“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.” – W.H. Murray (Scottish mountaineer and writer)

The Facts – Marathon Des Sables

The race consists of 6 days of running, covering approximately 156 miles in total, with the longest stage covering approximately 55 miles.

Based in Morocco, identifiably the Sahara Desert – heats sour to 100 degrees Fahrenheit

Rules require you to be self-sufficient, to carry with you on your back everything except water that you need to survive

So what exactly convinces these athletes to put their bodies and mind through this gruelling adventure in one of the world’s most hospitable climates? This is an event that will have inevitable setbacks and challenges that will need to be addressed throughout. This requires extreme levels of personal resilience in order to not only train, but to ultimately succeed. What are the secrets behind sustained performance in the most extreme environments?

Make intentions a reality: 1) Know what success is – First, define it. Success is not so much about the situation, event or outcome, it more represents what that ‘thing’ means to you. 2) Get comfortable being uncomfortable – expect injury, pain is a great teacher. 3) Identify the best course of action to take to survive – simplify.

Growth mindset: See your abilities as capable of being cultivated. Recognise that challenging yourself is an exciting part of learning, and that failure is a necessary component of success. When confronted with a tricky task, embrace the challenge, and pick yourself up if you fall. Keep your end goal in mind.

Resilient Character: Sir Ranulph Fiennes crossed the Antarctica completely on foot. After losing 5 stone during his expedition (despite eating 8000 calories a day) due to the amount of effort of trawling the equipment, losing the tips of his fingers on his left hand due to gangrene, and ensuring his colleague continued with the expedition despite gangrene in both his feet and having a severe head injury, they completed what he had set out to do. Ranulph bases his success on not wanting to let his father and grandfather down, but perhaps more importantly, it is the application of his underlying resilience and determination. How many of us would give up if put in that position? Look beyond the immediate challenge to the long term goal.

Well-Being: Place a great deal of importance on your general health – this can have an effect on your resilience. Mauro Prosperi, who competed in the Marathon Des Sables in 1994, was hit by a ferocious sandstorm that lasted 8 hours. After waking he was completely lost, and for 10 whole days he was without bearing of his surroundings and completely alone in the heat of the Sahara. Mauro realised he needed to conserve the strength he had remaining. As soon as he realised he was lost, the first thing he did was urinate in a spare water bottle. After 2 failed attempts to raise the alarm to crossing planes, he began to feel very depressed – he attempted to commit suicide. After surviving death he decided to see this circumstance as a new competition against himself. He regained his strength and mental lucidity. From this point he was so aware of his body and health, and the maintenance of his well-being, he was able to survive. Through his attempt to find humanity he learnt that food was all around him. He rested during peak heat and made sure he was hydrated at all times before continuing on his journey. Mauro finally found a local community and was rescued. 4 years later Mauro returned and completed a further 8 desert marathons.

If you’re thinking about taking part in a challenge facing extreme environments, do your research. Luckily, I had the opportunity to speak with someone that has completed the MDeS in 2003 with vast experience in the health and fitness industry, so I have left you with some top tips and tricks:

  1. Preparation and planning are arguably the most important things
  2. Be realistic in your approach
  3. Improve your ability to be more mentally resilient – focus on the positive
  4. Train properly in a periodised way. Do NOT go out too hard
  5. Have it as your intention to complete NOT compete
  6. Know your strategy and pace before face day
  7. Use this experience as a goal in which to teach yourself how to achieve an increased level of physical well-being
  8. Follow this basic philosophy: it’s just a start, not an end