Holly Symons – Marathon des Sables

Holly Symons blog

Holly Symons is a fitness instructor at UWE Centre for Sport. She recently took part in an incredible marathon challenge in the Sahara desert. Below, she discusses her fantastic experience, including the tough challenges that she had to face.  

The Marathon des Sables is a gruelling multi-stage adventure through a formidable landscape in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates – the Sahara desert. The rules require you to be self-sufficient, to carry with you on your back everything except water that you need to survive. You are given a place in a tent to sleep at night but any other equipment and food must be carried.

During the race you will have run the equivalent of five and a half marathons in five or six days, a total distance of some 156 miles. The race is over 7 days with 6 days of running. The breakdown of the stages are as follows; 23 miles, 20 miles, 24 miles, 57 miles, 26 miles and then finally a 7 mile charity stage.  Each stage covers sand dunes, mountain climbs and desert flats which are all challenging in their own way.  The long stage of 57 miles has a time limit of 34 hours so you can take 2 days if need but I successfully did it non-stop in 14 hours, which meant I had some rest time before the next stage.  Sadly as I had rubbed my back I spent most of this time with the medic team, having the wound drained and then trying to dry it out before I had to run again.

It was the hardest but most fantastic week of my life.  Every day my legs and body were exhausted and I had no idea how I was going to manage to get up and run the next day. The temperature each day reached 40-50+ degrees. As well as this, the sand storms were ferocious and one night I slept with a sleeping bag full of sand…not nice!  Thankfully my body coped well with only minor blisters. However, my pack rubbed my back badly and got infected on the long stage, therefore I was in agony for the last couple of days of running, but I survived.

Despite making some bad kit and food choices (savoury rice for breakfast being the worst) and having a pack which was far too heavy, I managed to finish as the 12th female, 6th British female and 170th overall out of a field of over 1300 competitors.  I am so happy with my performance that I am going to go back and have another go in a few years and try and compete properly for a top spot.

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