Women’s Sports Week continues and today we’re celebrating Marathon des Sables 2017 finisher, Moerieda Mackay!
KitJam — Say hello to Moerieda! The most positive and kindhearted person we’ve met here at KitJam and best of all she encourages and inspires others as she goes. Her enthusiasm for racing and all things kit knows no bounds, we loved reading her account of this year’s Marathon des Sables and her approach to kit and training. Now you all get to enjoy it too, over to you Moerieda…
My Marathon Des Sables Journey
Someone asked me on my return from Morocco what the biggest challenge was in running the MDS. I just had what felt like the perfect MDS! I enjoyed the experience so much I couldn’t think of an answer outright. I was well trained, mentored and prepared when I arrived in the desert. The biggest challenge for anyone thinking of taking on an event of this nature is the training and meticulous planning that happens months before you set foot in the desert. Testing shoes, looking after your feet, experimenting with food, kit and of course thousands of kilometers on the legs in training will be your big pre race challenges!
Here is what I did...
I kept food simple. Breakfast, dinner and then fuel and snacks during the race. My food for MDS was all well tested! For dinner, I opted for Expedition Food. It came highly recommended by many MDS finishers! I went as far as eating my entire 1st shipment of Expedition Food which cost me a small fortune to get to South Africa! I was clever with my 2nd order and had it delivered to one of my tent mates to hold onto for me! The food was yummi and after my first 450 calorie pack I realized it was not going to be enough. I wanted seconds and opted for the 800 calories. For race fuel, I stuck to what I knew worked for me in ultra-races and long runs; GU Roctane gels, GU Roctane energy drink, 32GI chews (couldn’t find GU chews) and GU smoothie recovery drinks. Breakfast was Future Life porridge, GU Stroopwafel and coffee. Snacks were mainly banana chips and biltong (South African!). I took absolutely nothing new to the MDS! However, that did not stop me from buying almost half the fuel and snacks available in Sportsman’s Warehouse to test… just in case! There’s really no point taking anything to the desert that you don’t like! I’m happy to report that I ate all my food every day and I was never hungry! I knew day 4 was going to my LONG DAY so opt for the ROCTANE energy drink on this day and less solids. This strategy worked! It was so hot I really didn’t feel like eating and was grateful that I got the calories in that I needed. No nutritional problems for me on MDS!
I was told that MDS is not a fashion show but I completely ignored that bit of advice! I spoilt myself and ordered the very expensive X-Bionic Twyce outfit through myRacekit who went beyond the call of duty to ensure all my kit were delivered in time! I loved my X-Bionic clothes. I really felt like X-Woman in it! I was worried about sizing as I ordered my size following the measurements on the X-Bionic size chart but the kit fitted perfectly; like a glove! It is soft and light you hardly feel you have them on. The “Twyce” part of the kit honestly worked; lived up to its name! Temperatures reported on day 3 was 56 degrees Celsius and day 4, the long day was 50 degrees! I felt cool and dry all the whole time even in BLACK! Evenings I changed into my Tyvek suit, but slept in a Nike long sleeve top and comfy shorts. I was in two minds about having two outfits for the night but the first night got very cold. I took both and never regretted it. The Tyvek was perfect for my walk through the night!
My Head Gear
I ditched my desert cap for the traditional head scarf. I felt right at home, like a child from the desert from the minute I put it on. I really enjoyed wearing it! I honestly think it is cooler and more comfortable than a cap; front runners might disagree but certainly for me at the back it was.
I ran with the WAA 20L Ultrabag which fitted me perfectly after I figured out how it all fitted together! HUGE SUPRISE on Day 2 of MDS (Admin Day) when my pack was finally weighed by the officials… 9.8kg!! (without my 3L of water). How did that happen when my goal was to have my pack at 8kg. I thought about getting rid of some “stuff” but it felt like I needed everything that was in my pack. The truth is… I didn’t! I took an iPhone 6 PLUS (+charger); Go Pro (+charger); MP3 (+charger); Garmin (+charger) + a solar charges. It all adds up! The funniest thing in the world happened. The solar charger didn’t work! I had to carry all that “stuff” for 250km and none of it was used during the race! I ended up begging for power just to charge my phone!
My Sleeping System
I am a cold person. My sleeping bag was the one item I was not willing to compromise on for the sake of weight although it was a bit of a shock to me at first when I saw how bulky 690g was. I also took a silk sleeping bag liner. I’ve read so many race reports and mostly everyone mentioned that it was colder than expected at night. I had a sleeping mat (half size) and a pillow. My intention was not to take a pillow or sleeping mat, but thank goodness for night one — an opportunity to test everything you are not sure of! I needed a pillow but the sleeping mat didn’t work. I was more off than on it, so went without a sleeping mat and did not regret that decision at all!
Blue Diamond Carbon Z poles attached to my pack with special clips; best invention from Macgyver aka fellow tent mate Adrian May! I’m always in two minds about taking poles. Mainly because it’s no fun carrying poles if you’re not using them. I always end up not taking them and then regret it! With my new pole clips attached to my bag I hardly noticed I was carrying my poles and I had easy access to them for when I needed them. I used my poles a lot on MDS, especially on the steep descents. Yes, I was I really afraid to go tumbling down a sand dune! The poles worked really well powering through the hard-rough flat sections so absolutely no regret that I took them.
My feet have been buggered since my tragic fall during the Skyrun Training Camp in October last year. Other than recovering from my ankle injury my feet were very sensitive. I was getting blisters on even short runs and even when wearing my normal Nike road running shoes! It was the weirdest thing ever and it frustrated the hell out of me trying to understand why this was happening at this stage. I always pride myself in my blister free running in my Brooks Cascadia shoes. It’s still a mystery. I now suspect it was the socks. Going into the race was a case of not “if” I get blisters” but “when I get blisters” and I was ready for it! I even went to see a podiatrist and practiced taping my feet in training. I had it all covered!
With my feet buggered I struggled for months to decide on my shoes for the MDS. I literally became a shoe model, tested many shoes (trail and road) and in the end I decided on the Brooks Ghost with one size up from my usual Nike road running shoes. It was the most comfortable fit from all the shoes under consideration however as expected I suffered blisters from day 1! Hell, it was painful and everyday there were more!
I consider myself an experienced ultra-runner however my training for MDS was frustrating. I was recovering from an ankle injury that I picked up during a fall at a Skyrun training camp. Recovery was slow. I couldn’t run so instead focused on strength training, power walking, hiking and hill training! I only started to run again in March; short runs and with no weight as I wasn’t taking any chances with my ankle. I comforted myself with the fact that I did get the bulk of my mileage in during the months of February and March. I power walked about 750km between the months of January and March, it wasn’t even close to what I had planned on doing for my MDS, but considering that it was hikes and power walks I was OK with that. It was about 84 hours of training! That is more than what many fellow MDS runners did … running! Today, I am laughing at myself as in hindsight my training for MDS based on my power walking race strategy (especially given the tough conditions faced) was spot on and I finished the race on a high!
What challenges? My race was perfect!