The 32nd edition of the Marathon des Sables (MdS) kicks off in 3 weeks’ time and I will be there! The entire event spans 10 days from the 7th to 17th April 2017 and includes 7 days of running. It is one of those races where you set yourself a goal so big, it scares you. I am beyond excited.
Forget about comforts. The MdS is all about getting comfortable being uncomfortable and accepting things the way they are, not how you want them to be.
My mantra will be Haruki Murakami’s “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional”. It will play on repeat, in my thoughts, as I shuffle my way through seven days and 250 odd kilometres of shifting Sahara desert dunes, salt plains and rocky hills in southern Morocco. The terrain, distance and duration will test my endurance and fitness.
Add sand, the scorching sun and temperatures of around 50 degrees Celsius. And more sand and more heat. These environmental extremes will test my ability to deal with its effects, such as chafing, dehydration, sun burn, eye irritations and last but not least foot health.
All while carrying absolutely everything I’ll need (food, sleeping bag, hiking mattress, clothing, personal care and emergency kit, etc.) for 7 days, except for the communal tents and rationed water supplied by the race organization. The lack of usual comforts will leave me hungry, wearing the same clothing for seven days and not sleeping enough or soundly. This will test my ability to manage the basic human needs required for survival, which many of us take for granted on a daily basis.
This brings me back to my question and the title of this post: why do I have the urge and wish to experience all of this? It does seem strange to enter an event that will test one on many levels.
Firstly, from the moment many years ago when I saw strange looking athletes with large racing backpacks, making their way through the Sahara on television, it fascinated me so much and finding myself at the start of the MdS was a recurring dream of mine ever since. The encouragement and support of special people has made my dream become a reality. I feel my journey has come full circle, from thinking I want to do it – to being a few weeks away from it. It is almost unbelievable.
Secondly, the iconic MdS is widely known as the toughest footrace on earth, which together with its 32 year history, makes it a big draw card.
Thirdly, all of us are wired to be pulled by pleasure and steer clear from pain, therefor entering an endurance event is considered madness by many. However, apart from amazing memories made up of desert scenery and contrasting moments of wanting to give up versus victory as you finish each day, the answer lies in neurochemicals; the chemicals that affect our state of mind and happiness! Partaking in an endurance event releases Endorphins (loosely translates to self-produced morphine and is connected to feelings of no pain), Endocannabinoids (linked the euphoria of Runners High), Oxytocin (linked to pro-social behaviours such as trust and relaxation), Dopamine (necessary for feelings of happiness and pleasure). The nerves at each day’s start will give runners an Adrenaline rush (linked to feeling alive and energetic). To make a long story short, raging neurochemicals released during endurance events make everybody taking part very happy and blissed out!
I’m sure my dream will feel very real when I arrive at the race village surrounded by 1200+ nervous runners, all asking themselves the same questions and thinking “I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M HERE – I’M DOING THE MARATHON DES SABLES”.