Will Mullin has raised over €17k for Biobank Ireland completing Marathon Des Sables, one of the world’s toughest challenges – the Marathon des Sables (a 257km run– five and a half marathons over six days), which the Discovery Channel has dubbed ‘the toughest footrace on earth’ commenced on April 10th, this year is also the longest in the race’s 31 year history.
Get a feel for the challenge from the man himself, in Will’s blog entry here:
“I got back from Morocco on Monday evening after arriving for the Marathon des Sables ten days earlier. After arriving in the desert on Friday night we were fed by the organisers and we were given local Moroccan food.
Then we went to bed to endure our first night on the ground exposed to the sandstorm that levelled half the camp later that night.
Administration , bag and medical checks on Saturday with the same food on offer. Then our second night sleep before we woke up Sunday morning when self sufficiency starts (this means nobody can feed you or help you in any way and you must carry and prepare your own food for the entire race. So when your marathon starts you have to take All of your stuff with you on your back.
Day 1 – Sunday 10th April
The first day of the race started with 15km of sand dunes as soon as the race began at 8.30am. My bag weighed 10 kilos with water and 8 without and all of this was on my back. The humidity was really low on day 1 and i knew that I would need to manage my water really carefully as it would be rationed out for the remainder of the week. every participant got 12 litres per day but this was for drinking, eating, washing and during the race. There were people airlifted from the dunes in those first few hours and it hit home how quickly my race could end. After the dunes, we hit a sandstorm that lasted for over three hours. Finally got through that and there was another few km’s of dunes which was an awful sight. Finished a bit shocked and tired but ready for another day .
With day one over and 5000 calories burnt I had to refuel but the food rations were tough to stomach. If i was going to survive in the race for the week, I knew I would need to consume at least 3000 calories every day. I was going to have to get on with eating dehydrated meals all week. Others weren’t so lucky and could not stomach their food. Common problems emerged quickly such as stomach cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting and it ended a lot of peoples races.
In total 137 people dropped out of the Marathon des Sables during the week out of 1109 starters. the drop out rate this year was 15% compared with 5 – 10% most years. What made this year so tough? One element was the hight heat – It hit 48 degrees on the long stage day 4 during the 85 kilometer stage. This was compounded with a 5% humidity compared to 15% most years. It meant there was a dead heat and many competitors struggled to manage their water and hydration. they ran out of water and were taken off the course by helicopter.
A 13 time MDS veteran from the UK, Mr Rory Coleman competed this year. He called the course this year ‘totally brutal…really brutal…really, really, fucking brutal and the toughest of his 13 years competing. As part of my diet during the race, I had to balance food intake, with liquid carbohydrates during the marathon stages, salt tablets to stabilise salts I was losing and electrolytes to rehydrate quicker that water might offer.
The stages of the race were broken down as follows:
Day 1 – Sunday 10th April – 34.7km
Day 2 – Monday 11th April – 41.7km
Day 3 – Tuesday 12th April – 37.7km
Day 4 – Wednesday 13th April – 84.7km – took 16 hours to complete, last competitor came over the line in 34.5 hours.
Day 5 – Friday 15th April – 42.2km
Day 6 – Saturday 16th April – 17.7km – Unicef Solidarity Charity Stage
A typical day at the MDS involved waking up at 6 – 6.30 am and collecting your first rationed 1.5 litre water bottle. with this you would wash your teeth, use some water to rehydrate your breakfast – mostly dehydrated granola with raspberries – disgusting! Once that was done, it was time to rinse the water bottles with milton sterilising tablets, praying that the taste wouldn’t stay in the bottles all day – it did. On with some electrolytes in water to hydrate, salt tablets next and then pack up the bag and get going. We all wore the same clothes for 7 days so there was no need to change or wash, washing would waste precious water that we simply couldn’t afford not to drink. The water was always warm too.
After every stage I arrived back at the camp and the medical tent was like a warzone. People collapsing, vomiting , crying , getting drips pumped into them , feet ruined , people limping around everywhere . The queue had hundreds of people each night so I took to treating my own blisters and taped feet myself. I pretty much taped every moving muscle to save it from chaffing and it helped me in the later stages of the race. Two fellow competitors, both Irish, started to pass blood in their urine during the race. The doctors told them their bodies were so empty of resources that they were now burning protein in their muscles and the blood was the waste unneeded for fuel. That is how tough and serious it became for them and one dropped out immediately because it simply is not worth your health. He worked for 2 years for this race, but ‘it is just a race’.
On a plus with this race, the organisation was superb, given it was in the middle of the desert. Every single competitor was GPS Tracked for the whole race (introduced after one man got lost in a sandstorm for 10 days in 1995 and survived on bat blood and urine until he was found) It meant supporters back home could track us each day, watch a live webcam at the finish line every day and send live messages that were delivered to us in the camp each night.
I came home in 224th place and was second Irish person home. In truth, I am so happy to come home from this race with a medal that positions just do not matter. I could have easily fallen medically or with dehydration, or blistered feet but I navigated my way through the problems and was lucky to come out the other side, with a medal i have wanted to own for 20 years.”
You can sponsor Will on his Biobank fundraising page and help him raise his €20,000 fundraising target. It’s not too late to sponsor! Help him get over the final finish line!