This week our very own Paul Deasy will be heading off to Morocco to compete in the 30th edition of the Marathon des Sables, widely regarded as the toughest foot race on earth. It is the world's largest and longest standing expedition stage race starting on Sunday April 5th and ending on Saturday 11th. The race itself is run through the Sahara Desert of southern Morocco where all participants must be self supported carrying all supplies for the week long race throughout.
It has been a long journey for Paul starting over a year ago and his dedication and commitment to training has been inspiring for everyone in the club. Training for a race of this magnitude requires a an unbelievably strong positive mental attitude which Paul has for sure and reserves of dedication that Paul has in abundance. He often incorporates club training runs into his long training runs and has time and advice for runners of every level. I'm sure everyone in the club has only great things to say about Paul as he is often giving out endless advice and encouragement to runners of all levels. 2014 was busy year for Paul and looking at his list of races in preparation for the big event is quite astonishing.
Cork City Marathon
Courtmac Ultra Marathon (36 miles)
Kerry Way Ultra Marathon (120 Miles)
Glen of Aherlow Ultra (40 miles)
Dublin City Marathon (with an 8kg Backpack)
Mourne Mountain SkyLine Race (35k)
Clonakilty Back to Back Marathons
Quite a phenomenal achievement and this is on top of regular 30,40 and 50 mile training runs, some on road and some off road on the Kerry Way in Killarney.
The 2015 MdS race will have six competitive stages totaling something close to 250 kilometers/155 miles, held over seven days. This year, 1,363 competitors are expected to start, including 209 women.
The MdS is a self-sufficiency stage race meaning that each competitor carries what they need for a week of running and camping, including food, clothing, toiletries, and personal medical supplies. Race administration provides runners with a daily allotment of water, shade structures under which they can rest and sleep, and emergency medical care.
Stage racing in trail and ultrarunning is a unique format. Think the Tour de France without the wheels. Each day’s stage has a start and an end point. At the MdS, the end point becomes a campground for the night, what the race refers to as a bivouac, as well as the start line for the next day. Time is kept while the runners are out on each stage, and there are both stage winners as well as overall winners, the men and women with the lowest cumulative time for all of the stages.
Each competitor wears a transponder that records their progress over the start line, checkpoints, and finish line of each stage so we should be able to see Paul's progress throughout the day. If technology works properly, the MdS website will provide near-live tracking of athletes’ travel across the Sahara Desert. Also, a live video feed from the finish of each stage will play from the MdS website. Links to live tracking and video feeds will be provided as they become available.
You will be able to send Paul messages of support! By way of satellite, MdS race administration downloads messages and distributes them to competitors a couple of times during the race. To send a message to a competitor, you’ll need their first name, last name, and race number. Paul's race number is 245. You can leave a message for Paul and he will have access to these messages after each stage of the race. Messages can only be in text format, no attachments (pics, files etc) will be allowed. Here is the link to the website.
Last September the whole club was gripped with the Kerry Way Ultra, an 120 mile Ultra along the Kerry Way walking trail consisting of road, trail, fields and mountains. Everyone was glued to their computers and smartphones as we followed Paul's progress in this exceptionally difficult race. 35 runners started the event with only 11 making it to the finish time and Paul got home in 32 hours to claim 5th place in what is widely accepted as the most difficult race on this island. This experience went a long way to helping Paul both physically and mentally as he now prepares to take on the most difficult foot race on earth. I'm sure it will be another week of checking updates on a regular basis to see how Paul is getting on in the desert.
The MdS changes its route each year. The MdS race organization waits until competitors are on the organized transport buses to the starting-line bivouac two days before the race start to reveal specific information about the course. However, at a press conference in Paris a couple weeks ago, they revealed a couple of interesting details. First, the race promised the longest ‘long stage’ in race history, in celebration of the 30th anniversary. Stage 4 is the ‘long stage,’ usually something in the range of 45 to 50 miles. The longest long stage the race has had so far was 56 miles in 2009. While the race administration hasn’t confirmed it, rumours are circulating that the 2015 long stage may be 100 kilometres in length. The other meaty piece of information revealed was that Stage 1 is going to be unusually long. Typically totalling somewhere between 20 and 23 miles, this probably means Stage 1 will approach the marathon distance.
Not only did Paul have to prepare his body for the extreme distances that he will have to run in the race, he also had to acclimatise for the warm weather that will greet him in the Sahara Desert of southern Morocco. Amazingly to do this he built himself a heat chamber as you can see from the picture with a treadmill inside and used insulation and heat lamps to ramp up the temperatures to 50 celcius plus. This was an important part of the training needed for MDS and will go some way to helping him deal with the extreme temperatures and dry air in the Sahara.
Also by having to carry all his own supplies for the race (water is provided) he had to specifically work out how many calories will be burned each day and how much and what type of food to pack to replace all these calories, all while trying to keep the weight of his pack down for the duration of the race.
As Paul makes his way to Morocco today via London i'm sure everyone in the club would like to wish
him all the best. He is embarking on a truly astonishing journey and no doubt he will do himself and his family proud. We will track him at every chance we get and live updates will be posted on the website and facebook pages as often as possible.
Also if anybody would like to sponsor Paul you can check out his fundraising page as he is raising money for Crumlin Children's Hospital. Here is the link:
Best of luck Paul from everyone at Watergrasshill AC on your epic journey.