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  • Writer's pictureSusie Chan

The 33rd Marathon des Sables

This was my fourth time back to the Sahara. This 250km self-sufficient race is very close to my heart. I just can’t stay away. Every time I’ve run it, there has been a reason to return. This year it was to fulfil a promise I had made to my friend, Sophie. I’ve always told her that if she ever did it, I would go with her. I knew she would want to one day. But I thought it would take her at least a couple of years to pluck up the courage. So I was a little surprised when I got the call 18 months ago, while we were midway through trying to complete our goal of running all the World Marathon Majors. That’s how I met Sophie. We became great friends after running Boston together in 2014. And we’ve run together ever since. There was no way she was going to the Sahara without me. My husband decided to sign up too. For him it was all about returning to the scene of the race that nearly broke him in 2015, but about also going back to the finish line where he got down on one knee and proposed. Our friend Tim Jones heard we were going and couldn’t resist either, determined to face full on, his crippling fear of heights as he took on the biggest challenge of his life. I was so excited about heading out there with my gang. I knew it was going to be special.

There is something magical about this race - 1000 runners tackling the tough terrain of the northern Sahara. It’s seven days of sand dunes, rocks, burning salt flats, perilous technical climbs and descents, with an ultra marathon thrown in the middle.

Home is a vast camp where Berber tents provide some shelter and your water is rationed. Other than that runners are entirely self-sufficient. You are required to carry all your food, sleeping kit and safety gear on your back for the entire week.

Sophie was so nervous about signing up that she insisted on keeping it a secret. I’ve no idea why she was worried about failing. She ran 2 ultras in preparation and completed them easily. But still she wouldn’t let me tell anyone she was doing the MDS. You can imagine how difficult that was for me! We did training runs with weighted backpacks but every time I got my camera out she took her backpack off. We spent hours plotting what and how much to take, weighing everything out and packing it up. We trained for a fortnight at the crack of dawn in a heat chamber at Kingston University. I had to her cut her out of everything I posted online!

Finally the day arrived and we set off for the desert.

I’ve made a short video of our time

It was a spectacular week, many laughs, and many new friends made. Sophie, Shaun and I ran with another tent mate also called Tim for the entire 250km. We all moved at a very similar pace and we supported each other with banter, looking out for each other, and propping one another up when the going got tough. For the 4 of us it was an extraordinary experience, full of unforgettable moments, endless jokes and a deeply forged friendship.

Our other Tim - Tim Jones - was a true hero. Not only did he tackle his fears, he triumphed over them. He returned to camp each day a little bit taller, a little bit prouder, a little bit in disbelief he had done it. Another mountain climbed.

This is the beauty of the Marathon des Sables. Anyone can enter this race, and a broad spectrum of people do – from elites to walkers from all over the world, they all arrive in the Sahara with one thing in common. They want to finish.

And that’s what you need to get you over the finish line

Tim D, Shaun, me and Sophie,

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