Written By Sam Heward
Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)
The Marathon des Sables is a world famous (perhaps the most famous) multi-stage ultramarathon, crossing the Sahara Desert in Morocco. The rules require you to be fully self-sufficient. For the race entry you get a spot in a tent to sleep in each night and that is it! Everything else that you need to survive the entire week must be carried with you on your back.
Now, in its 34th year, the event has been described as the “toughest footrace” on earth and has entered the bucket lists of many runners, adventurers and explorers the world over. An undoubtably amazing experience, here we ask whether it is the be all and end all of multi-stage running or whether instead an Ultra X might be the thing for you.
Why do an Ultra X?
In 2018, the Marathon des Sables cost £4,250 per person. Add in the cost of all your equipment and mandatory kit and you are looking at having to take out a small mortgage to participate in the event. Our passion is making multi-day racing more accessible and as such for £4,250 you could compete in Ultra X Sri Lanka, Ultra X Jordan and Ultra X Mexico in 2019 and still have a little cash left over!
It’s for the first timers
More than 50% of Ultra X Jordan finishers had never even finished a marathon before! Similarly, many will do the Marathon des Sables as first time ultra runners, enticed by an event that is recognized globally in an industry that is still pretty niche.
As easy as it is to say that a multi-stage race is a “one-off”, we find that once competitors have the bug it is difficult to shake, so why not start with something that doesn’t require such expense and extensive planning and see how you find it? Who knows you might still fancy the MDS after all and what better prep than a multi-stage race where you don’t have to carry all your kit first.
The Marathon des Sables is famed for its Doc Trotters, and the immaculate white tent where competitors are able to lie down to have their blisters treated is indeed incredible and something to look forward to after the sand has taken its toll. However, where the MDS has Doc Trotters, Ultra X has Exile Medics and Just One Body: an expert team of expedition medics and sports massage trained osteopaths at checkpoints and the finish line each day. We aim to have one medic and one osteo for every ten runners and most competitors will get over an hour or more of personal treatment over the week!
The Marathon des Sables is a mission to survive. Competitors must carry all of their own food and equipment for the week at all times. If you get smart this can be taken down to around 7kg, but it means that the focus is taken away from the running, as participants have to be shrewd with equipment and need to think about things like calories per gram. Not only is buying light gear expensive, it also means that the calorie deficit which your body is inevitably going to enter during the race can be crippling.
At Ultra X events participants do not have to carry all their gear with them during the event. Instead the organisers transfer their main bag in between camp for them. This means more food, equipment and a few luxuries become possible!
The Marathon des Sables is a six stage race, though only five of these stages actually count towards the final result as one is a charity stage. Competitors have two days to complete the “long stage” meaning that those who are quicker will have a rest day in the middle. Competitors arrive in the desert on Friday, race from Sunday to Saturday and then are invited to the Prize Giving on Sunday night.
This means that for those who are brave enough to head back into work straight away after returning from the race will have to take an absolute minimum of seven days holiday. We understand how precious those days can be and as such an Ultra X requires no more than five days holiday. This format is consistent throughout all Ultra X events, meaning that competitors will always fly in on a Saturday, have briefings and transfer to the start line on Sunday, race Monday to Friday and be home by Sunday evening!
The Marathon des Sables is a truly epic and iconic footrace and we at Ultra X are huge fans – one of our co-founders has actually done the event and would recommend it to anyone. However, it is not the only multi-stage ultra out there so why not shop around before entering the granddaddy of them all.
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