The Marathon des Sables is bad for your health

It is possibly one of the most famous races in the world, there are not too many runners who haven’t heard of it and it is one of those rare beasts that even non-runners have also been exposed to, thanks to several documentaries shown on TV. Although billed as the most brutal footrace in the world it almost certainly isn’t… however it should come with a health warning. And I say this before I’ve even set off. Not because of the physical requirements or even the harsh environment we’ll be facing but because of what it does to your life as you prepare to take it on.

You become patently paranoid

“Paranoia involves intense anxious or fearful feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat, or conspiracy.”

ParanoidIn committing to this race, you put everything into it, physically, mentally & financially. Once you’ve put everything on your credit card you’re in the hole for quite a few 1000’s so it’s unsurprising that the pressure to ensure you can arrive in Morocco in one piece starts to take its toll. This growing paranoia wasn’t helped when I managed to injure myself at the start of the year but I’ve since become convinced that my body is out to get me. I have ended up terrified of running as the weeks went on, just in case I aggravated any niggles and jeopardised my attempt before it started and don’t get me started on the sniffles… every sneeze is treated like it is the onset of pneumonia followed by days in bed trying to recover from blowing your nose…

You transform into a social recluse

“A person who voluntarily removes themselves from social situations, or society altogether.”

adventure-1867868_1280Losing friends is already commonplace for many distance runners as they approach their target race, but it has taken on a whole new level… bordering on agoraphobia. Invitations to socialise are regularly, if not always declined. A late night out will only get in the way of that early morning long run you have scheduled (I say scheduled because the paranoia means it becomes a short run… just in case), or even worse an attempt to mix a hangover and hot yoga will only end in tears and basic small talk becomes unfathomable as I metamorphose into a hermit.

You turn into a severe soporific

“tending to induce drowsiness or sleep.”

camel-993822_1920Because it is never far from your mind as the departure date looms ever closer you have a way of bringing it up in every conversation with friends, family, colleagues, associates and random strangers you pass in the street. It may go something like this…

Them: “Would you like a cup of tea?”

Me: “Oooh, I’d love one. Because in 2 weeks I’m running 250km across the Sahara Desert & as I’m not carrying as stove to save carrying 116grams I won’t be able to have a cup of tea for at least 7 days.” True story.

You develop an unhealthy obsession with losing weight

“an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind”

2017-03-26 20.11.32This is less your own body weight but more of your tangible belongings. Weighing kit is somewhat of a pre-requisite for the MdS, but it gets to a point where your choice of, well, everything is based on its weight… and it invades every part of your life. There are obvious things like sleeping bag & mat that can weigh a huge amount & to save a few grams you need to pay big money, but it has now got to the stage where I have weighed all my multi-functional head scarves to find out which was the lightest (Montane Chief at 33g by the way) and I’m trimming packaging & unnecessary strapping where I can. I found myself rummaging through the cutlery draw the other night assessing which of the knives is the lightest… and when I get home, I am going to weigh toilet paper. I may not be joking.

You become the fashion police’s most wanted

“a person who has escaped from captivity or is in hiding.”

handcuffs-2102488There are the well documented fashion faux-pas’ that most MdS participants are guilty of; way too much skin tight lycra (I know, for a man of nearly 40 any is too much) and the delightful desert cap & gorgeous gaiter combo compulsory for desert running. But there are the hidden offences that you don’t see so often in the official race pictures, of Tyvek suits evening-wear (I’d draw a bow-tie on but the ink must weigh something, right?) and it’s equally awful but far more torturous sweat suit, used for heat acclimatisation.

You develop a foot fetish

“gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object”

if-this-image-offends-you-youre-lack-toes-intolerant-5846150I had already gained a bit of a reputation for having manky feet, not aided by the fact I amused myself by sharing pictures of said feet sans toenails on social media at Sunday lunch time, but I have actually been tending them with care. To the point where I have been regularly using Champhor Spray on them, visited a pedicurist and I even used moisturiser.  Only once but it still counts. I didn’t know it was possible to love your feet so much and yet they’re still missing toenails & look as deformed as ever.

You suffer from shopping compulsion

“an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way.”

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 11.46.57 AM_1474310860598_2026896_ver1.0I now wander down aisles gauging my nutrition of choice’s suitability by calories per gram and won’t put anything with less than 500kcal per 100g in my basket. All of my race food has now been selected, weighed, calorie counted, packed, repacked & repeated but there are now the days in camp prior to the race to be catered for. Even when shopping for lunch now I can’t help but browse for the option with the highest calorie content per gram and everything is unconsciously disregarded if not suitable for consuming uncooked in a hot climate. On top of this, I have eaten like a student for much of the year as I whittle down what I will be taking and a diet of lukewarm instant noodles has given me somewhat of an odd reputation at the office.

With all this going on it’s incredible I’m still healthy enough to make the trip at all!

In reality, this whole process has been part of the fun and I have enjoyed the planning and preparation far more than I had expected plus the camaraderie generated by this years participants as we have gone through this together has already created friendships for life.

But behind this tongue in cheek post there is a serious warning. If you are considering signing up for this behemoth in 2018 & beyond, beware it will completely take over and you have to be willing and able to commit financially, emotionally & temporally to prepare for it successfully.