THE MARATHON des Sables is the stuff of legends – described as the toughest foot race on earth by the Discovery Channel – but Stratford Athletic Club’s Matt Sims was up for the challenge.
It is a truly gruelling multi-stage adventure in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments – the Sahara Desert.
In just six days competitors run over 226km (142 miles) through endless dunes, over rocky mountains and across white-hot salt plains. The sun is their constant enemy with temperatures regularly reaching 50 centigrade and sand is their constant companion – clouds of it under their feet, sheets of it stinging their eyes and lots of it chafing where it should not.
The long stage has become a legend in itself. Competitors run out of a Saharan morning, into the dusk and then the dark – many not finishing the 75+km (47 miles) until well into the next day.
Sims was raising money for Best Beginnings – a charity whose vision is to ensure all children, regardless of income or background, have the best start in life.
It was an early start for the first day of 32km and an emotional time for Sims considering the amount of preparation he had put in.
He decided to moderate his enthusiasm, opting for a steady start, completing the stage in 4:54.37 to finish 130th in his age category.
He likened the second day to being put in an oven at 100 degrees, while running up a mountain and being sand-blasted. The hardest part was carrying the 8,2kg pack on his back. His good foot management paid off with him experiencing no blisters.
The scenery was spectacular, as competitors ran through the highest range of dunes in Morocco and Sims completed the 32.2km second stage in 5:51.05 and was 94th in his age category.
The 37.1km third stage saw runners compete in a diverse terrain of rocky flats, dunes and dry river beds. Sims quickly learnt to read the sand and not to run where others had run, as this did make it easier.
He said he never felt hungry but always felt he could eat more and he was consuming 15 salt tablets daily, completing stage three in 5:37.44 and moving up to 77th in his age category.
The fourth stage was the biggie at 76.3km and he completed this stage in a staggering 12:43.17 to finish 58th in his age category. Some competitors were still finishing the stage 27 hours after starting off.
The fifth stage was completed in 5:27.21 – a performance good enough to finish 67th in his age category.
Sims completed this most gruelling of races in 34:34.04 – finishing in the top third of his age category – in 71st place out of 218 and overall ending a magnificent 202nd out of the 752 finishers.
The race was won by Moroccan Rachid El Morabity in 18:31.34.
Report compiled by David Jones.