I got a real sense of you in it. Well done for completing it does not come close to how proud I hope you feel for what you have done
Posted: 26/04/2012 at 20:54

That sounds like one hell of a journey you have been on and conquered - respect and well done.  Take a bow.

Posted: 26/04/2012 at 21:02

Well done! It sounds like such an utterly memorable experience. You should be VERY proud of yourself for what you've managed to acheive.
Posted: 27/04/2012 at 08:38

What an amazing journey. I can't fathom the strength of will you must have to keep running on numb feet and mutinous legs, anyone who does MdS and has such a brilliant finish has my utter respect and admiration! Well done to you!
Posted: 27/04/2012 at 10:54

Incredible performance, James. Absolute respect.
Posted: 27/04/2012 at 11:52

Thanks for sharing - a truly brilliant experience!!!!
Posted: 27/04/2012 at 13:35

Some classic lines in there: "Crucially, she didn’t say I couldn’t do it, so I had the all-clear" and "After cleaning myself up, I pushed hard again."

Great writing - even better running! 

Posted: 27/04/2012 at 16:04

Thanks for all your kind words - 4 toe nails now lost in total, but back to feeling normal and more importantly, running again. Hoorah!
Posted: 30/04/2012 at 09:45

Amazing achivement. Just proves to me that when i say I don't want to do this race I am right....

Well done you. 

Posted: 10/05/2012 at 12:16

Did you win????
Posted: 30/06/2012 at 23:03

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