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  • Writer's pictureBeth Rainbow

Marathon Des Sables - 230km in 6 days - Self sufficient ultra marathon


After many cancellations due to covid, I finally made it to the Marathon Des Sables 2022 but not before last minute stress avoiding the fast spreading omicron variant and keeping up with ever changing travel restrictions. Finally after a 2.5 year wait, I was on a plane to Morocco and the Sahara Desert.

I thought I would do a quick debrief of my race and how I came to finish 6th woman overall and the first British woman home in a total time of 29:59:06.

Day 1 • 30km • So here we go…

With my bag weighing around 8kg (including water), I knew I was in for a treat on day one. Everyone was buzzing on the start line as Highway to Hell blasted from the speakers and before we knew it, we were off…easing us in with a mere 30.9km.

The route was awesome with lots of soft sand, it was a great way to kick off the week. Fully carb loaded and with the excitement of running again after a taper meant that I started faster than I had planned but I soon eased back into a more sensible pace!

I unfortunately twisted my left ankle twice in the first 20 mins as I tried to get used to the terrain and finished with a hole in my t-shirt but all in all a fantastic first day and everything I hoped it would be.

I wasn’t really caring about my position for MdS. I just wanted to enjoy it, with a secret mission of wanting top10. I ended day1 with a surprise as the 8th woman (2nd Brit woman).

Day 2 • 38km • Stormer of a day

Day 2 started out HOT, over the dunes for 6km. A few flat stretches were thrown into the route but with a major head wind this made the flats more tedious than anything. A 3 checkpoint day meant the miles were ticking on by.

With yet more sandy dunes to go over, the route finished over a crazy climb up a jebel and down the iconic 20% sand dune the other side...epic. The day ended with a flat 3-5km, however the weather turned and a crazy sandstorm came out of nowhere. This caused chaos trying to run the last stretch home, only to get back to camp to find it flattened by the storm with sand literally everywhere and in everything.

I had a great run and stormed the second half with 2 Irish guys. Unfortunately the sand storm stayed for 4 hours into the evening which caused me some dinner issues…

This stage I came 8th woman, overall sitting at 9th woman (2nd Brit).

Day 3 • 32km • Disaster strikes

Due to the sandstorm, I didn’t get the chance to heat up my chilli con carne expedition meal properly the night before. The result was a dodgy dehydrated meal and waking suddenly at 2am with stabbing pains in the tummy and feeling very unwell.

I got up again at 4am to be sick and after multiple toilet trips I turned up to the start line dehydrated, empty and ready to quit all together. Having come so far to get to this race, I decided to start and take it super easy with my training partner David for company.

We took the start slowly and walked all the climbs but I was in a dark place for the first 15km with a few tears (me not David) and the constant fear that I would have to quit the race. My saving grace was the epic route of stage 3 which provided just enough distraction with the stunning climbs, ridgeways and amazing views to get me to 15km where I finally started to feel a bit better.

I managed to get some water in me, as well as a few wine gums which suddenly gave me some much needed energy. I was able to finish the stage strongly, hiking up the last few climbs and slowly jogging the last few km’s to the finish line.

That night I received nearly 6 pages of support messages from back home which lifted my spirits and set a fire in my belly to fight on and race hard for the next few days. As it turned out, being forced to take this stage much easier than planned paid off in the next two stages.

My worst performance day, due to illness - I came 26th woman which dropped me to 12th overall (still sitting as 2nd Brit but the other Brits were now right behind).

Day 4 • 85km • The big on’

Honestly, my favourite day. The best route taking in every aspect of the desert - every 10km section was like a different run. Soft sand, ridges, open stretches, jebels and trail climbs - just stunning.

I ran the whole thing with David and we took it in turns to have highs and lows. I fuelled nearly perfectly on gels, bars & cliff blocks. The only mental struggle that arose was when my garmin hit 85km and it actually was only 70km… I dug some DEEP holes that last 10km but pulled through with one of the best ultra performances I have had to date.

Finishing time around 11:30 hours, which meant recovery shake and in bed early enough for a great sleep, much needed after the lack of sleep the night before.

5th woman overall in this stage which brought me back to 8th overall (2nd Brit)…just the final marathon to go…

Day 5 • The dreaded rest day

Ironically, the longest day of the week. A day where we were all just waiting for the clock to tick over so we could eat, before counting down the minutes before we could eat again!

It was so lovely cheering runners and walkers as they came in throughout the day (and evening…) and we got treated to a full orchestra performance later that day.

Surprised with a nice cold can of coke at 5pm, I saved mine for a caffeine and sugar boost the following morning before the start of the marathon.

After looking at the results, I knew I was sitting around 5 minutes behind the first British woman (who I had trailed all week) going into the last stage. It was a nice target to have and I made a decision to just give the marathon my all and to leave nothing on the table. I was motivated and ready to smash it.

Day 6 • 42km • Where dreams are made!

I won’t lie, I have no idea what happened on this day. The stars aligned and I felt awesome. I paced it well after initially going out fast over the dunes but I knew I had enough in the tank to push through and keep going.

I fuelled it even better and just ran with my heart. As planned I left nothing out there, I ran the flats, ran the dunes and ran every climb. I had the best support from everyone out on the course (I started with the top 200 runners an hour after the main field so there were about 700 runners/walkers ahead to pass on the way) and it just was one of the best runs I’ve ever had.

This run will stick with me for some time…2nd woman in 4hr14min just behind the overall MdS 2022 winner Anna Comet (Spain) and beating the two local Moroccan runners including the 2021 MdS winner Aziza Raji. An extra bonus was making up the 5 minutes on the British runner after our paths crossed at check point 2 and I eased away from her into a strong head wind.

MdS 2022 ended 1st Great Britain and Ireland woman home and 6th woman overall. The last person to finish under 30 hours at 29:59:06. It was everything I could’ve wished for and so much more.

Time to rest & look forward to what's coming next!

Special shout out to my tent mates in tent 57. Without a good tent, the experience stops at the end of each run. With a great tent - the whole experience is elevated through the roof.

Shout out to these guys for honestly making it the best race experience I could’ve asked for!


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