STRIDE runner tells us what it's like to run 156 miles in the Sahara Desert

The Marathon des Sables ("Marathon of the Sands" in French) is a six-day, 251 km (156 mi) ultramarathon, which is approximately the distance of six regular marathons. Now in its 31st year, this multiday race is held every year in southern Morocco, in the Sahara Desert. And now we can say we know someone who ran it.

Each participant must carry his/her own backpack containing food, sleeping gear and other material. Temperatures often reach above 120 degrees. TIME Magazine has called it "the toughest foot race on Earth."

And yet, despite (or because of) all this, STRIDE client Doug Harvey completed the Marathon des Sables this spring. He agreed to tell us a bit about his experience, transcribed below.

From all of us at STRIDE - huge congratulations to Doug for completing this extraordinary race!

  • What response did you get from your family and friends when you told them you were running an ultramarathon in the Sahara desert?

I had lots of great support from my family and friends. My wife knows that I’ve wanted to run MDS for years and encouraged me to sign up. One reason I like to do big events like this, is that I want to show my daughters that anything is possible with work and planning. My teenage daughter (who takes classes at Stride) now wants to run MDS and my 9 year old will do her 2nd 5k with Girls On The Run at the end of May.

  • How did you prepare for the event?

I mixed my workouts up quite a bit. On the weekends I tried to get in 2 long trail runs (14-22 miles) with a 20 lb pack. I tried to also get in some hot yoga and some weights each week. I typically did at least an hour of some workout per day plus long runs on the weekend.

  • Were Stride classes part of your training in the time leading up?

My wife heard about Stride and mentioned it to me. (She’s a “non-runner” who now loves Stride classes) On one rainy weekend when I didn’t want to chance a trail run, I tried the 70 minute Ultra Run class. I soon found that I get some very important things in Stride workout that I don’t get in my long runs. Things like interval work or the ability to run in front of a mirror and concentrate on form. Since then Stride has become a valued part of my training

  • Was any part of it easier than you expected? Harder than you expected?

While was very hot (more than 110 F) the heat did not bother me much. I did some heat training, but expected it to be much worse.  The sand was tough. The majority of the race involved often loose sand, not just the dunes.

  • What advice would you give to someone preparing for their first ultramarathon?

A big challenge of ultras is keeping injury free through training. To me that means building strength in a lot of different ways. Pounding out 80 or 100 mile weeks in training is asking for injury. Yes, you need to do some long runs, but mix them up with weights, speed work, lateral movement, balance work and stretching.

The other thing to know about ultras is that walking is important. Most ultra-runners walk steep climbs in the interest of conserving energy. I did a lot of 2 minute walks followed by an 8 minute runs during MDS. At the end of each stage I had energy to run hard to the finish.

Lastly, incorporate eating drinking and salt into training so your body can handle it when you are in the middle of the race.

  • Any future races on your calendar?

I’m  interested in doing MDS Peru. The whole experience was so wonderful. That being said, taking 10 days away from family and work is not something I can do every year. Maybe 2018 or 2019. In the meanwhile I’ll be doing the SLO Ultra at Wild Cherry Canyon (50 mile) on Sept 9th and expect to do the Avalon Benefit 50 Mile Run in early January. I hope to get a spot for the 2018 Angeles Crest 100. I’d also like to get back to Ironman as well.